In my regular column in Haaretz, my new article: “What This Means for Jews When Austria’s President Says All Women Will Wear Headscarves“
When he was elected as Austria’s president, by a margin of less than one percentage point, Mr. Alexander Van Der Bellen declared, “I will be a pro-European president of Austria open to the world.” Last week, Mr. Van Der Bellen stated about Islamophobia: “There will come a day when we have to ask every woman to wear a headscarf. Every woman! Out of solidarity with those who do it for religious reasons.”
On the one hand, we are seeing the realization of a process I have been warning about for years: the capitulation of Europe to Islam. On the other hand, there is a reactionary process where burkas (Muslim headscarf) and burkinis (Muslim full-body swimsuit) are banned in many European countries, particularly those that have suffered most in recent years from Islamic terrorism, such as France.
The tight race in the election in Austria indicates that the Austrian public is split in half. A similar picture unfolded in the UK Brexit vote, and in the US presidential election. By and large, Western countries are growing less politically tolerant, more divided, yet no view seems to have a clear upper hand. This situation makes effective governance almost impossible, guaranteeing that instability will only increase in the coming years. Unless this trend of growing political intolerance and escalating aggression is reversed, Europe will inevitably find itself embroiled in another violent conflict, which could spread to the rest of the world. If a violent eruption takes place, the Jews, as always, will pay the heaviest price.
Forcibly Entangled Narcissists
Like the Chinese curse says, we are living in interesting times. Like never before, two contradictory trajectories are impacting humanity. On one hand, we have become narcissists to the point that our level of odium toward other people has reached pathological levels. On the other hand, we have become so interdependent that we cannot break away from society.
A few generations ago, people were dependent on society for food, shelter, and health. Today, because we are so preoccupied with ourselves, we need constant reassurance of our value. As a result, we desperately need others to like us on social media and approve of the (false) images we put there. In many cases, we are so dependent on it that people who suffer from online bullying resort to suicide.
While social media is still our most common way of reconciling the need for social life with the need for privacy, it is clearly not a sustainable solution. The soaring depression rates and atrocious incidents such as live broadcasts of murders and suicides indicate that the days of social media as our preferred outlet are numbered.
Interdependence and mutual dislike are as apparent in politics as they are in the social process just described. As our narcissism escalates, so do our intolerance and aggression. And since we cannot detach ourselves from society, we turn against it.
All this means one thing: There is no solution to our situation in our current mode of thinking. To prevent the total ruin of society, we will have to rise above our differences and forge a new form of solidarity.
Today, it is common knowledge that a good team requires diversity and that exposure to diversity makes us smarter. Every sports team knows that good teamwork yields more wins than big names on the roster who play for themselves. Even though we know it, it is getting harder and harder to cooperate. Our growing egos are making it increasingly difficult for us to form meaningful bonds, resulting in disintegration on all levels, from the family unit to the whole of society.
The reason for this is simple: Our only goal is our own (usually immediate) pleasure. We want everything now, instant gratification. And if we do connect to other people, it is in order to exploit them, either openly or by seeming to help, when actually, an ulterior motive motivates us to action.
An Untapped Method
Such alienation would have made human society hopeless were it not for the existence of an untapped solution. If we tap into it, we will not only resolve the current crises we are facing, but we will come to view them as necessary, preparatory steps toward a much safer and brighter future. Albert Einstein once said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” If we apply this solution, we will rise to a new level of thinking, for which the current problems will be the foundation.
The first person to think of this solution was Abraham the Patriarch almost four millennia ago. As I wrote in the essay “Why Do People Hate Jews,” and in my book Like a Bundle of Reeds: Why Unity and Mutual Guarantee Are Today’s Call of the Hour, the Midrash (Beresheet Rabbah), Maimonides, and many other sources tell us that similar to what is happening today, the Babylonians in Abraham’s time were growing increasingly alienated. These books tell us that when Abraham reflected on the alienation of the Babylonians, he realized what we are now realizing ourselves: We cannot stop the intensification of egoism, but unless we find some way to deal with the ego, it will destroy us.
