The Kabbalah of Science Fiction Movies


By Yonatan Gordon

Although the recent Sci-Fi movie Oblivion has already reached, well … near “oblivion” at the Box Office, we are likely to see these themes come up again in one way or another. In an article published soon after the release by Discovery News, they summed up the movie by the 7 primary themes it presented. While that article brought the current scientific status of these 7, for our article, we were interested in corresponding these themes into another 7: The 7 emotive sefirot, as mentioned throughout Kabbalah.

Our intention in presenting these 7 according to Kabbalah is two-fold. In addition to showing the correspondence, we are also hoping to provide some guidance to those involved in the Science Fiction genre. As we mentioned in a previous article, the fact that even the once optimistic Star Trek universe has now literally gone “into darkness,” is an indication that the writers were at a loss for what to say. When Sci-Fi started began, it was thought that technology could do no wrong. But now that we’ve witnessed both uses and vast misuses, we need to find something else besides for technology to keep up optimistic about the future.

Even if we are still optimistic about technology, there is another question Sci-Fi writers are now asking themselves. When 18 or more Star Trek technologies have already starting becoming real to an extent, what else is there left to come up with? All this, we believe, has contributed to the overall gloom and doom prevalent in recent Sci-Fi releases. But where there is a challenge, there is an opportunity for growth. If technology is no longer the “cure all,” then we should start looking for something that is.

This brings us to the 7 primary Sci-Fi themes mentioned in Oblivion. Our hope is that from reading this article, we can all begin to construct a happier, more optimistic future for all of us.

Please Note: The Fiction and Science sections were copied directly from the Discovery News article.

 Loving-Kindness (Chesed): Off-World Colonies

Fiction: In the world of Oblivion, the bulk of Earth’s population has retreated to Saturn’s moon Titan. The idea of off-world colonies has been explored by countless sci-fi films such as Aliens,Total Recall and Blade Runner. Space colonies are a staple of sci-fi literature as well. In Asimov’s Foundation series, all habitable planets in the galaxy are eventually terraformed and colonized.

Science: Titan has been cited as a possible destination for space colonies in that it has a dense atmosphere and oceans. Oceans of liquid methane, maybe. But still.

Kabbalah: We corresponded this to Loving-Kindness because this theme is about finding a “kind” or hospitable world. The metaphor of water, also either relates to Loving-Kindness, or Wisdom (Chochmah), the sefirah directly above it in the Tree of Life model.

When these 7 sefirot are aligned according to the colors of the rainbow, Loving-Kindness also corresponds to the color blue. So when we speak about searching for a planet with water or a blue planet, we are also asking that this aspect of Loving-Kindness should be dominant there.*

This also means finding ways to foster human friendship and togetherness on this new planet. So the proper implementation of the social sciences (e.g. anthropology, sociology, etc..) is also important at this level.

Might (Gevurah): Post-Apocalyptic Devastation

Fiction: Oblivion is set in the aftermath of a worldwide nuclear war, and there’s certainly no shortage of cinematic precedence in this area. Imagery in film recalls sequences from cult classics like Mad Max to the infamous TV movie The Day After and even video game franchises like the popular Fallout series. In books, apocalypse and post-apocalypse stories date all the way back to Mary Shelley and Edgar Allen Poe in the early 1800s.

Science: Oblivion leverages the familiar scientific predictions about the effects of a global thermonuclear war – blasted landscapes, radiation zones, heavy weather and the destruction of most plant and animal life.

Kabbalah: Instead of blue and kind, some people today think the times we are living in are red and barren. When corresponded to the colors of the rainbow again, Might relates to the color red. But instead of mass bloodshed, red or blood is also a sign of life or birth.

Might also means to push away, as in the expression “the left hand pushes away and the right hand brings near.” Whereas Loving-Kindness is all about drawing people close (e.g. working together on a new hospitable planet), Might is all about pushing away. As in this movie, in order to start looking for another “blue planet,” it is also essential to distance oneself from the planet that is no longer habitable.

The Kabbalistic optimism here is that this “pushing away” of Might, should always be for the sake of some greater good or rebirth.

