Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
It has been widely acknowledged that the three people who had the most profound cultural and political influence over the last hundred years were Jews: Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein.
The zeal of Marx was centered around his theory that the ultimate motivation of human beings was economics (money!). The zeal of Freud derived from his theory that the all-encompassing driving force behind human behavior was the desire for pleasure. These self-centered theories were disproved by Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychologist who survived imprisonment in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. In “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Frankl reported that those who survived the camps were typically the ones who would share their last crust of bread with another starving prisoner. Frankl said it was a search for meaning, not pleasure or materialistic concerns, that was the ultimate motivator of human behavior. (Check out this amazing video from 1972.)
The zeal of Einstein drew its power from asking basic questions about the universe and, even if took many years, in answering them. Isidor Rabi, a Jewish physicist who won the Nobel Prize in 1944 (22.5% of all Nobel prize recipients have been Jews) and could have been speaking for Einstein and Jewish geniuses in general, explained how he entered the field of science when his neighborhood friends were all becoming doctors, lawyers, and accountants: ”My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’ That difference – asking good questions – made me become a scientist!”
Jewish Mother Zeal
Ah, the Jewish mother! She, no doubt, is the source of Jewish zeal. A Jewish mother is a nuclear reactor of energy that is measured in megatons. It is no wonder that her children are blessed with zeal. To mention one example of this, I am acquainted with a woman in Israel who has 10 children, works full time as a physician, and observes the Sabbath, too.
Jewish Zeal for Adopted Culture
The list of zealously enterprising and creative Jews includes the founders of the first five movie studios, as follows:
- MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
- Paramount (Adolph Zukor)
- Universal (Carl Laemmle)
- Warner Brothers (Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack)
- 20th Century Fox (William Fox)
Speaking of culture, don’t forget Bugsy Siegel, who founded Las Vegas as a mecca for gamblers.
Do you subscribe to the philosophy of Ayn Rand? You are actually enthralled by the scribblings of Alissa Rosenbaum.
“God Bless America” was written by Irving Berlin, a Jewish composer and lyricist, as was “White Christmas.” Other Christmas songs written by Jews include “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” and “Sleigh Ride.”
When Jews enter a foreign culture, they quickly and zealously adopt it as their own.
Donald Trump Has the Zeal of a Jew
Donald Trump is an incredibly zealous individual, which makes his daughter’s conversion to Judaism a reasonable proposition. The practice of Judaism is a highly zealous endeavor, where every aspect of life — from what you can eat and what you can wear to the days of the month when you can have marital relations — is scrupulously delimited. An aside: whenever I hear Trump speak, I hear the expressions and the cadence of New York Jews, who have surrounded Trump his entire life. Clearly, Jewish zeal has rubbed off on him.
Ultimate Zeal: the Lubavitcher Rebbe
The ultimate example, from our own times, of a life lived with zeal – since it has propelled so many others to live with zeal, too — was the life of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Having escaped from the Holocaust and arriving in America in 1941 at the age of 39, the Rebbe, from his headquarters in Crown Heights (Brooklyn), transformed a post-Holocaust Jewish world that was in tatters. The Rebbe inspired the creation of more than 2,000 Chabad Jewish centers around the globe. He and his emissaries rescued thousands of Jews from assimilation through an emphasis on the joy and zeal of Chasidic Judaism.
For a distillation of Chasidic zeal, read “Souls on Fire” by Elie Wiesel. Caution: while reading this book, wearing gloves is advised to prevent burning your fingers as you turn the pages.
If Your House is Burning Down, Save the Fire
There is a story about a Chasid whose house is burning down. He runs to his rebbe and asks what he should save. The rebbe tells him not to worry about his material possessions, but to make sure he saves some of the fire.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe was famous for personal interactions around the clock and his door was open to all who wanted to talk to him through the wee hours of the morning. My father, in 1967, was fortunate to spend an hour in the Rebbe’s presence and, upon returning home, commented that there was something uniquely extraordinary about that man.
