Money will not save Aleppo’s children, but true love will. Yet, they will have none until we nurture it among us.
In the last few months, the horrid humanitarian crisis in Aleppo has surpassed the worst atrocities we have seen coming out of Syria since the inception of the civil war there in 2011. It is true that “Aleppo’s fall is Obama’s failure,” as Leon Wieseltier wrote in The Washington Post. It is also true, as even chairwoman of Meretz, Zehava Gal-On, admitted on her Facebook page, that “We should give credit to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his insistence not to become involved in this war.” However, there is an inseparable connection between Israel and the tragedy in Aleppo.
Today in Israel, thousands of people are rushing to aid the stranded civilians of Aleppo. In just two days, Israelis have donated more than $100,000 to help the Syrian children whose lives have been devastated as they were used as pawns in the tug-of-war between Assad and the rebels, Russia and the US. Unable to flee, they have been sitting ducks waiting to become another harrowing image on the pages of newspapers and social media.
Yoav Yeivin, one of the lead organizers of the donation campaign, told The Times of Israel, “As an Israeli child I grew up asking where the world was when we needed them most [during the Holocaust]. As a Jew, I always knew that I was expected to be there, to help and lend a hand. There is no nation that knows better than us how lethal apathy can be.” I sympathize with Yeivin’s compassion and I understand how the memory of the Holocaust makes us more sensitive to other people’s suffering.
Yet, no amount of money can change what is happening in Syria. Even worse, no amount of compassion can alleviate the suffering or prevent it from worsening until its cause—the evil in human nature—has been uprooted. This task—transforming human nature from wickedness to kindness—is the sole task of the Jewish people. If anything positive should have emerged from the terror of the death camps, it is the commitment of our nation to transform human nature. As long as we stall, we are inadvertently inflicting suffering upon the world. This is why it hates us.
The preeminent 20th Century luminary of Kabbalah, Rav Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag, known as Baal HaSulam (Author of The Ladder), for his Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar, understood this responsibility well and tried to awaken Jews to their task. In The Writings of the Last Generation & The Nation, he stated, “I have already conveyed the rudiments of my perception in 1933. I have also spoken to the leaders of the generation. Alas, it made no impression. Now, however, after the atom and hydrogen bombs, I think the world will believe me.” David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, expressed his appreciation of Baal HaSulam’s commitment to the goal of transforming society and human nature in a letter to his son, who was also my teacher, Rav Baruch Shalom Ashlag, who continued his father’s work. Ben Gurion wrote, “I wanted to talk to him about Kabbalah, and he with me—about socialism” (Diaries, August 11, 1958). Another time, Ben Gurion wrote (January 6, 1960), “I view with tremendous importance the completion of the works of Rav Ashlag (Baal HaSulam).”
Baal HaSulam did not settle for meetings with only the Prime Minister. He met with many leaders and social activists in the Jewish state. Among them were Zalman Shazar, Moshe Sharet, Chaim Arlozorov, Moshe Aram, Meir Yaari, Yaakov Hazan, Dov Sadan, and the acclaimed poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik. His intention was to convince these opinion leaders to build the state of Israel as a society that endorses unity and promotes the transformation of human nature. Had he succeeded, the Jewish people would have become the light unto nations we are intended to be and the massacre in Aleppo, as well as all the other atrocities that our world has seen since the end of World War II, would not have happened.
If we had shown the light of unity to the world, people would have known how to transcend their egos and unite. In the absence of this ability, they have invented neoliberalism.
Why Specifically Us?
There are two reasons why Israel and the Jewish people are the involuntary messengers of the necessity to modify human nature. The first, and most obvious one, is what Yoav Yeivin and Baal HaSulam mentioned earlier—the Holocaust. In The Writings of the Last Generation & The Nation, Baal HaSulam writes, “Because we suffered from tyranny more than all other nations, we are better prepared to seek counsel that will eradicate tyranny from the land.”
