Shortly after World War II ended with tragic explosions of nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, my teacher’s father, the great thinker and foremost kabbalist of the 20th century, Baal HaSulam, wrote what later became known as “The Writings of the Last Generation.” He did not intend to say that the end of the world was approaching, but rather that the world as we know it was dying, and a new one was being born. Yet, labor pangs can be very painful, or not so painful, and we, human beings, can determine how we go through it. Baal HaSulam called these two options “the path of light” and “the path of suffering.”
In these writings, Baal HaSulam stresses that with technology, humanity has “invented the atom and the hydrogen bombs,” and “if the total ruin that they are destined to bring upon the world is still not evident to the world, they can wait for a third world war, or a fourth one. The bombs will do their thing, and the relics who remain after the ruin will have no other choice but to take upon themselves this work where both individuals and nations do not work for themselves more than is necessary for their sustenance, while everything else they do will be for the good of others.”
The war in Ukraine is not between Russia and Ukraine; it is a clash between two halves of the world. It is reshaping international relations and alliances between East and West, between countries and nations. This war is transforming our view of creation and of life. We have not gone down to the very bottom, but when we come up from the nadir, we will find that the world has changed dramatically. It will never return to the world it was before.
Because today, everything is global, wars are global, too. Therefore, the foreboding prediction of Baal HaSulam seems very real today.
In fact, on the current trajectory, I see no other result but the fulfillment of his words. The only way we can avert a nuclear world war is to take his advice and think of the good of others rather than our own, as much as we may dislike the idea.
Indeed, the war without is a reflection of the war within us. Every war, from domestic disputes to world wars, is a clash of egos. The ego wants control and superiority. Accordingly, the book Fitting In and Getting Happy: How Conformity to Societal Norms Affects cites a study by Solnick & Hemenway where more than half of the participants preferred to live in a society where they earn $50,000 per year while others earn $25,000, over a society where they earn $100,000 while others earn 200,000. The book’s author, Professor of Social Psychology at Tilburg University (Netherlands) Olga Stavrova concluded, “People do not desire to have a lot of a certain good as much as they desire to have more of this good than others.”
However painful the current situation in Ukraine may be, and it is very painful indeed, it is still a clash of egos. We need to understand that in order to solve this crisis, and every other crisis, for that matter, we must look at ourselves from aside and disconnect for a moment from our great personal pain, with which I wholly sympathize.
If we focus only on being right, then we will never end the wars. No one will ever agree and say, “I am wrong and you are right”; our egos will not let us do it. This is why looking for objective justice is inherently hopeless; it is choosing the path of suffering.
If, however, we put our grievances aside for a minute, and agree to take a break from trying to settle old scores, it will be possible to start building a positive future. In that state, we will be able to focus on nurturing mutual respect, and perhaps even mutual understanding above the numerous profound differences. If we persist with these efforts, this will be the beginning of the path of light.
At the moment, I would not expect more than that, but in the end, humanity will have no choice but to return to the words of Baal HaSulam, and agree that the best way for all of us is the path of mutual concern and mutual responsibility. If we do not want a third world war, then we must learn to care for one another. This is why the real war is within us, and the war without is only a reflection of our raging hate for others.
People arrive at Berlin’s central train station, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Berlin, Germany, March 2, 2022. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke