Chava Berman Borowsky

Barbie and Tanya (תניא)

In Talmudic terms you can ask מה עניין שמיטה אצל הר סיני? What exactly does the Barbie movie have to do with Tanya composed by the Ba’al Hatanya, Shneur Zalman of Liadi. The answer will surprise you: a lot more than first meets the eye. We’ll discuss different souls, different worlds, soulmates, and also of course female empowerment and loving every Jew.

There are two worlds which lie parallel to each other – one is the physical world here on earth and the other is the infinite Godly world of perfection which is devoid of any blemish. There’s  two forces always conflicting with each other – רוחניות and גשמיות – the pure and holy vs. the earthly and mundane.

Barbieland is a fictional world but it can also present a celestial world which is not bound by earthly needs and desires. There’s no food or water in Barbieland; in fact when Barbie drinks no water ever pours out of her cup. Barbieland is a place devoid of any worry or doubt and where the concept of death never even enters anyone’s mind.

As the plot of the Barbie movie progresses, Barbie needs to go into the real world in order to fulfill her תיקון. It’s only possible to fulfill her תיקון – to repair her soul – through the physical material world. Likewise all of our souls are also sent down from heaven into the physical world where God custom tailors all of our trials so that like Barbie we can also perform our תיקון.

Barbie’s soul longs for a soulmate משורש נשמתה – from the same root as her soul – and she chooses Ken. Ken without Barbie bemoans, “I’m just Ken.” It’s Barbie who transforms him from just any Joe Schmo into the charming prince who dutifully serves his princess. אשה כשרה עושה רצון בעלה. At face value this seems to be extremely misogynistic and outdated. But what it really means is that a woman has the power to enable her partner to believe that her will is actually his own will – עושה רצון בעלה.

Tanya delves deeper than just into individual souls. Tanya teaches us that all Jews have a collective soul – we’re all flames that originated from the same source of fire and Godliness. It’s only the physical world which befuddles this constant principle. In order to truly connect with every single Jew we must revert back to the spiritual world. Only then can we understand the real meaning of אהבת ישראל. 

Barbie can be interpreted a thousand different ways but I’ve chosen the allegory of uniting souls and finding purpose which is the key principle of Tanya. We learn through Tanya to genuinely love every Jew even if his views and conduct directly conflict with our own. Recently my teenage son complained to me that his bi-weekly trip from Ashdod back to his dad’s house in Holon now takes an extra hour as a result of the protests in Tel Aviv every Saturday night because now the driver needs to take a different route. I turned to my son and I said, “No, we still love every Jew even if he has different political opinions than us. We love every Jew even if his actions and protests cause us to suffer through traffic and arrive home an hour later when it’s almost midnight.” And that my friends, is the transformative power of learning Tanya.

About the Author
Chava Berman Borowsky grew up in Los Angeles, CA in an Orthodox community in the La Brea Fairfax neighborhood. She moved to Israel in 2008 and has since lived in Jerusalem, Bet Shemesh, Holon, and Ashdod. Her hobbies include cooking, hiking, painting, and writing.
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