Sunday, November 19, 2006

What do Socialism, the Mann and the left have in common?

Setting limits on physical self-gratification is a central issue in Rambam’s thinking. The form of man, the attribute that differentiates him from other living things, is his mind. The mind however cannot exist without the body and the brain, both physical entities. The mind therefore has the ability and is empowered to control the physical and make sure that it self protects so that it can continue to live for as long as possible, allowing the brain to expand its knowledge and understanding of its own existence. For the body to survive it has built in systems where it has tendencies to seek out things that are necessary for its survival. Those are all the things people crave for starting with food for personal survival and ending with sex for the survival of the species. Those are all necessary cravings that inform the mind to help the body to satisfy these needs. However these cravings also need the mind to set limits on them otherwise they become the sine qua non of existence. They take over the mind and direct it to spend all its energies in satisfying these cravings even to the body’s own detriment. The mind now is completely distracted from its main purpose. To Rambam that is the underlying reason for morals and all the laws in the Torah that address morality.

The fact that the Jewish people were willing to spend forty years in the desert relying on a minimal amount of food, monochromatic taste though nourishing, all for the purpose of freedom of action and thought, allowing them to develop their intellect, demonstrates to the world and future generations, how far one has to go to attain intellectual perfection. The idea is that if one can learn to be satisfied with necessities only, those are usually available.

About twenty years ago I had the privilege to visit with Rav Simcha Wasserman Z”L in Yerushalaim on Pessach. Although I got to know him in my thirties, I learned an enormous amount from this gentle Gadol and his rebbetzin. He asked me (and my son Aryeh who was with me at the time) if we knew why socialists are called leftists? Why does the left side connote socialism? When a person wants to make something he uses primarily his right hand and his left hand is the supporting actor. The same applies in every area that requires action by human beings. The primary requirement for survival is the procurement of food for survival. However without appetite there would be no impetus to do so. The appetite is therefore the supporting element in this process. When one makes the supporting act into the main purpose one gives the left side primacy and becomes a leftist. Socialism makes its primary objective man satisfying his appetites and is therefore seen as the left. I do not know if I agree with his analysis of socialism but I believe it explains why the left has negative connotations in Judaism. In kabalistic writings Sitra Desmalah has a negative connotation. It even got a place in Shulchan Aruch that one should always turn to the right side first. It is a subliminal message to make us aware of what is important.

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