Two Threats to the Jewish People
In the Passover Haggadah, which we read last week, a somewhat crypt phrase reads in the Hebrew as follows: “Arami oved avi.” There are two ways to understand this verse. One way is “An Aramite sought to destroy my father.” This reading reminds us of the way in which Lavan, Jacob’s uncle, tried to destroy the House of Jacob. Another way to understand this phrase is: “My father was a lost Aramian”, namely – it is Jacob himself who was “lost”, rather than another person who was actively seeking his destruction. These two ways of reading one Hebrew expression from the Haggadah intimate an inter-generational transition in terms of the challenges our community faces. The older generation came to this country on account of a foreign political power (“An Aramite”) which was hostile and oppressive to our people and at some point became unsafe and inhospitable to its Jewish population. This older generation experienced their Jewish identity first and foremost on account of the discrimination and the oppression which it endured.
The newer generation, born and raised and in the safety and comfort of the United States and Los Angeles, no longer experiences first-hand the animosity and aggression of an external “Aramite”. Rather – this new generation is a bit of a lost Aramian itself (Abraham was from Aram Naharyim, and we are all his spiritual descendants). In other words, the younger generation is flooded with all the wondrous and boundless possibilities of a global IT civilization. This young generation has a different challenge altogether than the previous generation. The members of the older generation sought, as Jews, a political safe haven from the shackles of Antisemitism. The younger generation, however, seeks spiritual redemption in a world and an age of endless possibilities, but also – of a crudely material existence.
In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the members of the younger generation live in a world in which there is “a maximum amount of choice and a minimum amount of meaning”. Homo Sapiens is, uniquely, “the meaning seeking animal”, the spiritual species. And in a society that offers no meaning, all the basic emotive and mental structures which promote personal and societal well-being are inevitably destined to be utterly eroded, and this includes marital life, family life, mental and emotional health, a positive birth rate, a robust sense of social ties, and overall existential joy. The younger generation is “lost” in this sense, of seeking out a spiritual roadmap, in order to redeem itself from a cultural desert and a spiritual wasteland, at times desperately seeking joy and fulfillment through destructive and self-defeating avenues. Every generation and every soul has its own distinct challenges and struggles. But ultimately, in the final analysis, there is one fountainhead which is always there, to nourish and satiate the Jewish soul – the living and undying waters of Torah, Jewish spirituality and Jewish life.