Alenu Leshabeiach

I’ve been reading this weeks Did you Know column in the Maccabean, with all the intellectual honesty that I can muster.  The article links contemporary politics with classical philosophy, with a brief deviation share some mischevious rhetoric over a concept that we find in the Aleynu prayer – that the kingship of G-d sits above the influence of human derived politics. 

Yes, it is true, Judaism actually believes in theocratic rule and in the kingship of G-d!  

Taking that a step further, if you look at the poltical climate in Israel as it stands today, it is not hard to conclude that democracy may not really be the ideal political system for Jews.  Yet the reality is that democracy and Judaism can and do co-exist.  There are other ideals and traits however that cannot co-exist with Judaism.

Which is why I have isolated the following quote from the article.  In response to the question; Can we wait that long for the Kingship of G-d?, Buber is quoted:  “How is Jewish life possible after Auschwitz?  Buber becomes more specific:  How is life with G-d still possible in a time in which there is an Auschwitz?  Can one still, as an individual and as a people, enter into a relationship with Him?  Can one still call to Him?  Dare we recommend to the survivors of Auschwitz:  Call to Him, for He is kins and His mercy endures forever?  Do we stad overcome before the hidden Face of G-d, as did the tragic hero of the Greeks stand before His faceless fate?” 

Leaving it to the subscribers of the Maccabean to read the philosophic answer that is imposed in the name of humanistic existentialism, I’d like to share an alternative answer, which is posed by Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth:

Judaism made the astonishing assertion that the world is good. It is intelligible. It is the result not of blind collisions and random mutations but of a single creative will. This alone is enough to set Judaism apart as the most hopeful of the world’s faiths. An ordered universe is a peaceable universe in which every form of being, inanimate, animate and human, has its proper place. Violence, injustice and conflict are forms of disorder – a failure to respect the integrity of each life-form or (in the case of humanity, where “every life is like a universe”) each person. That was the state of the universe before the Flood, when “all flesh had corrupted its way on earth.”This was not an abstract idea. The world of myth, against which Judaism is a sustained protest, was one in which boundaries were not observed. There were human beings who were like G-ds and G-ds who were like human beings. There were strange mythological hybrids – like the sphinx, half human, half animal. Religious ecstasy was often accompanied by a ceremonial breaking of boundaries in various ways. To the Judaic mind this is paganism, and it is never morally neutral. G-d creates order; man creates chaos; and the result is inevitably destructive.The most fundamental boundary is stated in the Torah’s first sentence – that between “heaven” and “earth.” Never before or since (except among religions or cultures influenced by Judaism) has G-d been conceived in so radically transcendent a way. G-d is not to be identified with anything on earth. “The heavens are the heavens of the Lord,” says the Psalmist, “but the earth He has given to man.” This ontological divide is fundamental. G-d is G-d; humanity is humanity. There can be no blurring of the boundaries.In modern times, the re-enactment of Babel is most clearly associated with the name of Nietzsche (1844-1890). For the last ten years of his life, he was clinically insane, but shortly before his final breakdown he had a nightmare vision which has become justly famous: Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly, “I seek G-d! I seek G-d!” . . . “Whither is G-d? he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are his murderers . . . G-d is dead. G-d remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves? What was holiest and most powerful of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? . . . Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become G-ds simply to seem worthy of it?” As George Steiner pointed out (in his In Bluebeard’s Castle) there was less than three-quarters of a century between Nietzsche and the Holocaust, between his vision of the murder of G-d and the deliberate, systematic attempt to murder the “people of G-d” (Hitler called conscience “a Jewish invention”).When human beings try to become more than human, they quickly become less than human. As Lord Acton pointed out, even the great city-state of Athens which produced Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, self-destructed when “the possession of unlimited power, which corrodes the conscience, hardens the heart, and confounds the understanding of monarchs, exercised its demoralising influence.” What went wrong in Athens, he writes, was the belief that “there is no law superior to that of the State – the lawgiver is above the law.” Only when G-d is G-d can man be man. That means keeping heaven and earth distinct, organising the latter only under the conscious sovereignty of the former. Without this there is little to prevent human beings from sacrificing the many for the sake of the few, or the few for the sake of the many. Only a respect for the integrity of creation stops human beings destroying themselves. Humility in the presence of Divine order is our last, best safeguard against mankind arrogating to itself power without restraint, might without right. Babel was the first civilization, but sadly not the last, to begin with a dream of utopia and end in a nightmare of hell. A world of tov, good, is a world of havdalah, boundaries and limits. Those who cross those boundaries and transgress these limits make a name for themselves, but the name they make is Babel, meaning chaos, confusion and the loss of that order which is a precondition of both nature (the world G-d creates) and culture (the world we create).

For a full copy of the Chief Rabbi’s essay visit