You may or may not be aware of the bizarre 2003 cult classic film, The Room. (Not to be confused with Room, the 2015 Oscar nominated masterpiece). The Room was a passion project of writer/director/actor/vampire look-alike, Tommy Wiseau and it is terrible. Possibly one of the worst movies of all time. But fortunately, it is such a train wreck, it falls into the so-bad-it’s-good category of film. And from that, has amassed quite a following including sold out midnight shows, DVD sales, college classes, and even appreciation from big names in Hollywood.
So what does an eyesore of pop culture have to do with this week’s Torah portion? It’s all in the first line.
וַיִּגַּ֨שׁ אֵלָ֜יו יְהוּדָ֗ה וַיֹּ֘אמֶר֘ בִּ֣י אֲדֹנִי֒ יְדַבֶּר־נָ֨א עַבְדְּךָ֤ דָבָר֙ בְּאָזְנֵ֣י אֲדֹנִ֔י וְאַל־יִ֥חַר אַפְּךָ֖ בְּעַבְדֶּ֑ךָ כִּ֥י כָמ֖וֹךָ כְּפַרְעֹֽה
Then Judah approached him and said, “If you please, my lord, let now your servant speak something into my lord’s ears, and let not your wrath be kindled against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh. (Bereishis 44:18)
Just to give some context, Vayigash starts out in the climax of the Yosef saga. After having being sold into slavery by his brothers years ago, Yosef now stands before them (unrecognized) as the viceroy of Egypt. He holds their youngest brother Binyamin hostage in a plot to get the brothers to do teshuvah (make right for their deeds of selling him years before). But the leader of the brothers, Yehudah, has pledged to their father, Yaakov, that he will bring back Binyamin no matter what.
And it’s this sentiment, success no matter what, that I want to focus on.
Success At All Costs
The English translation above doesn’t do the original text justice. וַיִּגַּ֨שׁ – vayigash, translated as “he approached” is better translated as “he affronted.” Though the text implies that Yehudah is being diplomatic, even subservient, in actuality Yehudah is preparing to go to war. His first words, בִּ֣י אֲדֹנִי֒ – bi adoni, do mean, “If you please, my lord.” But another way of reading the text is that Yehudah is saying, “In me, is God.”
It’s an extraordinary statement. Yehudah is putting everything on the line and declaring, “I don’t care what it takes, I am not leaving without my brother. And if you want to mess with me, you’re messing with God!” We know these brothers have extraordinary power. Shimon and Levi alone decimated the entire city of Shechem a few parshas ago. Now it’s 10 brothers. They may not be able to take out the whole Egyptian army, but that doesn’t matter. Yehudah has a mission and he has clarity. What we learn from this is that when we are faced with a challenge, if we do our histadlus (our due diligence) and we have clarity it is the right thing to do, then go for it with all your heart and the rest is up to God.
Tommy Wiseau put everything into making The Room. Hours of work, millions of dollars, person after person telling him he was untalented and that he should quit. And what did he get for his effort? A movie that confirms that he should have saved his time and money, and quit.
But here’s the crazy thing. The Room became such a phenomenon, beloved by so many people for its paracinematic appeal, that actor James Franco has made a stellar film about the making of The Room, named The Disaster Artist. In the movie, James Franco plays the mysteriously perplexing Tommy Wiseau as they painstakingly recreate scenes from the original film. The Disaster Artist is littered with A List Hollywood cameos. Bryan Cranston, Bob Odenkirk, Adam Scott, and Judd Apatow, to name a few. And as they remake the scenes from the original movie, those parts are played now by huge names. Think about that for a minute. The cliched, beanie wearing, muscle thug, bit part was played by none other than Zac Efron!
By no means did The Room receive the type of recognition Tommy Wiseau ever wanted. But by some bizarre twist of fate, it’s become something much much more. And that’s the key to the lesson. The odds may be stacked against us, our task may seem impossible, if we put in our all, Hashem will take us the rest of the way… it just may not be to a place we expected to go. Greatness is a decision. But it is an exhausting and difficult one. Rarely do we go exactly where we set out to. Even if we get there, it’s probably not what we imagined. And along the way we will fail, many times. But the decision to continue, fight your hardest, and be able to honestly say at the end of the day “I did everything I could today” builds character, teaches the hardest lessons, and inspires others.
Each of us have a tremendous power with in us. We’ve all had those moments when we’ve been inspired or pushed well beyond what we thought our limits were. Running a marathon, working on no sleep, finishing a body of work, truly jaw dropping feats we didn’t know we were capable of until we made the decision not to quit. That is what Yehuda is invoking with bi adoni. He is making the decision that he will fight until the bitter end to do what needs to get done. From there he’s relying on God to lift him when he falls, invigorate him when he gets tired, and ultimately give him a miracle necessary to succeed.
To think otherwise, is to believe that our success comes from us. And as any truly successful person will tell you, their break came from being at the right place at the right time after having put in their all. Remember, as Pirkei Avos 2:21 says, You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it. Sometimes you’ll finish the work and sometimes someone will pick up from where you left off. But if you put in your all something wonderful will happen. It just may not be what you expected.
Excellent comparison between the Biblical text, the movie, and life. Very thoughtful. Ragen Elterman
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