Seven Pillars House of Wisdom > Reviews > The Avatar Film & the Trees’ ReBirthDay

The Avatar Film & the Trees’ ReBirthDay

Arthur Waskow

Several milestones in my life came this past week as I continue climbing into and beyond my post-car-crash ordeal of the last four months. One came Sunday afternoon, when Phyllis and I saw our first movie-movie (in a movie house, not DVD) since August.

The film was Avatar. It is an obvious metaphor for the European-USA destruction of Native America and Africa; for the corporate destruction of the Amazon forest and its tribal human eco-partners; for the US destruction of much of Iraq and parts of Afghanistan.

For the indigenous peoples of the film's planet Pandora, the most sacred places are ancient living trees that embody the life force of the planet. So for me, the film spoke powerfully in the tongue of Tu B'Shvat, the festival of the Trees' ReBirthDay.

Avatar is extraordinary. Not only the technology of the filming/ viewing, 3D and FX, but most of all for its spiritually rooted progressive politics. See it! See it in the spirit of its watchword: "I see you."

Expressing what in Hebrew is "yodea," interactive knowing that is emotional, intellectual, physical/ sexual, and spiritual all at one - what "grok" is in the English borrowing from High Martian, channeled by Robert Heinlein.

In the film, the indigenous people - the Na'vi - [in Hebrew, this would mean "prophet"] of Pandora stand in the way of an Earthian techno-conquistador corporation that is hungry to gobble up a rare mineral. The Na'vi worship/celebrate a biological unity of the planet and all its life forms -- Eywa -- especially focused on great trees that are the most sacred centers of their lives. These great trees embody Eywa, the Great Mother - but S/He is more than even these trees, S/He is all life. Spirit incarnate.

We are just now approaching the ecological-mystical festival of Tu B'Shvat. It intertwines celebration of the midwinter rebirth of trees and the rebirth of the Great Tree of Life Itself, God, Whose roots are in heaven and whose fruit is our world. Tu B'Shvat comes on the 15th day (the full moon) of the midwinter Jewish lunar month of Sh'vat. This year it falls from Friday evening January 29, till Saturday evening, January 30.

Out of winter, out of seeming death, out of seeds that sank into the earth three months before, the juice of life begins to rise again. Begins invisibly, to sprout in spring. Beneath the official deadly failures of the Copenhagen conference that was supposed to reinvigorate the world's effort to face the climate crisis, the seeds of rebirth were growing. They were growing in the grass-roots activists who will not let our earth die so easily at the hands of Oil and Coal and governmental arrogance as the Crusher tanks and rocket-planes and the robotic Marine generals and corporate exploiters of Avatar would like to kill Pandora and its God/dess Eywa.

I urge that Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, those who celebrate Manitou/ GreatSpirit in the varied forms of Native practice, join for Tu B'Shvat to celebrate the Sacred Forests of our planet.

I urge that we reach across our boundaries and barricades to celebrate the trees that breathe us into life.

The forests that absorb the carbon dioxide that humans are over-producing, the forests that breathe out life-giving oxygen for ourselves and all the other animals to breathe in.

For us, Eywa is YyyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, "pronounceable" only by breathing, the Interbreathing of all life, Great Mother/Father/ Creator of our planet Whose breath, Whose very Name, through the climate crisis and its global scorching is being choked by corporate rapacity and governmental arrogance, I urge that we begin by going, anytime from now till January 29, in interfaith, multireligious groups to see Avatar and then discuss its meaning in our lives. And then I suggest we gather on the evening of January 29 to celebrate the sacred meal of Tu B'Shvat together.

What's to discuss? Avatar teaches that the war against peoples and the war against the Earth are the same war, being incited and fought by the same Crusher institutions. If we agree with this, how do we bring together the so-far separate struggles to end the two kinds of war? If we don't agree, how do we see the relationship?

Avatar teaches that in the struggle to heal our world, birds and animals and trees and grasses can become our active allies if we "see" them as part of ourselves, part of our Beloved Community. Is there a way to make this true for us?

Avatar describes how some Earthians turn their backs on the military-corporate attempt to shatter the Na'vi and instead join the Na'vi resistance. What do we Americans, we Westerners, make of that?

On January 29, what's to eat? A sacred meal, a Seder with four courses of nuts and fruit and four cups of wine. Foods that require the death of no living being, not even a carrot or a radish that dies when its roots are plucked from the earth. For the Trees of Life give forth their nuts and fruit in such profusion that to eat them kills no being. The sacred meal of the Tree Reborn is itself a meal of life. And the four cups of wine are: all-white; white with a drop of red; red with a drop of white; and all-red: the union of white semen and red blood that the ancients thought were the start of procreation. And the progression from pale winter to the colorful fruitfulness of fall also betokens the growing-forth of life.

The theme of Fours embodies the Four Worlds of Kabbalah: Action, Emotion, Intellect, Spirit.

There is much more to learn about this moment that so richly intertwines the mystical, the ecological, and the political. I helped bring together the Tu B'Shvat Anthology called Trees, Earth, & Torah (available in paperback from the Jewish Publication Society at 1.800.234.3151) that traces the festival through all its own flowering across 4,000 years of history.

On the evening of Thursday, January 21, I will lead a teleconference seminar on the meanings of the Festival. All are welcome. To see what to do in order to take part, please click here.

I look forward to speaking with you, "seeing" you.

With blessings of shalom, salaam, shantih - peace. -- Arthur

Rabbi Arthur Waskow has been one of the creators and leaders of Jewish renewal since 1969. In 1983, he founded and has since been director of The Shalom Center. In 2007, Newsweek named him one of America’s fifty most influential rabbis. He is a co-author of The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, & Muslims (Beacon, 2006). He pioneered in peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians and in opposing the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. He also pioneered in the shaping of Eco-Judaism, both through his books (Down-to-Earth Judaism; Torah of the Earth (2 vols); and The Shalom Center’s religiously rooted social action. He taught at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College from 1982 till 1989 and as a Visiting Professor in religion at Swarthmore, Vassar, Temple University, and Drew University.

Read more about Arthur Waskow

Comments (3)
  • I have been a fan of Rabbi Waskow and the Shalom Center for years, and I continue to appreciate his commentaries, and so welcome his comments on the Movie Avatar. When I saw the movie I was troubled by the need for violent rebellion. Would a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King seen another way, a non-violent way. If Avatar is to be a wake up call, are we to assume war as the only answer? Rabbi Waskow in another commentary said “The Na’vi and Eywa’s life-forms use violence too, to defend themselves. There is barely a hint of any attempt to use nonviolent resistance in the mode of King or Gandhi to defend Pandora. Can we imagine an alternative? Why did the film not present one?” I had come out of the film asking the same question.

    — Rupa Cousins on January 15, 2010

  • i wish more religious people would be like rabbi waskow, loving nature instead of themselves

    — mahjabeen on January 16, 2010

  • We who hold the lineage of the Q’ero shamans, the celtic peoples and hold to the path of unnering alignment between Heaven and Earth, each day we enter a meditation that teaches each of us to embody the great Tree of Life, to enter the heart of this tree in order to dream the world into being as the Elders wish us to do. We will join you in thie festival of the Trees, both at this full moon coming and on each and every day. We thank you for this teaching Rabbi - let us build the bridges together that are need to span the worlds, bringing them and us into unity. Ah Ho!

    here is a song for you…...


    — Skye Taylor on January 17, 2010

14 January 2010

  • print
  • respond
© Copyright 2019 Seven Pillars. All rights reserved.