Jewish Philosophy of Religion

Tsimtsum In Life Of Pi, Part 3 (Daniel Reiser)

The following is the third of a four-part series. The first can be found here, the second here.

Beyond the question of metaphor and reality, the greatest difference between Pi’s two stories is in his attitudes towards the situation in which he finds himself. God’s name is invoked again and again in the first story. Pi suffers from crises and moments of doubt, yet he always remains anchored in his efforts to uncover the “presence found in absence”—“It was natural that, bereft and desperate as I was, in the throes of unremitting suffering, I should turn to God.” (283-284) This foundation—his faith in God—provides him with the hope and ability to overcome the many challenges, even moments of doubt, brought about by the experience of absence:

At such moments I tried to elevate myself. I would touch the turban I had made with the remnants of my shirt and I would say aloud, “THIS IS GOD’S HAT!”

I would pat my pants and say aloud, “THIS IS GOD’S ATTIRE!” I would point to Richard Parker and say aloud, “THIS IS GOD’S CAT!”

I would point to the lifeboat and say aloud, “THIS IS GOD’S ARK!”

I would spread my hands wide and say aloud, “THESE ARE GOD’S WIDE ACRES!”

I would point at the sky and say aloud, “THIS IS GOD’S EAR!”

And in this way I would remind myself of creation and of my place in it.

But God’s hat was always unravelling. God’s pants were falling apart. God’s cat was a constant danger. God’s ark was a jail. God’s wide acres were slowly killing me. God’s ear didn’t seem to be listening.

Despair was a heavy blackness that let no light in or out. It was a hell beyond expression. I thank God it always passed. A school of fish appeared around the net […] Or I thought of my family, of how they were spared this terrible agony. The blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in my heart. I would go on loving. (209)

Pi, in the first story, chooses to be an “Ivri” (in addition to Hindu, Christian, and Muslim) and take the leap of R. Nahman, electing to see God within his personal hell. R. Nahman’s “leap of faith,” I believe, differs from that of Søren Kierkegaard. Per Kierkegaard, faith “possesses an elevation,” a leap into the absurd “because faith begins precisely there where thinking leaves off.”[1]

That is to say, faith involves a loss of “thinking,” leading to God. Yet for R. Nahman, faith is not bound with a loss of thinking, nor does it deny or disregard the existence of evil. Man neither denies evil nor loses his mind. It is rather a matter of perspective: what mental stance do I take towards evil. Faith is an inner expression, a psychological standpoint towards the world.[2]

Life of Pi presents two stories representative of two ways of life. Ask readers the existential question—not which story is true, but which is better. The two parallel matching stories are equally true. It is not a question of “truth,” but of being: What is the proper life—a life of faith or a life without faith. There is no scientific consensus preferencing a life of faith or one without. This is not a philosophical question, and certainly not a scientific query—it is an existential choice.

Yan Martel chose. He seeks to demonstrate the virtue of the first, faith-infused story and his personal preference for it (it is, he remarks, the “story that will make you believe in God). Firstly, one cannot help but notice the discrepancy in length between the stories. The first tale comprises the vast majority of the book, while the second, at around fifteen pages, is less than ten percent of the book’s length. It is clear, then, which narrative is central to the story.[3] Secondly, Martel stresses time and again that a good story is one singled out by imagination, vitality, and a spark of life. The second story may be more realistic, rational, and genuine, but that does not make it a better story. Martel, already in the introduction, suggests that authenticity and precision are not necessarily the hallmarks of a successful story, “You’ve done your research, gathering the facts—historical, social, climatic, culinary—that will give your story its feel of authenticity […] but it all adds up to nothing. […] An element is missing, that spark that brings to life a real story, regardless of whether the history or the food is right.” (viii-ix) That spark is the irrationality which endows rational reality with meaning. This is why the protagonist’s nickname is Pi, for “in that Greek letter that looks like a shack with a corrugated tin roof, in that elusive, irrational number with which scientists try to understand the universe, I found refuge.” (24)

Pi does not belittle reason; he in fact utilizes it to survive—“I applied my reason at every moment. Reason is excellent for getting food, clothing and shelter. Reason is the very best tool kit.” (298) Yet to have reason without imagination is to relinquish a basic human need—the need to tell stories.[4] To give up on imagination would be to cast out the bathwater which gives life freshness and vitality. This is what leads Pi, following his rescue, to study the thyroid glands of three-toed sloths, for sloths are “wise beings whose intense imaginative lives were beyond the reach of my scientific probing.” (5) Martel, from the book’s beginning, discloses this affection for imagination. “The word bamboozle,” he writes, “was my one preparation for the rich, noisy, functioning madness of India. I used the word on occasion, and truth be told, it served me well.” (vii)

Reality without imagination, or, in other words, a narrative without metaphor, is “a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality.” (302) Even more so, “if we, citizens,” the author remarks, “do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.” (xii) A story without God or faith—the second story of literal tsimtsum—is a “dry, yeastless” approach to life, an empty space.