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s death, delivered a talk, in 2004, where he beautifully described what zeal is ultimately all about: personal transformation that has the power to transform the entire world. The following are excerpts from that talk.
“The Talmud, in a few short sentences, records a dispute that took place some 2000 years ago between the two major ideological schools of the time, Beit Shammai (‘House of Shammai’) and Beit Hillel (‘House of Hillel’). The subject of their dispute was: ‘Is it better for a man to be born or not to be born?’ For two and a half years they argued. When the decision finally came, it was agreed by all that it’s more worthwhile not to be born. The only qualifier was that once one is born, one should at least do the best one can.
“But there is a different way of answering the question. Instead of answering ‘yea’ or ‘no,’ to find a third answer. This is what the Lubavitcher Rebbe tried to do. He said, instead of answering the question ‘is man worthy of being here in this universe’ let us make a new human being, a new kind of existence from which the answer must be positive.
No Matter How Much You Do, You Must Do More
“I experienced this myself in my relationship with the Rebbe. I wrote a letter to the Rebbe where I tried to describe what I was doing, tried to explain that one project I’m involved with is enough work to occupy me all day, every day. There was also a second project, which was also enough work to fill my entire day. And then there was a third undertaking which was a full day’s work. I told the Rebbe that I find it hard to carry on with them all, and that every day is more difficult than the one before, because there is just so much. So what should my priorities be? What should I cut out? This is the letter I wrote. So he responded — this is practically the last letter I received from the Rebbe — the Rebbe’s answer was, ‘continue all these things that you are doing and add more to all of them.’
“You know the famous story about the farmer who comes to the rabbi complaining about his small house so full of children. It’s unbearable. So the rabbi tells him to take a goat into his house, a noisy, smelly, dirty goat. Very soon the farmer comes back to the rabbi. ‘Every problem I had is worse’ he cries. The rabbi tells him to take the goat out. So he takes the goat out of his house and soon he’s back to tell the rabbi what a big wonderful house he now has.
“A very old story but what the Rebbe did was similar and yet quite different. When people complained about how hard their work was he would give them more to do. When they complained how terrible that was he would give them even more. He told them to add the goat, and then he’d give them camels to put in their house! That was the way he worked all the time. Whenever anybody complained about their inability to cope or the hard times they endured, he would suggest ‘take on something more.’
“Obviously, this is against the laws of nature. You have a certain amount of space, you are confined by the limits of the human condition. What did the Rebbe do? How could he overburden people like this? I will give an answer from the realm of physics. There is something in physics — you have a certain amount of pressure on something, and there is a point at which it can take no more. When you put ten times, one hundred times that pressure on it, something happens. The molecules collapse and the very nature of the object changes. In astronomy you have what is called ‘white dwarves.’ These are small stars, the size of the earth, sometimes even smaller. The mass they contain is many times that of the sun. Each cubic centimeter of a white dwarf weighs many tons. Why? Because the matter collapsed and became something else, the laws themselves changed.
“In a way, this was what the Rebbe wanted to do. He wanted to change the very nature of human matter, human behavior, the very way the human being operates. With everybody he encountered, he tried to change their nature into something completely different. They weren’t people anymore, they were something else.
“The Rebbe wanted to do something that was far more reaching than any revolution. He wanted to make this kind of irreversible change in human nature, this change in human history, he wanted it to become entirely different.
“The Rebbe understood people, he understood them very well because many of them revealed themselves, became more than naked in his presence. They told everything that they had to tell, their failings, their weaknesses. And his message to us was: Run! And if you cannot run — Walk! And if you cannot walk — Crawl! But always advance, advance, advance!”
The Nuclear Spark Inside
The Lubavitcher Rebbe often said that there is a spark of zeal inside of every Jew that, once harnessed, has indescribable power, on the level of atomic force. Just as an atom is infinitesimally small but, once split, megatons of force are released, so too the divine essence of the Jew which, once tapped, releases an unfathomable reservoir of transformative energy.