You all know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about what was a beautiful morning on October 7, 2023, that turned into the worst nightmare the Jewish people have faced in recent years. I’m talking about the innocent, peaceful lives that were snuffed out in the name of freedom. I’m talking about the incomprehensible reaction to that slaughter across the world that has been openly and actively advocating for murder in the name of peace. I’m talking about the jobs and trips and families and relationships and plans that were put on hold as people were called on to stand for a higher purpose.
That higher purpose has been couched in a word that I’ve seen used a lot in relation to this war. That word is existential. For those of us who may need to brush up, that word, an adjective, means, “Relating to existence.” On its face, then, describing this war as an existential war means that this is a fight that we’re fighting for the sake of our existence as a people.
And it does feel that way. Across the world, antisemites (and let’s be abundantly clear: anti-Zionism is antisemitism) have been chanting. And chanting. And chanting. My favorite take on that, which I saw a few days ago, said instead, “From the river to the sea, Israel is here, and always will be.” It’s an appropriate response, because our enemy is trying to wipe out our very existence. Which, well, is what makes this an existential fight. Funny how that works.
It goes much deeper than our physical existence, though. It even goes deeper than our existence within the land of Israel. The thing is that what happened on October 7 is an existential issue relating to our humanity. And I don’t just mean our lives. I mean that which defines us as human. That which sets us apart from animals. That which makes life worth living. And to be honest, the brutality of the attack left many of us reeling and feeling such a sense of despair that it was impossible to find hope. It was impossible to find comfort. We were teetering on the edge of defeat, not because our soldiers refused to step up, because they all did, and not because we did not clean our borders of the murderers, because we did. Rather, in the days following the attack, the grief was so immense that it threatened to swallow us entirely. It threatened to drown our humanity.
Again, when I say humanity, I don’t mean our ability to live and breathe. That’s inherent in every living creature. Rather, I mean—well, rather than my trying to explain it, it’s worth quoting Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, a 15th century Italian philosopher, whose most renowned work, Oration on the Dignity of Man, is so seminal that it is considered the humanist manifesto. He writes the following:
“God the Father, the supreme Architect, had already built this cosmic home we behold, the most sacred temple of His godhead, by the laws of His mysterious wisdom. The region above the heavens He had adorned with Intelligences, the heavenly spheres He had quickened with eternal souls, and the excrementary and filthy parts of the lower world He had filled with a multitude of animals of every kind. But, when the work was finished, the Craftsman kept wishing that there was someone to ponder the plan of so great a work, to love its beauty, and to wonder at its vastness…He therefore took man as a creature of indeterminate nature and, assigning him a place in the middle of the world, addressed him thus: ‘…We have made thee neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, so that with freedom of choice and with honor, as though the maker and molder of thyself, thou mayest fashion thyself into whatever shape thou shalt prefer. Thou shalt have the power to degenerate into the lower form of life, which are brutish. Thou shalt have the power, out of thy soul’s judgement, to be reborn into the higher forms, which are divine.’”
We know all about the “excrementary and filthy parts of the lower world.” They were on full display on October 7 in truly the most heinous ways imaginable, and they have been on full display since then in the marches and rallies and protests of those who have the—I have no other word for it—idiocy to stand in support of such barbarism. They are the degenerates. They are the lowest forms of life.
But they cannot be allowed to redefine what it means to be human. They cannot be allowed to redefine humanity. They cannot be allowed to dictate to us the terms of the human condition simply because they were loud and strong and they shocked us and we were overwhelmed with our tears and our fears and our grief. And that is what makes this an existential war. Yes, there is our physical existence to be fought for and, in some cases, to die for. But far greater than that, of far more importance than that, is the fight for our souls. We are challenged, as humans, to rise above our baser natures, to find the better angels of our being, and to never, ever, not for a single second, allow animals who are beneath our dignity because they dwell in the excrementary and filthy parts of the world to define for us what that should look like. Rather, we are challenged to live with the full spectrum of what it means to be human, to live with the dichotomy of joy and fear, of love and grief, of happiness and pain, because that is what it means to be human. It’s about being better and becoming better and investing in ourselves for the sake of our humanity because if we do not rise to that challenge, if we allow our humanity to be stripped away and the terms dictated by those who have no business calling the shots, then the very future of the world is at risk.
This is an existential fight. Not just for our physical wellbeing. Not just for our land. Not just for our people. But for humanity. And if we do not stand up for our humanity, if we do not stand up for our existence, then no one will.
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
נַתַּן בן דבורה אסתר
דוד אלכסנדר בן דבורה אסתר
אלכסנדר בן שרה אלישבע
ראובן אליעזר בן אביגיל אסתר
בועז כָּלֵב בן יפָה מרים
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