Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Wisdom of Hillel

Every generation believes they are the most important in history. Editorial writers abound blaring about the greatest war in history waged under our noses. When the British used the long bow against the French for the first time the age of chivalry died, but so did scores of Frenchmen. The new weapon marked the rise of British colonial power.

Certainly when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sent Columbus sailing from Spain they believed they were on the cusp of a new era for their kingdom. Perhaps they believed it was a new era for the world, and it was, but I doubt they knew it then.

The colonial powers can trace their roots back to the first amoeba that slithered across the pond to incorporate, for the first time, another amoeba in its cell structure. Did old man amoeba brag that he’d just made history?

The egotism of our age is astounding. It is like a young adult who has no patience for their elders, since when back when the elders were young ‘things were different.’ But they weren’t really. Perhaps they simply had a different form, but not a different substance.

Is the Iphone or Ipod much different from the drumbeat of the native Americans? One is faster, and farther reaching, with the ability to send more details, but its still just a message after all. Its still just communication.

In the animal kingdom birds do a fancy dance show their plumage to inform the females they are ready to mate. This communication works, obviously, or there would be no animals, no birds, no people. A mini-skirt and tight blouse are just as significant as a peackock’s feathers, but not much different.

The scene of the monkeys attacking a rival band in 2001 is meant to show that the monkeys are no different from the humans, or even from machines who think they’re humans, like Hal. Al Jezeera, CNN, BBC, all broadcast messages. We call it news. The messages carry fear, happiness, sadness, love, and hate.

Monkeys in the form of groups of people use the media to send their messages. Osama Bin Ladin spoke on Al Jezeera, subtly threatening the Western World yet again. Cable television, once the purview of the fringe, is now mainstream. The Internet, once the playing field of the nerds, is now the place to be seen, and that’s what Osama Bin Ladin did next, went on the Internet with his messages. And what were they, like the monkey’s shaking the bones of their prey, using sticks and stones to attack their enemies, Bin Ladin first uses words, as the monkeys used their screeches, to warn of an imminent attack.

But is Bin Ladin a new phenomena? Were his two hi-jacked 747’s which flew into the twin towers any different than say the introduction of the elephant into warfare? Or gunpowder? Or the atomic bomb? The idea was always the same, win the battle, but the scope grew enormously. Much more of the world is at risk than a few dozen monkeys beating each others brains out with stones. More is at risk than a massive army of Greeks attacking Romans. Then a continent or two were at stake. Now the global village has put the entire world at risk.

But step back, look up, there are dots twinkling in the night sky. There are other planets out there, in fact there are an unimaginable number of planets. Scientists now estimate that there are billions of universes out there, trillions upon trillions of stars and planets that we know nothing about.

So, if this world is wiped out, it will hardly be noticed by the other stars, planets, and universes. Does that make the prospect of Bin Ladin succeeding any better? Nope. Does it mean we should give up, let him take over? Nope. What it means is that probably none of what we think is of paramount importance in our lives in our generations, is really that important.

Societies rise and fall, history if filled with examples from the earliest recorded scratching on some cave’s wall. We are all players in this game of life, all pawns perhaps of some great scheme. Or all just random elements banging against each other like pinballs bouncing off the obstacles on the way down the board.

It has been said that 1968 was a transitional point in history. Certainly it was transitional for the USA, for Civil Rights, for Women’s Rights, for freedom. But was 1968 any more important than 1492, when Columbus stumbled upon America; or the 11th century Crusades, when the Christians waged war against the Moslems; or 70 AD (or C.E.) when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem sending the Jews into Exile? How many transitional points in history are there?

And then there’s the old saw “There is nothing new under the sun.” The kaballists hint that that means previous societies preceded ours, back before Abraham and all the begats begun. Maybe way back when someone already invented a washing machine, and dryer, a microwave and cell phone. What if the ancient Breastplate of Judgment worn by the High Priests in the First Temple period (actually it disappeared with the Prophetress Deborah) was really a computer allowing the Hebrew prophets and kings to communicate with outer space, the future, or the past? What if we are just being tested by those way up in space, or in another dimension? What if the Buddist have it right, there is no body, really, just the soul, like smoke, dissipating in the far beyond.

The essence of life, said the Hebrew sage Hillel is “Be Good To Each Other,” and all the rest of the Bible, he said, was commentary.

As we approach another Hebrew New Year the lessons of Hillel have still to be learned, by the good guys, and the bad guys. Turning the other cheek gets you another 747 right up your high rise, and nuking the crazies makes you a mass murderer. The horns of the dilemma get sharper as the decisions get closer, but in reality, it is all, as Kohelet (The Preacher from Jerusalem in Ecclesiastes) said “Vanity and chasing after wind.”

Let’s hope that the new Hebrew year will see the end of the bad guys, and the success of the good buys, and let’s hope we have the wisdom to discern who’s who.

Pop Diva Madonna comes to Israel with a covey of Kabbalistic wannabees, to experience the holiness that is said to descend on Israel during the holidays. May the Lord grant her nirvana, enlightenment, and the ability to convince others who the bad guys are, and who the good guys are.

In Israel PM Olmert bemoaned the state of education in the country after a group of skin-heads were arrested following a year-long investigation. The teenagers, mostly non-Jewish Russians who felt strange in Israel, drank and made trouble to express their disenfranchisement. Not unusual. Juvenile delinquents have existed for thousands of years. In modern times films were filled with miscreants causing trouble. The fact that these were boys with at least one Jewish grandparent, and that the boys were ‘skinheads’ giving Nazi salutes, beating ultra-orthodox Jews, as well as Ethiopians and Philipino workers, only makes it harder to take. Nazis aren’t supposed to live in Israel. Its like fire blazing beneath the surface of water. But both are possible. Is education the answer?
Modern Western society believes education is the answer to everything. And it probably is. But first one must educate the educators, the governors, the bosses, make them realize that these kids are left out, and are angry about it. Education is needed on both sides, the kids and the society they live in, to recognize the root of the problem and then deal with it.

Maybe in the end it does all boil down to what Hillel said, “Be Good To Each Other.” The rest is commentary.