Avatar and Rebbe Nachman
January 18, 2010 by Jewish Climate Initiative
By Dr. Michael Kagan
I was astounded by the film Avatar. I didn’t want to leave the theater. I didn’t want to be unplugged. Incredible. What story telling.
What is equally or maybe even more incredible are the parallels with certain aspects of Avatar and passages in Kabbalistic texts. In preparing for Tu B’shvat I am rereading the anthology “Trees, Earth and Torah” and I came across this passage from an article by Aryeh Wineman quoting the Zohar 91:172a): The House is situated at the very center of all that is…From its midst there emerges a single large and mighty Tree, with thick branches and fruit… That Tree ascends upwards to the very clouds until it disappears from view among three mountains. The House, nourished and watered by the Tree, conceals numerous celestial and unknown treasures… Numerous spirits fly about it in the air. They join with the birds, acquiring their knowledge…
Then there’s the following from an essay by Gershon Scholem: Once the unity of the two trees in men’s lives were destroyed there began the domination of the Tree of Knowledge. No longer did unitary gushing, unrestrained life prevail, but duality of good and evil in which the Torah appears in this aspect of revelation. Since the expulsion from The Garden, in the exile we all find ourselves now, we can no longer apperceive the world as a unified whole.
But more than these two passages I found an extraordinary parallelism to Reb Nachman’s story The Cripple. Just the title reminds us of the hero in Avatar. The story is very difficult to understand. It draws from imagery developed in the Zohar and Tikunai HaZohar (brought to my attention by Reb Avraham Leader) of the Mashiach being crippled and needing to find a way to redeem the World and at the same time fix himself. There are plenty of references to the Tree that must be tended to. There are robbers and treasures and magic dust and battles and moons without legs and demons, plenty of demons.
Of course I’m not suggesting that James Cameron was inspired to create Avatar through learning Reb Nachman’s tales but it does show the archetypal structures that are present in our psyches and traditions. In his commentary on this story Arnold Band writes: The demons are portrayed with such human features that the reader often feels the author has in mind the chaotic corruption of contemporary society… We are asked to focus upon the development of the hero from dependence to interdependence and from innocence to profound knowledge and understanding of the power that really controls the world, the power involved in the enigmatic “watering of the Trees”.
Shavua Tov and Chodesh Tov and Shanah Tovah