December 30, 2020


How Pixar's 'Soul' borrows from an ancient Jewish idea (RABBI BENJAMIN RESNICK, DECEMBER 28, 2020, JTA)

It doesn't give too much away to tell you that one of the movie's central messages is that true personhood is rooted in the union of body and soul, that they are both indispensable ingredients of life's confection. If Joe Gardner's adventure with an unborn soul named "22" yields any concrete moral, it is that corporeality and spirituality are intimately bound up with one another. Each is incomplete, perhaps woefully so, without the other. And of the many ideas that Pixar gracefully bandies about in "Soul," it is this one that strikes me as the most profoundly Jewish.

On this very subject, there is a famous midrash, or ancient rabbinic homily, about a body and soul separated by death and standing before God in judgment. The soul, pleading her case, argues that all of her sinful behaviour was caused by the body's base desires. The body, not to be outdone, makes the point that without the soul he would have been entirely lifeless and therefore unable to transgress. Accepting their arguments, God puts them back together and punishes them in unison.

I have always found this story irresistibly charming (very much like a Pixar movie) not because I am in love with the idea of divine retribution, but rather because, as an embodied soul myself -- or, if you like, as a body who happens to be ensouled for the moment -- it simply rings true.

Posted by at December 30, 2020 8:24 AM