A Halloween Reflection by Rabbi Andrew Jacobs
According to the National Retail Federation, zombie costumes are the fourth most popular costume for adults this Halloween. This reflects America’s obsession with zombies who appear in numerous films, television shows and books. Zombie races, walks and other events are popping up all over the country. While Halloween and zombies are by no means Jewish, we can learn a lot about ourselves by looking closely at our infatuation with zombies.
Zombies, fictitious horrifying creatures, are dead humans that have come back to life. While their resurrection enables them to walk among us, wreaking havoc wherever they go, zombies are not seen as living creatures. They are creatures who are not living or dead. They seem to have one purpose: to kill the living and thus, infect them with whatever unknown infection it is that makes zombies come into existence. It is this infection that makes zombies so intriguing.
Keeping in mind that zombies are not real (we hope!), it is important to understand that the infection that creates a zombie does not appear to harm the physical body of a human being. The deformities that plague zombies are the result of the decomposition of the body as a result of death and/or injuries that the zombie suffered as a result of attacking the living. The infection does, however, appear to completely eat away the spiritual side of a human being, destroying the soul and thus, the morality, free will and conscience of a person. These are essential attributes that make us the unique, amazing creatures that seek to build lives and communities and establish relationships with others. Having lost these vital attributes, zombies are creatures that are missing the spark of humanity. They are soulless beings that have been hijacked by an infection that uses zombies to propagate and, thus, obliterate all that is spiritual, moral, virtuous and meaningful.
Given this, why are we obsessed with zombies?
They represent the destruction of everything we hold dear. Even if we are not religious people, we value and appreciate our ability to live safely in a morally just society that is governed by rules and laws that keep peace and harmony. As we watch terrorists and other extremists destroy, kill and maim, we know that we live in a world where zombies are not as fictitious as we might want to believe. These real life monsters make us feel helpless, hopeless and scared. And this is where the fake zombies that we will see tomorrow night come in. They scare us – but in a controlled way. The horrors that we will witness at a Halloween party or while we take our kids trick-or-treating might startle us, but just for a moment or two. They’ll make our heart race, but we’ll quickly come to our senses and realize that it is all pretend – everything is okay.
Dr. Jeff Greenberg, a psychology professor at the University of Arizona, says that we need a little fear in our lives – but fear we can control – fear that comes and goes quickly. The zombies of Halloween provide the perfect dose of fear. We are psychologically satisfied, Dr. Greenberg says, when we are able to enter a scary situation, even if we know it is fake, and manage it. Halloween lets us do just this. There are real life monsters in this world. We know this all too well. Dr. Greenberg suggests that our obsession with zombies and all things Halloween helps us cope with the frightening aspects of reality. The costumes, haunted houses and horror movies that will be a part of many of our lives tomorrow night are, according to Dr. Greenberg, like a vaccination that injects just a little bit of fear into our lives – an amount that we can control, laugh about eventually and allow us to function in the real, scary world.
For those of us who celebrate Halloween tomorrow night, may we receive the perfect dose of fear and may we use this dose to stand up to the real scary stuff out there.