This is the 5th in a series about chussidut and modern day orthodoxy. For the others go here.
Is there a difference between you and me? Other than the physical I mean. We surely posses different bones and organs and I hope you don’t have my blackened barely beating heart, but besides that, could we be the same? Could your pain be my pain and your joy be my cause to celebrate?
As a youth the notion of a single conscious troubled me because it was antithetical to what I felt. While there are those who claim to have experienced shared consciousness (there are often drugs involved), it just seems impossible. When a friend of mine didn’t do well enough on a test thereby costing us a football day (ahhh Jewish day school) I felt the true breath of injustice upon my neck. His failure should not have been my failure
The Alter Rebbe, the first rebbe of Lubavitch, understood this problem and addressed it in the 32nd chapter of his magnum opus, Tanya. He claimed that we have a tendency to view the body as the primary vehicle for existence. Therefore, we feel separate from other Jews. My arm is objectively not your arm. However, the expanded conception of existence, which includes the soul, suggests a different reality. Most Jews accept that the soul is rooted in G-d. Therefore, my soul and your soul are just two different emanations of the same thing. Imagine a light. If you were to put a piece of cloth with four holes cut into it over the light there would be four rays, but really its all the same light.
The Rebbe understands ואהבתב לרעך כמוך as demanding that we love our neighbor who IS us. Admittedly, this concept is difficult to grasp. I imagine that very few people manage to achieve a level this high and even then, it must be a struggle to maintain it. So lets distill all of this into its main, more understandable principle, empathy. The Alter Rebbe provides us with an intellectual meditation. Society does not exist merely to avoid anarchy as purveyors of social contract theory may argue. Instead, society is a singular organism. We help others because by doing so we are merely helping ourselves. If we hurt others then we are actually hurting ourselves. The more we look away from the physical nature of man and instead turn to his G-dly nature (including our own), the clearer this becomes.
The connection between this post and the three weeks should be obvious. In the passages which discuss the imminent destruction of the land and temple, G-d and His prophets focus on relationships between men. While many passages focus on idol worship others suggest that G-d will allow for some avoda zara as long as the Jews are united (חֲבוּר עֲצַבִּים אֶפְרָיִם, הַנַּח-לוֹ). Lets take a moment to consider how we view our fellow humans, or to say it better, how we view ourselves.
This will be my last post. It was fun. I may continue on my facebook page (Avi Bieler), but if not, I would still love to converse with you about this topic. Avibieler@gmail.com. See ya!