 Beauty (Tiferet): Subterranean Cities

Fiction: With Earth’s surface largely uninhabitable, the refugees in Oblivion live underground in a network of ruins, caves and tunnels. There are specific cinematic similarities here with the Matrix and Terminator movies, and stories of subterranean cities are found throughout both sci-fi and fantasy fiction – particularly in the works of J.R.R. Tolkein, H.G. Wells, Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne…

Science: Hundreds of underground complexes exist throughout the world, and many could fairly be termed cities. Montreal’s Underground City – La Ville Souterraine in French – has more than 20 miles of tunnels connecting apartments, hotels, offices and shops.

Kabbalah: Now that we have discussed hospitable versus barren landscapes, we can start digging deeper (literally). In Kabbalah, it is explained that Beauty is the power that reconciles the conflicting inclinations of Loving-Kindness on the right, and Might on the left. But also, the “inner light” (or experience) of Beauty is “compassion” (רחמים), which also stems from the root form of “womb” (רחם).

What this all means for us, is there’s something both beautiful and life-giving about these depictions of caves or hollow areas beneath the earth. The simple answer is that while the landscape above is now relatively red or barren (Might), these subterranean areas are welcome respites of hospitality. But perhaps we can add, that since the “inner light” of these areas relates to compassion, it is also a most fitting place to express true care and compassion for one’s fellow.

 Victory (Netzach): Clones

Fiction: It’s hard to discuss this one without giving too much away, but yes – clones make an appearance in Oblivion. The visuals in play recall The Matrix and Star Wars prequels, and there’s even a nod to the awkward clone comedy of movies like Michael Keaton’s Multiplicity. Clones are a recurring theme in sci-fi literature, tracing back to the decanted laborers of Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World.

Science: The ethical and public policy issues around human cloning are enormous, but the technology already exists for cloning mammals. Some conspiracy-prone observers speculate that human cloning may already be underway in secret labs.

Kabbalah: We corresponded Victory to cloning, because the concept behind cloning relates to the “victory” or “eternity” of a person. While cloning itself is problematic in many ways (as the science section above states), if we isolate the concept itself, we get a very important principle in education. In the words of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe: “Every Jew should strive to make another Jew.”

Perhaps no one knows more about what it means to “make a copy of yourself,” than someone who begets either physical (i.e. children) or spiritual (i.e. students) offspring. But there is also an additive property to this conceptual “cloning” as well.

The power to be fruitful and multiply (exceedingly, beyond all measurement and limitation) is Joseph’s special power. Joseph comes from the Hebrew word meaning “addition” (תוֹסֶפֶת), as in the saying, “That which is God’s addition, exceeds greatly beyond the origin.

This then explains why cloning, in many of these films, lead to entire legions of cloned armies, etc…  Our approach though in rendering this concept, would be to show this additive or multiplicative element to bearing spiritual offspring (indeed, one of the titles of the movies mentioned above is “multiplicity”).

This is like a teacher who started with only a few students, then after some time, turned those few into a movement (as was the case with the first Lubavitcher Rebbe himself).

Acknowledgement (Hod): Alien Invaders

Fiction: Oblivion’s alien invasion scenario borrows imagery from canonical films like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, contemporary special effects blockbusters like Independence Day and even TV’s Star Trek: The New Generation (the Borg!).

In literature, of course, aliens have been invading Earth for as long as there have been science fiction stories. One of the first was Voltaire’s short story “Micromegas,” which envisioned titanic aliens from Saturn and the star Sirius visiting Earth and marveling at our arrogance, relative to our size. Judgmental aliens – they’re the worst.

Science: While scientific initiatives like SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) continue to watch the skies, no alien races have invaded Earth. So far as we know.

Kabbalah: This is perhaps the easiest correspondence to make, as the Immune System (i.e. the detection system against “alien” or foreign invaders in the body), relates to Acknowledgement.

The innate wisdom of the immune system lies in its adaptability to be able to experiment through a process of trial and error, until it detects, and wards off threats to the body. The means of accomplishing this comes from the creation of antibodies, which come in contact with foreign substances, and create cells to eradicate them.

