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October 20, 2014 / 26 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Lamed Vav’

Barack Obama, Individual Sacredness And The Lamed-Vav

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Our new president seemingly understands something of very great importance: The state of our union is intimately intertwined with the state of our world. Our fate as Americans will ultimately depend upon our willingness to identify more broadly and openly as citizens of the entire planet. Reciprocally, the fate of all others on earth will be impacted more or less by what happens next in American politics. But the final outcome of all such interdependence will be determined by what is ordinarily called “human nature.”

To help rescue an imperiled planet, America’s newly elected president will have to look beyond politics. Our always troubled and too-often exterminatory species contains within itself the sources of its own periodic eradications through war, terror and genocide. “The horror, the horror,” mumbles the Marlon Brando character in “Apocalypse Now.” How thin, he reflects correctly, is the veneer of our so-called “civilization.”

Consider not just Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the Sudan and Somalia and Congo and Georgia and Pakistan and Iran and North Korea. Recall especially the Holocaust. Look back at Rwanda. Remember Cambodia. Crimes against humanity, however and wherever displayed, are never remediable through law, politics or diplomacy. Rather, they must be stopped at their source. This means that they can be understood and curbed only by a ubiquitous prior awareness of our most basic human needs and expectations.

At their deepest core, crimes against humanity are not really the product of politics gone awry. They stem ultimately from the unbearable loneliness of individual human beings. “Normally” unable to find meaning and security outside of groups, literally billions of individuals will often stop at nothing to acquire membership in a crowd. Whether it is a nation, a social organization, or a terrorist band, the crowd offers all an essential communion. Indeed, it is the frantic search to belong, and thereby to overcome individual loneliness, that best defines “history.”

Real history – president-elect Obama should observe – is pretty much the sum total of individual souls seeking redemption. Tangible expressions of the incessant human search for redemption in groups can be found in the enduring jurisprudence of sovereignty and self-determination. But the “self” in these legal principles refers to entire peoples, never to individuals. The ironic result is sometimes even a measureless orgy of mass killing that we conveniently describe as “power politics.” As Jews, we still see entirely too much of this today in the incessant Arab/Jihadist preparations for war, terrorism and genocide.

Divided into thousands of hostile tribes, almost 200 of which are now called nation-states, many human beings generally find it easy to slay “others.” As for empathy, it is typically reserved almost exclusively for those who live within one’s own tribe. It follows that an expansion of empathy to include all outsiders is a basic condition of authentic peace and global union, and that without such expansion our species will remain dedicated to its own incremental debasement and disappearance.

What must our new president do to encourage wider empathy, and to foster deeply caring feelings between as well as within tribes? How can he improve the state of our world so as to ensure a viable and prosperous state for our own American union?

Sadly, the essential expansion of empathy for the many would be literally “dreadful,” possibly improving human community, but only at the terrible expense of private sanity. We humans are designed with particular and largely impermeable boundaries of feeling. Were it otherwise, an extended range of compassion toward others would bring about our own total emotional collapse. Planning seriously for national and international survival, Mr.Obama must thus prepare to accept a very unorthodox and paradoxical understanding: A widening circle of human compassion is both indispensable to civilizational survival, and a potential source of private anguish.

The president-elect can learn much from our own Jewish traditions. According to ancient Jewish thought, the world rests upon 36 just men – the Lamed-Vav. Only because of their own “heavy lifting,” because of their own unimaginable suffering, can the rest of us endure.

There are many meanings to this wonderful Jewish tradition, but one is altogether primary. A whole world of just men (and women) is impossible. It is, then, because ordinary individuals simply cannot bear the torments of so many others that G-d has created the Lamed-Vav. How shall human union now deal with a requirement for global civilization that is both essential and unbearable? Newly informed that, empathy for the many is a precondition of a decent world union, what can create such empathy without producing intolerable emotional pain? How can we deal with the ongoing and multiplying expressions of war, terrorism and genocide?

The answer cannot be found in ordinary political speeches and programs. It lies only in a resolute detachment of all individuals from certain lethally competitive tribes and other collective “selves.” A more perfect union, both national and international, thus lies in a determined replacement of “civilization” with “planetization.” In turn, this politically problematic replacement will depend upon prior affirmations of true Self, upon a steadily expanding and incontestable acceptance of the sacredness of each individual. Again, these affirmations would express tenets integral to Judaism.

Our new president should understand that the state of our union could never be better than the state of our whole world. He will also need to realize that the state of our world will depend substantially on what happens inside the United States. In acknowledging this significant mutuality, the overriding common factor must always remain the individual human being – the sacred “one” who steadily follows an immutable and universal trajectory of birth, gratification, suffering and death.

