Our Calling Today
Many pundits are lauding
President Bush’s inaugural address, in which he declared that the “calling
of our time” is the advancement of freedom around the world.
But many are also questioning
the practical application of this principle, and whether this should be our
focus today. Europeans in particular are enraged at America today and it’s
cavalier attitude (but that’s another story).
Fareed Zakaria asks in
his Newsweek column this week: Is liberty actually the “calling of our time?”
The question is posed
as a challenge to President Bush’s words in his inaugural address, that the
“best hope for peace in our world is the expansion
of freedom in all the world… Advancing these ideals is the mission that created
our nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the
urgent requirement of our nation's security and the calling of our time. So
it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic
movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate
goal of ending tyranny in our world.”
Mr. Zakaria rightfully
questions whether, outside of the Middle East, the problem of tyranny is indeed
the “calling of our time”? Is it the dominating issue for the world at large
today? “Is ending Burmese tyranny the urgent requirement of America’s security?
Is battling Cuba’s decrepit regime the calling of our time?”
He argues that today,
we live in a world that is mostly free. “For much of the world, the problem
is not the will for democracy but the capacity to build and sustain a stable,
effective and decent government… The great challenge today is civil strife,
extreme poverty and disease, which overwhelms not only democracy but order
itself. It is not that such societies are unconcerned about freedom. Everyone,
everywhere, would choose to control his own destiny. But this does not mean
as much when the basic order that precedes civilized life is threatened, and
disease and death are the most pressing daily concern. Much of Africa is reasonably
free, holds elections and is far more open than ever before. The great challenge
in, say, Senegal and Namibia is not freedom but an effective state. The author
of American liberty, James Madison, wrote in The Federalist papers that ‘in
framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great
difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the
governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.’ Order and then
So, while the call for
global freedom is a noble, visionary goal, Mr. Zakaria makes the case that
America cannot be satisfied with the virtues of its grand goals, but it must
also provide a practical plan how to implement freedom in a workable system
It’s actually a fascinating
question: Which comes first – freedom or organization? Marx, for instance,
argued that first order would have to be imposed to control the transition
from the “capitalist” model of private ownership and class struggles to the
“socialist” revolution of equality, which would emancipate the masses.
In theory this sounds
logical. Which is why socialism initially attracted so many progressive thinkers.
However, in practice those imposing order became the worst abusers of power
and savagely abolished all basic human freedoms – all in the name of some
“future” vision of equality.
On the other hand, Mr.
Zakaria’s argument seems to be equally legitimate: How does freedom help people
if they are plagued by poverty, disease and corruption? Freedom must come
together with a system of implementation.
Seems like an unsolvable
But not quite.
The logical thing to do
is to retrace the steps to the earliest roots of freedom and the first establishment
of a government that honors the individual rights of all its citizens.
That root goes back 3317
years ago to Sinai (which President Bush actually credited in his speech).
At Sinai the human race received its mandate how to build a civilized world.
Two major revolutions
took place at Sinai.
First and foremost Sinai declared that G-d gave us freedom.
The Ten Commandments begin with the statement: “I
am your G-d who delivered you from [the bondage in] Egypt.”
The sages explain that Egypt in Hebrew (Miztrayim) refers
to all forms of slavery and confinement, anything that inhibits
Then the remaining nine
Commandments declared at Sinai define the system that we must build to maintain
our freedom and construct a civilized universe (“Thou shall not murder,” “Thou
shall not steal,” etc.)
The opening of the Bible
(Torah) formalized at Sinai states that the human being was created in the
Divine Image. By this virtue each of us has unalienable rights. As Mr. Bush
also made reference to in his talk: “From
the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this
Earth has rights, and dignity and matchless value because they bear the image
of the maker of heaven and Earth.”
Once that axiom is in
place then we have the solid foundation upon which all law and order stands:
The Divine authority that has endowed us all with fundamental freedom and
with a moral system by which to live.
Take away the bedrock
of the first commandment, all else inevitably falls. With no Creator imbuing
us with absolute freedom and defining for us a blueprint for life, all morality
becomes arbitrary and relative. Case in point: The Nazis defied “though shall
not murder” only because they first defied the first commandment of accepting
G-d Who gave us all life and freedom. Instead, they chose to “play G-d” and
arbitrarily decide who has a right to live and who not.
That is the first Sinai
revolution: The bestowal of freedom on all human beings.
To appreciate this revolutionary
message one need only look at human history: Until a few hundred years ago
basic human rights that we take today for granted simply were not respected
in virtually every country in the world! Monarchs, despots, religious authorities
ruled in totalitarian regimes that
controlled every aspect of their subjects’ lives.
all history’s “growing pains,” at Sinai the universe received the mandate
of freedom and the blueprint of civilization. 3317 years ago Sinai set in motion a series of events that would change the world forever,
and continues to impact our lives today.
It would take three millennia
before Sinai would begin to breed countries that would embrace its message
in their system of government. In the 18th century, the United
States as well as many European countries, began to champion
the fundamental principles of Sinai: All people are created equal with inalienable
rights and freedoms.
In the last three centuries
freedom has continued to spread, to the point as Mr. Zakaria cites in his
article, that “in 1972, when Freedom House began
its practice of ranking countries on a scale of free and unfree, it placed
54 (of the world’s 149) in the unfree category, with scores of 6 or more (with
7 being the most unfree). Today only 25 of the world’s 192 countries score
6 or higher.”