Martel, then, prefers the path of the “Hasidim” over that of the “mitnagdim.” He imparts to his readers the insight that all of life is a story, yet it is up to us to decide whether life will be dry or filled with vitality and excitement, an empty space or the light of Ein Sof. Martel believes that most of his readers will prefer the first story; at the very least he attempts to lead them in this direction. The book therefore comes to a conclusion with the surprising sentence issued by Mr. Okamoto. This skeptic, who had expressed a preference for the “straight facts,” ultimately includes the first story in his report to the Japanese shipping company:

Story of sole survivor, Mr. Piscine Molitor Patel, Indian citizen, is an astounding story of courage and endurance in the face of extraordinarily difficult and tragic circumstances. In the experience of this investigator, his story is unparalleled in the history of shipwrecks. Very few castaways can claim to have survived so long at sea as Mr. Patel, and none in the company of an adult Bengal tiger. (319)

The Faith of Pi

The better story is, as stated, the story of faith signified by the constant presence of God, ever-present within the tsimtsum. This story is marked by a leap of faith: “I pause. What of God’s silence? I think it over. I add: An intellect confounded yet a trusting sense of presence and of ultimate purpose.” (63)

But what is this faith? What sort of belief endows life with vitality and excitement? One should note that Pi does not address what to believe in or which dogma to accept. He never compares or contrasts religions and likewise declares that “all religions are true.” (69) Life of Pi is concerned with the deeper underpinnings of faith. The question is not “what to believe?” but something far more fundamental—“what is it to believe?”[5]

There is a widespread conception of religion as a system resting on certain fundamental beliefs. Were these beliefs to be undermined, faith would fall with them. Religious faith is seen as a multi-story building built upon a deep foundation—were these foundations to shift the entire building would collapse.[6] Yet Life of Pi demonstrates the naiveté of this image—both of religion itself and its place within life. Religious socialization does not originate in fundamental beliefs. Religious education does not begin with dogmas and one must not first be convinced of such principles before taking part in religious life. People, likewise, do not leave religion solely on account of theological difficulties. Such a depiction of faith and religious life misses the mark.

Martin Buber speaks of two types of faith. He distinguishes between “belief in” and “belief that,” demonstrating that the transition between these types of faith marked a dramatic turn in the history of religion.[7] A “belief that” takes a stance towards a certain claim or theological position; a weakening of one’s foundations consequently threatens such a belief. Buber, however, claims that the Hebrew Bible posits no such “beliefs that,” but rather a “belief in.”

A “belief in” is not an amalgamation of stances or positions held, but rather a giving of trust. When Abraham, who was elderly and childless, was told by God to “‘Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them. […] So shall your offspring[a] be,’” he responded with an act of faith, “And [Abraham] believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:5-6) Is this to say that God proposed a series of theological beliefs which Abraham then accepted? Obviously not. Abraham trusted that God would provide him with a child, even at an advanced age after many years of infertility. Abraham’s belief in God was an inner state of trust, and this is what earned him God’s appreciation.[8] In other words, faith is a psychological stance. Secularism, in this understanding, is a loss of trust.

William James describes things differently. He posits two types of faithful. One sort of believer is characterized by a definite stance towards the subject of belief. The other belief, however, is distinguished by a willingness to act despite immutable uncertainties.[9] The irreversible decision to have children is among the most momentous choices one may make. We do not know what the child’s fate will be, its future, if we will come to regret bringing it into the world. Perhaps it will suffer a tragic death and we, the parents, will be left to mourn for the rest of our lives.