However, there is a deeper reason, on which I have elaborated several times before. Wherever you look in nature, there is perfect harmony. All of reality runs on the balanced interaction between two forces—positive and negative. These forces create distinct atoms whose particles are nevertheless connected, distinct molecules whose atoms are nevertheless connected, distinct cells whose molecules are nevertheless connected, and distinct organisms, such as human beings, whose cells are nevertheless connected. The harmonious balance between connection and distinction enables life to evolve toward greater unity and at the same time greater distinction, and enables people to become more unique the more they are connected.
In his article, “The Peace,” Baal HaSulam defines the evolutionary process just described as the “Law of Development,” which describes the interaction between the two forces just mentioned. Notably, this law also determines that humanity, too, will consist of distinct individuals who are nevertheless connected.
But we are not there yet. Instead, we are trying as hard as we can to justify the words of the Torah: “The inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21), and “Every inclination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil” (Gen 6:5). In other words, our bodies exist through the same balance between the positive and negative forces, but our psyches seem to operate almost solely on the negative force. The revelation of the atrocities in Syria should warn us that we have stretched the system to the brink of collapse. If we do not add the positive force of our own volition, the Law of Development will soon do it for us.
In fact, the system is already stretched so thin that it is beginning to snap. The results of the US election, Brexit, and the referendum in Italy, all point to the fact that people can no longer tolerate the façade of political correctness and liberalism. They need real connection.
This is where we Jews come in. We may not like it, but the world thinks that their problems are our fault. This is why since its inception in 2006, the United Nations Human Rights Council resolved more resolutions condemning Israel than on the rest of the world combined. Even retiring United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admitted in his departing speech that there is a “disproportionate volume of resolutions, reports and conferences criticizing Israel.”
We Are in a Unique Position to Succeed, or Fail
On the one hand, it is very uncomfortable to be blamed for everything that is wrong with the world. On the other hand, this puts us in a unique position to help the world heal from the hatred that is ruining it. Since we are already under constant scrutiny, if we prevail over our division and hatred we have for one another, the world will notice instantaneously. Moreover, if we were not divided, we would not have anything to overcome, and therefore would not be able to serve as an example of how to prevail over divisions.
Since ancient times, our forefathers have known that the Law of Development leads toward ultimate connection. For this purpose, they developed methods to overcome hatred and create a unified body. Abraham did so through the quality of mercy, which he and his wife, Sarah, taught, as the Midrash tells us (Beresheet Rabah). Moses knew this, too, and took us out of Egypt where we united “as one man with one heart” and thereby became a nation. King Solomon wrote about it when he said, “Hate stirs strife, and love covers all crimes” (Proverbs 10:12), and Rabbi Akiva said that if you love your neighbor as yourself, this is the whole of the Torah.
Over the centuries of exile, our sages and leaders have written about the power of our nation to heal the world through unity. In Revolution of the Spirit, David Ben Gurion wrote, VeAhavta lere’acha kamocha (Love your neighbor as yourself) is the utmost commandment of Judaism. With these three words, the humane, eternal law of Judaism has been formed, and all of the literature on ethics and morals in the world could not say more. The State of Israel will merit its name only if its social, economic, domestic, and foreign policies are based on these three eternal words.”
In his essay, “A Speech for the completion of The Zohar,” Baal HaSulam writes that we have been given the land of Israel, “but we have not received the land into our own authority.” The only way the world will recognize the value of the State of Israel and of the Jewish people is if we embrace unity above all differences.
If we choose to do so, the world will see that there is a way to triumph over hatred. This will truly be our contribution to the suffering people in Aleppo, Yemen, Sudan, and the depressed and the oppressed the world over. As The Book of Zohar tells us (Aharei Mot): “And you, the friends who are here, as you were in fondness and love before, henceforth you will also not part, and by your merit there will be peace in the world.”
And speaking of peace, this morning I was delighted to see that Donald Trump easily surpassed the necessary 270 votes in the Electoral College and has been officially declared as the next President of the United States. I wish him the best of success in carrying out all of his plans. Speaking from the perspective of the wisdom of Kabbalah, with its thousands of years of antiquity, and error-free record of predictions throughout Jewish history, I highly recommend that the President-elect help the people of Israel unite. By doing so, he will induce a monumental positive transformation throughout the world. Helping Israel unite is the greatest gift that the United States can give to the people of Israel.
Featured in Haaretz