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The Holdovers and Parshah Ki Tisa — 20 Adar I, 5784

1 Mar 2024 2:54 PM | Franklin Jester (Administrator)

By Solomon Moon  


The Holdovers is a slice of life film that follows the story of a teacher trying to mold the young,  impressionable mind of his troubled student, who has great intellectual potential. In Parshah Ki  Tisa, this teacher-student relationship is evident between G-d and Moses, as well as Moses and  the Israelites—the wilderness holdovers.  

Forced to temporarily stay in an inhospitable environment, the student’s behavior tests the  teacher’s ethics and teachings on what it means to be a “Barton man.” For instance, Paul  Giamatti’s character, Professor Hunham, tells his student Angus: “Barton men don’t lie.” Then,  the story proceeds to reveal the teacher’s own lies and secrets. But the most intriguing part of this  story is how its ending reflects Moses’s decision in the parshah.  

The Holdovers ends with Professor Hunham lying and taking responsibility for Angus’ actions in  order to keep him from being expelled. Though it cost Hunham his job, it was one of his few  selfless acts in the film for someone who gave him the most trouble. The Israelites in the desert  were anxious awaiting Moses’ return and told Aaron to make them a replacement—the golden  calf. This wasn’t the first instance of how the Israelites had transgressed against G-d. But like  Hunham, Moses saw the potential of the Israelites, the good in them, and took responsibility for  their misstep as his own.  

This act of teshuvah is quite different from the typical approach to teshuvah. Instead of atoning  for one’s own actions, Moses pleads with G-d to atone for the actions of the Israelites. But is it  possible to atone for the actions of another? It certainly seems so in this parshah. However,  there’s a reason why Moses was able to do so.  

The more Hunham spent time with the rebellious Angus, the more he realized how similar they  were. He began to see more of himself in Angus. Moses shared a similar experience with the  Israelites. Prophet status aside, Moses was capable of doing teshuvah for the Israelites because  he was one with his people. The Israelites were (as we often say as Jews) many bodies, one soul.  The sin of the Israelites was Moses’ sin too. Therefore, his act of teshuvah was to be accepted by  G-d and acknowledged as if they all sought atonement.  

Such unity is noble and admirable. It evokes a higher sense of community and responsibility for  each other. To celebrate diversity, yet see beyond the differences is an opportunity to promote  inclusivity and strengthen communal bonds based on our shared Jewish identity. Hunham  sacrificed his prestigious job for Angus’ future. Moses was prepared to sacrifice the Torah and  his relationship with the Divine for the sake of the Israelites. This selfless act of lovingkindness  for the good of others is the kind of compassion that can light a path towards peace and Oneness,  if only we see the other reflected in ourselves.

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