The expression of the sages that, “There is no wise person like one who possesses experience,” reflects this learning ability in the immune system. When something invades the body, the immune system picks up on it and learns to react. This is again alluded to in the term Acknowledgement, which also means “to echo” (i.e. to react).

In Oblivion, any many other films like it, a great deal of the storyline is spent with the protagonists learning and responding to these alien invaders. The way Kabbalah teaches to strengthen the immune system though is by giving thanks; either to God (as in the morning when we say “modeh ani,” the prayer of thanksgiving), or by thanking those that have done good to us.

Giving proper thanks also prevents autoimmune disorders, or instances where the body produces self-reacting antibodies (antibodies that fight against the healthy cells of the body itself). This case of mistaken identity (whereby friends are mistaken for the foreign invaders), is also prevalent in these films, and could also be prevented by busying oneself with properly placed gratitude.

Foundation (Yesod): Robots in Revolt

Fiction: The most obvious cinematic predecessor of the rogue military drones in Oblivion are the lethal Skynet machines of the Terminator films. Oblivion also has several scenes reminiscent of the underrated 1987 freakout RoboCop. Oblivion and its disobedient artillery drones are really just a variation on the robot uprising stories that have fascinated science fiction writers through the years, most notably Isaac Asimov in his Robot novels.

Science: The U.S. and several other countries have unmanned military drones deployed around the world.

Kabbalah: We are fond of saying that instead of a Technological Singularity (circa 2039), we are looking forward to the Singularity of Human Potential. So while these films depict a time when a race of robots or drones have their time in the spotlight, we prefer to keep our focus on the future state of humans.

Foundation is the power to actualize one’s latent creative potential and drive towards self-fulfillment. Corresponding to the procreative organ of man, Foundation is the foundation of generations to come. The power to procreate is the manifestation of the infinite, within the finitude of man. Since each individual man is “small” relative to all generations to come (from him), the Foundation is referred to as the “small limb” of man; the “small that holds the large [infinite].”

While Foundation also relates to the “Every Jew must strive to make another Jew” comment mentioned above, the success of humans over machines, depends on our actions today. In particular, the Foundation is the covenant between the two Divine attributes of truth and peace, as the prophet says (Zacharia 8:19): “and truth and peace shall love.” If we are then predicting a “singularity” point for humans, then we are also saying that the result will bring with it a revelation of both truth and peace.

Many times these robots are seen as truth seekers (like the Terminator who travels back in time to stay truthful to his mission). But instead of a landscape of destruction, our version of the singularity breeds optimism for a future peaceful state of actualized potentials.

 Kingdom (Malchut): Astronauts in Peril

Fiction: In its delirious second half, Oblivion delivers some story twists concerning yet another science fiction standby – the abandoned astronaut in peril. Without giving too much away, it’s safe to say you can hear echoes of classic sci-fi films such as Planet of the Apes and that old standby 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sci-fi nerds will also feel some resonance here with fiction from the Space Race era, particularly the work of Russian writer Stanislaw Lem (Solaris).

Science: In the history of manned spaceflight missions, more than 500 people have traveled in space, with 18 known fatalities in the U.S. and Russian programs.

Kabbalah: What’s the final result of the movie? Have we found a habitable place to live or not? What’s the outlook for the future, and how are the astronauts and other inhabitants fairing?

As the last of the ten sefirot, Kingdom represents the outcome of God’s plan for creation. Kingdom also serves as the means for establishing an identification with outer reality; like a king who needs to be sensitive to the needs of the realm he seeks to rule.

In addition to being sensitive to the needs of the populace, the “inner light” of Kingdom is “lowliness” (shiflut). “Lowliness” is the ultimate source of the soul’s motivation to return in repentance to God.

So while, at the end of these movies, there is usually the monumental task of rebuilding a world, there is also a greater potential to do so than ever before. Now the “king,” or the protagonists in the story, have been humbled. But from this humility or lowliness, comes the great potential to truly care for, and be concerned about, the well-being of all inhabitants living in their domain.

* For instance, while a blue planet was recently discovered, scientists think that the blue originates from the glass that it rains down. A planet that rains glass, does not seem very hospitable or kind after all.

With help from material on

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures


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