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December 1, 2015 / 19 Kislev, 5776
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Empathy, Suffering, And Human Survival: A Jewish Perspective


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 (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University and the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies.

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