Where Do We Stand?
So much has been said about the unprecedented upheavals
of the past year – economic chaos, Arab Spring, volatile
weather, and of course, Israel. A cloud of uncertainty hangs
over virtually every sector of life. Predictions for the
next year are dire.
But as we stand at the threshold of the Jewish New Year,
a time when our cosmic contract is renewed, we have the
opportunity to begin the year with a new mindset, one that
is not polluted by the anxieties of the past year.
Furthermore, the New Year is called Rosh Hashana for a
reason. “Rosh” means head. The day is not just
the beginning of the year. It is also the head of the year.
And like a head, Rosh Hashana is the “central nervous
system” that controls and regulates all the days of
the year (like the mind that governs all the parts of the
This means that our new attitude on Rosh Hashana has the
power to affect and draw in new energy throughout the entire
So notwithstanding the difficulties we faced yesterday
and the day and year before, Rosh Hashana presents the universe
– and the human race – with new opportunities.
Birds’ Eye View
One way to begin is to take a step back from the current
turmoil, and look at the bigger picture. All monsters look
frightening from close-up. When we rise up and look at things
with a birds-eye view, most adversaries don’t appear
Instead of being overwhelmed by the myopic ground level
view, Rosh Hashana, when our contract is renewed, behooves
us to go back to the point of departure and focus on the
reason we are here in the first place. When you have wandered
off course, the wisest thing to do is to retrace your steps
and return to the point prior to getting lost.
And we need not look far. While headlines are dominated
by despondent news, there are also some very encouraging
breakthroughs that can offer the human race real hope.
Among many exciting pieces of recent news, two stand out
that I believe can shed a powerful light on our future.
A Mind Blowing Statistic
We often search for that one statement that captures the
pulse of an era. Or that one statistic that encapsulates
the progress of our times.
I recently fell upon a fascinating calculation that with
one number gives us a razor-sharp snapshot of our contemporary
And it comes to us by courtesy of no less that a Polish
born Jew, who fled anti-Semitic Polish pogroms, came in
1905 to America and rose in the ranks to become a four-star admiral in
the United States Navy, someone who was known as the
“Father of the Nuclear Navy.”
In 1957, Admiral Hyman – or Chaim – Rickover
delivered a lecture calculating that a century earlier,
in the early years of the industrial age, 94 percent of
the world’s energy was provided by the labor of men
and animals. Water and fossil fuels made up the remaining
6 percent. By the 1950s, those numbers had reversed, and
coal, oil and natural gas supplied 93 percent of the world’s
energy. Rickover pointed out that without this energy revolution,
most of the material advances of the modern age would be
impossible. A car, he said, uses the energy equivalent of
the labor of 2,000 men; a jet plane that of 700,000 men.
This one statistic – the drastic change in energy production
in just the last century – captures the essence of our modern
times, both its positive aspects and its negative ones.
For example, what are the implications and consequences
of people suddenly freed up from producing most of the energy
that runs their lives? Instead of spending most of our time
toiling in the fields and in other forms of labor, we now
can relax while over 90% of our energy needed is being generated
by other forces. How much leisure time has this produced?
And what are we doing with all that free time? How is it
impacting our relationships, our commitments, our families
and our own psychological well-being?
For most of human history, the labor of men and animals
was the sole source of energy, and that placed significant
limits on how much free time we had. Starting in the late
18th and early 19th century, humans harnessed the power
of steam and coal to run machines, and the result was an
explosion of available and unused time.
This dramatic change in how energy is produced also offers
us a powerful perspective on the economy and generation
of wealth. How much of our free time has been filled up
with the creation of material abundance and the acquisition
of enormous wealth? How much of our emotional and spiritual
lives, how much of our souls – “who we are”
as opposed to “what we do” – has been
compromised in the process?
Since 1957 this trend has only escalated. With technological
breakthroughs advancing at a blinding pace, today we can
have our needs and luxuries (including things that can be
harmful to us) met with no more energy expended than the
press of a button!
You can literally morph into a couch-potato, and get every
one of your whims delivered to you either online or through
What is this doing to our psyches?
Rosh Hashana 2011
With this radical shift in mind, Rosh Hashana today takes
on a unique significance.
Rosh Hashana, the collective birthday of the human race,
was always an introspective time for humans to look at –
and into – their lives, and ask whether we are living
up to our calling.
The Torah tells us that on Rosh Hashana 5772 years ago
the first man and woman were created in the form of Adam
and Eve. They were charged with the mission “to serve
and protect” – to sublimate and refine the self-oriented
material world around them, and transform it into a land
of virtue and love.
Every Rosh Hashana we are expected to report and give an
accounting of how we have done and how we are doing, and
what we forecast for the next “fiscal” year.
Armed with Rickover’s calculation about how little energy
humans need to generate today, the question today is how
are we using our energy and our free time?
This statistic compels us humans to look at ourselves and
our activities and investments in a new way.
The G-d Particle
Here is a second intriguing scientific development.
“The biggest innovations of our time will likely be those
that help address humanity's needs, rather than those that
simply create the most profit. Good ideas come from doing
things differently, exploring new territory and taking risks.”
So writes David R. Butcher in a new
article, titled 6 Amazing Science Projects that are
Changing the World.
One of the projects he lists is the Large Hadron Collider
(LHC), the world's largest particle collider
and the most expensive scientific instrument
ever built. Buried deep beneath the countryside on the Franco-Swiss
border, the Collider was built by the European Organization
for Nuclear Research (CERN), a 20-nation consortium and
the world's leading particle physics laboratory, in collaboration
with more than 10,000 scientists and engineers from
more than 100 countries. The LHC is designed to
unlock the fundamental physics of the universe, including
determining whether the hypothetical Higgs boson (commonly
referred to as the "G-d particle") exists and
how the universe formed, as well as possibly finding dark
matter and new dimensions. Last year, LHC physicists
announced they had created 10 million mini-Big Bangs in
the first week of their high-powered probe into the secrets
of the cosmos.
Hmm. Scientists in search of the G-d particle…
Perhaps it is the G-d particle that is missing in the equation.
Perhaps it is the element missing in the enormous human-energy
vacuum created by technology. And should we be able to harness
our vast stores of freed up energy and time (as well as
the enormous Divine energy within all technology) toward
fulfilling our spiritual mission “to serve and protect”
– what type of world can we create?
A Centennial of a Revolution
Which bring me to a – lesser known (if at all) – centennial
that begins this year.
100 years ago the world was on the verge of being thrust
into the bloodiest and most tumultuous period in all of
history, shaking the universe to its core.
On the brink of the Russian revolution and World War I,
5672/1911-12 was a momentous time. Major transitions –
mostly tragic but some positive – were underway, and
humanity would never, ever be the same.
Meanwhile, in a small town in Russia a great Chassidic
Master, known as the Rebbe Rashab, began delivering a series
of profound discourses, which would become known as “Series
72” (Hemshech Ayin-Beis) as they were delivered
beginning (on Shavuot) in the Hebrew year 5672, which was
the year 1912. The series, delivered over an extended period
of four years, consists of 144 (!) discourses, and an entire
section that was only written and never delivered in public.
These discourses were so dense and complex that for years
they were never published. The good news, however, is that
ultimately they were published (in 1977) from their original
manuscripts and we have them available today to study and
“Series 72” dissects the very nature of existence, indeed,
the very nature of reality itself. Its central and most
remarkable theme is the search for an interface between
our superficial existence and the higher Divine reality.
Existence as we see and experience it can appear divorced
of any purpose and direction. Life as we know it can be
quite selfish and narcissistic, detached from serving anything
but oneself. Such dissonance contains the germ for all destruction.
Perhaps, as the universe was at the brink of annihilation
in 1912 – which only true visionaries could foresee
– the Rebbe Rashab felt the need to dissect and revisit
the “engineering room” that wires all of existence,
and seek out the proper interfaces that would relieve existential
tension and loneliness and allow us the ability to reconnect.
I submit that “Series 72” (Hemshech Ayin Beis) offers
us the missing link – the G-d particle within existence
– that, when accessed, allows us to direct our human
energy (and tap the energy produced by fossil fuels and
technology) toward its intended purpose: To generate powerful
waves of Divine energy, through our acts of virtue and kindness,
which will transform the world into a Divine home.
Hemshech Ayin Beis, together with its earlier counterpart,
Hemshech Samach Vav (Series 66), unleashed a revolution
– that perhaps we can now, one century later, begin
As this column has done in 2006, in celebration of the
centennial of Samach Vav (here
is a comprehensive summary and elaboration of that discourse),
we will honor this year’s Ayin Beis centennial (5672-5772,
1912-2012) by producing an exciting and accessible series
of materials, classes and programs around the “Ayin
Beis” series. Stay tuned.
We live in a troubled world. Much fear – both the
overt, and the far worse covert – controls decisions
or indecisions being made today, both by laypeople and our
The good news is that a new year is upon us, rife with
many new possibilities.
If we only allow ourselves to pull ourselves a bit back
and out from our enmeshed lives, we can transcend many of
our doubts, and see new opportunities, as an old world gives
way to a new one.
Armed with the awareness of the “brave new world”
we live in, with tremendous reservoirs of energy and time
freed up due to technology; and armed with Hemshech Ayin
Beis, which teaches us how to create interfaces between
our lives and the Divine – we have the power to create
a true revolution.
As the curtain comes down on 5771 and we prepare to enter
5772, we have much to look forward to.