Four Questions About Life of Pi

March 21, 2013 at 8:11 am, by

Pi–who is Catholic, Muslim and Hindu–only learned about Kabbalah later in life.

So, it was only after the sinking of the Japanese ship Tsimtsum that he could have learned that the very name of the sea vessel foreshadowed his diminishing self.

Pi and Richard Parker on an even smaller Tsimtsum than the first.

Pi and Richard Parker on an even smaller Tsimtsum than the first.

Tsimtsum (or, sometimes spelled, tzimtzum) means “contraction” or “reduction,” and it generally refers to the Kabbalistic myth that, in order to create room for the universe to exist, God had to stop taking up so much space. God had to contract God’s self–making God’s presence smaller, weaker–so as to set aside a place in the cosmos for God’s creations.

In this post, I myself would like to practice some tzimtzum, and, rather than write at length about all the different religious and Jewish themes in Life of Pi, I’d like to open up a few conversations.

Feel free to leave your answers below. No need to answer all the questions, just the ones that appeal to you.

And since there are 4 questions, feel free to use them at your seder.


1) Pi describes his story as a tale that would make anyone believe in God. Which part of the tale would lead someone to faith? Pi’s suffering at sea, or Pi’s unlikely salvation and return to land?
– Is God’s splitting the Sea of Reeds sufficient for our faith as a Jewish people, or did we need to suffer as slaves in Egypt?

2) Pi tells two tales. In the first, he is pitted against animals, and, in the second, he is pitted against humans. Does a myth hold a stronger truth when it is demystified, or when in its original form?
– Would you prefer hearing scientific justifications of the Ten Plagues or considering them inexplicable miracles?

3) Pi discusses his childhood at length in the beginning. Is understanding someone’s youth essential to understanding that person as an adult?
 – Why does the Torah tell us about baby Moses in the basket in the Nile, growing up and  killing an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, and then running off to Midian?

4) In Pi’s life, was God’s tzimtzum essential to his coming to faith?
– In our lives, do we suffer or rejoice–or even believe in–God’s tzimtzum?

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