A Jungian analysis of the Disney movie with Torah Hashkafah

Aladdin- a rich tale from the Arabian Nights- in essence, an inner drama of quest, and integration- a ballet of archetypes. At first I misunderstood this deep story. I saw it as a trite romance with a few standard bad guys thrown in for the sake of adversity. Then I read some Jungian psychology, and the world turned inside out, classical fairy tales took on a whole new perspective. If we add to this a kosher hashkafah we have a powerful amalgamation we cannot afford to ignore? Would you like to hear the tale?

Long, long ago in the desert city of Akraba lived a poor boy of great inner worth by the name of Aladdin. He was a "street rat", and though he is our "diamond in the rough", he needs to steal to make a living. Now, it occurs to one that if he is so worthy, why doesn't he find a way to make an honest living? He could, for example, immigrate and hang around Shar Shcem waiting for a kablan. Alternatively, judging by his performance in the movie, he could make a mint as a stunt man in Hollywood. Heck, he could just apprentice himself to some local craftsman- or can't his monkey grind organs? Something, anything, just so long as he doesn't have to be over on one of the sheva mitzvos ben Noach. We must conclude that the stealing is symbolic at a deeper level.

Let us examine the symbols. Symbols are the language of the unconscious. They represent the quality of psychic energies in a way we can understand and interpret at a conscious level.

A diamond is symbolic of the whole self. A diamond is a powerful refractor of light. This means it can gather light and shine it back with impressive intensity- but only when it is correctly cut. Aladdin has the inner quality, but he is "in the rough"- he needs to be cut. He needs certain tikunim, needs to take steps in self integration to become a jewel.

Aladdin's pet monkey is highly significant. This is symbolic of his lower, animal self, which we see, is completely under his control, and indeed his friend. Aladdin is in control of his animal taavos, and they serve him, albeit reluctantly. His interest in Jasmine is not to be understood on that level, but on a more spiritual level as we shall see. Aladdin can give up on his hard won (well, craftily stolen) loaf of bread to feed less fortunate street urchins. He is undeterred by hunger and the pain of a whip as he carries out his higher values. Only at one point, in the cave of wonders, does his lower self precipitate almost complete disaster- we shall come to that.

By contrast, Jafar's pet, a parrot, shows a different relationship. A parrot represents mimicry. Jafar's major yetzer hara is his power lust. He does not care for wordly taivos because they take second place to his drive for cavod. The parrot just follows after this yetzer hara. It still remains coarse and evil, but does not have its own individuality. Significantly, it is the parrot who has the idea that Jafar should marry Jasmine to become sultan, and then drop the little lady off a cliff. Jafar loves the way his foul little mind works. Thus, her physical beauty does not impress them, she is just a dispendable means to an end.

Jasmine also has a pet, a tiger. Tigers are also classically symbolic of strong sensual energy, usually female. Jasmine is aware of this within her, but again, it is under her control and her companion. Interestingly when she runs away from the palace she leaves the tiger behind. She longs for the male outside world, and, feminist that she is, she abandons her physical feminine energies.

Aladdin is alone amongst hostile forces. Akraba is a dangerous place. He is surrounded by people who are simply not on his level of worth, and in such a domain they are going to inevitably hog all the resources. He cannot compete with them directly because they are in essence unscrupulous and powerful. He needs to take what he needs by stealth. Thus he is a thief. It is no coincidence that he meets Jasmine when she is caught for unwitting theft, handing a fruit to a street urchin- (thus showing the same rachmanus and gemilas chasadim we have already seen in Aladdin). He knows he steals, but she does it unawares, instinctively. Aladdin tries to explain that she is his sister but mentally deranged, appropriate in the circumstances. She is indeed his sister in worth, as she has just proved, but her lack of caution and wit up to that point suggest a lack of connection with reality. Jasmine proves she is a fast learner.

Now at this point it is necessary to point out that the whole story is happening on two entirely different levels. In one sense the whole person is Akraba itself, and all the characters are forces within that self. The king is the weak ego, distracted with his toys, escapist, while savagery reigns in his streets. The yetzer hara is really in charge- in the person of Jafar the power hungry vizier, who controls the king with the archetypal snake. In such a city we see Aladdin's need for stealth! Jasmine is anima, contained in the palace, longing to be outside while animus roams the streets, longing to be in the palace. The person cannot be integrated until these two aspects know one another. We will call this the "macro" level.

On the "micro" level Aladdin is a person of great moral worth, the diamond in the rough; Jasmine is similar in character, but a bored, lonely captive of circumstance, Jafar is an evil person filled with gaiva as previously mentioned. Each person has an inner world, a masculine "streets of Akraba" and feminine "palace" within them, and EACH PROJECTS THE DRAMA OF THEIR INNER CONFLICTS DIRECTLY ONTO THE MACRO LEVEL. This is the magic, and this is what makes a classic story.

Thus, Aladdin's ego is not in touch with his anima. This is why he is still not integrated, and still not a cut diamond. He longs for his inner palace where he imagines he will have no worries. In some ways he longs for the womb- rechem- a strong representation of the feminine, but he is mistaken. Simultaneously he longs for the palace, and he falls instantly in love with Jasmine when he sees her because HE PROJECTS HIS ANIMA ONTO HER. He brings the micro to the macro level and initiates the magic of the story.

