Parshat VaYeshev, our upcoming Torah portion, begins with the oft-told lesson that just because Ya’akov desired to sit back, l’shev, and enjoy his life after years of challenge and struggle, he was, instead, visited with even more pain-filled years. His beloved sons quarrel and Ya’akov spends the next seventeen years mourning Yosef, his favorite, whom he thinks is dead. The lesson taught here by Rashi and others is that Ya’akov sinned by thinking his work was done and he was free to retire.
There is a deep spiritual principle in our tradition, parallel to Newton’s third law of motion, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In our conceptualization, the greater the Kedusha, holiness, the greater the Tummah, profane. (This isn’t just a reflection of Newton’s law, nor is it arbitrary or perverse. Rather, in order for us to truly have Bechira, free will, the choices we face must be equal with no external incentive to choose the good. Rather, we choose good only because it is good and moral, even if it entails a steep cost. Otherwise, the “choice” would be a “no-brainer” and, really, no choice at all.)
Although the news media focuses primarily on the tragedies and problems of the world, and there are plenty of those, there is an unprecedented, at least for almost 2,000 years, amount of Kedusha in the world. We’re closely approaching the critical mass of more than half of the world’s Jews living in Eretz Yisrael and under Jewish sovereignty, finally seeing the “light at the end of the tunnel” of our longest and most tortuous galut (exile). Not only are a great many Jews privileged to live in Eretz HaKodesh, the Holy Land, but our achievements there are also miraculous. Of course, there are more Jews, men and women, observant and secular, learning Torah, in its many facets, than probably ever before. There are also incredible achievements in every other field of endeavor, from the miracle of “making a desert bloom”-agriculture to Nobel-awarded scientific achievements in medicine, electronics, technology, communications and other fields. Not only are we world-leaders in entrepreneurship, artistic creativity in music, visual art, theater, dance and literature far exceeds “per capita” expectations. Kedusha, you see, is not limited to Jews sitting and studying Torah, although it certainly includes that as well, but is made up of all the positive acts our people engage in. And, it’s amplified by our massive presence in a sovereign Israel!
Balancing that, of course, requires a tremendous amount of negative evil in the world and there is plenty of that, especially as it relates to Israel and the Jewish people. Not only is terrorism once again on the rise, with the shadow (or perhaps already the reality of) of a new intifada, but ISIS thrives just beyond our borders, leaping from one brutal “success” of unimagineable savagery, to the next. Anti-semitism is becoming common, once again, in a Europe that not long ago seemed pledged to “Never Again”. Neo-nazism is on the rise. Anti-semitism appears with ever-greater frequency in the United States where, for the first time since the establishment of the modern State of Israel, the executive branch is blatantly anti-Israel.
And that is only the Tummah in relationship to Israel and the Jewish people. In the general world, the “Arab Spring” has turned into an “Arab Winter” with hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians dead. The obscenity of human slavery not only in Africa where we hear the horror stories of Boko Haram, as well as in ISIS-controlled areas of the middle east, but even in Europe and the United States in terms of the sex-slave trade, is steeply on the rise. The economies of Europe are crumbling and the United States, once the beacon and guarantor of freedom is precipitously falling, beset with unemployment, race-hatred and despair. Weather and other natural disasters have become all-too-common.
Understanding the relationship between the great achievements of our age and the terrible disasters is important, but ultimately trivial. Watching the world, chas v’shalom, self-destruct while being able to smugly “explain it” only contributes to the Tummah! These insights are only of value if they provide a direction to improve things, to put the world on an irresistible path of Tikkun (repair) and ultimate Geula (redemption)!
The standard response, especially from the orthodox leadership, has always been to increase Kedusha, to study more Torah, to perform more Mitzvot, and as far as that goes they’re right. The shortcoming, of course, is that by strictly limiting the definition of Kedusha only those people of the yeshiva are really encouraged to combat the Tummah, and as earnest as they may be, this will be inadequate.
The point is that we all must add to the Kedusha in the world and we must acknowledge and partner with everyone who is doing that in whatever field of endeavor they work in. Working together, Torah scholar and policeman, journalist and scientist, doctor and teacher, artist and soldier, musician, counselor, diplomat, chef, taxi driver, salesman, lawyer and politician, mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, all of us together contributing not only our own individual holy efforts efforts but the synergy of אחדות (Achdut), Unity, striving together in love. It might sound corny, but it is not only our destiny as Jews, it is our only hope to overcome the evermounting evil and destroy it.