Sponsored Le-ilui Nishmatah shel HaZekenah Miriam Robles Lopes Cardozo
eshet HaRav Ha’Abir Neim Zemirot Yisrael Abraham Lopes Cardozo,
by her daughters Judith Cardozo-Tenenbaum and Debbie Smith
Woody Allen, a keen but unusual observer of our world, once remarked: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness; the other to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly”.
Many people will agree with this observation. Our lives seem to be surrounded by war, destruction, hunger and illness—with no end and without much hope. Philosophers, scientists and physicians continue to seek solutions, but not only do we still suffer terrorist attacks in many civilized countries, and major disasters in nearly every part of the world, but we get the impression that the global situation is only worsening. Every illness that is overcome is replaced by one even more serious; and many peace accords are violated and invite more disastrous scenarios.
This, however, is only part of the picture, and it is based on a psychological condition from which many of us suffer. If we take a closer look, it reminds us of a type of lashon hara (gossip) – not about our fellow humans, but about our world.
Evil speech reflects a self-distrust that is rooted in our underlying insecurity. It is predicated on an optical illusion, similar to two adjacent glass elevators that move in opposite directions. When one descends, the passengers in the other elevator feel as though they are moving upward. Similarly, by emphasizing the faults of another, one tries to prove one’s own perfection.
But the world is also a place that contains an abundance of goodness. Most human beings are decent and law-abiding. Millions of people arrive home safely every night. Hundreds of thousands of planes land every day without the slightest problem. Most children are born healthy. The sun comes up every morning without exception. There is always enough air for everyone to breathe. Millions enjoy higher economic standards than ever experienced by their ancestors. Pain prevention has improved dramatically over time. International communication systems have brought us in touch with each other under all circumstances, wherever we live. Luxurious senior citizens homes have replaced the tragic scenes of the elderly languishing in the streets. Clearly, marriage is still seen as sacred, and helping each other as virtuous.
True, the world is far from ideal, but it seems that we view our globe as we would a white paper with a black spot on it. When asked what we see, we say, “a black spot,” completely ignoring the white paper. It is only the odd, the out-of-place that catches our attention.
Why is this? Because the good presents us with a problem. Goodness exposes us to a higher order of things. It demands of us that we think about the meaning of our lives, because it is the beauty of goodness that touches our souls. We hear a murmur coming from a wave that is beyond our average shore. Here, we cannot complain, we can only contemplate. And this embarrasses us, because we don’t want to respond. What if life makes higher demands of us than we want to hear? It is goodness and beauty that remind us that our lives do have a moral and religious purpose.
So we hide, dig in, and create defense systems. We make sure not to be exposed to all the beauty. We emphasize the black spot and deny the white paper. And we are all in good company. Our media help us by reporting the disasters and revealing the diseases. We all know that we need much more balanced reporting, but we can’t afford it. It’s too risky.
So we speak lashon hara about the universe, because the exaggeration of all that is bad in this world serves us well. We give it a bad name so that we can declare that we’re okay where we are. Life is hard enough, we’re barely able to survive; so who has time for meaning? We force the elevator of this world to descend so that we can convince ourselves that we are moving upward even as we maintain our mediocrity.
The purpose of genuine religious life is to protest against this optical illusion and to teach us to reframe our spiritual spectacles. It is not that religion shows us something new. It shows us what we have seen all our lives but have never noticed.
Its message is clear. When all is said and done, there is dazzling goodness in this world; there is order instead of chaos; there is diversity, not just monotonous existence; and above all, there is the infinite grace of the human deed.
The great Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein thought that we all see the world like a fly looking out of a transparent glass bottle in which it is stuck, limited by confines beyond its control. When asked what is his aim in philosophy, Wittgenstein replied, “To show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle”. The fly keeps trying to escape by banging against the glass. The more it tries, the more it flounders, until it drops in exhaustion. Its failure is that it doesn’t think to look up toward the opening.
 “My Speech to the Graduates,” The New York Times, Aug. 10, 1979, p. 25.
 Des MacHale, Wisdom (London: Prion Books Ltd., 2002).
Questions to Ponder from the DCA Think Tank
1. Many statisticians agree with Rav Cardozo that the world as a whole is better off today than it has ever been (for example, see the talks by the Swedish statistician Hans Rosling z”l). In many ways this is also true for the Jewish people. Nevertheless, our firm tradition is built on a longing for the past. This can be seen in concepts like yeridat hadorot (the declining knowledge per generation), our longing for the Temple and our prayer to return our former leaders (hashiva shofteinu kevarishona). In a sense, what Rav Cardozo calls “lashon harah about our world” might be connected to the Jewish tradition of constantly yearning for a better world and remembering “how great it used to be”. In your opinion, is Rav Cardozo’s assertion, that the world is better than it ever was, in conflict with a large portion of the Jewish tradition – or is our yearning tradition built for a world that wasn’t as “beautiful” as today’s?
2. Rav Cardozo asserts that the “good and beauty…remind us that our lives do have a moral and religious purpose.” However, logically one could claim the exact opposite: the bad and injustice remind us that life has a purpose! For injustice is something that causes us to act and to think. Which do you think is more of a catalyst for meaning—beautiful good, or ugly injustice?
3. Maybe we can take this a step further: In a world that is perfect, is there any relevance to religion?
4. Rav Cardozo mentions that “there is dazzling goodness in this world” and that there is “the infinite grace of the human deed”. However, the immense growth of economic prosperity, health and education has only been occurring for about a century (for the Western world since WWII, and for the developing world only in the past few decades). In your opinion, how fast can the world return to its previous non-beautiful state and, given those chances, how should we act as a Jewish people?
5. Due to the rise of citizen journalism, social networks and many other news sources, people are globally connected to any bad thing that happens anywhere across the world. This clearly benefits the journalists and news outlets. Is this fearmongering something the Jewish nation should collectively be fighting? How would we go about doing this in our education system?
Rabbi Cardozo will be speaking in Jerusalem on 19 June on the topic of Torah from Heaven.
RSVP at the link below: