“Where do I come from?” This question is at the heart of the new Superman movie, Man of Steel, which premiered last week. The film highlights Superman’s being the product of two worlds and two sets of parents. By nature, Superman is a Kryptonian named Kal-El. He inherits special powers from his Kryptonian birth parents. By nurture, he is Clark Kent, a rural Kansan. His adoptive human parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, instill in him their values (truth, justice, patriotism, and the responsibility to pursue the right and good). As Kal-El/Clark searches to discover his true identity, he concludes (SPOILER ALERT!) that his purpose is to use his innate abilities, skills, and talents for the betterment of his adoptive people.
This take on the Superman mythos contains important Torah. Superman’s Jewish origins, of course, are well documented. Created in 1938 by two Jews, the character borrowed much from Judaism. His origin story, for example, parallels Moses’. And Superman addressed major Jewish anxieties of the time: being an immigrant in America, exclusion from mainstream white-Protestant society, and powerlessness in the face of anti-Semitic fascism.
The angle Man of Steel takes on the story underscores another profound Jewish connection: According to our tradition, we, like Superman, are the products of two sets of parents. The Talmud (Kiddushin 30b) teaches, “There are three partners in the creation of a baby: the Holy Blessing One, the father, and the mother.” As much as we are products of our birth parents, we are also, equally, products of our Divine parent.
Moreover, the Talmud lists God as the first partner in our creation, implying that God is in fact our primary parent. In this sense, our biological parents function more like surrogates. Just as Superman is, first and foremost, a child of Krypton (which gives him his unique powers), we are, first and foremost, children of God, which endows us with God’s abilities, characteristics, and passions.
For example, God can create, sustain, and repair worlds. So can we. God, according to the Torah, is gracious and compassionate (Exodus 34:6). We too have the inborn capacity for graciousness and compassion. God, we are taught, “upholds the cause of the orphan and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18). We too can fight for justice and inclusion. Being children of God means that we are meant to act in the world in these and other godly ways. Here is the truth about us: we may, on the outside, look like a mild-mannered earthling. But inside, we carry God’s DNA.
So, to answer Superman’s question for ourselves, we come from God. But we are no angels. Instead, we were placed on Earth, given over to the care of earthly parents, in order to use our godly gifts and talents for the betterment of our families, our communities, our planet. After all, what good are our talents if we have no arena in which to put them to use? For children, we thus honor our parents because without them, we could never become who we are meant to be. And for parents, this is an important lesson, too. Like the Kents, we have a responsibility to help our kids discover who they truly are and give them all the material, emotional, educational, and spiritual support necessary to enable them to fulfill their purpose.
These lessons from Superman are far from fluff. To some, like Rabbi Ed Feinstein, they reflect the intent and purpose of all of Judaism. Asks Feinstein in his masterful book, Tough Questions Jews Ask “Why be Jewish?” The emphatic answer? “To be a hero.” God created you to be super. God put you on this earth to be a hero. Become who you were born to be.