Fear, Trembling and Jewish Survival

Many citizens of Israel appear comfortably assured that their country can endure. Insufficiently apprehensive about the coming of "Palestine" and the correlative prospect of an atomic Iran, these Israelis want no part of any national anxiety.

Prof. Louis René Beres,

Prof. Louis Rene Beres
Prof. Louis Rene Beres
israelnewsphoto: R. B.
Every Jew is familiar with Deuteronomy 30:19. "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life, that you and your descendants may live." But in choosing life, there must be a prior anxiety about death. Without such anxiety, there can be no correct understanding of what is required to live.

What is true for individuals is also true for nations. Israel, because it now prepares to surrender even more essential lands to Hamas, and possibly even to ignore Iranian nuclearization, approaches widening terrorism and multi-level unconventional war. At the same time, many citizens of Israel appear comfortably assured that their country can endure. Insufficiently apprehensive about the coming of "Palestine" and the correlative prospect of an atomic Iran, these Israelis want no part of any national anxiety.

Israel now suffers from too little anxiety. Refusing to tremble before the very real possibility of collective chaos and national disintegration, Israel is now unable to take the necessary steps toward remaining "alive". And because death is the one fact of life that is absolute, Israel's denial of its national mortality deprives its still-living days of indispensable preparations against both genocide and war.

States are sometimes the individual human being writ large. For states, as well as for individuals, confronting death can mentor the most positive nurturing of life. A cultivated awareness of non-being is central to each state's pattern of potentialities, as well as to its physical survival. When a state chooses to block off such an awareness, it loses, possibly forever, the altogether critical benefits of "anxiety".

There is a distinctly ironic resonance to this argument. Anxiety, after all, is generally taken as a negative, as a liability that cripples, rather than enhances, life. But anxiety is not something we "have". It is rather something that we "are". It is true, to be sure, that anxiety can lead individuals to experience the literal threat of self-dissolution, but this is, by definition, not a problem for states.

Anxiety stems from the stunning awareness that our existence can actually be destroyed. Forgetting both Einstein and Buddhism, we humans can be struck with the paralyzing understanding that we can become nothing. This is correctly called Angst, a word related to anguish (which comes from the Latin angustus, "narrow," which in turn comes from angere, "to choke").

Here lies the idea of birth trauma as the prototype of all anxiety, as "pain in narrows" through the "choking" straits of birth. Kierkegaard identified anxiety as "the dizziness of freedom". Such dizziness can impact the survival of nations. Israel is a critical case in point.

Both individuals and states may surrender freedom in the hope of ridding themselves of anxiety. For states, such surrender can lead to an expanding "un-freedom" that seeks to crush all political opposition. It can also lead to a national self-delusion that augments enemy power and hastens catastrophic conflicts. For the Jewish State, a lack of pertinent anxiety, of the positive aspect of Angst, has now led its always imperiled people to the precipice of collective disappearance.

Truth often emerges only through paradox. Israeli imaginations of collective mortality - imaginations generated by a common national anxiety - are integral to survival as a state. To encourage such productive imaginations, Israelis need look much more closely at the inevitable survival consequences of their incremental territorial surrenders and at the concurrent development of nuclear weapons in Iran.

Automatic presumptions of collective immortality are not helpful to Israel's security. Instead, the people of Israel must learn to cultivate imaginations of national death in order to prevent annihilation. Strange as it may seem, Israel must quickly discover, in the coming abyss of potential non-being, the course of direction toward national life. By drawing knowingly upon the anxiety of death's immanence, the People of Israel could then nurture enough Angst to "choose life".

More Arutz Sheva videos:


top