In Mishneh Torah (Chapter 1), Maimonides writes that to find a solution to the problem of the growing ego, Abraham observed nature. He realized that in nature, everything is balanced. What maintains stability is the fact that in addition to egoism, there is a balancing force, a desire to connect and build, which matches the desire to disconnect and destroy. This balance, Abraham concluded, enables the opposites that make life possible: hot and cold, connection and separation, creation and destruction, and all the other opposites that make up our universe. In humans, however, Abraham discovered that “The inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21).
As soon as he realized that he had found the key to social stability, Abraham began to circulate it. In the words of Maimonides, “He began to provide answers to the people of Ur of the Chaldeans [Abraham’s city in Babylon], to converse with them and to tell them that the path on which they were walking was not the path of truth.”
Abraham explained that the only way to overcome the ego that had erupted between them was to strengthen the unity between them. Since nature denied humankind the balance between forces it endowed with the rest of nature, Abraham suggested that they could “compensate” for the lack of the connecting force by creating it themselves. This is why today we know him as a man of mercy and kindness, since he strove to connect people.
As more and more people assembled around Abraham to learn his solution, he became a threat to Nimrod, the King of Babylon, who ultimately expelled Abraham. Outside of Babylon, Abraham continued to gather followers and students who subscribed to the idea that the way to overcome the ego is by increasing unity in sync with the intensification of the ego.
Abraham passed his knowledge on to Isaac, who passed it on to Jacob, who then passed it on to Joseph. After centuries of honing a unique method of connection, the Hebrews obtained such powerful unity that even though they came from different places and ethnicities, they became a nation at the foot of Mt. Sinai, from the Hebrew word sinaa (hatred). As the Hebrews overcame the mountain of hatred and alienation between them by nurturing their unity to a level that matched their separation, they balanced the egoism that was growing in them and created a solid society based on social justice and mutual responsibility that to this day is the basis of what we define as humanism.
Dutch-American sociologist Ernest van den Haag asked in The Jewish Mystique: “In a world where Jews are only a tiny percentage of the population, what is the secret of the disproportionate importance the Jews have had in the history of Western culture?” Similarly, Christian historian Paul Johnson wrote in A History of the Jews: “At a very early stage in their collective existence they believed they had detected a divine scheme for the human race, of which their own society was to be a pilot. They worked out their role in immense detail. They clung to it with heroic persistence in the face of savage suffering. Many of them believe it still. Others transmuted it into Promethean endeavors to raise our condition by purely human means. The Jewish vision became the prototype for many similar grand designs for humanity, both divine and man-made. The Jews, therefore, stand right at the center of the perennial attempt to give human life the dignity of a purpose.”
The way Abraham and his disciples handled the ego was very simple yet effective. The book Likutey Etzot (Assorted Counsels) describes this in the following way: “The essence of peace is to connect two opposites. Hence, do not be alarmed if you see a person whose view is the complete opposite of yours and you think that you will never be able to make peace with him. Also, when you see two people who are completely opposite to each other, do not say that it is impossible to make peace between them. On the contrary, the essence of peace is to try to make peace between two opposites.”
By Your Merit, There Will Be Peace in the World
After the “inauguration ceremony” at the foot of Mt. Sinai and the official commencement of the Jewish people, the young nation experienced countless tests to their unity. They overcame tremendous internal conflicts as they struggled to increase their unity over their growing egos. In so doing, they polished and improved their method of connection. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai described this approach in The Book of Zohar (portion Beshalach): “All the wars in the Torah are for peace and love.”
Immediately after the Jews became a nation, they were commanded to be “a light unto nations,” namely to pass on the method of connection they had built among them to the rest of the world. Abraham intended to spread his method throughout Babylon, and had it not been for King Nimrod’s interference, he would have succeeded. Noah and Moses both intended to complete Abraham’s work but failed, too, because of impediments they had encountered. The great kabbalist, Ramchal, wrote in the book Adir Bamarom (Mighty One on High): “Noah was created to correct the world in the state that it was at that time. At that time there were already the nations, and they will also receive correction from him.” In The Ramchal Commentary on the Torah, the sage writes about Moses: “Moses wished to complete the correction of the world at that time. …However, he did not succeed because of the corruptions that occurred along the way.”
