This essay was written by Daniel Soibelmann –
“What we need is a story that starts with an earthquake and works its way up to a climax” – Sam Goldwyn 1882 – 1974
It has been said that Hollywood and the entertainment industry run off the three cardinal sins as discussed in the Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 74a. Apparently, any good film must include either violence, sexual promiscuity or money [money being the Avodah Zarah – lit. “Foreign Service” – work for its own sake, rather than for the purpose of heaven]. Just when we thought we had totally outgrown the amphitheatres of Greece and Rome, the regular entertainment of the masses have, once again, become an engagement with the three primal restrictions.
Amid the crisis surrounding Israel presently, is an increasing awareness, particularly by Jews living in Israel of the biases that plague journalism. Although this is not a rage I feel inclined to put aside verily, a more disturbing phenomenon calls me into its discussion at this moment.
That death and its offspring ‘terror’ have become part of our daily routine. Thanks to the news networks, our homes have become saturated with the evil events of the world. The ‘right to know’ has become a thirst for more death and the ‘free press’ the providers for the collective desires of it.
“there are laws to protect the freedom of the press’s speech, but none that are worth anything to protect the people from the press” – Mark Twain in license of the press 1873
As much as the terrorism is a reality, we are equally the victims of a media war. And how the media is soaked with our story as it juices on every accounting like the hungry crowds of the amphitheatre. With this analogy it is easier to understand how Arafat, one of the most notorious terrorists has become a gladiator par excellence and has won statesmanship the world over. How he has played to a death-drug needy audience and enjoys its favor.
So what is this fascination with death, this desire for the morbid?
“The person who is fully alive is little afraid of death because his identity lies in his being and inner activity. But those, like most in our culture, whose identity lies in what they have – material possession, prestige, power – fit into the formula “I am what I have”. Their self is the sum total of what they have and their most precious possession is their ego, their person. The fear of death with them is not so much the fear of not living but the fear of the loss of the most precious thing they have, their person.” – Erich fromm The will to live p.520
The fear of dying is irrational – for as Epicurus said: “since while we are, death is not yet here; but when death is here, we are no more” – Diogenes Laertius. There can be fear of suffering and pain that proceeds dying – but dying itself is a non-experience, something by definition beyond our sensory capacity and thus we don’t fear it itself.
In a post-renaissance society where mans greatest pride is to conquer nature completely – one phenomenon has belied this as a myth – death. It shows our unbreakable limitation and nothing is more understandable for us to therefore deny it – denying it not in a scientific sense or even in an existential phenomenology, but to objectify it, distance it to something removed and foreign, beyond the reach of grit reality. We hear about it on the radio or are bamboozled by pictures (always of the unknown ‘other’) on the news like the ineffable tease. It becomes the subject of passing discussions wont of sensitivity, establishing an acceptance of whatever occurrence has happened as a fact of society in the great ‘out-there’ removing it from inside of us. Of this we need more and more, to constantly reaffirm our disconnection to tragedy as a personal reality.
That people get excited about the one thing they shouldn’t – decay – is a necrophilous tendency designed to disintegrate the illusion of mortality. The grandiose visions of Hollywood and the girding music that oft accompanies the news are designed to remove death from our inner-sphere to something divorced from our essential and personal experience.
The Jewish psychological approach towards death is to refocus back towards life. The mourning process is steeped in introspection and the act of saying Psalms at times of crisis is about reaffirming our relationship with G-D and our life mission.
Such has been the Jewish survival tactic throughout the ages. Part of our present battle with terror is the internal struggle over the constant oppression of a media that bombards us with death, stoking us with fears and swaying us from our goals of seizing life. How propitious it seems to be discussing this issue now – the three weeks of mourning are upon us. This Jewish time is a framework not for wallowing, removing from our inner-selves the pain of the years. It is a time of renewed vital introspection and meditation on life and Torah. Judaism does not believe in dwelling on and fostering a morbid fascination.
“Eitz Chayim He Le Machazikim Bah – [the Torah is] a tree of life for those who grab it.”
May the turbid torrent of events that so vastly affect our Jewish world be prevented from terrorizing our inner life experience, rather, let it foster a craving for life and our Torah. HaShem Y’Azor.