A Beautiful World

In 'A Beautiful Mind,' Rabbi Laura Geller finds that it is in love, for all dimensions of creation, that one finds the divine.

BY: Interview by Rebecca Phillips

In a budding Beliefnet tradition, we're celebrating Oscar season by talking with five religious leaders and thinkers (listed at right) about each of this year's Best Picture nominees.

Rabbi Laura Geller
Photo by Raffi Alexander,
Spiderbox Photography
The interviews will appear all this week, beginning today with Rabbi Laura Geller, rabbi of Temple Emmanuel in Beverly Hills, a Reform congregation and one the country's largest synagogues. When she was ordained in 1976, Geller was only the third female rabbi in the United States. She was the first woman to be selected as the head rabbi of a major metropolitan synagogue. Last week, she discussed "A Beautiful Mind" with Beliefnet's Rebecca Phillips.

"A Beautiful Mind" depicts the life of John Nash, a talented mathematician whose paranoid schizophrenia threatens his academic career, his friendships and his marriage. The movie chronicles his struggle with his illness from graduate school days at Princeton to his triumph in 1994, when he won a Nobel Prize.

There's been some controversy about how "A Beautiful Mind" portrays John Nash, the scientist, who is a real-life professor at Princeton. If it's not a strict biography, what is the movie about?

It seems to me the movie teaches about the redemptive power of love. Whatever the true story is, in the movie, his wife stayed and supported him. She seemed to be very much a part of why he was able to conquer these very real demons that were part of his life. At the end of the movie, there's a wonderful moment of acknowledgment that made that very clear.

I think that it's through relationships like this husband and wife had that people begin to see divinity in other people, and that's a very Jewish notion. A modern Jewish philosopher like Martin Buber teaches that in a real relationship somehow you manage to experience another human being as a "thou"--not as a means to an end, but an end in and of itself. It's in those relationships that one really discovers divinity. In some ways, at least in the movie, the wife somehow manages to do that, against predictions.

At times Nash's character is pretty hard to deal with. Is everyone deserving of that kind of redemptive love?

I don't think it's a matter of being deserving. The main point in the movie is that all human beings are created in the image of God. That doesn't mean we're created in a physical image of God. God has no physical image. The issue isn't that we're perfect. But there's something about every human being that is a reflection of divinity, even with all of our differences.

Judaism has a tradition of saying blessings. The rabbis tell us we're supposed to say 100 blessings a day. There's a blessing that you say when you see someone who is very different-looking. One might say this blessing when you see someone who is very ugly, or very different-looking, or very extraordinary in a way that one might understand as negative. The blessing is, "Blessed are you God, over time and space, who varies creation."

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