Jews and Game of Thrones
What do the Jewish People and the television show “Game of Thrones” have in common?
What do the Jewish People and the television show Game of Thrones (GOT) have in common?
The correct answer is not men with long beards or countries constantly facing existential threats.
It’s flaming swords.
In GOT, Beric Dondarrion, an eye-patched character, brandished a flaming sword while fighting the dreaded White Walkers and when battling someone who killed Mycah the Butcher Boy. (Technically, Judaism does not feature White Walkers, though on Yom Kippur there are loads of Jews walking around in white. In addition, in the Jewish world butcher boys are rather rare but adult kosher butchers are aplenty.) Some GOT scholars contend that another “flaming sword” (from the GOT book, not the show) relates to Azor Ahai, a mythical figure who will save the world from darkness. That flaming sword itself is referred to as “Lightbringer” and is said to burn anyone who touches it.
Of course, that is not all surprising because anyone who is dumb enough to voluntarily touch a flaming sword deserves to get burned just like anyone who is dumb enough to take a nap next to a sprinkler deserves to get wet. And anyone who is dumb enough to move in with their in-laws deserves to get annoyed.
Even though flaming swords sound fictitious and fantastical, Jewish history is not devoid of them. One need look no further than the first book of the Torah, Genesis, and the story of the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve are confronted for partaking of the Tree of Life’s forbidden fruits, they are cast out from the Garden of Eden, the first recorded case of paradise lost. As the Torah tells us: “So God banished [them] from the Garden of Eden, to work the soil from which [Adam] was taken. And having driven [them out], [God] stationed at the east of the Garden of Eden the Cherubim and the flame of the ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life.” (Genesis 3:24) This is the Torah’s first and only reference to the “flame of the ever-turning sword”.
It is worth noting that the Torah does not feature a lot of swordplay. When Cain kills Abel, there is no mention of a sword. (“Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” Genesis 4:8) When Jacobs grapples with an angel, there is not mention of a sword. (“Jacob was left alone and [an angel] wrestled with him until the break of dawn.” Genesis 32:25) Moses carries a wooden staff, not a sword. David wields a slingshot, not a sword. Samson used his brute strength and lovely locks, not a sword.
So why does Genesis refer to the “flame of ever-turning sword”? Wouldn’t it have been sufficient for the Tree of Life to be protected by a fence, moat, landmines or the Iron Dome?
Some scholars and sources suggest that the “ever-turning” aspect of the sword actually was a magical ever-changing quality designed to mislead, misdirect and keep tree seekers off the trail. For the record, other scholars and sources do not interpret the “flame of the ever-turning sword” literally. For example, according to the Midrash Tanchuma, the flame represents Gehinnom (Hell) “which is ever turning from hot to cold and from cold to hot over the wicked.” The Midrash adds: “And who will be delivered from the judgment of Gehinnom?” One who is busy with Torah.” (One who is busy on Friday morning fighting long lines at Machane Yehuda as part of preparing for Shabbos also should be delivered from Gehinnom.)
In the same midrash, another view expressed is that the sword “can only be the Torah since it is stated in Psalm 149:6 “Let the high praises of [God] be in their mouth and a two-edged sword in their hand.” In this particular case, the Midrash is not talking about the metaphorical double-edged sword, which is both positive and negative. It is talking about the Torah. In fact, on this very topic the Talmud states that for anyone who recites the Shema in bed at night, “demons [inner and external] stay away from him.” (See Berachot 5a) In fact, saying the Shema is far more effective than spraying yourself with demon repellent or getting a demon vaccine.
If you’re going to learn Torah while watching Game of Thrones, be careful. It could be a double-edged sword.