What do the Jewish people and the television show “Game of Thrones” have in common?
The correct answer is not men with long beards, tribes (houses) with symboled flags (sigils) or countries (Westeros and Israel) constantly facing existential threats. While those are arguably accurate answers, for the purpose of this article, the correct answer is flaming swords.
In “Game of Thrones,” Beric Dondarrion, an eye-patched character, brandished a flaming sword while fighting the dreaded White Walkers and when battling Sandor “The Hound” Clegane after he 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 “Game of Thrones” scholars contend that another “flaming sword” (from the “Game of Thrones” book, not the show) is a key part of the storyline relating to Azor Ahai, a mythical figure who will save the world from darkness. The flaming sword itself is referred to as “Lightbringer” and is said to burn anyone who touches it. Of course, that is not at 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.
Believe it or not, 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 Hashem banished (them) from the Garden of Eden, to work the soil from which (Adam) was taken. And having driven (them out), (Hashem) 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,” something that sounds like it belongs in “Game of Thrones,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter” or similar tales.
It is worth noting 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 Jacob 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) When Joseph has an altercation with his brothers, there is no mention of a sword. “Then they took him and cast him into the pit.” (Genesis 27:24) Moses carries a wooden staff, not a sword. David wields a slingshot, not a sword. Samson uses 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 not been sufficient for the Tree of Life to be protected by a fence, moat, landmines or the Iron Dome?
Couldn’t the Tree of Life have been hidden with smoke and mirrors, trapdoors, exact replicas and other Las Vegas-type magical illusions?
Final thought: What do deadly swords and baseball games have in common? They both have foul tips.
Yonatan Levi writes humor columns for the Cleveland Jewish News.