web analytics
September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Apartment 758x530 Africa-Israel at the Israel Real Estate Exhibition in New York

Africa Israel Residences, part of the Africa Israel Investments Group led by international businessman Lev Leviev, will present 7 leading projects on the The Israel Real Estate Exhibition in New York on Sep 14-15, 2014.



Empathy, Suffering, And Human Survival: A Jewish Perspective


Beres-Louis-Rene

According to ancient Jewish tradition, one that certain Talmudists trace back to the time of Isaiah, the world rests upon thirty-six just men, the Lamed-Vav tzaddikim. For those who remain unknown to themselves, the spectacle of the world is insufferable beyond description. Inconsolable at the extent of human pain and woe, for them, so goes the chassidic tale, there is never a moment of tranquility. From time to time, therefore, God himself, in an effort to open their souls to Paradise, sets forward the clock of the Last Judgment by one minute.

There are several meanings to this extraordinary tradition. One offers special hope in our incontestably growing nearness to vast global catastrophe. We shall soon require a whole world of just men and women. We shall, it seems, soon have to create the conditions whereby each and every inhabitant of our imperiled planet can feel the full anguish and portent of the Lamed-Vavniks. Only then will we be able to take the necessary steps back from defilement to sanctification. Faced with a choice between life and death, between “the blessing and the curse,” we shall “therefore choose life.”

The problem, of course, is not only that such creation would be a monumental task, one requiring a uniquely high level of creative intellectual understanding, but also that the remedy itself would be insufferable. How, indeed, could we endure, as individuals and as nations, if we were to feel with the same palpable pain and sorrow the distress of all others? Imagine, if we can, that the all-consuming empathy we now generally display toward our closest relatives and friends in distress would be extended, generally, to the broadest possible radius of human affinities. Truly, without the Lamed-Vav as intermediaries, we could not begin to survive such a torment.

There is, then, a dilemma. To survive as a species we must also survive as individuals, but the evident requirement of species survival – deeper and wider expressions of human empathy – would also render life unendurable for each and every person. To remediate a distinctly threatened planetary civilization, so it would appear, we now need a blessing that would simultaneously be a curse.

Shall we experience the dizziness of the existentially irremediable? How shall we respond? What shall we do?

To redeem the world, it seems, we must call forth certain indispensable metamorphoses, but the “success” of these transformations would simply place us within a new and equally destructive trajectory of harms. In any event, it is unlikely that we must ever even face up to this dilemma. Evidence abounds that the human capacity for empathy seems limited, and that for all practical purposes we will need to construct our best global survival ideologies with no more ambitious assumptions in mind.

There are important elements in our Jewish tradition that appear to warn against taking on too much of the suffering of others. Although we are certainly obligated to feel such suffering (we can learn from and be elevated by such suffering – Toras Avraham), we must also guard against too much empathy; that is, too-strong feelings that could cause our own personal destruction. At times, said the Brisker Rav, Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, we must heed the following warning: “He who wants to live should act as if he were dead.”

Truth may sometimes emerge through paradox. It is hard for us to understand that an imagined death can sustain life, yet all things move in the midst of death and all individual life is part of a far greater whole. We learn from the legend of the Lamed-Vav not only that empathy is essential but that too much empathy is beyond human endurance. Indeed, implicit in the construction of the thirty-six just men is God’s direct affirmation of the Brisker Rav’s warning.

Truth emerges through paradox. It may also emerge from an awareness that, sometimes, reason alone is incapable of revealing what is most important. Such an awareness was deeply embedded in the thought of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who, in the matter presently before us, would surely urge us to seek not “concepts of truth” but truth itself.

The mystery of eternity hovers above and beyond the temporal world, and the deepest reality of human love and empathy, as manifestations of God’s primary love, cannot be elucidated meaningfully only through rigorous analysis or systematic thought. Rather, it may be discovered in every element of our day-to-day reality, including even that which is manifestly impure: “It is,” says Rabbi Kook, “just from those thoughts which are mixed with evil and impurity that great light emerges, which renews the vigor of life.”

In itself, existence is good, and from all existence we can learn many things, including the vital mysteries of empathy and human survival. Apocalypse, let us remember, was pretty much a Jewish invention, and , according to Rabbi Kook, a Divine redemption must finally be undertaken by and through the Jewish People. A part of such redemption must certainly be a greater awareness of human unity, a dialectical oneness; this will ultimately give rise to the light of loving kindness and forgiveness. In turn, a “lofty” soul is needed to first generate the greater awareness of human unity: “The loftier the soul, the more it feels the unity that there is in all.”