This is not a decision informed by rational arguments. It is the product of a mental attitude, of a “leap of faith.” One who makes such a decision is prepared to invest their entire life, even at a heavy price, without any sort of certainty. The greater “belief” a person has, the easier it will be for them to bear children; the doubter will find it more challenging. Per James, the believer maintains an advantage over the non-believer as the former is capable of risking action.[10] For James, much like Buber, belief is a psychological stance, not a position towards a certain claim. A scientist and declared atheist, then, who is prepared to dedicate his entire life to testing a scientific theory which may prove baseless acts out of an inner place of faith.

In light of this notion, namely, that belief consists of a psychological outlook on the world in which one is prepared to take action, James claims that one may willfully adopt a belief. This is reflected in the title of his lecture, “The Will toBelieve,” not merely “To Believe.” A person chooses whether or not they will assume the psychological outlook of the believer. Theological truths are not at stake here, but rather the ethical question of how one ought to live. In other words, one must choose whether to live life in accordance with the first story of Life of Pi or the second. Yan Martel, asked in a 2010 interview whether he is religious, did not respond that he believes, but that he “chooses to believe,” for the religious life is a more “interesting” story:

Do you consider yourself religious? I would say yes, in the broadest sense of the term, in the sense that I choose to believe that all this isn’t just the result of happenstance and chemistry. I find faith is a wonderful respite from being reasonable. We’re so trained in the West to be reasonable. It’s yielded great things—it’s resulted in these great technical prolepses that are very impressive, but they in and of themselves don’t give us a reason to live. In the modern Western technological society, it’s very hard to have any kind of faith. And so I took on religious faith and I finally came to agree with what I was discussing in the book. Religious faith makes life interesting.[11]

The choice of the first story, to look at the world as a believer, has far-reaching consequences. Moshe Halbertal argues that “the position of belief is described at times as a sensitivity, a sort of attentiveness which transforms the world from a cold, alienated causal domain to one filled with mystery and wonder.”[12] The draw of the mysterious is a keyword in Pi’s life. The mystical way of life, in many cultures, is oftentimes premised on the notion that the world is illusory.

The question of whether this is a position of extreme acosmism (that we are leaving in a “matrix”), pantheism, or panentheism does not concern us here, but rather the shared sense that the world contains an element of deception.[13] Earlier, we saw that Martel claimed the word “bamboozle” was his preparation for India and that “and truth be told, it served me well.” (vii) The truth itself is, to a certain degree, a deception.

The sense of mystery and wonder does not come to exclude reason. It emerges, rather, from a place of humility which places reason in its proper proportions:

The world of the known is a world unknown ; hiddenness, mystery. […] We explore the ways of being but do not know what, why or wherefore being is. […] What do we truly know about life and death, about the soul or society, about history or nature?[14]

Pi, in the wake of the sinking of the Tsimtsum, cries out, “What is the purpose of reason […] why can’t reason give greater answers?”[15] (98)

The philosopher of language Ludwig Wittgenstein examined religious language in order to approach the concept of faith. He analyzed religious “claims” to show that they differ from scientific or logical arguments. Is a person making a claim when they state that “the world was created?” Is he offering a description? Perhaps something else is taking place. Wittgenstein develops a process by which he shows that faith is not an amalgamation of claims, but rather an expressive attitude.[16] Put differently:

Expressions of faith do not impart information about the world, but rather convey the relationship of the believer to the world and his life. For example, a religious statement such as, “the world was created,” is not a factual description concerning the origins of the universe, but rather expresses a perspective that views life and the world as a gift. Another religious statement, such as “there will be a judgement day,” is not a factual prediction of a future event, but rather expresses the perspective of the believer who relates to life with a constant mindset of judgement and evaluation.[17]

For Pi, the belief in God follows that of Buber, James, and Wittgenstein, who viewed religious faith as a psychological expression. “Faith in God,” he remarks, “is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love.” (208) Faith does not consist of claims but rather of an inner feeling as expressed in the perspective of the believer—“When I say I saw her [the Virgin Mary], I don’t quite mean it literally, though she did have body and colour. I felt I saw her, a vision beyond vision […] The presence of God is the finest of rewards.” (63)[18]

Pi’s approach differs from those philosophical and psychological outlooks which, viewing faith as a natural human tendency, judge it to be primitive.[19] Atheism, too, can be as “natural” as faith. The psychological response to evil is not necessarily a belief in an all-powerful God, but also a rejection of God. Both responses stand alongside each other; in many instances, it is more “natural” for Westerners—under the influence of 250 years of secularizing trends—to deny than to believe.[20] It is important to Pi to stress that the possibility of belief, subject to human choice, is not easy. Having defined faith as an opening up and free act of love, he adds:

“But sometimes it was so hard to love.” (212)

“I practised religious rituals that I adapted to the circumstances—solitary Masses without priests or consecrated Communion hosts, darshans without murtis […] acts of devotion to Allah not knowing where Mecca was and getting my Arabic wrong. They brought me comfort, that is certain. But it was hard, oh, it was hard.” (ibid.)

