The last three decades have seen the world going from bad to worse. Soviet Communism has disintegrated, the American Dream has faded, the European Union, which was only established in 1993, is already crumbling, and the economic system on which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) based its financial strategy for the entire world is now exposed as fundamentally flawed.
The West has become so shallow that crazes like Pokémon Go can capture the minds and eyes of millions of people overnight, to the point where they become utterly oblivious to everything around them, literally. Their heads buried in their phone screens, they step on venomous snakes, get hit by cars after carelessly crossing roads, crash their cars into police vehicles as they play while driving, and fall off cliffs.
The decadence of the West makes the spirited vitality of radical Islam seem tempting to millions of young people, Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Rather than a deterrent, they find its violent nature enticing as it provides meaning to their existence, something that the West has failed to do for decades. In the coming years, radical Islam will continue to spread, taking Egypt, Turkey, and what is left of Europe along with it, and spreading throughout the US. In short, we have to check the world into the nearest repair shop.
Tracing the Root Cause
When you compare the frenzied jumble we call human society to nature’s structured order and balance, you cannot help but wonder what it is that makes us, the height of creation, do such a messy job running our lives. We so excel at flunking while trying to do better, that we are ruining our entire planet.
The problem is that while nature is running on two legs, we are hopping on just one. Nature has two legs: giving and receiving. These two are forces that balance one another, creating harmonious existence. When giving is equal to receiving, every element in the environment receives exactly what it needs for its survival, while its own existence maintains the health of its surrounding ecosystem. To preserve the balance, nature has “installed” a mechanism whereby each animal consumes only what it needs for its survival. This balanced consumption results in a sustainable environment.
Humans are the only exception to nature’s balance. It is as though we are born handicapped, devoid of the “giving leg.” From the very first moment, all we want is to have more, and more and more. In recent decades, this uniquely human trait has been exploited to exhaustion by capitalism, to the point that we now measure happiness by our ability to consume. We have turned shopping into a culture, and regard excessive consumerism as a yardstick for economic success.
In truth, the opposite is true: Excessive consumption leads to economic collapse, unhappiness, and social inequality and instability. Now that we are waking up from the delusions of capitalism, we are discovering that we have brought the world to the brink of collapse, with no hope for a better future for our children. How did we come to this?
What Humans Can Do (which no other creature can)
Because we are born with only the leg of receiving, we have no balancing force to tell us when to stop. Worse yet, unlike any other animal, our desire to receive is ever growing. Our sages wrote that one who has one hundred wants two hundred, and one who has two hundred wants four hundred, to the point that one dies without half one’s wishes in one’s hand.
Yet, precisely because our desire to receive keeps growing, we constantly develop. And yet, we are missing the crucial giving force to balance this reception. We have been so totally immersed in nurturing our desire to receive that it has turned into narcissistic egoism. We must begin to develop the other leg—the leg of giving—so we can walk safely ahead.
This ability to develop, thanks to our growing egoism, is a uniquely human trait. But precisely because egoism is constantly evolving, we cannot balance it with the force of giving. So what nature did not give us, we must create by ourselves, or else the ego-machines that we are will destroy us, either through another world war, or through a series of manmade “natural” disasters that we are already causing by throwing our ecology off balance.
Who’s Got the Key?
King Solomon said that “Hate stirs strife, and love covers all crimes” (Proverbs, 10:12). In our ancient past, we Jews found a way to balance our egoism with the giving leg. Abraham taught this method to his students and his sons, who then continued to develop it until a nation was created under the motto, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Through the struggles with their own egos, they improved their method and adjusted it to meet the challenges their egos presented to them. But two thousand years ago, they succumbed to their egos and forgot the method of covering crimes with love.
Yet, we, the Jews, still carry within us a recollection of our past connectedness. In each of us lies an ingrained awareness that connection is the way to succeed. These days, as the world is discovering that we are all connected, it is searching for a way to benefit from it. Everyone understands that we cannot survive limping on the leg of taking, and we must add the leg of giving so we can all walk safely forward. But no one knows how to do this.
The wisdom of balancing receiving with giving, of covering the ego with love, was given only to the Jews—as a deposit to pass on to the nations. This wisdom is the “light” that we are meant to be unto the nations. As long as we deny the world this balance, we are keeping it in darkness and the world’s anger turns against us.
We should not delude ourselves into thinking that the world is angry at the State of Israel because of its policy toward Palestinians. This is nothing but a pretext to vent the nations’ anger at Jews in general. As The Observer quoted Professor Leila Beckwith, “Instead of just boycotting Israel, the anti-Zionists are now boycotting Jewish students.”
The more connected our world becomes, the more we need to find a way to balance our egoism. All the problems mentioned in the beginning of this article stem from our egos, from our mutual hatred, so they will all be solved when we learn to cover, or at least balance them with love of others.
Today, we Jews must reawaken the recollection of our past connectedness and become an example of unity. We need not teach or preach unity, but simply practice it above our mutual hatred. Other peoples will observe and follow suit.
The tremendous capabilities we have developed through our growing egos can benefit us only if we use them in favor of humanity, but for this we must learn to care for one another. Today the world will not appreciate us for scientific inventions; it needs us to provide a new level of existence—corrected, connected, united under the banner of love. We keep wondering why the world hates us; we should know that it hates us only because we hate each other.
This article was originally posted on JPost.com.