Now we go to the cave of wonders. The sitra achra, the evil vizier on the macro level, is well aware of a special magical resource deep within which can perform great transformations. This is the genie of course. He knows he could use its power, but he cannot access it directly because of his very nature. He needs to use some pure element of the personality to get it for him. He identifies that pure element using the mystic blue diamond of the king. This has been in the family for centuries. Thus we see that the king, the active consciousness possesses the key to the most pure and the most powerful aspects of its inner being if he would but recognise this.

On the micro level, Jafar sends Aladdin into the cave of wonders. The cave is actually a mystical, transcendental experience, a journey to an inner world. The treasure is not what it seems, and cannot be taken, because it is really inner spiritual resources and not physical wealth. (Thus all our midrashim about gems from gan Eden- the wives of the sages realize that they must be returned to their places)

Aladdin meets the carpet. He befriends Aladdin and offers loyalty (and transport), and shows the way to , deep within- logically, since he is the intermediate level of soul. Aladdin himself on the level of Neshama. Abu is Nefesh. We could say, cautiously, that the ru'ach is Jasmine. Here macro and micro begin to fuse and magic increases.

Now we come to Aladdin's final transcendence and near-fatal mistake. To reach the lamp, Aladdin must climb a pinnacle of rock. This is not in itself particularly dangerous, apart from the initial rock floes over the lava which he must negotiate. For some reason he decides to leave Abu, the monkey, behind. Why? He leaves Abu momentarily unsupervised and the greedy little creature succumbs in minutes to the temptation of a great red gem. This gem also has mystic symbolism, I saw a reference to it somewhere... Touching this gem causes a cataclysm, the spirit of the cave cries out.."You have dared to touch the forbidden treasure! You will never again see the light of day!" Aladdin already has the lamp, and he has the loyal and nimble aid of the carpet, and manages to escape tsunamis of lava, a race along rumbling passages - an impressive flight all the way to the entrance. Good thing the carpet knows the way- but this does not surprise us.

This whole dramatic scene reminds us of the perinatal experience. It is a prebirth memory. We, in a sense, associate the dark, unknown, inner world of the psyche with the womb, the feminine, particularly from a male viewpoint. His unconscious is largely female in essence. The flight, the drama, the danger, the whole sense of being trapped in a tremendous cave which seems to have a life of its own, which seems to be trying to destroy us- this is a memory of the contractions of childbirth.

We return now, to the ascent to the lamp. Traditionally, any preparation for transcendence of the self in order to gain powers and secrets, involves many ascetic disciplines, fasting, purification of various kinds, mikvas and so on, all in an attempt to completely subdue the desires of the body, to quieten the clamouring voices of the desires so that we can tune ourselves to receive a more refined insight. This is the climb. It requires tremendous self control, exertion and resolve, and an ability to focus with purity on the goal. Aladdin really had no choice. He had to leave Abu behind. He had to leave the nefesh, his physical being on a lower level while he went for the lamp.

Aladdin asked the genie to make him a prince. The genie gave him all the extravagent trappings, convincing everyone in Akraba, but not impressing the princess. Later, he comes to her balcony and tries to get her to listen to him. She is not sympathetic- till she meets the carpet.

She is fascinated and clearly tempted by the idea of a ride outside the palace walls, where she has never been. When Aladdin asks her if she trusts him, her suspicions are confirmed, that he really is the boy she met in the shuk, and she says yes. They go off on a wonderful magic carpet ride, a grand tour of the Middle East, with much music, song and general romantic exuberance. Significantly, they leave the monkey behind.

Clearly, the carpet ride is the key to capturing Jasmine's heart, because her animus, her spirit, is the gateway to the outer masculine interactive world. Falling in love with Aladdin means projecting the animus onto him, as he literally shows her the world outside the palace. Remember that the palace is the inner, feeling, intuitive world. These two worlds must integrate to give one another meaning. Of course, he does not show her the interactive world as it is in life, but a transcendent overview. That world is still too hostile for them as yet. Therefore, Abu, his physical side, is left behind, just as the palace itself is left behind. The spirits themselves ascend and experience the totality of reality from a safe viewpoint. Safe integration, but still and illusion, not yet real. Here again we notice merging of levels. As Jasmine says, "it's all so magical".

Jasmine is no fool. She realises that this is still not real, and she tricks Aladdin davka by the observation that Abu is not present. She demands the truth. He lies, pretending that he really is a prince, who sometimes dresses as a commoner to escape the pressures of palace life.

How did Aladdin lose possession of the lamp? We see that events start to reverse for him as soon as the sultan informs him that one day he too will become sultan. He panics. He is just being promoted from micro level to macro level and he is not ready for this, and he's acutely aware of the fact. He knows he can't carry off the act without the genie. He's immediately a prince, and can act the part, but he is not really there.