The choice, despite all the accompanying difficulties, is ultimately an act of faith manifested foremost in a constant sense of gratitude. When Pi uncovers containers of emergency rations, he cries out, “Lord, who would have thought? […] Hallelujah! […] I repeatedly mumbled, ‘Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!’” (144-145) The inner expression of gratitude exists in the most extreme circumstances of evil and suffering. The person who loses two fingers may choose whether to resent his loss or thank God for the three fingers remaining. The suffering itself is beyond our control, but we determine our attitude towards suffering. As Pi stands at the brink of death, he chooses to give himself up to God, who had abandoned him to suffer:

I closed my eyes and waited for my breath to leave my body. I muttered, “Goodbye, Richard Parker. I’m sorry for having failed you. I did my best. Farewell. Dear Father, dear Mother, dear Ravi, greetings. Your loving son and brother is coming to meet you. Not an hour has gone by that I haven’t thought of you. The moment I see you will be the happiest of my life. And now I leave matters in the hands of God, who is love and whom I love.” (242)

The film adaptation of Life of Pi further emphasizes the gratitude expressed in the scene, as Pi declares, “God, thank you for giving me my life. I’m ready now.” (minute 90). Pi, in other words, chooses, despite all of the difficulties, even at the most extreme moment of divide absence, of tsimtsum, to find presence within absence.

Belief in a God who is the creator and source of everything removes oneself from the center. “The obsession with putting ourselves at the centre of everything,” Pi observes, “is the bane not only of theologians but also of zoologists.”[21] (31) To remove oneself to the side brings forth a sense of humility and an accompanying appreciation for everything we receive. This is of a piece with Martel’s strident criticism of Western society, which speaks of “rights” and “obligations” instead of “appreciation” and “amazement.”

The mentality of belief brings Pi to a place of boundless appreciation. Take, for example, Pi’s reaction to the running tap water he encounters while hospitalized in Mexico. “The first time I turned a tap on,” he recalled, “its noisy, wasteful, superabundant gush was such a shock that I became incoherent and my legs collapsed beneath me and I fainted in the arms of a nurse.” (7) Experiencing oneself at the margins leads to the realization that one does not enjoy complete control over life. One tries their hardest, of course, to a certain degree, but when a situation surpasses one’s abilities one learns to let go and accept life as it is, even when it is difficult. “Things didn’t turn out the way they were supposed to,” Pi remarks, “but what can you do? You must take life the way it comes at you and make the best of it.” (91)

Indeed, when Pi’s life takes a difficult turn and he finds himself cast into a ferocious life-threatening thunderstorm, his reaction is quite surprising. In place of fright, he stands amazed:

Once there was lightning. […] The downpour was heavy. […] Suddenly a bolt struck much closer. […] I was dazed, thunderstruck—nearly in the true sense of the word. But not afraid.

“Praise be to Allah, Lord of All Worlds, the Compassionate, the Merciful, Ruler of Judgment Day!” I muttered. To Richard Parker I shouted, “Stop your trembling! This is miracle. This is an outbreak of divinity. This is…this is…” I could not find what it was, this thing so vast and fantastic. I was breathless and wordless. (232-233)[22]

This astonishment, no doubt a mystical experience which leads Pi to encounter the sublime,[23] calms him, and even brings him joy. “I remember that close encounter,” he recalled, “as one of the few times during my ordeal when I felt genuine happiness.” (233) There is not always a solution to suffering, but our mental response to it—whether fear or joy—is up to us.

In 2010, an elderly Holocaust survivor who had survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp shared with me that she suffered from terrible pain in her joints. These pains originated from her time in the camp, at age twelve, when she was required to stand for the morning roll call, day after day, in the biting cold wearing only the thin prisoner’s uniform. These pains had accompanied her ever since. Every time she feels pain, she told me, she is glad and thanks God that she is able to feel pain, for the people who stood to her left and her right in the roll call did not survive.

