Offering inspiration to students in my Bible course


I inherited the syllabus and the bibliography for my elective course on the Bible. The Oxford Study Bible combines the “Old” and the New Testaments, and I have added Elie Wiesel’s “Five Biblical Portraits” as recommended reading. As you must know, Wiesel finds contemporary tragic implications among the fates of Joshua and Saul, Jeremiah and Elijah.

There is nothing new under the sun, and I also screen “The Green Pastures” and “The Gospel according to St. Matthew” (Pier Paolo Pasolini’s strange neo-realist portraits of Mary and Joseph, Jesus and Judas). Some semesters I even show “David and Goliath” starring Orson Welles as Saul, “Samson and Delilah” to display the charms of Hedy Lamarr, and Susan Hayward as Gregory Peck’s Bathsheba.

Mostly, I seek to inspire my students to learn Torah with their hands! Yes, to build Noah’s ark and to follow the directions for a creative and imaginative Sukkah. Whatever passage or parable they fixate, or focus upon, they present their “research” in the form of something they are also inventing within the studio chambers of their majors. “You will understand the metaphorical meanings or the difficult dilemmas best with your eyes and your hands, not just with rhetorical language and abundant verbiage,” I tell them.

I also avoid as much as possible the “duh” – the obvious – good advice and sound counsel available in Proverbs. I prefer the poetry of paradox, contradiction, puzzlement. I drive about town to snap a shot of something that illustrates a passage, or a verse, from scripture. The burning bush? I’ll grab a quick glimpse with my camera of the reddest, most crimson, most scarlet, of the trees of our late autumn. G-d speaks to me from its glory, and it also recalls the menorah on the last night of Hanukkah.

I took a portrait of a strange sight on Blackstone Boulevard. A tree growing out of the stump of a giant felled oak, or maybe it was only an overgrown Norway maple. Job complained to the Creator that an axed tree can come back to life by natural magic, while the death of one’s beloved son or daughter, wife or brother, friend or father or mother, is irreversible. 

You may smile at my trivial and literal version of the grandeur of biblical metaphors, but I find the Hasidic facet of my faith and my vocation within a few blocks from my home and my office! 

MIKE FINK ( teaches at RISD.