There is a parallel to this in the Torah. At Yam Suf each Jew experienced such a powerful revelation that even a handmaid could understand concepts that highly refined prophets could only reach bekoshi a millenium later- but this was all gratis. They were all turned into prophets for free the way Aladdin was transformed into a prince for free, lehavdil. They then required sefiras haomer to reach that level by themselves. Aladdin needs to go through this process.

Jafar acquires the lamp. He immediately uses it to achieve his megalomaniac desires, to rule on high a sultan, then to be the most powerful sorcerer in the world. At this point davka he reveals the truth about Aladdin to Jasmine, "...just a con, need I go on? Take it from me...". Now we know the clal- when we see a fault in another we possess it within ourselves. Jafar was THE con artist of the whole story, pretending to be the sultan's loyal advisor for many years. Thus it is in our own selves, the evil vizier is the yetzer hara, in weak individuals he acts as the obsequious servant but is in reality the master. Aladdin acted as a prince, but Jafar's masquerade was on a deeper, more permanent level, and for his own selfish purposes.

Jafar wants power, Aladdin is afraid of it. Here he confuses illusory power with true mastery. It is his destiny to attain mastery in the palace and out of it, over the whole city of Akraba. He feels he has to keep up a front, he knows that is not desirable, but he does not yet understand what is really required of him. To be a true ruler one has to be the ultimate caretaker of the people, to have in mind their good, to cause growth and raise the standard of living on as many levels as possible. Jafar wishes to dominate for his own pleasure and ego needs, to feed his own fantasies. Aladdin just has to use his inner worth for the welfare of Akraba. He has all he needs, he just has to actualise that.

Michaelangelo was once asked how he could produce such beautiful sculptures. He said that the shape was already there in the rock, it was just necessary to chip away the excess rock. Similarly, Aladdin the ruler was already there, inside. He had to find a way to discover that for himself. To drape an impressive facade over the rock would accomplish nothing.

How did Aladdin return from the ends of the earth? He emphatically did not return in five seconds on a magic carpet. Disney really blew it here, and missed the point of the entire story. In the original tale, Aladdin's pilgrimage takes a l_o_n_g___t_i_m_e, on foot, painful, wandering, lost. The palace has been transplanted by the genie- Aladdin does not even know where to go. He can only follow legends and heresay. This is really the longest chronological part of the tale. Aladdin's return is an oddysey of the soul, to find his way back to the palace he once knew, to arrive there, worthy. When he truly arrives, he does merit becoming the sultan. He does not have to say he has to stop pretending to be something he's not because by that time there will be no cause for pretence. He will be master of himself, and fit to be master of the palace and of the whole of Akraba.

What is this odyssey? Tikun Hamidos. This is the cutting of the diamond.

There are two ways to become a prophet, by slow tikun hamidos, followed by Hashem's gracious revelation, and by fast acting techniques. Moshe Rabenu reached his nevuah by tikun hamidos. He worked on himself over many decades, his growth and developing sensitivity in the palace of Paroh, and his travels in Africa before he ever arrived in Midyan. When he merited it, he was granted final tikun hamidos, and the nevuah he received was tahor.

In contrast, Bilaam reached his nevuah by special techniques, hisbodedus, fasting, self affliction. He left the nefesh behind, climbed up and grabbed the lamp, so to speak. In this way his revelation had no effect on his nefesh. He was still the greedy, lustful, cavod seeking person he was at the start. His nevuah in tuma was as great as Moshe's nevuah in Tahara and Kedusha, but his own nevuah in kedusha was just so- so. He acquired cochos ha-tuma- he acquired a genie. Jafar did this, using Aladdin.

It was necessary for Jafar to reach his height, to become as powerful as he wished in order to enslave him. Jafar himself became a genie, and lost his own bechira and his freedom. He was then banished. "Ten thousand years in the cave of wonders ought to chill him out!" It was necessary to take this evil to its peak in order to resolve it. If we see in ourselves the yetzer hara to do something not kosher, all we need to do is examine the consequences of following that path to its end. An objective apprisal should be enough deterrent. Through anger, loshon hara, insults and lies we finally alienate our friends, family and community, not to mention consequences in the next world. Or we can allow ourselves to feel that yetzer, focus on it till it grows within us, and we can see it in all its ugliness and vile intent. When we see it for what it is, we can turn the same trick, ultimately it is a part of ourselves, and has no real freedom to tell us what to do. It becomes our genie in our power, and we can use that power according to the dictates of the sechel.

Thus, "bekol levavcha". We serve Hashem with two yetzers. Use your anger for kinas haemes, use your laziness to prevent you doing averas, use your pride to deter you from doing anything disgusting, channel your physical desires to kosher pleasures, and each time, thank and acknowledge Hashem, source of all pleasures. Make your vilest traits into genies for a more elevated use.

Aladdin realised he did not need cochos hatuma any more, and set this entity free, as he had promised. He could get by now on his true inner strength of his soul, which was more permanent and more pure. At the same time, the sultan asserted himself, freeing himself from the control of unnecessary forces, recognised Aladdin's true worth and allowed the integration of Akraba, the anima and the animus.

Copyright © 1999 Gila Atwood

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