The Book of Zohar connects the work on unity among Jews to their role toward the nations in the portion Aharei Mot: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers sit together. These are the friends as they sit together, at first they seem like people at war, wishing to kill one another. Then, they return to being in brotherly love. Henceforth, you will also not part … and by your merit there will be peace in the world.”
Countless Jewish sources connect the world’s problems with Israel not carrying out their task. The Babylonian Talmud (Masechet Yevamot 63a) writes, “No calamity comes to the world but because of Israel.” Rav Kook elaborates on this duty in his book Orot (Lights): “The construction of the world, which is crumbling under the dreadful storms of a blood-filled sword, requires the construction of the Israeli nation. The construction of the nation and the revealing of its spirit are one … with the construction of the world, which is crumbling in anticipation for a force full of unity and sublimity, and all that is in the soul of the Assembly of Israel.”
In his essay “Mutual Guarantee,” Rav Yehuda Ashlag, author of the Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar, writes, “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.”
Since the ruin of the Second Temple two millennia ago due to unfounded hatred, the Jews have by and large displayed disunity and a desire to assimilate and abandon their vocation. But the world feels it is their duty to be “a light unto nations,” to bring the light of unity to the world. The more the world falls into divisiveness and inability to resolve its conflicts, the more it will turn its frustration at the Jews. And the more the Jews try to avoid their duty, the harder the world will punish them.
The most satanic detractor of Judaism in history, Adolf Hitler, wrote in his hate-filled composition, Mein Kampf: “When over long periods of human history I scrutinized the activity of the Jewish people, suddenly there arose up in me the fearful question whether inscrutable Destiny, perhaps for reasons unknown to us poor mortals, did not, with eternal and immutable resolve, desire the final victory of this little nation.” Hitler even sensed that the problem with Jews was their separation. Elsewhere in Mein Kampf he wrote, “The Jew is only united when a common danger forces him to be or a common booty entices him; if these two grounds are lacking, the qualities of the crassest egoism come into their own.”
A World Awaiting Our Decision
In a divided world such as we see today, the method of connection that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob developed is imperative to the survival of humanity. The tension around North Korea is an example of how any local conflict could drag the world into a nuclear catastrophe. The ego is becoming deranged, irrational, and very, very dangerous.
Consciously or not, the world blames the Jews for its misfortunes. The more the world plunges into crisis after crisis, the more the Jews will be blamed for all of them. Thomas Lopez-Pierre, bidding for a seat in the NYC council, said recently, “Greedy Jewish Landlords are at the forefront of ethnic cleansing/pushing Black/Hispanic tenants out of their apartments.” As these accusations become increasingly commonplace, they will lead to the natural conclusion that to get rid of the problem we must get rid of the Jews.
Unless Jews serve as an example of unity the way Abraham devised it, where they overcome strife by increasing unity in sync with the growing ego, they will be treated just as they were treated in 20th century Germany. At first, they will be given the option to leave for Israel, just as Hitler tried to persuade the Jews to leave Germany and move to Israel. If the Jews do not leave willingly, then the world will resort to the other option: extermination.
But the Jews need not sit passively and watch as their doom approaches. They can choose to be “a light unto nations.” In the early 1900s, Rav Hillel Zeitlin wrote in Sifran Shel Yehidim: “If Israel is the one true redeemer of the entire world, it must be qualified for this redemption. Israel must first redeem their souls. …But when will this world salvation come? Is it now that this nation, whose majority lost its ancient spiritual form and is immersed in bickering, fighting, and unfounded hatred? Therefore, in this book, I am appealing to establish the unity of Israel. …If this is established, there will be a unification of individuals for the purpose of elevation and correction of all the ills of the nation and the world.”
Indeed, the stagnated world, teetering between left and right, is awaiting our decision to unite and become a role model of solidarity, mutual responsibility, and brotherhood. That decision is the difference between heaven and hell for the Jews, in particular, and for the world in general.