The second revolution
that took place at Sinai was even greater than the first:
Before Sinai there was
an impenetrable rift between heaven and earth, between matter and spirit.
An invisible wall separated between the transcendental and the material. A
decree, a schism separated between above and below. “That which was above
could not descend below, and that which was below could not ascend above.”
the world changed. Heaven was unplugged. Sinai opened
a door, never again to be closed, that allows mortals in
a material world to become Divine. For the first time the
human race was given the opportunity to bridge heaven and
earth – to fuse spirit and matter. It gave us the
power to spiritualize the material, and to make our lives
sacred, not just ethical.
This was no small event.
theologians and lay people have all always asked the eternal question: How
high can a human being reach? Are we humans just sophisticated beasts, with
limited potential? Can we ever reach heaven and beyond or bring heaven down
to earth? Can we integrate spirituality into our material lives? Can we fuse
the finite and the infinite?
The fact is that matter
and spirit are in a perpetual struggle. Narcissism, greed, corruption are
staples of life. When we look at ourselves each of us knows that we often
feel that “I exist and nothing else,” to the detriment of others. When this
feeling becomes extreme it can destroy lives of those around us. On the other
hand, we also have a spirit inside of us. We have the power to live noble
lives, filled with dignity and selflessness.
So we have an inevitable
clash. Matter by its very nature is selfish. Spirit is selfless. No wonder
that people have always speculated whether these two worlds can meet, let
In general we find two
approaches evolving in history: Asceticism and immersion. One states that
in order to experience spirit we must separate ourselves from the material
tentacles of life, and “climb the mountain” to meditate and become absorbed
in a higher reality. Basically, one must deny the material life. An extreme
version of this would be the ascetic life. To achieve the sacred the material
life must be compromised. The infinite may be reached, but only by denying
The other extreme is that
we cannot really reach heaven. We must live ethically, build healthy homes
and workplaces, and find spirit in limited ways within our limited lives.
Because we are essentially mortal creatures, with inherent selfishness or
even evil, we cannot expect anything more than the best an earthy creature
can achieve. A variation of this includes the ability of achieving salvation
but not through our own efforts but by embracing something beyond us. The
infinite is not integrated into our own personal lives.
Sinai opened the door
of a third option. Sinai created an interface that bridged heaven and earth,
giving us the power to integrate matter and spirit, utterly and completely,
without compromising one or the other. The finite can become one with the
infinite; matter one with spirit; the sacred one with the secular. Briefly,
because G-d is neither spirit nor matter, He gave us the power to completely
integrate the two; the power to build a material Temple, in which G-d rests.
This third option, however,
does not come easily. As limiting as the first two options may be, they seem
simpler, while the Sinai option requires a continual straddling of the thin
line between matter and spirit.
That is why Sinai came
after much hard work, and why it would take thousands of years to begin integrating
Sinai’s power into global affairs.
So where do we stand today?
The first revolution of
Sinai, the message of freedom, has in the last 300 years finally infiltrated
the nations of the world.
But the second revolution,
integration of spirit and matter, has yet to take hold – that is on a personal
level. In technology, science, medicine and many other fields the last century
is witness to unprecedented breakthroughs in the bridge between matter and
energy, form and function – between the invisible and the tangible, the invisible
forces of quantum particles and the macroscopic universe, between DNA and
the body. However, on the personal front – in our psychological lives, our
relationships, business and human interactions – we have yet to fund peace
between our souls and our bodies, between our transcendental needs and our
need to survive.
This struggle between
heaven and earth has many manifestations, including the battle that we so
often have witnessed between religion and secularism. If you are a firm believer
how do you deal with the secular world? According to the two-abovementioned
options you either have to wage a holy war against the secular, or your basically
embrace the secular with limited sanctity.
Therein lies the essential
root of the religious wars waged throughout history. Recognizing secular heresy
as an enemy, the Christians and later the Muslims, engaged in aggressive battles
with the forces they perceive as threatening.
This is the calling of our times: To embrace the Sinai
mandate in its entirety. In addition to Sinai’s message
of freedom, we are called on today to integrate into our
lives the Sinai system and blueprint for life, namely the
universal laws of civilization as they rang out from Sinai.
Its one thing to be free.
It’s quite another to use the gift of freedom to live by the Divine standards
expected of us. Only then are we truly free – and only then does our freedom
realize its potential.
So yes, freedom is the
bedrock of our lives. But, as Mr. Zakaria does us the service of pointing
out, freedom must be immediately coupled with a practical system of law and
order that can be implemented to build the institutions of a democratic state.
This system begins with education – educating people not only that they are
free and have rights, dignity and indispensable value because they bear the image of the
maker of heaven and Earth, but that they also have responsibilities to live
up to their calling.
thus the bedrock of civilization, and personal responsibility, ethical behavior
and living virtuously is its structure. One without the other cannot survive.
The First Commandment dictates the foundation; the other nine define the structure
of our lives.
is to translate the Sinai principles into a practical plan that tackles chaos,
plague and poverty, and allows for each nation to define the universal laws
each according to their own traditions and cultures.
The stage is set. The
next move is ours. All that is needed is an unwavering commitment to the Sinai
laws of civilization, and a demand – of ourselves and of the entire world
– to live up to our calling.
It took 3000 years for
Sinai’s clarion of freedom to penetrate the world’s nations. Let’s make sure
that we embrace Sinai’s blueprint for life in far lesser time.