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What the New “Avengers” Movie Taught Me About Self-Worth

What the New “Avengers” Movie Taught Me About Self-Worth

Line drawing of some of the characters from the Avengers movie

Content warning: This article contains minor spoilers for Avengers: Endgame.

The new film Avengers: Endgame – the culmination of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe up to this point – has become a record-shattering financial and critical success in an incredibly short amount of time. It managed to tell an entertaining, fun, and action-packed story, while balancing and wrapping up the story arcs of the six original Avengers in memorable (and at times, heartbreaking) ways.

It also got me thinking about how Judaism has affected my own “story arc,” particularly my own sense of worthiness.

While each of these arcs absolutely captivated me, the one that stands out most is that of Thor, the Norse god of thunder, with a beautiful connection to what it means to be truly “worthy.”

After the events of the previous film, Avengers: Infinity War, Thor sinks into depression. Having failed at his attempt to save the world, he spends his days numbing his trauma with alcohol, pizza, and video games. At first, this is played for laughs, but the gravity of Thor’s condition makes itself clearer as the scene progresses.

When his superhero comrades try to convince him to help save the world once more, he doesn’t begin to entertain the idea until The Hulk/Bruce Banner reminds Thor of his worth and value: “You’re in a rough spot. I’ve been there myself, and you know who helped me out of it? ... It was you.”

Thor’s mother later guides him further into recognizing his worth by reminding him, “Everyone fails at who they are supposed to be, Thor. The measure of a person, of a hero, is how well they succeed at being who they are.” When Thor finally realizes this – when he finally utters the words, “I am worthy” – he is able to fulfill his mission and be the hero the universe needs.

This is one of my favorite story arcs in the Marvel universe because it’s perhaps the most widely relatable. Haven’t we all felt “unworthy” at one moment or another, whether a result of regret, guilt, or simply feeling inadequate due to impostor syndrome? But Judaism teaches that we are worthy, not despite our fallible human nature, but because of it.

As I write this, I am preparing for my adult bar mitzvah. Every day, I think about what it means to literally become a “son of the commandments”: to take care of them the way an adult takes care of their parents.

But I also think about my past mistakes made in poor judgment, about all the times that I’ve failed at achieving my goals, about the fact that I’m not an expert in Judaism and don’t know as much as my peers in rabbinical and cantorial school. These thoughts sometimes make me feel unworthy of becoming an “official” Jewish adult.

And then I remember the person I’ve become.

I look back on where I was 10 years ago compared to where I am now, and the disparity is stunning. I was a college freshman who had only begun to explore Judaism on a practical level; now, like Thor did with The Hulk, I get to help those closest to me out of their own “rough spots” using Judaism as my own guiding force. Back then, I only knew one or two words of Hebrew; now, I will soon be chanting Torah in front of dozens of people. I used to have lots of questions about God, religion, and my place in the universe; now…well, I have even more questions (but according to my rabbi, that’s a good thing). My past, something I thought made me unworthy, propelled me to places I never imagined I’d reach.

In her commentary on Parashat Naso, Rabbi Lisa Grushcow of Temple Emanu-El Beth Sholom in Montreal, QC, says,

“[A]s human beings — in all our individuality — we make mistakes, and we are flawed; it is not despite this, but because of it, that we are worthy of blessing.”

This seemingly radical concept is inherently Jewish, and it rings volumes: Our imperfections do not detract from our worthiness; they amplify them. They give us the chance to rise higher, to find our inner strength, and fulfill our destinies as human beings.

And the best part of all? You don’t need to be an Avenger to do it.

Like Thor, many of us spend years trying to live up to unrealistic standards, often set by society and others we seek to emulate. We do this in the hopes that by changing ourselves, we can become worthy of a relationship or a job promotion or whatever it is that we think will fulfill us.

It isn’t until we recognize that we already are worthy, that the path to fulfillment is “succeeding at being who we are,” that we can embody what it means to be a hero to others and to ourselves.

Chris Harrison is the writer and editor for audacious hospitality at the Union for Reform Judaism and a fellow in its 2018 JewV’Nation Fellowship’s Jews of Color Leadership Cohort. He earned his B.A. in English/creative writing and film studies at Miami University and his Certificate in Jewish Leadership through Spertus Institute and Northwestern University. Chris lives with his partner and four pets in metro Detroit, where he serves on Temple Beth El’s audacious hospitality group and the Jewish Federation’s NEXTGen LGBTQA pride committee.

Chris Harrison
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