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 Historians over the past few centuries have been heavily influenced by a Marxist view of the world and of human events. In this understanding of the past, present and future, great external forces such as the competition of the classes, stages of economic development and powerful historical and sociological forces somehow determine human behavior and explain human history as well as current events. These theories have, in effect, turned human history on its head.

No longer can or should the individual count for much since it is these outside, inexorable forces that are pushing all of us along, whether we wish it or not. The eventual result of such beliefs and theories is that individual human beings really count for little. It is these beliefs that were able, in the 20th century, to bring about the destruction of tens if not even hundreds of millions of people in order to ‘construct a better world.’ In other words, the individual is only a cog in the great machine of the determinist view of the human story. These theories still exist and find popularity in academia, in the rarefied atmosphere that willfully ignores the destruction they have wrought over the recent centuries. I personally find it depressing to hear of this drivel repeated from the lips of these ‘experts’ and ‘wise men.’ This is just another example of the arrogance and elitism that afflicts much of the academic world in our time.
Over the last two centuries many Jews have subscribed to the above theories of history and current events. However, Judaism itself and traditional Jewish ideas and values stand in opposition to such determinist views of human life and society. Judaism sees history as the work of individuals, who, because of their own free will and individuality, shape events, form ideas and influence the progress of human civilization. Individuals created Judaism and the Jewish nation was formed by the actions and beliefs of individuals.
Even though Judaism believes that events in this world are influenced and guided by Heavenly forces, nevertheless it is the free choice of individuals and their actions that determines what occurs in this world and forms the outlines and basis of all human history. This is a central belief of Jewish life and is repeated many times in the holy Scriptures and the Talmud.
An individual has great powers and is of immense worth. That is why Judaism treasures human life above all other values. It states that the life of an individual is equal to that of the entire world. It allows for very rare exceptions to this rule of behavior and attitude of the mind and heart. Physically, and in terms of raw materials, a human being may not be worth very much. But emotionally, spiritually and intellectually, every human being is priceless, and beyond assessment and monetary measurement.
It requires a great deal of self-worth and a deep understanding of one's own being to feel important in a world of 7 billion other individuals. But that is a flawed way of looking at things. Every individual has his or her own specific DNA that does not exist anywhere else amongst those other billions of individuals. Our Creator values us as individuals and did not intend to make us all the same. The challenge of life is to retain our individuality and to also incorporate ourselves into the general human race. This is a challenging goal, but it is simply the only way that we can determine our value and our purpose in living life in this world.
Too much individuality can lead to narcissism and arrogance. No individuality makes life meaningless and without true purpose. Judaism always preaches balance in life in order to avoid social, intellectual and religious pitfalls. We see the earliest manifestations of individuality in the youngest and smallest of infants because that is the basis for human existence and purpose. We should never allow individuality to be completely stifled but we should also be aware that carried to an extreme it will be a negative trait harmful to the individual and to general society.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein

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