We may learn from Rabbi Kook, therefore, that empathy can indeed bring vast healing, and that such feeling “flows directly from the holy depth of the wisdom of the Divine soul.” Rabbi Kook’s thinking does not stand in stark or self-conscious opposition to rational investigation, nor does it oppose feeling to intellect. Instead, it identifies a creative tension between an abstract and too-formal intellectualism and a promising form of reason that lies far beyond the normal limits of abstract investigations.

Rabbi Kook envisioned humankind with a natural evolutionary inclination to advance and perfect itself. The course of this human evolution, he surmised, must be directed toward progressively increased spirituality. In the final analysis, the Torah is a concrete manifestation of the Divine Will on earth, and the people of Israel must play a cosmic and redemptive role in saving us all.

This role, however, is contingent upon fulfilling many substantial expectations (mitzvot), a fulfillment wherein the redemption of Israel will produce the redemption of all humanity. Here, Jewish nationalism is much more than a highly-valued secular ideology. It is a genuinely sacred phenomenon. This is well worth bearing in mind by both Jews and gentiles who would be dismissive of Israel’s special place among the nations.

Modern Israel occupies an especially honored place in the Divine scheme, and loyalty to Israel and to Israel’s security now represents nothing less than loyalty to all humankind. As goes Israel, so shall go the world. As Israel has the potential to become “the ideal essence of humanity,” it must now become an overriding Jewish imperative to safeguard the Jewish state not only for ourselves, as Jews, as Zionists, but also for the One indissoluble species as a whole.

In the end, this is likely the truest path to empathy and human survival on an endangered planet.

Louis René Beres, strategic and military affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, is professor of political science at Purdue University. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), he lectures and publishes widely on international relations and international law and is the author of ten major books in the field. In Israel, Professor Beres was chair of Project Daniel.

About the Author: Louis René Beres, strategic and military affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, is professor of Political Science at Purdue University. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), he lectures and publishes widely on international relations and international law and is the author of ten major books in the field. In Israel, Professor Beres was chair of Project Daniel.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Empathy, Suffering, And Human Survival: A Jewish Perspective”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
The beheading of British aid worker David Haines, Sept. 14, 2014. The terrorist standing beside him threatened that his fellow British aid volunteer, Alan Henning, would be next if UK Prime Minister David Cameron doesn't relinquish his support for the fight against ISIS.
British Muslims Plead for ISIS to Free Captive Alan Henning
Latest Indepth Stories
ISIS-strat-3

Arab leaders who want the US to stop Islamic State are afraid of being dubbed traitors and US agents

The Iron Dome was called on for the first time in 2013 to intercept a missile fired by terrorists in Sinai at Eilat.

National Lawyers Guild:Sworn enemy of Israel & the legal arm of Palestinian terrorism since the ’70s

A little less than 10 percent of eligible Democratic voters came out on primary day, which translates into Mr. Cuomo having received the support of 6.2 percent of registered Democrats.

The reality, though, is that the Israeli “war crimes” scenario will likely be played out among highly partisan UN agencies, NGOs, and perhaps even the International Criminal Court.

Peace or the lack of it between Israel and the Palestinians matters not one whit when it comes to the long-term agenda of ISIS and other Islamists, nor does it affect any of the long-running inter-Arab conflicts and wars.

Rather than serving as a deterrent against terrorist attacks, Israel’s military strength and capabilities are instead looked at as an unfair advantage in the asymmetrical war in which it finds itself.

Sisi:”The religious nature of the Middle East creates challenges for the governing authorities.”

For too long the media and international community have been preaching that “Palestinians” bear no responsibility for the consequences of their decisions and they are passive victims of the conflict.

Iron Dome intercepted over 1,000 rockets aimed at Israel with a success rate of over 90% in 2014

We talked about the responsibility that comes with the pen, its potential to influence and inspire.

Amnesty International:The crippling of the power station was “collective punishment of Palestinians”

Originally scheduled to be held elsewhere, the hotel canceled, pressured by local missionary groups

It’s likely that some of the rebel factions, including US clients, have indeed made pacts with ISIS

More Articles from Louis Rene Beres
Louis Rene Beres

President Obama’s core argument on a Middle East peace process is still founded on incorrect assumptions.

Louis Rene Beres

Once upon a time in America, every adult could recite at least some Spenglerian theory of decline.

President Obama’s core argument is still founded on incorrect assumptions.

Specific strategic lessons from the Bar Kokhba rebellion.

Still facing an effectively unhindered nuclear threat from Iran, Israel will soon need to choose between two strategic options.

For states, as for individuals, fear and reality go together naturally.

So much of the struggle between Israel and the Arabs continues to concern space.

An undifferentiated or across-the-board commitment to nuclear ambiguity could prove harmful to Israel’s’s overall security.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/louis-bene-beres/empathy-suffering-and-human-survival-a-jewish-perspective/2012/01/11/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: