“Will your brothers go to war while you remain here?” These were the words of Moses to the group of Israelites who wanted to settle on the east side of the Jordan River before the conquest of Canaan. These words resonate powerfully today when we consider the terror facing our brothers and sisters in Israel (or any suffering we witness from afar): Will we sit here in comfortable complacency while our embattled brothers and sisters suffer?
How did the Israelites respond to this challenge? They said, not only will we got to war but we will lead the battle, and we won’t rest until every one of our brothers is settled. Is there a way that I, too, can make meaningful contributions to a struggle happening halfway around the world?
To be motivated in my efforts to affect real change, I have to accept that I am, in fact, part of an interconnected global community. Unless this awareness permeates my life, why should I care about what happens to my neighbor, let alone someone thousands of miles away. At the same time I need to be convinced that what I do actually makes a difference. Most people believe that goodness is a virtue, but are held back from actively pursuing opportunities to do good because they are not convinced that their actions make any difference.
Jewish mysticism asserts that the material universe is only a superficial manifestation of the complete reality, which is primarily spiritual. Therefore, that which separates us, the physical body and the material world, has only a fraction of the power of the spiritual reality that unites us and everything around us. Nothing exists independently. Everything is connected.
Science has also come to the same conclusion. Experiments with thought transfer prove that people are able to transmit feelings to their friends over distance, while other experiments demonstrate the impact of collective consciousness on material phenomenon. More recent advances have enabled paraplegics to use brain implants to operate computers and robotic limbs using thought alone.
Whether you like spirituality or science, the bottom line is that thought impacts the physical universe, and that space and time are, at best, convincing illusions. If a paraplegic can catch a ball with a robotic arm using his brain, then it stands to reason that I can strengthen or inspire my fellow by thinking good thoughts about him, or by sending her positive energy, regardless of how much physical (or emotional) distance is between us. When this thought is attached to a physical action, it makes sense that the effect of the resulting positive energy in the material world would be even more pronounced.
There is no use fooling ourselves. We are at war. We are all at war. Our contribution to the fight against the darkness, in addition to the practical efforts we make to sustain the citizens of Israel, bolster its security and argue for its cause, is to wage war against any darkness anywhere. Every time light wins out over ugliness – when positive thinking overshadows pessimism and cynicism, when the will do to good overpowers lethargy and complacency – it contributes to the overall balance in the state of the universe; by actively adding light in thought, speech and action I contribute to the overall goodness in the world and bring all of humanity that much closer to peace. Even a slight, seemingly insignificant victory can take on monumental proportions when one considers that it will reverberate through all of humanity and the heavens and the earth.
So, like 3,000 years ago, and countless times since then, we are presented with the challenge: Will we enjoy the blissful illusion of distance to separate ourselves from the plight of “others”? Will we sit here while our brothers and sisters go to war? Will we?
Thanks to Rabbi Levi Jacobson and Dr. Arnie Gotfryd for their unsolicited contributions to this article.