The Dawn of the 21st Century
You rule the pride of the sea; when its waves
surge you calm them – Selichot prayer
Five years into the 21st century
and we are beginning to get a taste of a new world.
As the year winds down and we begin the supplication
prayers (selichot) this Saturday night in preparation for
Rosh Hashana, we feel windy tremors around us shaking one
end of the globe to the other.
On the American side of the world, as New
Orleans and Biloxi begin digging out of the devastation
wreaked by Hurricane Katrina, Texas and Louisiana are bracing
themselves to face the fury of the new Hurricane (named)
Rita. This following a devastating Tsunami last December
in yet another part of the globe.
On the other side of the world – in
the cradle of civilization, in lands with ancient roots
saturated with spiritual history – Iraq is in turmoil,
Israel is in crisis, Muslim fundamentalism threatens and
the sinister unknown is the only thing we can rely on.
Back in the Western world, Middle Eastern
agitation is being exported globally as it no longer is
contained in boundaries. With the attack of September 11th
and then the recent assault on London, terrorism has now
become an imminent global threat.
This is the snapshot of our world universe
at the dawn of the 21st century. Obviously, much
more is happening in the world, with many very positive
developments. But to understand our world and define future
trends we must be aware of the earthshaking events that
affect us all.
What will this new century bring? Are current
events a foreboding sign of what lies ahead, G-d forbid?
The dawn of centuries tend to give us a glimpse
of events to come. Eerily, at the turn of the 20th
century, Galveston, Texas was destroyed by a hurricane.
The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 humbled and reminded
people not to get haughty as a result of the advancements
of the industrial revolution. Then of course came the Russian
Revolution, World War I and World War II – major events
that changed the entire world. Who could have imagined in
1905 what would be coming?
We too stand now at the turn of a century.
By studying the forces that shape today’s events,
we can anticipate and control our destinies instead of being
a victim of circumstances.
Today we have two major advantages over the
previous century: The power of retrospect, and the newfound
knowledge that we have gained during the last 100 years.
We have witnessed, in tragic detail, the depths
to which man can fall despite our cultural and political
advances. Never in history – even in so called primitive
times – had people shed so much blood as they did
during the two World Wars. Never before had a “culturally
progressive” nation utilized modern technology for
methodical and brutal genocide, priding themselves in their
The second and perhaps even more important
lesson that we have learned in the past century –
not a mere lesson, but a revolutionary revelation –
is the convergence of matter and spirit. In medicine, physics
and the other sciences we now understand the power of the
invisible forces that shape and define all matter and all
Though this knowledge of the seamlessness
between matter and energy has not yet been fully integrated
in our lives, especially in our personal lives, nevertheless
it is slowly coming to the fore. Because yet another phenomenon
of our times is the resurgence of religion as a potent force
in modern life and even politics – a most dramatic
and unforeseen development.
It is quite an irony that science today has
completely embraced the counterintuitive “laws”
of quantum mechanics and recognizes that the essential stuff
of all existence is comprised of intangible subatomic particles,
microscopic DNA and supra-nano cellular structures. And
that we live in a dynamic universe, which is integrally
connected by an underlying unity. Yet, when it comes to
science itself, the debate rages on whether it should be
integrated with our personal moral choices. The search for
unity would seem to logically dictate that matter and energy
are one not just in a laboratory or in a test tube, but
also in our personal lives. Yet, the 19th century
immature debates between religion and science still haunt
us today. Whether it is in the public display of the Ten
Commandments, the role of G-d in government, the debate
between evolution and intelligent design, we are still struggling
with the integration of spirit in our lives.
I propose that this will be one of the great
challenges of our new century: How to achieve a balanced
life, with harmony between body and soul, and synthesis
between our physical needs and our transcendental yearnings.
We will have to address the issue of science
and enlightenment in context of the Divine. Can the scientific
search for truth be complete without a G-d? Many moral issues
will be raised with the new breakthroughs in science and
technology. Can a person be content without some form of
G-d in his/her life (whether it is called by that name or
another)? Questions will abound about the very nature of
the human being, sanctity of life, personal rights and privacy
vs. the greater good, and many other related and unrelated
Many waves are surging today. Waves of the
Gulf of Mexico on one end of the spectrum, and perhaps even
stronger swells of Muslim fundamentalism on the other. Waves
of information flood us on the air and on the Internet.
Scientific advancements are making their own waves, and
so is the breakdown of the family and home life.
Due to modern communications waves travel
today much faster than ever before, only amplifying their
All the events in our times – both positive
and catastrophic – can be either ignored or serve
as awakeners. As we approach the New Year we are behooved
to pay heed to world events, as well as personal ones, and
recognize the dissonance that is upsetting the balances
The underlying principle of Torah is that
all imbalances – natural or man-made – can be
traced back to the imbalance between spirit and matter,
between the sublime and the secular, between the sacred
and the profane.
One thing for sure is that G-d is not “dead”
(as predicted by many). The question is how we will make
peace with G-d.
Something to think about as we enter these