Posted by: gruvenreuven | March 1, 2011

Shema Prelude to Nocturnal

No, I’m not trying to turn this blog into a “Jews in Comics blog”, but while I’m on a roll….

Sunday, I finally got around to reading “Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes” by Neil Gaiman. The Book has been recommend to me many times by pretty much everyone I know that reads comics/Graphic Novels. I picked the book up cheap from Instocktrades.com (Which is a fantastic site for Graphic Novels as most books are discounted up to 42%, with free Shipping on orders over $50).

I pretty much blew through “Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes” in a day. Spent and hour at the Laundromat (Yeah, Out washer is still broken), then called my wife to see If I could hang out at Startbucks (So I could read a bit more) before heading home. That got me most of the way through the book, so after my Torah Studies, and chavrusa at the Kollel, I finished the book before going to bed.

Holy Smokes! All the praise I’ve read or heard didn’t come close to accurately portraying how wonderful this book really is. (At least story-wise) I wasn’t too keen on the looseness of the Art, but that’s just my personal preference as I know many folks really love the art of Sam Kieth & Mike Dringenberg. Even so, for me the art didn’t detracted from the book in any regards, and there were still a handful of panels/pages that I found gorgeous.

In “Preludes & Nocturnes”, an occultist attempting to capture Death to bargain for eternal life traps her younger brother Dream instead. After his 70 year imprisonment and eventual escape, Dream, also known as Morpheus, goes on a quest for his lost objects of power. I don’t want to spoil too much of the book if you have plans to read it. Lets just say the book is pretty bizarre, and on a number of occasions I think audible gasps and interjects could be heard by folks sitting around me in Starbucks. The book also includes the story “The Sound of Her Wings,” which introduces us to “Death” who is a perky Goth girl.

I’m digressing with a book report… Getting back to the Jew in Comic theme… The below page which is taken from the “Sound of Her Wings” story, Death comes to the house of an elderly Jew, who recites the Shema before leaving this mortal coil.

Saying the Shema on one’s death bed goes back to the times of our forefathers. The Gemara, Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: “And Ya’akov called his sons and told them, ‘Gather around and I will tell you what will happen to you in the End-of-Days.'” (Bereishis 49:1). Ya’akov wanted to reveal the End-of-Days to his sons, but the Divine Presence left him. So he said, “Perhaps, G-d forbid, there is something unfit from my bed (i.e., a spiritually unworthy child), just as Yishmael was born to Avraham, and Eisav to my father Yitzchak?” His sons answered, “Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad (Hear O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One): just as in your heart only (G-d is) One, so too in our hearts, there is only One.” At that moment, Ya’akov said, “Boruch Shem kevod Malchuso l’olam va-ed (Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom forever)!” (Pesachim 56a)

We also learn in the Gemara that Rabbi Akiva recited the Shema as he was tortured to death by the Romans (Berachos 61a)

Also fitting for a book dealing with sleep/dreams is the mention of the Shema, as the Shema is typically said right before retiring at night.

One of the basic lessons of the verse Shema Yisrael is that “Hashem is Elokeinu.” By saying Shema, we acknowledge that there is only One G-d, despite the fact that we see various manifestations of Him. For example, Hashem is sometimes merciful and sometimes strict. (The Name “Hashem” represents G-d’s Attribute of Mercy, while the Name “Elokim” represents G-d’s Attribute of Justice.) Although we rarely understand how this is so, what we perceive as G-d’s strictness is ultimately for our own good; in the long-run, it is merciful.

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