The Most Tormenting Idea
An idea has been tormenting my mind: “Pointless Apocalypse.” I encountered it a year ago while reading Robert Jay Lifton’s “The Protean Self,” an analysis of postmodernism. Many religions and cultures envision a terrifying end of times. At the dawn of history, humanity will agonize in an excruciating cataclysm. Still, they promise that the devastation will herald a blissful era. That’s why we call the coming of the Messiah “messianic birth pangs.” History’s painful spasms and contractions will deliver us to redemption. But this vision shifted a few decades ago. Humanity began shivering with the feeling of an unavoidable fatal destiny. We became the people of the “nothing after.” We wake up, read the news, and tremble with the terror of a nuclear war …and nothing after. We fear breathing a new deadly virus…and nothing after. We succumb to increasingly violent and unpredictable weather in a collapsing ecosystem… and nothing after. We are the first humanity to have murdered hope. And that’s why we are so depressed. If the destiny of humanity is sealed, our actions become irrelevant. Faced with an inevitable darkness, our good deeds vanish in a fatalistic black hole. I must confess that sometimes I don’t recycle my water bottle or buy energy-efficient light bulbs. It may sound insignificant. But I feel despondent and defeated. That very existential numbness so many of us experience, that collective giving up, is, in fact, our “Pointless Apocalypse.”
Kabbalah to the Rescue
Thankfully, Kabala turns history on its head. Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572), the mystical sage of Safed, scrutinizes not the end but the origins of our pain. He envisions creation as a cosmic cataclysm. Once God existed alone. To make room for creation, God contracted, leaving a dark void. And when God said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3), ten holy vessels came forth, each filled with primordial light. But the vessels were too fragile to contain such powerful energy. They broke, scattering holy sparks all over the world. You and I were created to gather the fallen sparks, reestablishing the cosmos. We are holy sparks collectors. Each good deed grabs and returns the scattered divine energy to its source. God depends on us. Rather than waiting for God’s redemption, God longs for our redemptive acts. Kabbalah is thus the theology of ultimate responsibility.
To appreciate the message and power of Kabala, we must look at our simple acts from a cosmic perspective. Imagine the Divine as a puzzle whose pieces were blown by the wind. Each of your good deeds gathers and places a scattered piece of the Divine back to its original place. Our actions are inscribed in a cosmic ledger of order and chaos. Nothing is lost or irrelevant. Each act of kindness can tilt the whole universe toward goodness. Who knows? In the cosmic struggle between light and darkness, your small act of goodness may complete the divine puzzle. That recycling of a plastic bottle, that phone call to the lonely, that can donated to a food pantry, or that smile to the forgotten can spread powerful and unexpected goodness.
You can also think about the cosmos as a scale—one plate for darkness and the other for redemption. One ounce of evil or goodness could tilt the scale to one side. From the Divine perspective, goodness is not quantifiable. Your donated dollar becomes as valuable as Warren Buffet’s billions. Through a cosmic perspective, our actions never lose their significance.
In the words of the great philosopher Maimonides (1135-1204)
“Throughout the year, a person should always look at himself as equally balanced between merit and sin and the world as equally balanced between merit and sin. If he performs one sin, he tips his balance and the entire world to the side of guilt and destroys himself. [On the other hand,] if he performs one mitzvah, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to the side of merit and brings deliverance and salvation to himself and others. This is implied by [Proverbs 10:25]: “A righteous man is the foundation of the world,” i.e., he who acted righteously tipped the balance of the entire world to merit and saved it.
Is this view naïve? Can your good deed tip the universe toward redemption? I would rather live like a fool, believing that my good acts are transcendent, than be devoured by irrelevance. Let’s deceive ourselves into goodness.
And if you have a mental illness like me, know that you can be an agent of redemption in that psychiatric ward. Or from the Isolation of your room. Or in your therapy group. You are an agent of redemption because there is no place deprived of divine sparks waiting to be uplifted. No matter how low, irrelevant, or depressed you feel, remember, that your small act of goodness is what the cosmos is craving for. Actively seek it.
God, the cosmos, vitality, process, or whatever you call it, is waiting for us. The Messianic times are not a gift but a partnership. Your actions are the crazy glue that restores the divine.
Kabala moves us from nihilism to activism. From victimhood to empowerment. From timidity to audacity. From futility to significance.
In an age of terrifying “Pointless Apocalypses,” live as if the world’s destiny is in your hands. In the eyes of the cosmos, your simple agency of goodness is unlimited.
Our world whispers in our ears that all is futile. Our many crises seem so unsurmountable. We wonder if our deeds still matter. We feel so small and irrelevant. Kabbala teaches us that from our tiny corner of the universe, we can remain agents for goodness.
What a tremendous responsibility! But what purpose and meaning!
Be a mystic!