Unlike giraffes, we live in a generation where no one will stick their neck out for you. And if evolutionists are correct that giraffes’ necks elongated over time to meet the needs of its survival, then perhaps we humans are just a generation away from having one arm a foot longer than the other. As personal and societal narcissism expands with viral speed and existential toxicity alongside the erumpent technological platforms to broadcast that narcissism, then 12 more inches of arm will possibly accommodate the need to take “selfies” and glorify the “I.”
Yes, “ME,” “MYSELF,” and “I” are celebrities in this age of narcissism. The echoes and clamoring of “It’s all about me” drown out the needs and cries of others and mutes the voice of God. Whereas once pagans killed people to worship gods, today we’ve killed God to worship people--OURSELVES. Consistently, upon the altar of self-deification, we have sacrificed the better part of us: compassion, morality, integrity, courage, charity and family, religious obligations, our history, the present and the future. And it is not the sweet odor of incense that hovers in the air as decency burns, but the stench of corruption, greed and mercilessness.
By deductive reasoning, if I am better and more important than you, then my problems and distresses are more important than yours. But that is not the world God wanted. The Talmud teaches that if we petition God for our needs and wants, first pray for another. For God cannot reside in an egotistical arrogant person. Get yourself out of your own way. You want to throw something on the sacrificial altar to get results (other than scapegoats), start with your ego. By further deduction we must recognize how very far away we are from God and truth by looking to Moses as the paradigm of behavior. Because he was the most humble person to walk the earth, he was worthy and able to be God’s messenger. He didn’t mistakenly drop the Divine Tablets to take a selfie and have his name written in a bestselling book. Conversely, he told God to blot his name out of His book if He destroyed the Israelites. Thus, if God was so close to Moses due to his humility and self-effacing behavior, imagine how bad we look in God's eyes because of our selfishness. We are polar opposites. Selfishness is an antithesis to the five senses with which God created and blessed man, for it has no eyes for the suffering of its sister, has no ears for the cries of its brother, it smells not its own stench, it has no parched tongue to know another’s thirst and it has no heart to feel or hand to touch another in comfort. It has only an extra-long arm to take a selfie, an extra-long arm that will lead to self-strangulation.
It is little wonder then that the world in which we find ourselves is falling apart due to its fragmented nature wherein each person thinks the world revolves around them instead of realizing that the whole world depends upon them. There is an apropos rabbinic allegory about heaven and hell. “In each location, the inhabitants are sitting at a long table but the utensils are too unwieldy to serve oneself. In hell, the people keep trying to stuff their own faces but can’t get the food into their mouths and so they starve. In heaven, the people help each other and feed one another across the table and are sated.”
Far from heaven, as congressmen and senators serve special interests for self-aggrandizement, cash and political survival, as corporate technology is steeped in an ever-growing surveillance culture so as to ultimately control us, as the news media panders to agenda and become lapdogs instead of watchdogs, the building blocks of our civilization are crumbling. Every day it becomes evermore easy to say, “Who cares about anyone else? I have to look out for myself.”
In this week’s Torah reading, Vayera, we read about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, societies where people cared only for themselves and were heartless and callous towards others. Being charitable was a crime. Their profound egotism and lust for easy gratification led, as it always will, to self-destruction. As the Talmud says, “He who is affected by a voracious hunger finally eats his own flesh.” Yes, man is made of earth which is the most selfish of creations as it is surrounded by a gravitational field that pulls everything toward itself. Yet even the earth is not so selfish that it begrudges the flower and the tree to grow upward and the seedlings to sprout. In the final analysis, the earth gives much more than it takes. Do we?
In the center of the biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah stands the Patriarch Abraham, who asks God to spare the city if even fifty righteous people could be found. God said he would. Abraham slowly tweaks the number down to ten in case fifty could not be found. God consents. Not even ten could be found. But we learn here not only about the failings of Sodom and Gomorrah, but also about Abraham’s, and Noah’s too. When God told Noah he was going to destroy humanity, Noah didn’t say a peep, he just built an Ark. When God told Abraham he would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham’s best was to suggest that God should spare the righteous. But, when God told Moses that he was going to wipe out Israel because of the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses said, “Please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
It is said that in the Messianic Age everyone will be beset by intractable problems. As today’s crises escalate personally and globally, we too cannot merely ask, “Will it be okay for me?” We are our brother’s keepers. Like those in the allegory, we too each have a long spoon in our hand with which we can “serve” another and the other can serve us. On our own initiative let’s grow “longer arms” to give each other a helping hand and not contrastingly to pickpocket each other of our dignity and humanity by our mere self-absorption. If only ten righteous people could have been found, Sodom and Gomorrah would not have been destroyed. The question to ourselves is, “Would we count among them?”