Two years ago almost to the day, I published an article in The New York Times, entitled, “Who Are You, People of Israel?” This year, come Rosh Hashanah, I’d like to share it with the readers of Haaretz, as I think that the message within can have a major impact on the type of year ahead of us, the Jewish people. Where We Are and Where We Come From
Time and again, Jews are persecuted and terrorized. Being Jewish myself, I often ponder the purpose of this relentless agony. Some believe that the atrocities of WWII are unimaginable today. And yet, we see how readily the state of mind preceding the Holocaust is re-emerging, and “Hitler was right” clamors are sounding all too often and all too openly.
But there is hope. We can reverse this trend, and all it requires is that we see the big picture.
Where We Are and Where We Come From
Humanity is at a crossroads. Globalization has made us interdependent, while people have grown increasingly hateful and alienated. This unsustainable, highly flammable situation requires making a decision about humanity’s future direction. Yet to understand how we, the Jewish people, are involved in this scenario, we need to look to where it all began.
The people of Israel emerged some 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylon. Babylon was a thriving civilization whose people felt connected and united. In the words of the Torah, “The whole earth was of one language and of one speech” (Genesis 11:1).
But as the ties among the Babylonians grew stronger, so did their egos. They began to exploit and hate one another. While the Babylonians felt dependent on each other, their intensifying egos alienated them from each other. Caught between a rock and a hard place, they began to seek a solution to their plight.
Two Solutions to the Crisis
The search for a solution led to the formation of two conflicting views. The first, suggested by Nimrod, king of Babylon, was natural and instinctive: dispersion. The king argued that when people are far from one another, they do not quarrel.
Abraham, then a renowned Babylonian sage, suggested the second solution. He stated that it is Nature’s dictate that human society will become united, and therefore strove to unite the Babylonians despite and atop their growing egos.
Abraham’s method was a way to connect people above their egos. When he began to advocate his method among his countryfolk, “thousands and tens of thousands assembled around him, and ... He planted this tenet in their hearts,” writes Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Part 1). The rest of the people chose Nimrod’s way, dispersion, like quarrelsome neighbors when they try to stay out of each other’s way. Over time, those who dispersed gradually became what we now know as “human society.”
Only today, some 4,000 years down the line, we can begin to assess whose way was right.
The Basis of the People of Israel
Every substance consists of two opposite forces, connection and separation, which balance each other out. But human society is evolving using only the negative force—the ego. In humans, the positive force of connection is subdued; therefore, we must consciously balance the negative force with the positive one—unity. Abraham discovered the wisdom that activates this force and enables balance, and taught it to his students.
When Nimrod expelled Abraham and his disciples from Babylon, they moved to what later became known as “the land of Israel.” They worked on unity and cohesion in accord with the tenet, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” connected above their egos, and thus discovered “that positive force of unity.”
Israel Means Straight to the Creator
Abraham’s disciples called the force of unity, El (God), and called themselves Ysrael (Israel) after their desire to go Yashar El (straight to God, the Creator). That is, they wished to discover Nature’s force of unity so as to balance the ego that separated them.
In addition to their discovery, Israel also learned that in the process of human development, the rest of the Babylonians—who have dispersed throughout the world and have become today’s humanity—would also have to achieve unity. That contradiction between the people of Israel that formed through unity, and the rest of humanity that formed as a result of separation, is felt even today.
The people of Israel experienced constant internal struggles, but for 2,000 years their unity prevailed and was the key element that held them together. This is why The Book of Zohar (Beshalach) writes, “All the wars in the Torah are for peace and love.”
However, approximately 2,000 years ago, their egos reached such intensity that they could not maintain their unity. Unfounded hatred erupted among them and resulted in their exile. Indeed, Israel’s exile is more than exile from the physical land of Israel; it is exile from unity. Thus, the alienation within Israel caused them to disperse among the nations.
Back to the Present
Today humanity is in a similar state to the one the ancient Babylonians experienced. We are interdependent, yet alienated from each other. But because we are already spread throughout the world, Nimrod’s solution of parting ways is no longer practical. Now we are required to use Abraham’s method. This is why the Jewish people, who previously implemented Abraham’s method and achieved connection, must rekindle their unity and teach the method of connection to the whole of humanity.
Even the notorious anti-Semite Henry Ford recognized the role of the Jews, as he wrote in his book, The International Jew — The World's Foremost Problem: “Society has a large claim against the Jew, that he begin to fulfill the ancient prophecy that through him all the nations of the earth should be blessed.” Unless we fulfill the prophecy of our own accord, the world will compel us to unite by force.
The Roots of Anti-Semitism
After thousands of years of exerting to build a successful human society using Nimrod’s method, the nations of the world are beginning to understand that the solution to their problems does not lie in technology, economics, or military strength. Subconsciously, they recognize that the solution lies in unity, and that the method of connection exists in the people of Israel. As a result, they feel they are dependent on the Jews. This, in turn, causes them to blame the Jews for every problem in the world, and by inference, that they also possess the key to humanity’s happiness.
Indeed, when the Israeli nation fell from its moral apex of love of others, hatred of Israel among the nations began. Through anti-Semitism, the nations prod us to disclose the method of connection.
But the people of Israel are unaware that they are holding the key to the world’s happiness, and that the very source of anti-Semitism is that the Jews are inadvertently concealing within them the method of connection, the key to happiness.
Today we cannot pull away from one another in order to pacify our egos. Our only option is to work on our connection, on our unity. We are required to add to our world the positive force that balances the negative power of the ego.
The people of Israel, descendants of the ancient Babylonians who followed Abraham, must implement the wisdom of connection. They are required to set an example for the whole of humanity and thus become “a light unto nations.”
There are two ways to achieve connection: 1) a path of wars, catastrophes, plagues, and natural disasters, or 2) a path of gradual balancing of the ego, the path that Abraham planted in his disciples. Clearly, the latter is preferable.
Unity Is the Solution
It is written in The Book of Zohar (VaEtchanan): “Everything stands on love.” “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the great tenet of the Torah. It is the obligation of the Jewish People to unite in order to share the method of Abraham with the entire human race.
According to Rav Yehuda Ashlag, author of the Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar, “It is upon the Israeli nation to qualify itself and all the people of the world to develop until they take upon themselves that sublime work of the love of others, which is the ladder to the purpose of Creation.” If we accomplish this, we will find solutions to all the world’s problems. Then “all the nations of the earth should be blessed,” as Ford put it, and this will be the end of anti-Semitism.