It was with this thought in mind, that given the hype, given the eleven Academy Award nominations, I downloaded Yann Martel’sLife of Pi onto my Kindle and finished reading it earlier this week. Not knowing anything about the book in advance, I could tell from the coming attractions in the cinema that the book had something to do with a shipwrecked boy and a tiger. What I didn’t understand until after reading Life of Pi was that it is a story about faith and frustration, hope and heartbreak, a story about belief and disbelief in God, all at the same time.
Life of Pi asks a question which relates directly to this week’s parashah – namely, After all that we have seen, heard, and experienced in life, do we still have the audacity to believe? At the conclusion of the story, when Pi is convalescing in Mexico he is visited by Mr Chiba and Mr Okamato who find Pi’s account of his survival with the tiger preposterous. Pi says, “I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality.”
Yet our minds race with seemingly unanswerable questions. How do you expect me to believe such a story? What about the cruelty inflicted upon the Egyptians? What about the fact that the story defies the laws of nature? What do we with the times in our lives when we find ourselves hoping for a miracle that doesn’t come to pass?
It takes great courage, great strength, and great resolve, even audacity, to continue to believe. Here, in the heart of the book of Exodus, in the core of our people’s narrative, Torah asks us to continue believing. To question, debate and discuss for sure, to be reflective and introspective too, but not to nitpick, not to feel the need to pull apart, to knock down, to degrade, until there is nothing left. At a certain stage, we have to let go of control, to let go of that niggling, disapproving voice deep inside of ourselves, to allow ourselves the space for belief.
Pi Patel could have given up his faith at any point, but he chose not to. When he makes an inventory of all of the items that he has on his lifeboat, he acknowledges that he has “one God.” When he writes a list of his daily activities, he includes regular daily prayer as part of his rituals and routine. No circumstance could force Pi to lose hope, or to stop believing.
Interestingly, Rabbi Edward Feinstein writes, “To be Jewish is to never give up hope. No matter how powerful evil may be, it can never destroy our dreams; it cannot enslaves our imagination, our spirit, our love. The Red Sea split. One day, all evil will drown itself and we will find ourselves on the road to the Promised Land.” This Shabbat, we reconnect with what it means to be the “People of the Book,” to study our texts, to learn our stories, to reflect on the images that these sacred narratives bring to our minds, and to look within ourselves to see if, after everything, we might still have the courage, the endurance, the audacity to believe, as individuals, and as a community.
 Kindle Locations 4021-4023.
 Tough Questions Jews Ask, p. 27.