We learned this page last week. Also last week, the New York Times had an article about internet passwords and how many of us make it easy for hackers to break through them. Apparently the single most common password is "123456", and many millions of users use one of 20 popular passwords.
The differences between the world of 310 and 2010 are too numerous to count. The issues, whoever, are exactly precisely the same. Abayeh, were he alive today teaching Bava batra, would easily recognize our modern day scoundrels, and would remind us that "the rabbis already warned us about them".
In 1871, in the excitement of the Paris Commune, a fellow named Eugene Pottier wrote a poem called the Internationale. Within a few decades it was the socialists' anthem world wide, and after 1918 it became the anthem of the Soviet Union. It never really caught on in the United States, but in many parts of the world it was the rousing anthem. Israeli socialists were still singing it into the 1980s (though I expect they're mostly glad we've forgotten this). The song had many versions in dozens of languages, but all included the theme
This is the eruption of the endor, in a more rousing rendition:
Of the past let us wipe the slate clean
Enslaved masses, arise, arise
The world is about to change its foundation
For justice thunders condemnation:(Wikipedia, predictably, offers many versions. The Hebrew is a pithy "Olam yashan nachriva").
A better world's in birth!
No more tradition's chains shall bind us,
Arise you slaves, no more in thrall!
The earth shall rise on new foundations:
We have been nought, we shall be all!
The idea of destroying the old world so as to build a better one has rather fallen out of fashion recently, to the extent that most people today don't believe how real the intention was. Yet not long ago this impulse was the motivating idea behind humanity's worst political movements, Nazism and Communism both (but probably not fascism, which is ironic as today that term is the one used for "whatever nasties we don't like"). In their different ways, Communists from Petersburg to Phnom Penn really did intend to build a new world with new people, and the Nazis agreed fully.
Yet the impulse is still there. Not, admittedly, through violence. No, today's inheritors of the idea hope to re-wire humanity and start history anew by smothering us all in kindness, I can't say it any other way:
Our point was simple and direct: "Your success depends on helping people believe that they can count on each other, that they are not alone in a ruthless world in which people are out for themselves, and there is a possibility of building a society based on kindness, generosity, and caring for each other. Unless your programs actually allow people to feel in their own lives that they are part of build a new society based on love and generosity of spirit, they will soon fall back into the older paranoid view-that we are all competing with each other and have to look our first for number one. And that will likely them right back into the hands of the most conservative forces in this society. It's that simple, President Obama: if your policies do not give people a personal experience of caring and generosity, people will quickly succumb to the fearmongers who compete in the media over who can make people most afraid, most cynical, and most angry."Written and e-mailed last week By Rabbi Michael Lerner, of Tikkun Magazine, cited by Jeffrey Golderg, who seems to be on the mailing list. Goldberg pokes fun at Lerner, and right he is in doing so, but I'm more interested in the underlying theme. All that happened was that a Republican won a by-election in Massachusetts, after all. For Lerner, this is the demise of the chance Obama never properly grasped to change human nature.
Lerner is a side show, yes, but he's not Richard Silverstein or even Mondoweiss. He's been in the public eye since the Civil Rights Movement reached Berkley, Bill Clinton reputedly read his Tikkun Magazine even while at the White House, and perhaps his wife does still, who knows. He thinks it's possible, indeed, the only admirable option, to reform humanity into something it isn't, never has been, and - if Bava batra is any indicator - unlikely to be anytime soon.
(As an aside, sometimes I wonder what kind of rabbi Lerner is? He must have learned Bava Batra, no? How does he fit it into his understanding of the world? And also, since he's a strident critic of much Israel has done these past few decades, what does that say about Israel?)