These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Religion of Mr. Potato Head!

Posted on November 12, 2010 by יעל

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

My theology of religion is encapsulated in a Mr. Potato Head.

Mr. Potato Head is a child’s toy in which a plastic potato can be decorated with attachments for eyes, arms, legs, noses, mouths, and clothing items such as glasses and hats. How does this relate to religion?

I look at all religions having the same core values: love and being a good person. That’s the potato.

Then there are the different accoutrements, which are the hiddush (beautification) of various religions on the core values.  The nice thing about Mr. Potato Head is that there are a bunch of interchangeable attachments, which can be manipulated into a variety of positions.  It’s not all or nothing: with the Mr. Potato Head or our religious practices. Similarly, our personal religious life can be seen in the variety of attachments. Sometimes we might have the Buddhist eyes, or the Christian feet, or the Pagan arms, or the Jewish hat.  All of the attachments (or influences) work together to give a snapshot of who we, or the Mr. Potato Head, are/is at this specific moment in time.

As religious beings, like Mr. Potato Head, we are more than what we appear to be.  Mr. Potato Head’s unused attachments are stored in his plastic butt.  I’m not saying we store all of our unexplored religious issues in a particular area of the body.  Rather, there are parts of us that are present even though we might not be able to see them.  At some point, these influences (attachments) might come spilling out to take a prominent role in our life as the eyes or nose of the potato.  Or they might remain in the butt, but we should not forget that they are present, while remaining hidden.

Because of my Mr. Potato Head views on religion, Judaism as a whole is difficult for me.  Especially prayer, which is so particularistic (thinking specifically of a line in Aleinu “He has not assigned us a portion like theirs, nor a lot like that of all their multitudes, for they bow to vanity and nothingness,” or the birkat haminim (blessing of the heretics) of the Amidah or the Shefoch Chamatcha (Pour out your wrath) section of the Pesach seder.  I feel like prayer focuses on the Mr. Potato Head glasses instead of the core body of what’s important.

In an effort to connect to the potato to his beautifications, I’m taking a class on Personalizing Prayer at Pardes.  We’ve moved through Birkat HaShacher (morning blessings) and are finishing up with P’sukei D’Zimra (verses of song).  They’re both part of the morning prayers.  One of the other students in my class is a gifted ritualist who led the class in a chant of a phrase in P’sukei D’Zimra.  I found the exercise heart opening.  I’m not sure why, exactly.  But it was very nice…and left me wishing I could synergize tefillah (Jewish prayer or Mr. Potato Head’s appendages) with that which I find is important (the potato).  And for a moment in class, I might’ve just gotten there.