The ancient Greeks believed that the world was never-beginning, and never-ending.
It just always HAD been, and it always WOULD be. This idea was dubbed ‘stasis’, which can be understood as the notion that nothing will ever change, and everything is fixed, unmoving, in place.
By contrast, we Jews believe that the universe sprang into being from nothing, and that it will exist for a finite period of time – 7,000 years – before this world ends, and the ‘world to come’ begins.
The authentic Jewish view of life is dynamic, always changing, and filled with growth opportunities and new possibilities.
That’s why the concept of ‘renewal’ is such a big deal in Jewish thought. At its root, it’s the idea that things can always change, even dramatically so. It’s linked to the idea of ‘teshuva’, which also teaches us that whatever we broke, it can always be fixed with enough sincere repentance and remorse, prayer, effort and patience.
The Greek view of the world and the Jewish view of the world are diametrically opposed. Even today, ‘Greek thinking’ is trying to con everyone into believing that the world is 4.2 billion years old, and that massive, earth-shaking changes only come along every billion years’, or so, so PLEASE EVERYONE, GO BACK TO SLEEP!
By contrast, we Jews know that the world is 5,777 years old (at the time of this writing in 2017), and that so many enormous things have occurred in that time – like, the whole history of mankind – that every day is pregnant full of potentially enormous events and changes.
You can find Greek thinking – that horrible, despairing belief in ‘stasis’ – pretty much everywhere you go in academia these days.
It’s the fundamental idea underpinning all the ‘broken brain’ pseudo-science of modern psychiatry, and all the ‘terminal illness’ scare tactics of modern medicine, and the idea that people are born ‘permanently gay’ or ‘permanently evil’ or ‘permanently messed up’ and nothing they or anyone can do will ever change or fix this situation.
But that’s not what authentic Judaism teaches, and that’s not what believing Jews believe! We know that when God is in the picture, everything can and does change, often in a completely miraculous way, often in the blink of an eye.
Trouble is, there is SO MUCH Greek thinking going on out there, even in the most apparently orthodox Jewish homes.
A little while ago, I was talking to one of the secular Jewish ‘Greeks’ in my life, who was trying to convince me that people can’t change. 70 year old people can’t change, and 40 year old people can’t change, and presumably you just keep going further back along the timescale until you proudly announce that a pre-embryonic fetus in its mother’s womb also can’t change.
Can’t you just feel the despair etched into these words?
I got off the phone with that person, and I have to say that for a few hours afterwards, I had a real job to do trying to fight off their ‘despair vibes’ and their utter apathy about being alive. After I’d done some hitbodedut to try and work the whole, yukky, conversation through, I realized that when people don’t have God in their life in a tangible way, despair and stasis are really the only options left on their table.
Because the soul contains the force for positive change and the power of positive transformation in the world, and when people choose to deny they have a soul, and to deny God’s existence, they cut themselves off from the spiritual strength and ability to change.
So in that sense, they’re right that they can’t change, because none of us can get a grip on our yetzer hara (evil inclination) without God’s help. Our Sages teach us very clearly that without God’s ongoing help, our yetzer haras would destroy us every single day.
We see that happening to the Greeks in the world every single day, as another person gets pulled under by substance abuse, promiscuity and atheism.
But the yetzer hara doesn’t just destroy people’s bodies, it destroys their souls by pumping them full of stasis and despair.
The Greeks were succeeded by their spiritual heirs the Romans. Our Sages teach us that (Jewish) Jerusalem and (Greek) Caesearea are two ends of a see-saw. When one side is up, the other has to be down, and vice-versa. For centuries, Greek thinking has been ascendant in the world. But as each crack in the Greek world-view appears and starts to widen, the tipping point when Jewish thinking will once again blossom in the world is fast approaching.