Jonathan Muskat

How a Harry Potter Ride in Universal Studios Made Me Appreciate a Halacha in the Rambam

I was among many New Yorkers who ventured to Florida with my family for Yeshiva break.  We took two of our children to spend a few days at Universal Studios in Orlando.  I was amazed at how the rides have changed since when I was growing up.  First of all, the waiting lines were experiences unto themselves.  When I was growing up and I went to an amusement park, if I had to wait 45 minutes for a ride, I would simply stand on line waiting with nothing to do except… wait.  Now the waiting for a ride is an experience.  While waiting for a Harry Potter ride, we step inside and walk through Hogwarts, where the attention to detail makes it seem very real.  We heard Moaning Myrtle and screaming Mandrakes and we watched paintings of the founders of Hogwarts.   While we were waiting for the Transformers ride, we walked into a Non-biological Extraterrestrial Species Treaty base, where leading Autobots explain that we must join them and defeat the Decepticons.  And so many rides were not merely 3-D experiences, but they were 4-D experiences. There were simulations galore – simulations of being transformed into a minion, simulations of helping Shrek save Fiona and simulations of journeying through Skull Island and coming face to face with King Kong.

But a recurring theme that I noticed again and again with so many of these simulation rides is that the theme of the ride was that it’s up to us to save the world.  It’s up to us to help the Autobots save the world from the Transformers.  It’s up to us to help Harry Potter save the wizarding world by escaping from Gringotts.  It’s up to us to help ET save his home planet.  It’s up to us.  There is something exciting, something compelling about feeling that we can make a difference in the world.

And this whole experience made me appreciate even more a halacha in the Rambam.  The Rambam writes in the fourth halacha of the third chapter in the laws of repentance that even though the mitzvah of shofar is a Divine decree, its blast is symbolic and effectively telling us to wake up from our spiritual slumber.  Then the Rambam states, “Therefore, it is necessary for every man to see himself the entire year as if he is evenly balanced between innocence and guilt, and look upon the entire world as if evenly balanced between innocence and guilt; thus, if he commits one sin, he will overbalance himself and the whole world to the side of guilt, and be a cause of its destruction.  However, if he performs one mitzvah, he will overbalance himself and the whole world to the side of virtue and bring about his own and their salvation and escape.”

What is the connection between shofar being a blast that awakens us from our slumber and “therefore” we need to see the world and our very lives hanging in the balance?  Is that really true?  Is it really true that we have the exact same number of merits and demerits or that the world has the exact same number of merits and demerits?  I think that the point of the Rambam is not that the we or the world are necessarily hanging by a thread, but we must have the mindset as if we are.  We must believe that it’s up to us to save ourselves and it’s up to us to save our world.  How do we wake ourselves up from our spiritual slumber, from religious apathy that can so easily creep into our lives?  By simulating a world where there is a battle and our actions make a difference between life and death.  Imagine if we lived our lives as if each of our behaviors was of such great consequence.  Imagine how thoughtfully we would act.  That’s not only the feeling in a simulated Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios, but it’s the feeling that the Rambam expects from us each and every day.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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