October 9th, 2016, was an intense day. I had just returned from watching “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” – the movie that previews the upcoming Jewish Family Service event of the year, featuring Nicole Perlman, the movie’s screen writer. I was tossing and turning all night and finally got up at 4 am to an email that a close personal friend of mine had just passed away. One of her last mandates to me a few weeks ago was, ‘Yehudis, Keep on writing.’ So here I am – Shari Kark, this one is for you.
Who are the true guardians? In Judaism the superheroes are not those who wear capes, but who wear kittles; not those who are trained to kill, but those who are trained to save, to rescue and to assist, not those who strive to be right, but who strive for righteousness.
In this techie, action packed sci-fi, where more people are blown up than pages in the bible, there is a hidden schematic of the Teshuva process. To me it all boils down to the Talmudic statement: ‘A person should always be occupied with Torah and Mitzvot, because from the midst of action from ulterior motive, one arrives at acting from pure motive.’ One point of this teaching is that we all begin with our own needs and desires, but hopefully move on to more inclusive concerns.
How does this film illustrate the Teshuva journey? Like so much in sci-fi films as well as in other movie genres, there is a team of heroes that begin as apparent shlimazels. But more tragic than their initial insecurity or self-centerness, is their inability to care for anyone but themselves. In the end they change, and change because, they begin, like Yosef in prison, to care about another.
When Yosef, the favored but resented son of Yaacov is incarcerated and falsely accused of rape, he could have hunkered down in a corner licking his wounds and stewing in feelings of the injustice of it all. Instead, like Birdman of Alcatraz, his vision moves beyond the walls of his pain, and the panes of his walls. He notices the sadness of two other men there and asks ‘What’s wrong?’ The rest is history…or at least, the rest of the book of Genesis and beyond. In fact, our sages tell us that Yosef was released on Rosh Hashana!
There is a similar dynamic in this movie. The ‘fractured four’, who form the Guardians, have all been deeply hurt in the depths of their souls by a previous trauma. Peter has been wrenched away from his mother’s death bed as a young boy; Rocket was put together from strange components to resemble a monster with hyper intelligence and sensitivity; Gamora saw her parents killed before her eyes, after which she became the ‘unfavored’ child of a tyrant. And Groot was a strange plant like creature originally linked with Rocket, who only words were, ‘I am Groot.’ Finally there was a latecomer, Drax, who was obsessed with revenge because the tyrant had murdered his wife and daughter.
How does the above Talmudic statement apply to the growth of the Guardians? These four do not become heroes overnight. They begin as rivals either as mercenaries or as competitors in search of a ‘golden snitch’ like object called the ‘Orb’ which is said to contain an infinity stone. They are willing to eliminate or even kill each other in their single minded pursuit. But when they are imprisoned by the ‘Nova Corps’ for their various and nefarious undertakings, they realize they need each other’s help to escape. At first, this alliance, like Korach’s band in the Torah, is only for their personal gain. But then through their various actions of assisting, caring for, and even being willing to risk their lives in defense and protection of each other, they realize the value of friendship and the futility and pain of isolation. This awareness is succinctly expressed in the one change in Groot’s limited vocabulary from ‘I am Groot,’ to ‘WE are Groot.’
What does this film have to do with Yom Kippur in particular and the month of Tishrei in general? I believe it is in the nature of this month’s festivals to pull us out of the bubble of being self-absorbed. On Rosh Hashana we all stand together in the sound waves of the Shofar. On Yom Kippur we all enter the ‘Holy of Holies’ which parallels the pure, inner core of our souls that are united with each other and with G-d. On Sukkot we are all under the sechach which reflects the Cloud of Glory, and on Simchat Torah, we all rejoice with the Torah we each received at Sinai.
But in order to fully be immersed in these experiences, we have to take some actions, internally as well as externally, that will get us out of the cages of seeing ourselves as limited, finite beings. The prayers of the high holy days give us some guidance: ‘Teshuva, Tefilla, and Tzedaka, maavirin et roa hagezeira,’ =”Return, prayer (as self-reflection) and acts of kindness, can avert the evil of the decree.” What these three directives have in common is their ability to both expand our self-definitions, as well as to get in touch with the deepest part of our souls. And that is the striking paradox: the more we can move beyond our conscious individual identification, the more we actually move back into the Source from where we came, that connects us to everyone and everything else in Creation. Truly, as we become part of the ‘Nova corps’ of our people, we touch the inner core of our essence.
My friend was an amazing and powerful woman. She leaves behind three equally remarkable and influential daughters and their children who are indeed ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ in their respective environments. I personally experienced her devotion to others. In the midst of all her communal activities, a few years ago when I was almost killed in a car collision she took care of me day and night. She will continue to be my inspiration. May her memory be for a blessing and may we all find people who inspire us…and who inspire us to inspire others.
Please support the Boulder Jewish Family Service which so admirably works in so many ways, to assist older and disabled adults throughout the Jewish community.