Where Do We Stand?
So much has been said about the unprecedented upheavals of the past year – economic chaos, Arab Spring, volatile weather, and of course, Israel. A cloud of uncertainty hangs over virtually every sector of life. Predictions for the next year are dire.
But as we stand at the threshold of the Jewish New Year, a time when our cosmic contract is renewed, we have the opportunity to begin the year with a new mindset, one that is not polluted by the anxieties of the past year.
Furthermore, the New Year is called Rosh Hashana for a reason. “Rosh” means head. The day is not just the beginning of the year. It is also the head of the year. And like a head, Rosh Hashana is the “central nervous system” that controls and regulates all the days of the year (like the mind that governs all the parts of the body).
This means that our new attitude on Rosh Hashana has the power to affect and draw in new energy throughout the entire upcoming year.
So notwithstanding the difficulties we faced yesterday and the day and year before, Rosh Hashana presents the universe – and the human race – with new opportunities.
Birds’ Eye View
One way to begin is to take a step back from the current turmoil, and look at the bigger picture. All monsters look frightening from close-up. When we rise up and look at things with a birds-eye view, most adversaries don’t appear that threatening.
Instead of being overwhelmed by the myopic ground level view, Rosh Hashana, when our contract is renewed, behooves us to go back to the point of departure and focus on the reason we are here in the first place. When you have wandered off course, the wisest thing to do is to retrace your steps and return to the point prior to getting lost.
And we need not look far. While headlines are dominated by despondent news, there are also some very encouraging breakthroughs that can offer the human race real hope.
Among many exciting pieces of recent news, two stand out that I believe can shed a powerful light on our future.
A Mind Blowing Statistic
We often search for that one statement that captures the pulse of an era. Or that one statistic that encapsulates the progress of our times.
I recently fell upon a fascinating calculation that with one number gives us a razor-sharp snapshot of our contemporary world.
And it comes to us by courtesy of no less that a Polish born Jew, who fled anti-Semitic Polish pogroms, came in 1905 to America and rose in the ranks to become a four-star admiral in the United States Navy, someone who was known as the “Father of the Nuclear Navy.”
In 1957, Admiral Hyman – or Chaim – Rickover delivered a lecture calculating that a century earlier, in the early years of the industrial age, 94 percent of the world’s energy was provided by the labor of men and animals. Water and fossil fuels made up the remaining 6 percent. By the 1950s, those numbers had reversed, and coal, oil and natural gas supplied 93 percent of the world’s energy. Rickover pointed out that without this energy revolution, most of the material advances of the modern age would be impossible. A car, he said, uses the energy equivalent of the labor of 2,000 men; a jet plane that of 700,000 men.
This one statistic – the drastic change in energy production in just the last century – captures the essence of our modern times, both its positive aspects and its negative ones.
For example, what are the implications and consequences of people suddenly freed up from producing most of the energy that runs their lives? Instead of spending most of our time toiling in the fields and in other forms of labor, we now can relax while over 90% of our energy needed is being generated by other forces. How much leisure time has this produced? And what are we doing with all that free time? How is it impacting our relationships, our commitments, our families and our own psychological well-being?
For most of human history, the labor of men and animals was the sole source of energy, and that placed significant limits on how much free time we had. Starting in the late 18th and early 19th century, humans harnessed the power of steam and coal to run machines, and the result was an explosion of available and unused time.
This dramatic change in how energy is produced also offers us a powerful perspective on the economy and generation of wealth. How much of our free time has been filled up with the creation of material abundance and the acquisition of enormous wealth? How much of our emotional and spiritual lives, how much of our souls – “who we are” as opposed to “what we do” – has been compromised in the process?
Since 1957 this trend has only escalated. With technological breakthroughs advancing at a blinding pace, today we can have our needs and luxuries (including things that can be harmful to us) met with no more energy expended than the press of a button!
You can literally morph into a couch-potato, and get every one of your whims delivered to you either online or through home delivery!
What is this doing to our psyches?
Rosh Hashana 2011
With this radical shift in mind, Rosh Hashana today takes on a unique significance.
Rosh Hashana, the collective birthday of the human race, was always an introspective time for humans to look at – and into – their lives, and ask whether we are living up to our calling.
The Torah tells us that on Rosh Hashana 5772 years ago the first man and woman were created in the form of Adam and Eve. They were charged with the mission “to serve and protect” – to sublimate and refine the self-oriented material world around them, and transform it into a land of virtue and love.
Every Rosh Hashana we are expected to report and give an accounting of how we have done and how we are doing, and what we forecast for the next “fiscal” year.
Armed with Rickover’s calculation about how little energy humans need to generate today, the question today is how are we using our energy and our free time?
This statistic compels us humans to look at ourselves and our activities and investments in a new way.
The G-d Particle
Here is a second intriguing scientific development.
“The biggest innovations of our time will likely be those that help address humanity’s needs, rather than those that simply create the most profit. Good ideas come from doing things differently, exploring new territory and taking risks.” So writes David R. Butcher in a new article, titled 6 Amazing Science Projects that are Changing the World.
One of the projects he lists is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest particle collider and the most expensive scientific instrument ever built. Buried deep beneath the countryside on the Franco-Swiss border, the Collider was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), a 20-nation consortium and the world’s leading particle physics laboratory, in collaboration with more than 10,000 scientists and engineers from more than 100 countries. The LHC is designed to unlock the fundamental physics of the universe, including determining whether the hypothetical Higgs boson (commonly referred to as the “G-d particle”) exists and how the universe formed, as well as possibly finding dark matter and new dimensions. Last year, LHC physicists announced they had created 10 million mini-Big Bangs in the first week of their high-powered probe into the secrets of the cosmos.
Hmm. Scientists in search of the G-d particle…
Perhaps it is the G-d particle that is missing in the equation. Perhaps it is the element missing in the enormous human-energy vacuum created by technology. And should we be able to harness our vast stores of freed up energy and time (as well as the enormous Divine energy within all technology) toward fulfilling our spiritual mission “to serve and protect” – what type of world can we create?
A Centennial of a Revolution
Which bring me to a – lesser known (if at all) – centennial that begins this year.
100 years ago the world was on the verge of being thrust into the bloodiest and most tumultuous period in all of history, shaking the universe to its core.
On the brink of the Russian revolution and World War I, 5672/1911-12 was a momentous time. Major transitions – mostly tragic but some positive – were underway, and humanity would never, ever be the same.
Meanwhile, in a small town in Russia a great Chassidic Master, known as the Rebbe Rashab, began delivering a series of profound discourses, which would become known as “Series 72” (Hemshech Ayin-Beis) as they were delivered beginning (on Shavuot) in the Hebrew year 5672, which was the year 1912. The series, delivered over an extended period of four years, consists of 144 (!) discourses, and an entire section that was only written and never delivered in public.
These discourses were so dense and complex that for years they were never published. The good news, however, is that ultimately they were published (in 1977) from their original manuscripts and we have them available today to study and analyze.
“Series 72” dissects the very nature of existence, indeed, the very nature of reality itself. Its central and most remarkable theme is the search for an interface between our superficial existence and the higher Divine reality. Existence as we see and experience it can appear divorced of any purpose and direction. Life as we know it can be quite selfish and narcissistic, detached from serving anything but oneself. Such dissonance contains the germ for all destruction.
Perhaps, as the universe was at the brink of annihilation in 1912 – which only true visionaries could foresee – the Rebbe Rashab felt the need to dissect and revisit the “engineering room” that wires all of existence, and seek out the proper interfaces that would relieve existential tension and loneliness and allow us the ability to reconnect.
I submit that “Series 72” (Hemshech Ayin Beis) offers us the missing link – the G-d particle within existence – that, when accessed, allows us to direct our human energy (and tap the energy produced by fossil fuels and technology) toward its intended purpose: To generate powerful waves of Divine energy, through our acts of virtue and kindness, which will transform the world into a Divine home.
Hemshech Ayin Beis, together with its earlier counterpart, Hemshech Samach Vav (Series 66), unleashed a revolution – that perhaps we can now, one century later, begin to appreciate.
As this column has done in 2006, in celebration of the centennial of Samach Vav (here is a comprehensive summary and elaboration of that discourse), we will honor this year’s Ayin Beis centennial (5672-5772, 1912-2012) by producing an exciting and accessible series of materials, classes and programs around the “Ayin Beis” series. Stay tuned.
We live in a troubled world. Much fear – both the overt, and the far worse covert – controls decisions or indecisions being made today, both by laypeople and our so-called leaders.
The good news is that a new year is upon us, rife with many new possibilities.
If we only allow ourselves to pull ourselves a bit back and out from our enmeshed lives, we can transcend many of our doubts, and see new opportunities, as an old world gives way to a new one.
Armed with the awareness of the “brave new world” we live in, with tremendous reservoirs of energy and time freed up due to technology; and armed with Hemshech Ayin Beis, which teaches us how to create interfaces between our lives and the Divine – we have the power to create a true revolution.
As the curtain comes down on 5771 and we prepare to enter 5772, we have much to look forward to.