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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Zombie Tag

By Rabbi Sender Haber

Nothing is more popular right now than zombies. The living dead are here to stay.
—Katy Hershbereger (2009)

You may be wondering if Katy Hershberger has an iPhone or Facebook.

She does. And it was just those tools that got almost 20,000 people to sign up for a game of Zombie tag. I know this because everyone who played gathered down the block from my house last Friday.The police closed the streets, PETA and the reporters set up shop, and the walk home from Kabolas Shabbos got really interesting.

At exactly Shkia, fifteen professional zombies raced through the streets and tagged civilian players. Anybody who was tagged became a Zombie, and before long the streets were crawling with over 1,000 zombies. The zombies dressed in black and spent four hours darting from hiding place to hiding place tagging people and (I suppose) feeding off their flesh. They couldn’t die because they were already dead.

I figured someone out there would want to hear Kiddush, so I went down to where the action was and mingled with the crowd. My first reaction was fright. People in Norfolk have been trained by the Navy to look tough and camouflage well. Muscular black clad men emerging from the darkness are always a little chilling, and even more so when they come in swarms of ten or more.

I quickly got over the initial fear when I realized that these were all just regular people. Most of them thought that I was part of the event (I do dress in black).

I went home for the Shabbos Seudah but learned an important lesson: Normal people are attracted to zombie events. Something about us enjoys dressing up like the living dead and forming lines around the block for a chance to be attacked by a flesh-eater.

I am fascinated by this trend and have spent the past week trying to understand it.

Back in the Harry Potter days, I remember being shocked by a world that was fascinated with the metaphysical but totally uninterested in the soul. As the trend moves beyond sorcerers and hobbits to include vampires and zombies, the soul is still not emerging as an important player..

A former boss of mine used to enjoy asking college kids to describe a “Soulmate”. There were always loud and lively answers, until he led into the next question:

“What is a soul?”

It seems like people don’t think about souls often enough.

The Medrash tells us about the Zombie that Rabi Akiva met. The unfortunate man’s soul was not allowed entry to the world-to-come until his son began to learn Torah. Of course, Rabi Akiva taught the son to say Kaddish and liberated the zombie from his misery.

We (as a people) love to say Kaddish. Kaddish is the #1 mitzva for most Jews, and yet we seem to belong to a society that is fixated on the body after death and all but unaware of the soul.

I once read a little known story about the Chofetz Chaim:

In 1917, as a teenager, a relative of the Chofetz Chaim was dealing with many internal struggles and doubts. She decided to confront the great Tzadik, the Chofetz Chayim, directly. The Chofetz Chayim was, of course, one of the greatest leaders and gedolim alive. She asked the Chofetz Chayim “How can you sit here in this little town of Radin “doing nothing” while in the world around you technology and industry are developing at an unprecedented rate?”

The Chofetz Chayim did not take offense or criticize the girl. He explained gently and presciently: “You see airplanes flying and you are very impressed, but one day they will invent an airplane that can fly to the moon. You hear about bombs blowing up buildings and you are awed, but soon they will invent a bomb that can destroy an entire city.

“The world around us is impressive and awesome. Amazing advances are being made daily - but they are not my primary concern.

“I am not in the business of making better bombs or better airplanes. My job is to make people better. The Torah makes people better and my job is to become a mench. My job is to become a human being who is closer to Hashem. That is what I am doing here in Radin.”

The Chofetz Chaim understood that, more than anything else, we need to develop our neshamos. We are fascinated with the tangible and captivated by our physicality. Our Yetzer Hora wants us to focus on walking corpses, but our true focus should be on our better half: the holy Neshama that has the potential to elevate us, satisfy us and nurture us to 120 and beyond.

I walked out of my house before midnight last Friday just as a tired zombie emerged from the shadows. Feeling impulsive and reckless, I yelled out “I’m winning!”. He prepared to tag me and turn me into a zombie. When I told him that I wasn’t playing, he looked a little bit puzzled and continued down the street. As he disappeared around the corner he turned around to face me again.

“You are winning...”, he shouted, “...at life”.

He may have been a zombie and he might have been drunk, but I’d like to think that he was right.

N.B. I am currently involved in a project to give the Zombie movement some soul. If you are knowledgeable in Torah and interested in zombies, please contact me ASAP.

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