From my column in Ynet: “For Brethren To Dwell Together In Unity”
Is tribalism something good or bad? What is the power inherent in it that causes us to long for the sensation that is created during times of war? What is the harm that a lack of tribalism is liable to cause to our sensation of security, and how can we overcome it? Rav Laitman on the wisdom of the tribe.
Sebastian Junger, American journalist and author, has dedicated most of his life to staying on dangerous battlefields during wars throughout the world and reviewing them for newspapers. One of those times, when he returned from the first difficult and hard-pressed time in Afghanistan to the bosom of his loving family in the big city of New York, what was waiting for him was an unexpected experience: Suddenly, post-traumatic stress disorder began to stir in him, panic attacks and depression, that he didn’t know how to deal with.
As researcher by nature, he examined this phenomenon in depth and discovered that he was not alone. Hundreds of US soldiers experienced similar trauma, but the shocking discovery that Junger made was that, at the heart of the depression, there was a deep longing for the feeling of tribalism and brotherhood that he had experienced under sniper fire.
In times of war, soldiers sleep together, eat together, and fight together for a common goal, and result in the creation of a collective brotherhood. But once they are removed from their stay in a cohesive group and the sense of “togetherness” and return to the divided and alienated society, a feeling of emptiness attacks them immediately. For Junger, it took more than a year to overcome the situation that only got worse, but because of his pain and his own insights, he published the Tribe about six months ago, which examines the benefits that we have lost over the years when we detached from the life of the tribe.
What has humanity truly lost when we abandoned the tribal world? Is the price that all of us pay for our individualistic life worth it? What can we do today to rebuild our tribal life, the cohesion and unity that are so important for our personal and national strength?
Secret Tribal Wisdom
The first (and last) time humanity felt like one big tribe was around 3,500 years ago in ancient Babylon. “Now the entire earth was of one language and uniform words” (Genesis 11:1), and the unique power inherent in the tribal feeling granted a sense of a protective and safe womb and it neutralized all self-concern in a person: from concern about food, clothing, and shelter, to the feeling of security in times of war and canceling uncertainty about the future. The sense of security came from the members of the tribe surrounding a person, but its origin was much deeper—the general power of nature—a “tribe”—broader in scope, spanning the entire universe. The general force of nature provides the positive power that nourishes us individually and collectively, protects us on a psychological level, and serves as a refuge for us. Just as the family unit is used by us for support, so the system of nature provides a feeling of calm and serenity, enveloped with warmth and love and balanced relationships.
One fine morning, egoistic nature broke out among the Babylonian tribe, disrupting the serenity that had dwelled among them up to then, and strengthening the feeling of “self” in each one. The Babylonians began to split and divide into smaller peoples and tribes (in retrospect, these became the foundation of the seventy nations of the world about which the historian Josephus wrote at length). The first positive force was trampled, and was replaced by the negative force of egoism, which leapt to the heavens as indicated by the story of the Tower of Babel. Instead of “we,” “I” was created. Instead of concern for others, there was concern for oneself, and instead of a tribe, the individual was the center.
Had the Babylonians been able to preserve a sense of tribalism, increasing the positive power that united them over the gaping void between the negative strength of the ego, their relationship would have strengthened and they would have risen to a new level of existence. But from where would they awaken the positive force? How could they maintain contact despite the distance created? This is precisely the “wisdom of the tribe” that Abraham taught.
A Small Tribe Within the Great Tribe of Nature
Abraham gathered a group of Babylonians around him. He taught them the wisdom of Kabbalah and educated them on how to return to being a cohesive tribe that would operate through altruism. “Charity and bringing peace among one person and another has never been found as much as it was in Abraham, for after all he was the father of a multitude of nations and he united them and made peace between all creatures” (Gevurot HaShem Chapter 6). The method that Abraham taught the Babylonians was simple and logical: transcend the conflicts that separate them and connect with love.
How is that done? It is through effort and a desire to connect with each other through brotherly love so they would awaken the positive force that exists in nature. Like a small tribe within the great tribe of nature, all of the parts are gradually connected into one big family by means of that same positive force of nature.
With the help of the method of Abraham, “Love covers all transgressions” (Proverbs 10:12), the Babylonians who were alienated from each other connected between them “as one man in one heart,” and over many days, that group became the people of Israel (Yisrael, Yashar El, straight to the Creator, the positive force in nature). The sole function of the people of Israel today is to convey the wisdom of the tribe to all of humanity, to be “a light of nations” (Isaiah 49:6).
But like a big steamroller, egoism continued to crush everything in its path and divided the nations into more and more peoples, nations, and cultures, and even they were divided into factions, communities, and groups, divided into political parties, movements, and gangs, until a person was left standing alone. Today, the global tribe has become modern, broken into fragments.
What transforms the tribe into all of humanity? It is concern for everyone, mutual responsibility, and belonging to a single force.
What have we created during these 3,500 years? Has the dissolution of the big tribe transformed our lives for the better and made us more comfortable? Clearly, it hasn’t. We have returned to the starting point like we were in Babylon—billions of people don’t know how to get along with each other. Even if it seems for a moment that everyone suddenly will get along and take control of the situation, the ego will prevent it. Moreover, if we make it possible for the ego to continue to operate, it will cause us to deteriorate into an extreme civil war.
There is no doubt that stressful situations like these are made to bring us closer together as Junger testified in his book. The question is, why do we require a war or a big disaster to overcome the separation that egoism sows? Is there no other way to preserve the sensation of unity and restore the sensation of tribalism that is so vital for us? The solution remains the same: we need to return to the advice of Abraham, the father of the nation, and connect between us. However, unlike in the days of Babylon, this time the connection must be global, not local.
The Tribe of All Humanity
Baal HaSulam writes: “Therefore, in our generation, when each person is aided for his happiness by all the countries in the world, it is necessary that to that extent, the individual becomes enslaved to the whole world, like a wheel in a machine.
“Therefore, the possibility of making good, happy, and peaceful conducts in one state is inconceivable when it is not so in all the countries in the world, and vice versa. In our time, the countries are all linked in the satisfaction of their needs of life, as individuals were in their families in earlier times. Therefore, we can no longer speak or deal with just conducts that guarantee the well-being of one country or one nation, but only with the well-being of the whole world because the benefit or harm of each and every person in the world depends and is measured by the benefit of all the people in the world” (“Peace in the World”).
Living in a tribe gives peace and security. The burden is distributed among everyone, and day-to-day survival, which is typical of a competitive society, disappears as if it never existed. In the not too distant future when more and more people find themselves unemployed, the tribal way of life will provide us with everything required for our existence with ease and comfort.
A tribe is not a function of the quantity of people. A tribe could number billions and even more. What would make one tribe of all of humanity? It is concern for everyone, mutual responsibility, belonging to one force. One small step toward connection between us will create a warm and friendly connection, and will awaken the positive force. Then, we will ascend to a spiritual dimension, to the feeling of a single tribe in which all of us are “children of Adam,” members of the same tribe of Adam HaRishon (the First Man). Just as Junger returned from the momentary tribalism on the battlefield and yearned to return to a feeling of unity, so from such a divided world where we are living in incessant war, we can return to live together in a tribe of brethren.
From Ynet: “For Brethren To Dwell Together In Unity” 12/13/16