The Dawn of the 21st Century
You rule the pride of the sea; when its waves surge you calm them – Selichot prayer
Five years into the 21st century and we are beginning to get a taste of a new world.
As the year winds down and we begin the supplication prayers (selichot) this Saturday night in preparation for Rosh Hashana, we feel windy tremors around us shaking one end of the globe to the other.
On the American side of the world, as New Orleans and Biloxi begin digging out of the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina, Texas and Louisiana are bracing themselves to face the fury of the new Hurricane (named) Rita. This following a devastating Tsunami last December in yet another part of the globe.
On the other side of the world – in the cradle of civilization, in lands with ancient roots saturated with spiritual history – Iraq is in turmoil, Israel is in crisis, Muslim fundamentalism threatens and the sinister unknown is the only thing we can rely on.
Back in the Western world, Middle Eastern agitation is being exported globally as it no longer is contained in boundaries. With the attack of September 11th and then the recent assault on London, terrorism has now become an imminent global threat.
This is the snapshot of our world universe at the dawn of the 21st century. Obviously, much more is happening in the world, with many very positive developments. But to understand our world and define future trends we must be aware of the earthshaking events that affect us all.
What will this new century bring? Are current events a foreboding sign of what lies ahead, G-d forbid?
The dawn of centuries tend to give us a glimpse of events to come. Eerily, at the turn of the 20th century, Galveston, Texas was destroyed by a hurricane. The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 humbled and reminded people not to get haughty as a result of the advancements of the industrial revolution. Then of course came the Russian Revolution, World War I and World War II – major events that changed the entire world. Who could have imagined in 1905 what would be coming?
We too stand now at the turn of a century. By studying the forces that shape today’s events, we can anticipate and control our destinies instead of being a victim of circumstances.
Today we have two major advantages over the previous century: The power of retrospect, and the newfound knowledge that we have gained during the last 100 years.
We have witnessed, in tragic detail, the depths to which man can fall despite our cultural and political advances. Never in history – even in so called primitive times – had people shed so much blood as they did during the two World Wars. Never before had a “culturally progressive” nation utilized modern technology for methodical and brutal genocide, priding themselves in their efficiency.
The second and perhaps even more important lesson that we have learned in the past century – not a mere lesson, but a revolutionary revelation – is the convergence of matter and spirit. In medicine, physics and the other sciences we now understand the power of the invisible forces that shape and define all matter and all phenomena.
Though this knowledge of the seamlessness between matter and energy has not yet been fully integrated in our lives, especially in our personal lives, nevertheless it is slowly coming to the fore. Because yet another phenomenon of our times is the resurgence of religion as a potent force in modern life and even politics – a most dramatic and unforeseen development.
It is quite an irony that science today has completely embraced the counterintuitive “laws” of quantum mechanics and recognizes that the essential stuff of all existence is comprised of intangible subatomic particles, microscopic DNA and supra-nano cellular structures. And that we live in a dynamic universe, which is integrally connected by an underlying unity. Yet, when it comes to science itself, the debate rages on whether it should be integrated with our personal moral choices. The search for unity would seem to logically dictate that matter and energy are one not just in a laboratory or in a test tube, but also in our personal lives. Yet, the 19th century immature debates between religion and science still haunt us today. Whether it is in the public display of the Ten Commandments, the role of G-d in government, the debate between evolution and intelligent design, we are still struggling with the integration of spirit in our lives.
I propose that this will be one of the great challenges of our new century: How to achieve a balanced life, with harmony between body and soul, and synthesis between our physical needs and our transcendental yearnings.
We will have to address the issue of science and enlightenment in context of the Divine. Can the scientific search for truth be complete without a G-d? Many moral issues will be raised with the new breakthroughs in science and technology. Can a person be content without some form of G-d in his/her life (whether it is called by that name or another)? Questions will abound about the very nature of the human being, sanctity of life, personal rights and privacy vs. the greater good, and many other related and unrelated topics.
Many waves are surging today. Waves of the Gulf of Mexico on one end of the spectrum, and perhaps even stronger swells of Muslim fundamentalism on the other. Waves of information flood us on the air and on the Internet. Scientific advancements are making their own waves, and so is the breakdown of the family and home life.
Due to modern communications waves travel today much faster than ever before, only amplifying their rippling effect.
All the events in our times – both positive and catastrophic – can be either ignored or serve as awakeners. As we approach the New Year we are behooved to pay heed to world events, as well as personal ones, and recognize the dissonance that is upsetting the balances of life.
The underlying principle of Torah is that all imbalances – natural or man-made – can be traced back to the imbalance between spirit and matter, between the sublime and the secular, between the sacred and the profane.
One thing for sure is that G-d is not “dead” (as predicted by many). The question is how we will make peace with G-d.
Something to think about as we enter these solemn days.