Discover more from The Expression of Life
This is Part 5 and the final installment (for now) in the XL Series on UNITY.
War continues to unfold in Israel on multiple fronts in response to a horrific, cowardly attack by our enemies who have sworn to destroy us.
Millions of Israelis have mobilized to respond.
360,000 reservists have swiftly shown up for the unprecedented draft order. The anti-judicial reform movement that was paralyzing traffic with protests on a near-weekly basis morphed over night into a powerful social services organization. Yeshiva students with long-standing draft exemptions have shown moral and spiritual support for the army unlike anytime in recent history. Breslover chassidim have shown up to the front lines to raise soldiers’ spirits. Musicians are going from hospitals to funerals to army bases to create a soundtrack for what would otherwise be unbearable. Post-high school American seminary students have organized themselves to help overwhelmed mothers with their kids while their husbands are off preparing to fight. 130,000 Israelis have come back to their country from abroad either to serve in the army, be there for their family members, or simply be present in solidarity.
The truth is, none of these snippets do justice to the majestic events of Biblical proportions that are being occurring today in Israeli civil society.
Those of us who live outside of Israel, however — who are not awaiting our call to action by the IDF — can feel an acute frustration of not knowing what we can do to help.
There are certainly things we can do:
providing financial support and emotional support to Israeli communities and families who have been attacked,
sending much-needed quality supplies to the IDF through verified channels,
doing political advocacy with our representatives in Congress and local government,
becoming more educated about the facts of the conflict to do our part in the media war at large, and with family and friends who are uninformed or misinformed, and of course,
praying with more feeling, deepening our trust in God, and strengthening our commitment to mitzvot and acts of kindness and connectedness to one another. (I was personally blown away by the speed with which I was able to get help for my Israeli daughter to get home safely through the rich and active network of Jewish chessed (kindness) chats. This experience raised my spirits tremendously.)
In this XL, however, I invite you to use the feelings of uselessness while this war is going on — the feeling of not knowing what to do, yet feeling like you should be doing something.
These are feelings that strike resounding chords with most of us. Like the shofar, it wakes us up from the sleepy, complacent, humdrum attitude that tends to set in during peaceful times.
Now is a good time to think about this because war will not go on forever. Things will go back to some new normal — hopefully soon — and hopefully a much better normal.
If we tap into a life with sharpened purpose now — if we learn to more clearly see how Hashem runs the world — it will change the quality of our peace on the other side of this war.
If we do this right, we won’t need war cries to wake us up to a life of purpose anymore.
War and games are, in most ways, complete opposites from one another.
Nothing in this life is more serious than war, and when life gets heavy and serious, few things can provide us a haven from it all like getting lost in a game.
Games are fun. War is anything but.
They do however have one vital thing in common: purpose.
War asks all of us what our purpose is.
And games focus us on the goal of the game, and give us, if only temporarily, a purpose.
The very consequential goal of victory is at the heart of warfare, and the arbitrary goal of winning is at the heart of every game.
Let’s think about games as a metaphor for life.
Every game has its challenges.
And all games have their rules.
But if you don’t know the goal of the game is, you’re simply not in the game —
even if you’re having a good time —
even if you’re working hard —
and even if you’re following the rules.
In the game of life,
There are people who follow the official rules religiously, but don’t know how to score, and aren’t enjoying themselves.
There are many others, who may be having fun, but aren’t winning games either — because they think that the whole point is to have fun — which ultimately stops being fun as well.
And yet others, who are hustling and sweating, but not in a way that leads them any closer to the goal.
To win, we have to have fun, while working hard, and staying within the rules — but most essentially: we have to achieve the goal.
Ironically, the easiest thing to lose sight of in the game of life is the goal.
War wakes us up to our losing sight of it.
Games temporarily make us feel like we have one.
We often feel so lost in life that, if only momentarily, it feels great to know the location of the basketball hoop we’re shooting for, and who the “bad guy” is who we have to defeat in a videogame.
But why is it so easy to lose sight of our purpose in real life? Why do we need war or a crisis to make us ask ourselves how we’re using our time?
Part of the answer is because reality is so realistic we lose ourselves in it.
The reality we live in is so a rich — so fully integrated — and so immersive — sensorily, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually — that we can easily take it for granted that it was designed intentionally with us in mind.
To illustrate: think about the advances we’ve witnessed in communication technologies.
While I don’t think anyone ever “lost themselves” in a morse code conversation or a telegram exchange, most of us have had, at some point, a phone conversation that was so intense that, at some point on the call, we forgot that we were actually not in the same place as the person we were speaking to. The medium of hearing another person’s voice live over the phone is so vivid that if we’re really into the conversation, we can lose ourselves in it.
Video conferencing, which I grew up with as a thing of the future in movies like Back to the Future II, rapidly became for many of us an everyday way of staying in touch with family and friends around the planet. The future became the present, and a way to really feel the presence of the person on the other side of the line.
I personally have been learning Talmud every weekday for over 7 years with my dear chavruta (Torah study partner) who lives in Boston. It’s not the same as IRL (“In Real Life”), but it’s pretty close.
A couple of weeks ago (which now feels like a year ago), I, and a few million other people, watched the next iteration of the evolution of communication media that mimics reality in an interview in the Metaverse between a hyper-realistic avatar of podcaster Lex Fridman and a hyper-realistic avatar of Mark Zuckerberg. Mark seemed almost jaded by the mind-blowing technology, but Lex, experiencing it for the first time, could not get over how real it felt — how easily he could forget that they were, in actuality, thousands of miles away from each other.
