Social Sciences

Torah and Social Science Comparative Worldviews: Collectivism, Individualism, and Torah


In Kabbalah there are three general models for the organization of social structures, all of which derive from an overarching conception of the true identity of a human being. This identity includes both the "abstract" universality and "concrete" individuality played off the positive tensions experienced by the subject caught up in the currents of political and social life. The three models that deal with the relationships of universality and individuality are referred to as worlds, since the term olam ("world"), has the connotation in Chassidic thought of a frame of reference and an optics for envisioning a certain scope of reality. The terms for these three different visions of reality, are ekudim ("bound"), nekudim ("points") and berudim ("streaked"). Each of these worldviews can be described as social/political structures.


The first worldview, ekudim ("bound"), refers to a situation where the spectrum of individual details in reality is expressed as "bound" together in one homogenized package. Thus, it reflects only universality, and there is no recognition of the particular components that go into making up the whole. More concretely, this worldview represents a pure form of social collectivism or socialism, whereby the individual is nullified in the whole of society and particular identity must always yield to the overall benefit of the whole. This outlook stems from a notion that the individual ultimately requires nothing for himself, but can be entirely disinterested to the degree that nothing but the collective matters, and everything is understood ideologically or expressed rhetorically from the standpoint of the collective.


By contrast, the second worldview, nekudim ("points") suggests that each individual is his own "point" in reality. This radical individualism is purely self-centered in its intention, viewing the other as an object to be either assimilated into one's own on going autobiography or to be removed as irreconcilable with one's own authenticity. In the case of this worldview, everyone comes in his own stylized package, which is separate and distinct from everyone else, yet there is no true sense of inter-subjective integration. As a model social structure, it is understood to resemble a pure form of capitalism. Here one tries to amass as much as possible for himself. One person is in constant competition with another and in a ceaseless pursuit of fame and fortune. One feels that he must challenge and imitate the other. The phrase in Kabbalah for this kind of highly individualistic social vision is related in the description of the Kings of Edom in the Torah, of which it is said regarding each of them except the last that, "He ruled and then he died." According to Kabbalah, these kings represent the chaotic world of "points" which is fundamentally unstable due to the lack of integration of its diverse forces. So too, individuals exert their authority, come into power, wealth and success, and then fall and are swallowed by the next generations or close competitors, hence they die, disappearing from the scene where they, for a time at least, possessed the center stage.


The third worldview, which could be called the Torah perspective, is the world of birudim ("streaked"). What is implied in the word birudim is that there is a semblance of both individual points, as well as lines that connect them, streaked from one to another. In other words, it combines positive aspects of the two previous worlds. Therefore, it is sometimes referred to as the world of rectification–that which carries with it the promise of continual improvement–working within human limitations while aided by Divine assistance. What is paradoxical about this worldview is that it combines opposites simultaneously suggesting that a social structure require both collectivism and individuality simultaneously. Now, what is unique in the incorporation of collectivity and individuality in this view, rests upon the insistence that any third alternative would not simply become a synthesis or diluting of the pure states of the other two. What the Kabbalah is suggesting here, is not a compromised shade of gray, but rather, the integration of opposites as opposites simultaneously. The accomplishment of this rectified position requires a person to know his place, to being content with his portion, to realizing that all he has is derived from G-d, and therefore, become naturally inclined to offer his gifts, talents and abilities towards a unique, irreplaceable contribution to society. In short, I know that I have what is mine, uniquely mine, for the sake of exercising my responsibility and benefiting others. My responsibility is uniquely mine. Hence, our situation could not be described as collectivism, for each individual plays an essential role as an individual and is recognized as such. Nor can this be described as individualism, for nothing that I possess or exercise sovereignty over is solely for myself, but is always given to me so that I may vigilantly employ it for others, for the collective. Moreover, there is no sense in which I remain frozen in my solitude as an individual, but am continually delivered into a social relationship via my contact with the other, and therefore, play a part in the collective identity as well.

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