Adapted and inspired from recent teachings of Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh.
Recently I’ve watched a TED video that attempted to reverse the tide of TED. The speaker explained how the nitty-gritty details were more central than the epiphanies and inspired ideas presented in most TED videos. He told of an astrophysicist friend of his, who was turned down by a potential donor because he didn’t sound more like Malcolm Gladwell. The speaker asked (rhetorically): is this is the approach we the public should be taking. Does it make sense that a well-trained scientist should play second fiddle to those who are better able to popularize the subject matter?
Instead of reversing the tide, while details are important, let’s approach it differently. While this speaker says that good ideas don’t equal a good world, according to Jewish thought, good ideas are certainly very powerful unto themselves. There is a Chassidic adage that “think good and it will be good.” This is not some well-meaning positivism, but a truism that is hardcoded into creation.
The effect of positive thinking is seen quite readily in warfare, sports, or any achievement-based discipline. It is the thoughts and ideas behinds our actions, that lead to the desired result, as in the saying from the sages, “thought [brings the] effect” (מַחְשָׁבָה מוֹעֶלֶת).
What this TED lecture highlighted, and what we are beginning to become conscious of, is that knowledge is primary. What comes afterwards, the physical manifestation of the thought, might not need to come about at all for the thought to be meaningful. Since the Enlightenment, we got used to a world where the physical was primary, and the spiritual was old and antiquated. But as this speaker himself admitted, the ‘big ideas’ presented at TED lectures more resemble the spiritual than the physical. Does it matter if TED talks are acted upon? It is the idea that first attracted millions, so why should we then conclude that the only viable outcome is a material one? While we expected Steve Jobs to hold something during his new product announcement speeches, and not just speak such lofty ideas as “think different” without the physical result of this concept, we are now approaching a point in history when the physical is no longer necessarily. The idea is valid whether the product is developed or not.
The End of the Enlightenment
One great principle in the Torah’s inner dimension states that every “husk” exhausts itself, eventually falling and dying. The French Revolution, and the Enlightenment that fed the entire development of the modern world, is about to reach its end. More exactly, the evil side of it is gradually exhausting itself completely. The attempt to place mankind on a Divine pedestal, to worship human intellect and success, and to use it as the only gauge for truth and judgment, is gradually losing its appeal. After shattering all the old myths, the statue of mankind who coronated himself is crumbling to dust. So much so that in today’s post-modern world (or perhaps, post-post-modern) we are hearing completely different tunes than what were heard during the French Revolution.
Now, in our generation in particular, we are witnessing a vast upheaval. Since the Enlightenment, traditional Judaism has been on the defense, and even receded in a constant process of retreat. Many communities fell captive to the winds of the Enlightenment, and it seemed traditional Jewish observance was being cast away by this self-confidence wave of secularism. At the time, it appeared that this trend would continue; showing religious observance to be something outdated and irrelevant. Yet amazingly, a generation of teshuvah (returnees to God and His Torah) has arrived, and the serpent once again lies helpless to the “hand of Moses” in our generation.