Rabbi Sessler D’var Torah

Jewish Genius in the 21st Century

The historian Jacob Talmon defined the Jewish people as ”Agents of change”. Throughout the course of human civilization, Jews revolutionized the ways in which humanity understands itself, and its place in the surrounding universe.

From Abraham who smashed the false religious idols of his time, to Moses who led a rebellion against the political despotism of the Pharaoh, to the Jews who invented Christianity and sought to de-paganize the Roman Empire, to the rabbis who taught Muhammad and were later on persecuted and massacred by him, to the Jews who pioneered modern banking in Europe because they were barred from owning land in medieval Christian Europe, to the Jews who conceptualized and propagated socialism and communism, to Sigmund-Shlomo Freud and his exclusively Jewish entourage who revolutionized the way humanity understands its soul and psyche, leading all the way up to 20th century physicists in the calibre of Einstein, Oppenheimer and Teller, and followed by the leading postmodern thinkers of our time, no human group contributed so vastly and so disproportionally to the advancement and refinement of human spirituality, culture, science and economy. Even though our people constitute solely 0.02% of the world’s population, a mere fraction of a percentage which is equivalent to the statistical margin of error in a Chinese census, no other group of people demonstrated to the world so consistently and over so long a span, that history has meaning, and that humanity has a destiny.

In the words of the great Catholic historian Paul Johnson, in his magisterial ”History of the Jews”: ”All the great conceptual discoveries of the human intellect seem obvious and inescapable once they had been revealed, but it requires a special genius to formulate them for the first time. The Jews had this gift. To them we owe the idea of equality before the law, both Divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person; of individual conscience and so of personal redemption; of collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and of love as the foundation of justice, and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind…”

In modern times too, writes Johnson, Jewish genius continued to transform and revolutionize the human experience: ”Breaking out of their ghettos, the Jews once more transformed human thinking, this time in the secular sphere. Much of the mental furniture of the modern world too is also of Jewish fabrication”.

So what about today? Where does Jewish genius manifest itself in the first quarter of the 21st century, in an age of information technology? Suffice it to say that Israel has more start-up companies and technological innovations than any other country on the planet, second only to the United States. Israel has more technology companies than all of the EU combined, more than China or India or Russia, or the entire Muslim world combined. All this in a country smaller than the size of New Jersey, with a very small population which includes some six million Jews.

Here’s a partial list outlining the very ”marginal” contributions of Jewish genius to the age in which we live, the age of information technology – the third biggest informational revolution in history since the inception of writing in the 13th century BCE and the invention of printing in the late 15th century. A brief and partial list would include two young Jews, Sergei Brin and Larry Page, who jointly founded a small company you may have heard of – it’s called Google. We all know about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, but not everyone is familiar with Zuckerberg’s Jewish co-founder of Facebook Dustin Moskowitz. The satellite navigation system application ”Waze” is an Israeli innovation, and the list goes on and on.

In this context, one might legitimately ask: ‘In what ways do the State of Israel and Jewish people across the world continue to further enrich and benefit the rest of humanity with these incredible technological innovations?” The answer to this question is, to a large extent: ”Information Technology Tikkun Olam”.

Information technology Tikkun Olam is a ground-breaking and novel global mitzvah project pioneered by the State of Israel in collaboration and partnership with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. You may have heard by now that 48 hours ago, on Thursday 9/1/16, an Israeli satellite named ”Amos 6” exploded during take-off in Florida due to a technical malfunction. In an interview from Kenya, Mark Zuckerberg spoke about this accident. Zuckerberg explained that one of the main goals of launching this satellite was to connect hundreds of millions of people in Africa to the Internet. In one of his Facebook posts, Zuckerberg reassured humanity that ”we continue to be committed to connecting everyone to the Internet through the future Israeli satellite system, starting with 14 additional countries in Africa.”

What are Zuckerberg and the Jewish State accomplishing when they connect hundreds of millions in the developing world to the Internet? They are revolutionizing the educational and health care systems of these countries in incalculable ways. They are living up to the commandment which Hashem bestowed upon Abraham and us, his descendants, some four millennia ago in Parahsat Lech-Lecha, namely ”To be a blessing (Genesis 12:2).”

In Hebrew we have a colloquial expression which states: ”The dogs bark, and yet the convoy marches on.” Vicious anti-Semites continue to bark at Israel and the Jewish people with vehement hatred, including right here in our very own backyard at UCLA, and yet the Jewish convoy and its age-old cosmic endeavour of Tikkun Olam proudly and ceaselessly marches on, bringing more and more knowledge, freedom, love, healing and redemption to this tortured and sublime world of ours.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Sessler

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