WHERE DO WE STAND NOW?
Every generation is a link in a long historical chain, and the more uncertain our own times are, the more essential it becomes to investigate our histories, the documents of our ancestors, reservoirs of spiritual wisdom and our collective past.
When profound and sometimes violent events occur on the world’s stage, we recognize them as potential signs of global—even cosmic—change. But how can we distinguish between a temporary disturbance and the turmoil that signals that something more profound is going on, perhaps even the dawning of a new age?
There are two signs to look for. The first, like the Richter Scale that measures the intensity of earthquakes, is easier to read. When an upheaval and its aftershocks affect people across an entire continent or more, unsettling communities and nations, important historic changes may follow. The second sign, when the roots of the confrontations we are witness to reach back through history, is less evident to the naked eye. To recognize these conflicts and locate their wellsprings, we must step back and examine what has come before and the forces, past and present, that have shaped us.
Among the Bible’s many profound messages, there is one that is especially timely today: the world will not be at peace until it makes peace with G-d. But this harmony is possible only when we incorporate G-dliness in everything we do.
The struggles to integrate the Divine and the human plans, matter and spirit, body and soul, the inner and the outer are as old as history itself. The tension between these opposing but complementary forces lies at the root of all conflict: inner (personal) and outer (social and political).
Our Biblical patriarch Abraham was the first to perceive this struggle and to analyze it. He rejected his idol-worshipping family and society and embarked on a solitary spiritual quest for something more. He turned to sheepherding, in order to spend his time alone, thinking and reflecting about the relationship between human beings and the cosmos. He discovered G-d and embraced faith, but his belief in one G-d offended the pagans around him, and they imprisoned him. To introduce his revolutionary concept of one G-d, Abraham contended with and overcame the resistance of a harsh material world.
His story is our story. Reading and applying the Biblical stories of Abraham and his children illuminates our lives today. Abraham taught what he learned to his children, yet they struggled with his ideas and with each other. These challenges and conflicts have persisted, but the direction of history has been a forward one, slowly integrating these opposing forces—religion and secularism, science and religion, faith and materialism.
The battle is not yet over. As in Biblical times, confrontations between nations continue to reverberate throughout the world. Biblical texts describe battles that will be fought in the final days before the world makes its peace with G-d and nations learn to co-exist in harmony. The Biblical battles between the children of Abraham—Ishmael, Isaac, Esau and Jacob—will be replayed on a global scale. Confrontations between the children of Ishmael, Esau and Jacob—the Arab/Muslim world, the Roman/Christian world and the Jewish world, respectively—will take place. These wars have many immediate geo-political causes, but they also reflect the venerable struggle to harmonize spirit and matter.
The Talmud says, “When you see nations confronting each other, prepare yourself for the footsteps of the Messiah.”[note 2] Our sages recognized that large-scale conflicts, especially those that arise between the children of Abraham, are signs of things to come. But the texts assure us that they are preludes to a time when nations will respect each others’ differences while uniting under universal, shared principals. One nation under G-d will expand to many nations under one G-d.
Our Sages also inform us that the battle is not waged entirely outside ourselves; its final frontier is on the personal plane. It entails integrating our own material and spiritual lives, what we do and who we are. Our Sages also inform us that the battle is not waged entirely outside ourselves; its final frontier is on the personal plane. It entails integrating our own material and spiritual lives, what we do and who we are. We are not just observers and bystanders of the events happening around us; we and our actions are an integral part of the unfolding story, and we must know that we carry the profound responsibility to help guide the world toward its destination – the final Redemption.
When civilizations collide, we must experience this upheaval as the dawn of a new age of spiritual consciousness, a true age of knowledge, a world without war and destruction, a world filled with Divine knowledge as the waters cover the sea.
WHAT IS OUR ROLE TODAY? TOWARD A MEANINGFUL FUTURE
Our best strategy to counter the uncertainty and fear associated with change and upheaval is to anticipate the future and welcome it. We must channel the strong emotions awakened by the unsettling events into positive action. Beware of apathy and complacency, and be suspicious of nostalgia for the “good old days.” Do not attempt to slip back into the comfortable posture of the past. It is time to move forward, and it is our responsibility to keep ourselves and others from falling back. We need to remain alert to our cause, our calling, our higher purpose.
The world is changing. We cannot control the changes, and we cannot stop them from happening. How—not whether—to react is paramount question for us. Have we the courage to use them as springboards for growth? As we approach our destination, we discern signs of a new era, and we can direct our conscious efforts toward it.
Upheaval is a sign of paradigm change. Do we hear the footsteps? All the characters are in place. The question is: are we ready?
During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the Rebbe cited the Midrash that states: NOTE3 The leader of Persia will attack an Arab nation and will bring destruction to the entire world, and all nations will be outraged and confused… and they will say, “Where shall we come and go?” G-d will answer them: “My children, do not be afraid, everything I have done, I have done for you. Why are you afraid? Do not fear, the time of your Redemption has arrived.” The Rebbe explained that major changes were taking place in the world with more changes to come. Revolutionary changes will behoove nations and cultures to confront their roles and make peace with each