Let me let you in on a little secret of mine. Come close. Lean in. You ready?
I hate Socrates.
There. I said it.
Now, when I say I hate Socrates, I mean I hate Socrates. With an undying passion. I grant, it is somewhat unusual for a 20-something in the 21st century to have such a strong opinion about an old, dead Greek, but bear with me and I think I’ll convince you that you hate him, too. Or at least what he stands for.
For those unfamiliar, please allow me to introduce the man of the hour. Socrates was an Athenian philosopher who is probably best known for being executed by the state for poisoning the minds of the youths. Most of what we know of Socrates and his persona actually comes to us through Plato and his writings. In particular, in The Republic, Socrates’ personality really comes through, and wow is he unlikeable. Eminently so. The basic storyline of The Republic, which will be familiar to anyone who has done basic philosophy and/or political science, is of Socrates in conversation with a group of students trying to get at the definition of justice. In their quest to do so, they construct this imagined city and work through all of the component pieces—citizens, classes, education, trade, government, mythology, etc. etc.
As you read through it, Socrates becomes more and more unlikable. You see, he’s arrogant. Extremely arrogant. He comes across as this narrowly high-minded philosopher who holds in contempt anyone who does not see things his way, because, clearly, his way is the only way. And what manifests, what ultimately develops, is that he lacks empathy and that he lacks the ability to properly understand humanity (ironic, I know). Probably the clearest example of Socrates’ arrogance and lack of humanity is found not in Republic, where his character is developed, but in Plato’s Apology, which is Socrates’ defense of himself at the trial which sentenced him to execution. In the course of that defense—and this is his defending himself!—he says things like, “It is my belief that no greater good has ever befallen you in this city than my service.” Additionally, he tries to explain to the court that his whole quest was simply to prove that he was not, as the oracle had told him, wisest of men, and so he went to someone whom the populace had deemed wise, but found that “in fact he was not [wise]. Then when I began to try to show him that he only thought he was wise and was not really so, my efforts were resented both by him and by many of the other people present.” Well, no kidding! You know who was the only one surprised to hear that someone didn’t take well to being called dumb? That’s right, Socrates himself! Because his worldview shrank to see it in black and white terms that included either his perspective or no perspective, and his system of truth was immutable and unchangeable and left no room for humanity because you either conformed or you didn’t and your humanity was entirely dependent on your conforming.
Socrates’ life ended on that very note. He chose to ingest hemlock rather than accepting a life of exile. He could have lived. Instead, he chose to die, placing his truth on a pedestal and valuing it as greater than life itself, and, of course, scorning those who put him to death because he could not see beyond his system. In a nutshell, then, Socrates is an arrogant, narrow, and self-centered person who lacks humanity. And that’s why I don’t like him.
But that’s not why I hate him.
The reason why I hate Socrates is because in his lack of humanity, he creates a mode of existence that declares that death can possibly be more worthwhile than life itself. He develops a culture of martyrdom, where the individual can choose—for himself and for the people around him—to shrink life down to be so meaningless that the greatest thing the individual can do is die. In his lack of humanity, Socrates, one of the most important philosophers in western civilization, forgot what it means to be human. He neglected what it means to live.
There is a direct line between the Socratic way of living and the horror that was perpetrated against Israel and the Jewish people on October 7, and that is that lack of humanity that leads to the glorification of death and martyrdom in the name of a system that has no room for the other. The culture that Hamas built in Gaza, which is a culture of destruction, is the inevitable outcome when humanity is forgotten. When your system of truth is so removed from people that the principles you stand for can glorify death to that extent, your system is not healthy. Because life is meant to be lived. (To be abundantly clear, and so that absolutely no one can misunderstand me: This is not—I repeat, not—an invective against Islam. If you take a look at the Middle Ages, it was in the Islamic world where humanity thrived. This is a referendum against Hamas, a terror organization that, in its founding charter, called for the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state because Hamas perverted Islamic values to create a cult of death).
A world like that does not value life for the sake of life. It values life for the sake of death. That’s how you can have human shields. That’s how you can have weapons stored in teddy bears. That’s how you can have children being asked to ferry arms and explosives. That’s how civilians can be denied the incoming humanitarian aid, again and again and again. Because for the sake of the greater good, what does one or two or four or ten or a thousand people matter, especially if they’ll die for the sake of a higher cause? The terror tunnels that we see video after video coming out now? That were built with the millions of dollars of humanitarian aid? They’re inevitable in a non-humanitarian culture, because the people just don’t matter when there are principles at stake.
This is why this fight matters so much. This is the core issue at stake. As I said before, we are fighting for our humanity. This fight is existential, because we are fighting for the right to live, and not just to breathe, but to really, truly live. Because life is valuable for the sake of life itself, and the human life is one that, lived right, is beautiful. You see, humanity is the only species that has the ability to take nature and make it be more than just nature. We are the only species that will see the rock strata that exist irrespective of whether or not we discover them, and find beauty and marvel in what is, at its core, nothing more than pieces of rock that have been laid down in layers over the millennia. We are the only ones who can go out hiking in the desert and excitedly stomp across a surface of indeterminate composition, trying to figure out what type of rock this is. (Okay. Granted. That’s probably just me.) We are the only creatures in existence who can see a block of marble and, as did Michelangelo, find David within it and lift him from the stone itself. We are the only ones who will collectively stop and take pictures as the setting sun paints the sky in shades of fire so beautiful that it takes your breath away.
You see, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, it does make a sound. That’s nature. Nature happens. But when humanity hears the tree falling, that same sound becomes music. That only happens, though, when humanity lives as only humanity can. When life is valued and valuable for the sake of life itself, when living for the sake of living is more important than living for the sake of dying, then the world becomes a beautiful place that’s worth living in and worth fighting for. It’s why we are all asked to take up this fight, even if we are not all asked to take up arms. Because we are all being asked to live.
For those who died for the sake of this beautiful world and for the sake of a beautiful future, whether they died on October 7 or they died in the nearly three months now that have followed, it is incumbent upon us to ensure “that these dead shall not have died in vain.” We cannot lose ourselves and our humanity. We cannot lose what it means to live with the full spectrum of human emotions—pain and joy, love and loss, heartache and ecstasy—because to do less than that is to live as less than fully human. And when we lose ourselves, we lose sight of the people around us. And when we lose sight of the people around us, the world becomes gray and bleak and one in which people become automatons but they lack the fire and the passion of what it means to be called on to live and to live up to that higher calling.
It’s a hard balance to strike. It’s a difficult task that is placed before us. In fact, being human and doing a good job of it is quite possibly the hardest things a person is asked to do. But you know what they say about the things that are hardest in life: They’re worth fighting for.
And this fight? Well, this is life itself.
And that’s worth the fight.
Please continue to pray for us, and for the following soldiers, especially:
עזרא צבי יוסף בן אריאלה פנינה
יעקב זכריה בן אריאלה פנינה
אליהו סִינַי בן ביילא רבקה
אלכסנדר בן שרה אלישבע
ראובן אליעזר בן אביגיל אסתר
יצחק אייזיק בן פריידא
אהרן בן רחל ברכה
חובב בן דבורה אסתר
שמחה בן הינדא ברכה
כי ה׳ אלקיכם ההולך עמכם להלחם לכם עם אויביכם להושיע אתכם
ה׳ ישמור צאתך ובואך מעתה ועד עולם