The Hidden Torah In The Manifest Series

Though dark clouds hover over our world this time of the year, the sages insist that filaments of secret light and divine connection are buried beneath the concealment. A recent Netflix series expresses this concept. A plane gets lost in flight for five and a half years and then returns without any of the passengers having aged. And some of them have strange intuitive and telepathic experiences referred to as ‘Callings’ where they rescue people in danger.

Morah Yehudis Fishman

Both the mystical and the human interest in the four-season series MANIFEST, interact with each other in ways that kept me hooked till the very end. It certainly didn’t hurt that the disappearing flight number, 828, was one of my long time personal storage numbers. That ‘coincidence’ reinforced the underlying Kabbalistic premise of the series that nothing happens by accident.

Of course there are several references to other faiths and cultures, but to me the Jewish connections kept jumping out like popping corn. One obvious link is the plane’s continual link to Noah’s ark. The main characters kept on referring to their escape route as a ‘lifeboat,’ and eventually came to the conclusion that all the missing passengers were, on many levels, ‘in the same boat’. Even the iconic Exodus story played a large part, through the appearances of plague-related phenomena like blood, boils, and locusts.

Then there is the supernatural energy of sapphire which, like the equal but opposite contrasts between Moshe and Bilam, put extreme power, for good or for evil, into the hands of whoever possessed the sapphire. Also the image of the two sapphires coming together was imprinted on a peacock. In the Torah, one of the sacred jewels on the Choshen, the breastplate of the high priest, was a sapphire jewel. In addition, a famous origin of the root for the Hebrew word Sapir, has multiple meanings. It is a story, a book, or a scribe- all related to conveying significant information. Most clearly, the sapphire reference, whether intentional or not, reminds me of the teaching that the two tablets of the Ten Commandments were made from sapphire!

Actually, the main reason I think the series seems so Jewish is the interpersonal dynamics. There is a broad spectrum of ethics in the plethora of characters, from mostly evil to mostly good but, even though it is a Sci-Fi series, the characters are mostly human, with a complexity that Sci-Fi performers don’t usually possess. The uncommon plot and setting don’t take away from the moral choices that most of the characters have. The primary players try to do good and often fail, but they hold on to positive mantras and grasp at second chances. Their reference point is a verse from Romans 8:28- the number of the airline flight that got lost. That is the verse: ‘All things work together for good.’ Of course this is a very Jewish and Kabbalistic idea- both parts of that saying, i.e. that all actions in any given time and space (and sometimes beyond) are intertwined and work together, and secondly, they work together for good, in the long run. In the Talmud, this is related to the story of the famous Rabbi Akiva who was forced to lodge outside of a town with a candle, a rooster, and a donkey. In the middle of the night, all three items were harmed but Rabbi Akiva kept saying, ‘Whatever the Compassionate one does is for the good.’  Then in the morning he found out that mauraders attacked and killed the townsfolk, and would have killed him too if they had seen the candle burning and heard the rooster crow and the donkey bray. I’m not elaborating here on the complex details of the well-woven plot of Manifest, but if you’re interested, I think it’s worth your watch.

Finally, I have never seen a movie or series where there’s ‘a whole lot of hugging going on’ to such a degree. Though evil is clearly present and must be dealt with, there is always Hope and the rebirth of compassion. And in these times of alienation and ubiquitous blaming of the other, the tolerance itself and attempts at reconciliation and just plain learning to get along, seem worth the price of admission, and are especially appropriate lessons to keep in mind during these three weeks where it seems like the Divine Presence both without and within is absent. Therefore, my takeaway from the series is: Take the hidden good in yourself and others, and make it Manifest.

About Morah Yehudis Fishman

I have been teaching Torah and Chassidic writings for over forty years to students of all ages and backgrounds, both on the East Coast and the Midwest. I have been a director of several Jewish organizations in Santa Fe and Colorado. My articles and poetry on a wide variety of Jewish topics have been printed in many publications, and also are available online.

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