Copyright © The Jewish Press, January 9, 2009. All Rights reserved

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D. Princeton 1971) is the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and international law. Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, he has lectured and published widely on various behavioral, philosophical and legal aspects of war, terrorism and genocide.

The State Of The Union And The State Of The World

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

As President Bush likely realized in his recent speech, the true state of our union is intimately intertwined with the state of our whole world. Our fate as Americans will depend upon our willing identification as citizens on an imperiled planet. Surely we now have the Iraq War to re-evaluate, but even so substantial and overwhelming a problem is just the tip of much larger iceberg. This “iceberg” is the always-universal nature of humankind.

Our species contains deeply within itself the sources of its own disappearance through war, terror and genocide. “The horror, the horror,” mumbles the Marlon Brando character in “Apocalypse Now.” How thin, he reflects correctly, is the veneer of our planetary civilization.

Consider not just Iraq, but also the Sudan and Somalia and Iran and North Korea. Recall Rwanda. Remember Cambodia. Crimes Against Humanity – those crimes that formed a major portion of the post-Holocaust indictment at Nuremberg − are never truly remediable through law, politics or diplomacy. They can be understood and stopped only by a prior awareness of basic individual human needs and expectations.

In the final analysis, Crimes Against Humanity, about which we Jews know all too much, stem from the unbearable loneliness of individual human beings. “Normally” unable to find meaning and security outside of groups, literally billions of individuals will often stop at nothing to acquire membership in a crowd.

It is this frantic search to belong, to overcome individual loneliness that best defines what we smugly call “history.” It is precisely this search for membership that occasions the planetary predicament that must inevitably determine the state of our union.

Real history, the president may have failed to observe, is pretty much the sum total of private souls seeking redemption. Expressions of the desperate human search for redemption in groups can sometimes be found in the ideas of sovereignty and self-determination.

But the “self” in this legal principle refers always to entire peoples, never to individuals. The ironic result is often a measureless orgy of mass killing that we mistakenly describe as international relations or power politics.

Divided into thousands of hostile tribes, almost 200 of which are now called states, we human beings routinely find it easy to slay “others.” Empathy is reserved almost exclusively for those within our own tribe, within our own union. It would follow that an expansion of empathy to include all outsiders is a basic condition of authentic peace and global union, and that without such expansion our species will remain ruthlessly dedicated to and victimized by mega-violence.

But how shall we proceed? What must be done in our particular union to encourage empathy and to foster deeply caring feelings between as well as within tribes? And how can we improve the state of our world so as to ensure a viable and prosperous state of our own union?

Sadly, the essential expansion of empathy for the many would be dreadful, improving human community but only at the expense of private sanity. We humans are designed with particular boundaries of feeling. Were it otherwise, an extended range of compassion toward others would bring about our total emotional collapse.

Humankind must therefore confront a very strange understanding: A widening circle of human compassion is both indispensable to civilizational survival and a potential source of private anguish.

Truth emerges through paradox. According to ancient Jewish tradition, the world rests upon 36 just men – the Lamed-Vav. For them, the spectacle of the world is insufferable.

There are many meanings to this tradition, but one meaning is special. A whole world of just men (and women) is impossible. It is because ordinary individuals cannot bear the torments of others beyond a narrow circle that G-d has created the Lamed-Vav. Empathy on a grand scale, however necessary, is at the same time a prescription for individual despair.

What is to be done? How shall human union now deal with a requirement for global civilization that is both essential and unbearable? Newly informed that empathy for the many is a precondition of a decent world union, what can create such empathy without producing intolerable emotional pain? How can we deal with the ongoing expressions of war, terrorism and genocide?

The answer cannot be found in ordinary political speeches and programs. It lies only in a resolute detachment of individuals from certain lethally competitive tribes and from certain other collective “selves.”

A more perfect union, both national and international, lies ultimately in a determined replacement of “civilization” with “planetization.” This

in turn, will depend upon prior affirmations of true Self, upon a steadily expanding acceptance of the sacredness of individuals.

Although the speech is past, President Bush should understand that the state of our union could never be better than the state of our world. To act upon this essential understanding, he must now go far beyond all of the usual public inventories of risk and reward to a working acknowledgment of absolutely critical global interdependence. The state of our American union can never be built apart from much broader considerations of planetary survival.

Copyright The Jewish Press, February 9, 2007. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D. Princeton 1971) is the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/louis-bene-beres/the-state-of-the-union-and-the-state-of-the-world/2007/02/07/

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