They did not “merit” to feel pain. When the pain is too much, she takes out photographs of her grandchildren and great-children and reminds herself of what she achieved, at the end of the day, and how blessed she is in life. She cannot remove the pain, but the bitterness may be ameliorated by inner expressions of gratitude. “This story has a happy ending,” (93) we are told by the pseudo-author of Life of Pi, from whom we learn that Pi has children, a son and a daughter.[24]

Faith, for Pi, is not a belief in a certain personal God, or even in a non-personal God. Faith is the consciousness that we do not stand in the center of everything. It is an inner expression of astonishment, appreciation, recognition, and preference for the better story even with its unresolvable pain. This is a belief in God who is revealed in the deepest part of a person. When Mr. Kumar the biology teacher, in response to his terrible experiences of suffering and persecution, declares that God is dead, Pi responds with silence, as if he stands in the empty vacuum, the place of silence as taught by R. Nahman. After this silence passes, however, Pi turns the tables with his inner expression:

He spoke again. “Some people say God died during the Partition in 1947. He may have died in 1971 during the war. Or he may have died yesterday here in Pondicherry in an orphanage. That’s what some people say, Pi. When I was your age, I lived in bed, racked with polio. I asked myself every day, ‘Where is God? Where is God? Where is God?’ God never came. It wasn’t God who saved me—it was medicine.” […]

This was all a bit much for me. […] I said nothing. […] I was more afraid that in a few words thrown out he might destroy something that I loved. What if his words had the effect of polio on me? What a terrible disease that must be if it could kill God in a man. (27-28)

Pi’s belief is not in a theological God who solves the problem of suffering, but rather in the God who dwells in man. This belief is the source of our as human beings to grapple with unexplainable hardships. This is a deeper picture of faith, predicated not on theological dogmas but on an array of human feelings. It is not concerned with “what to believe,” but with the more profound question of “what is belief” and the universal characteristics of the believer.

This faith demands a process of internalization. “These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves,” Pi tells us, “the main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart.” (71)[25]

Daniel Reiser is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Jewish Thought at Herzog College in Israel. His dissertation at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was entitled “To Fly like Angels: Imagery or Waking Dream Techniques in Hassidic Mysticism in the First Half of the Twentieth Century.”


[1] Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death, trans. Walter Lowrie (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2013), 77, 106.

[2] On faith in the teaching of R. Nahman, see Zvi Mark, Mysticism and Madness: The Religious Thought of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (London and New York: Continuum, 2009), 8-12.

[3] Unlike the film adaptation, in which Pi relates both tales, in the book Pi shares only his first story with the “virtual” writer, further evidence of which story is preferred (the second story is tracked down by the semi-fictional author, who unearthed the report from the Japanese shipping company). Furthermore, the second story is only uncovered a year after Pi shares the first version: “Nearly a year later, after considerable difficulties, I received a tape and a report from the Japanese Ministry of Transport.” (xi)

[4] Stephens, “Feeding Tiger, Finding God,” 50-51; Stratton, “Hollow at the core,” 7-8.

[5] For a phenomenological study of belief and believers, see Moshe Halbertal, “On Belief and Believers,” in Moshe Halbertal and Avi Sagi, eds., On Faith: Studies in the Concept of Faith and Its History in The Jewish Tradition (Jerusalem: Keter Press, 2005), 11-38 [Hebrew].

[6] David Hume viewed the rise of science as a replacement for religious faith. He believed that the hypothesis of “God” would be rendered superfluous in the wake of science. See David Hume, Dialogues and Natural History of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). Many branches of atheistic thought have made great efforts to challenge religious “theology” on the premise that religion depends upon such foundations. See Michael Hunter and David Wootton (eds.), Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) and the recent Hebrew title, Aviad M. Kleinberg, A Guide for the Non-Believer: How to Not Believe Without Apologizing (Tel Aviv: Aviad Kleinberg, 2019) [Hebrew].

[7] Martin Buber, Two Types of Faith, trans. Norman P. Goldhawk (New York: MacMillan, 1951).

[8] Ibid., 43-44.

[9] William James, The Will to Believe: and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (New York: Dover Publications, 1956), 1-31.

[10] Halbertal, “On Belief and Believers,” 19.

[11] Anna M. Yeung, “15 Questions with Yann Martel,” The Crimson, April 23, 2010,

[12] Halbertal, “On Belief and Believers,” 29.