The more immersive a virtual reality becomes, the more likely we are to forget it is virtual, and therefore created.
The less we are aware that our reality was created, the less we think about a purpose for which we were intentionally placed here.
This brings us back to where we left off in Part 4 of our series on Unity in which we began to understand the full meaning of being created and living in a created world.
We, the universe and everything in it is subsumed within a fabric of richly programmed, interactive reality.
Among the final words we heard from Moshe our teacher before his passing, nearly three and a half millennia ago, is an eternal reminder of this:
The conventional translation is that there is no other god other than Him, which is certainly a valid message, especially in that time when paganism was widespread.
The constantly miraculous Jewish experience of history has shown us that all that exists — exists within a Single, Unified Existence — and nothing can exist outside of It.
When Jews speak about “God,” we’re not referring to a being that merely exists.
We’re referring to Existence Itself — or to use a more Jewish nomenclature: Existence Himself — the One and Only Oneness in Which everything exists.
As we said in the last XL, we live in a God’s Metaverse.
To better grasp the Divine creation of the Metaverse and everything in it, think about human creativity. For millennia, creativity involved taking multiple physical ingredients and putting them together in a new way. Someone could, let’s say, tie a blade to a stick and make an axe, and it would stay an axe until the pieces would eventually break apart.
The modern creativity of computer programming, however, helps us understand that every creation has its corresponding computer code — standing instructions that must continually exist in order for the created object to continue to exist.
Take any snapshot of the universe and you can imagine the immense, rich fabric of code that describes it. Nothing can exist without its corresponding code keeping it in existence — except the Programmer Himself.
This helps us grasp God’s Unity in space — the unity of everything that exists existing within the matrix that is Him.
A richly designed Metaverse created for no reason would be cool for users at first, but would eventually beg the question: what’s the point?
This brings us to the notion of God’s Unity in time.
God’s Metaverse was programmed into existence with intentionality. Intention has a goal in mind. The universe is more like a game than just a pointless but beautiful virtual world.
What is the purpose of the game? How does one win? How can a player score points along the way?
These are questions we should be asking ourselves if we believe that we live in a world created on purpose, and not by some cosmic hiccup.
The Creator of the Game of Life wants us to succeed. He wants us to know our goal clearly and have all the tools we need to reach our goal. When we refer to this aspect of the Creator, we call Him י-ה-ו-ה, which in prayer and Torah reading is pronounced “Adonai,” and in conversation, call Him “Hashem.”
On the other hand, the Designer of the Game of Life has to define what makes achieving that goal and scoring points challenging — otherwise, winning is meaningless. In competitive sports this comes from defense from the opposing players, and in all sports and games, there is some inherent challenge, such as the terrain of a golf course, or the intrinsic challenge of getting a ball into a net of a certain size. We refer to this dimension of the Designer’s relationship with us as Elohim–א-להים, which literally means legal authority, coach and referee. In order to maintain the integrity of the game, there must be justice. There must be consequences at all times, and in all circumstances, for all players — that are fair.
For the challenge to fair, it needs to be attuned to the players’ abilities, even as those abilities develop. In gaming and testing, this is called adaptive testing. As you do better, the game must get more difficult. If you lag behind, the game has to get easier. In either case, if the game doesn’t adapt to the player, it ceases being fair. As you start to ponder this, you will begin to realize how majestically complex the algorithm of Life has to be to coordinate all players’ personal challenges adaptively as we make decisions, mature and grow as people, and interact with other players.
Isn’t this series about Unity? How can we speak about God as being the caring, loving Creator Who is rooting for us to succeed, and at the same time, the judging, testing, rewarding and punishing Designer Who is constantly pushing us to our limits?
The chorus that ran through the prayers leading up to Rosh Hashana, all the way through Yom Kippur, culminating in Neila, and finally one last time, the day before Hamas attacked us — on Hoshana Rabbah, as our judgement for the year was being sealed is:
We now can understand why.
The complex but vital notion we’re trying to get into our bloodstream is that God is One.
The One Who created us and put us into the world is the same One Who custom-designs all the challenges that face us — as individuals and as a nation.
The Designer Who is testing us IS the Creator Who put us here to succeed and is rooting for our success.
Adonai is Elohim.
What is the goal? How do we achieve it? What is the mission of the Jewish nation within human society? What is our personal service within our nation’s mission?
Why is this happening to us? Why do so many people want to kill us? Why do seemingly so few people care if they succeed? Why does it have to be so hard???
These are all questions that war is raising for all of us.
We have to keep learning Torah and search or souls to answer them.
These are among our most challenging times for our people, but these are also among the best times for our people.
We are awake. We are alive. We are doing. We are trying. We are feeling. We are speaking. We are listening. We are connecting.
The unifying, encompassing perspective that is going to carry us through this and the rest of human history is that Hashem is One.
Hashem is Elohim.
All of our challenges come ultimately from the One that put us here to overcome them and there is no terrorist group, no Ayatollah, no missile, no atom bomb, no angry mob, no two-bit politician, no deadbeat university president, no uneducated college kid, no social media influencer who can stop Him. Because it all exists within Him.
There is nothing other than Him.
We will succeed not only in spite of the challenges and tests we’re being put through. What is being revealed is that we will succeed because of them.
שמע ישראל ה׳ אלקינו ה׳ אחד
Hear, Israel, Hashem Elohim is One.
Subscribe to XL for free here if you haven’t already: