One of the most endearing elements of superhero stories is that the good guy always wins, but in the real world, that’s not always the case.
That’s why the ending of “Avengers: Infinity War” is so shocking, because Thanos — the bad guy — wins. I keep thinking about sweet Peter Parker, moody teen Groot, and all the other casualties of the Infinity Gauntlet. But most of all, I find myself thinking about how Thanos — the embodiment of evil — could win. There has to be a mechanism within the Marvel Cinematic Universe that explains this.
I think the answer is in the Torah in the story of Korah’s rebellion. Moses and Aaron led the Israelites from Egypt to the Holy Land. Moses was the de facto king and Aaron the high priest. Korah, a Levite, led a rebellion challenging the authority of his cousins Moses and Aaron to exclude him from the priesthood.
A contest of competing sacrificial fire pans determined the victor. The moment of truth arrives and God commands Moses and Aaron to separate from the group. Then, a Godly fire consumes Korah and his rebellion forces. Adding insult to injury, the ground opens and swallows them whole.
Reb Tzadok of Lublin (1823-1900) writes that God commanded Moses and Aaron to leave the area because the rebels had a special power that could have defeated them. Had they stayed with the group, they, too, would have been consumed by the fire. The good guys would have lost.
One who has pure intentions and is willing to give everything he or she has to a holy cause — even a cause that is not correct — is given this superpower.
What were the rebels special powers? Reb Tzadok says it was their pure intentions and willingness to sacrifice everything for a holy cause. Incredibly, the rebels wielded this power even though they were wrong. One who has pure intentions and is willing to give everything he or she has to a holy cause — even a cause that is not correct — is given this superpower.
That explains Thanos. He had to exchange the life of a true love for the Soul Stone. His adopted/kidnapped daughter Gamora laughs when she hears this condition because she believes that Thanos is so evil that he has no true love. But Thanos begins to cry and it quickly dawns on Gamora that she is going to be the sacrifice. Thanos throws her into the abyss and the stone appears.
Thanos is not purely genocidal. He is a utilitarian fundamentalist. He truly believes that it is best for the universe that he erase half the population. We call this a holy cause.
Thanos was willing to sacrifice his true love for the sake of his holy cause. There’s great power in these things. Thanos completes the Infinity Gauntlet and with a snap of his finger uses his power to murder fifty percent of all living things, leaving us to marvel and mourn the loss of several beloved superheroes. Such is the power of giving everything we have to a holy cause.
Eli Fink is a rabbi, writer and managing supervisor at the Jewish Journal.