[13] On the notion of illusion in Hasidism and its many interpretations, see Rachel Elior, Freedom on the Tablets, The Mystical Origins and Kabbalistic Foundations of Hasidic Thought (Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense, 1999), 101-103 [Hebrew]; Yoram Jacobson, Truth, Faith and Holiness: Studies in Kabbalah and Hasidism (Tel Aviv: Idra, 2018), 353-357 [Hebrew].

[14] Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy), 56-57.

[15] On the relationship between faith and reason in the thought of R. Nahman, see Magid, “Through the Void, 513-519.

[16] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 53-59; idem, Culture and Value (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 32.

[17] Halbertal, “On Belief and Believers,” 31.

[18] See more about “belief” without belief in a transcendent power: Ronald Dworkin, Religion Without God (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013).

[19] See Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, trans. James Strachey (London and New York: Routledge, 2001 [1913]), 162-170.

[20] The framework of this paper does not permit a discussion of the philosophical question of whether essential or “pure” qualities or psychological experiences exist, or if every psychological characteristic is a product of the particular culture and life circumstance into which a person is born. Per the latter, it is “natural” for the traditional person to believe and for the secular person to reject belief. The “essentialist school” of William James and Evelyn Underhill (from the early twentieth century) and, later, Robert Forman views religious and mystical experience as a “natural-essential-universal” principle shared by all of humanity. Only the descriptive and explanatory accounts of experience differ on the basis of the religious, cultural, and societal context in which they operate. The Jewish mystic, for instance, experiences a “revelation of Elijah,” the Christian mystic “a revelation of Jesus,” and the Muslim mystic “a revelation of Muhammed.” These are the same revelation, the same religious experience, expressed by each mystic in the terminology familiar to them from their culture and religion (see Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, 11-12). The “contextualist school” of Steven Katz, by contrast, looks at religious and mystical experience as constructs formed entirely by a particular culture and language which may only be studied within the context of the specific culture and society in which they are described. He thus rejects the notion of a “natural-essential-universal” religious experience. For the essentialist school, see William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (London and New York: Routledge, 2002 [1902]), 266-301; Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness, (New York: Mineola, 2002 [1911]), 3-25, 70-94. For the contextualist school, see Steven T. Katz (ed.), Comparative Mysticism: An Anthology of Original Sources (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 5-22. For a comprehensive survey of the dispute between these two schools, see Jess B. Hollenback, Mysticism: Experience, Response, and Empowerment (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press 1996), 1-27; Elliot R. Wolfson, Through a Speculum that Shines: Vision and Imagination in Medieval Jewish Mysticism, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 279-325.

[21] The link between religion and zoology is a recurrent theme in Life of Pi. See below, note 80.

[22] If one views the tiger as a symbolic metaphor for human tendencies, then it emerges that, per Martel, the basic-animalistic response is fear. Amazement, meanwhile, is a lofty trait exhibited by the person who leverages their fear into a spiritual transformation. The link between “amazement” and “the sublime,” alongside the identification of “the sublime” with the roots of fear, are developed in the philosophy of Edmund Burke. See Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008); Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, trans. James Creed Meredith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 75-77.

[23] James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, 119-129. Per James, a key characteristic of the religious experience is its ineffability (ibid., 295). Pi, too, describes himself as “breathless and wordless.” Hillel Zeitlin, in a similar vein, characterizes the experience of astonishment as ineffable. Connected to fear, he saw it as the root of religiosity, see below, note 79.

[24] In Lurianic Kabbalah, the mother, father, son, and daughter are symbols (“partsufim”) which together comprise a whole unit. On the Lurianic doctrine of divine configurations (partsufim), see S. A. Horodetzky, Torat ha-Kabbalah shel Rabbi Yitshak Ashkenazi ve-Rav Hayyim Vital (Tel Aviv: ha-Hevrah la-Mifalei Sifrut, 1947), 133-149; Fine, Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos, 138-141.

[25] This process of internalization is discussed in Martin Buber, The Way of the Man: According to the Teaching of Hasidism (New York: Citadel Press, 2006), 22-27. This religious approach stands at the root of the religious faith demonstrated by Etty Hillesum in the journal she wrote during the Holocaust. See Etty Hillesum, Etty: The Letters and Diaries of Etty Hillesum, 1941-1943 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2002); Klaas A.D. Smelik et al. (eds.) Spirituality in the Writings of Etty Hillesum (Leiden: Brill, 2010); idem, The Ethics and Religious Philosophy of Etty Hillesum (Leiden: Brill, 2017).

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