Doctor Who and Abraham – Why God needs a Companion
December 19, 2012 at 4:29 pm, by Roni
“Why does he need you?” “Because he’s lonely.”
-John Smith to Martha Jones, Family of Blood, Season 3.
This Christmas, Doctor Who returns to our screens with ‘The Snowmen’, in what promises to be a dark, yuletide TV special, starring Matt Smith as the Doctor, Richard E. Grant as the villainous Doctor Simeon. More importantly for the long-term future of the show, ‘The Snowmen’ introduces new companion Clara, played by Jenna Louise-Coleman.
While I sit impatiently waiting for the episode to premiere it seemed a good time to reflect on the Doctor’s companions. Why does he need a companion to travel across time and space? And what does this have to say about God and the Jewish people?
Martha, in Family of Blood, offers a simple explanation to John Smith, that the Doctor needs companions because he is simply lonely, missing his people that all perished in the legendary time war.
However, as the show points out with companions Donna Noble and Amy Pond, there is a deeper dimension.
“I don’t need anyone.” “Yes you do. Because sometimes you need someone to stop you.”
-The Doctor to Donna Noble, the Runaway Bride, Christmas 2006
The Doctor is rage, and fire, and ice – the Daleks call him the Oncoming Storm. But that fire needs to be tempered by mercy, something Donna Noble taught the Doctor repeatedly from her first appearance in ‘The Runaway Bride’ to her time aboard the TARDIS in season 4.
When the Doctor and Donna arrive in Pompeii, in the appropriately named ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ and witness the eruption of Mount Etna, that will eradicate the city, the Doctor says that he can’t do anything to stop it – the destruction of Pompeii is a fixed point in space and time. “Just save someone, please” begs Donna, and the Doctor does, rescuing one family from the destruction raining down from heaven.
Abraham faces a similar situation.
When God plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah he says “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Gen 18:17). Abraham argues that God should not destroy the city, the righteous along with the wicked. If there are fifty good people He should save it, forty, thirty… Eventually God agrees that He won’t destroy it for ten good people.
But ten good people aren’t found.
And God rains fire and brimstone down on Sodom and Gomorrah, only saving a single family, that of Lot, Abraham’s nephew.
Why does God need Abraham? Because He needs Abraham to talk Him out of causing total destruction, to teach him to ‘just save someone’, even if He cannot save them all.
“See this is what happens when you travel alone for too long.”
-Amy Pond to the Doctor, ‘A Town Called Mercy’, Season 7
On the contrary, a traditional Jewish story, a midrash from Sifre Deuteronomy, compares God and Abraham to a King and his hero (full text below).
A king once went out to the desert with a whole troop of his soldiers, but they abandoned him there in a place of robbers and thieves, many of them even joining their ranks, becoming brigands in the wilderness. But the king had left a single hero, who said “Don’t be dismayed, my king, I won’t abandon you and will bring you back to your palace and your own bed.”
Abraham is the hero who ‘rescues’ God from the thieves and robbers of the wilderness, many of whom were originally soldiers in the king’s employ.
And this is the role of the Jewish people, in our role as God’s chosen people we must play the part of God’s companion, rescuing Him from the wilderness, and calling on the Judge of the world to do Justice.
When ‘The Snowmen’ begins on Christmas Day, we know that the Doctor has found himself in a dark place. The Ponds are gone and he has no one with him any more. Can Clara lift his spirits? Be the one to rescue the king in the wilderness? I can’t wait to find out, but somehow I think she will.
After all, that’s what the chosen people do.
Grateful Appreciation to Reb Mordechai Silverstein at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem who taught me this text, and Leora Perkins with whom I studied it.
Roni Tabick is a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. You can read more of his personal work here: www.mythicwriting.blogspot.com.
יִמְצָאֵהוּ בְּאֶרֶץ מִדְבָּר
“He found him in a desert land…” (Deut 32:10) This refers to Abraham. This is comparable to a king who went out with his soldiers to the desert.
His soldiers abandoned him in a place of suffering, a place of robbers, a place of bandits, and joined their ranks.
[The king] had appointed for himself a single hero, who said to him “my Lord the King, don’t let your heart sink, don’t be afraid at all for your life, for I will not abandon you until you enter your palace and sleep on your own bed, as it says “He said to him: I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees” (Genesis 15:7).
“He led him about” (Deut 32:10), as it says “God said to Abram: Go forth from your land” (Genesis 12:1).
“He instructed him” (Deut 32:10), until Abraham our father came, it was as if the Holy Blessed One was only king of the heavens alone, as it says “The Lord, God of the heavens who took me…” (Genesis 24:7)
But when Abraham our father came to the world, he caused God to rule the heavens and the earth, as it says “I will make you swear by the Lord, God of the heavens and God of the earth” (Genesis 24:2).
“He kept him as the pupil of his eye” (Deut 32:10) had the Holy Blessed One even asked Abraham for his eyeball, he would have given it to him. And not just his eyeball nit even his soul, more precious to him than everything, as it says “Take your son, your only (yechidcha) son, Isaac” (Genesis 22:2) and did Abraham not know that this was his only son? Rather this means Abraham’s soul which is called ‘only’ (yechida) as it says, “deliver my soul from the sword; my only one from the power of the dog” (Psalm 22:21).
-Sifre Devarim 313, translation mine.