Rudyard Kipling’s old classic “The Jungle Book” is getting a redo this year, with a fancy hi-tech animation film. Every film adaption is a new interpretation of a story, so we’ll have to see what this version adds and takes away, but I’d like to share a reflection of what this story meant to me growing up, a relevant parable with many life-applications.
Mowgli is the boy raised in the jungle, he starts off in the wolf pack, and then goes off on an adventurous journey propelled by Sheera Kahn the tiger’s animosity and threat. Disney-adventure aside, the theme is that of a unsure, and confused identity. He is a human but doesn’t know that at first, and even when he does, he isn’t quite sure what that means. It’s only when he meets that girl at the edge of the village that he realizes the boy in himself.
As Jewish people living in a modern, secular world, we too, straddle two worlds, and this can muddle or confuse our identity and priorities. Sometimes, as the Talmud tells us (and as we learned from last summer’s infamous prison break in Dannemora prison upstate), “a prisoner can not free himself.” We are too immersed in our current situations to see beyond what we know and experience. That girl at the edge of the woods, was from a totally different world, the world of the village. She was human, she was totally human, she had no uncertainties or confusion. She had the clarity that Mowgli lacked – and craved.
This concept is true in many areas of life. Here’s one example: Shabbat vs. the Weekday. Our weekdays can be a mix of village and jungle, we immerse ourselves in the nitty gritty of everyday life, and have multiple entanglements. The weekdays can be like our Mowgli, but Shabbat can be like the girl at the edge of the village. It offers brightness and clarity and holiness that we don’t have as accessible all week long and its something we crave and look forward to on Shabbos.
We’re approaching Passover (believe me, we’re racing toward the finish line in terms of cleaning and shopping and prep) and this same idea is relevant. As Chabad Chassidus repeatedly stresses, Egypt isn’t only the land on the Nile. Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim which is the Hebrew word for limitations and boundaries. So we can be in Egypt in Albany, or even in Brooklyn or Jerusalem. Exodus is the goal! And we need a Moses, we need that person at the edge of our jungle, who comes from a different place, and helps us rise above the jungle in our own lives. We need to reach a place of spiritual clarity, of certainty, of conviction.
On a personal note, I first thought of this Jungle-Book parable in terms of the Rebbe. In a way, the Rebbe’s unequivocal unwavering conviction and incredibly positive and wholesome Jew modeling, helps us realize and bring out the Jew in ourselves, despite whatever muddled experiences or personal confusion we may have in our lives.