Sense8 & Rav Soloveitchik 

ב׳׳ה

A few weeks ago, during lunch at my son’s elementary school, a little boy was sitting outside the cafeteria crying as his classmates ate lunch. One of his classmates noticed, walked out, sat next to the boy, and asked, “What’s wrong, buddy?”  The crying boy was so upset that he could not explain, so after a moment of waiting patiently for a response that didn’t come, the calm classmate said, “I’m sure you are hungry; why don’t you come sit and have lunch with me?” And, given that offer, the crying boy calmed down enough to enter the cafeteria and eat lunch with his classmates.  

When I heard of that child’s ability to connect to and empathize with the crying classmate, I thought about Sense8, a series produced for Netflix that a good friend recently convinced me to watch. Sense8 tells the story of a group of “Sensates,” people who connect to specific other people in a way that allows them to feel those others’ feelings, hear those others’ thoughts, and utilize those others’ knowledge.  The show’s plot presumes the Sensates are genetically different from, and have different brain structures than, “typical” humans.  For reasons that have not yet been revealed, the Sensates are being hunted and killed because of their ability to connect to others.  

It’s an intriguing idea –our world containing two different kinds of humans vying for existence on, and/or control of, our planet– but it’s not a new idea. 

For example, the Torah contains two different stories of the Creation of humankind.   In the first chapter of Genesis, G-d created man and woman at the same time, and G-d gave them “dominion over” all the animals and instructed them to “subdue” the Earth.  But then, in the second chapter of Genesis, G-d forms man from the dirt and breathes life into him, and then G-d places man in the Garden and tells man to “tend” and “protect” the Garden.  

These two Torah stories, and the differences between them, have led Jewish philosophers to posit the existence of two types of humans.  

Similar to the Netflix series, Sense8, a First type of human is trying, in accordance with its instruction from G-d, to subdue, control, and master the Earth and all the other creatures (including the other humans) that live thereon, while a Second type of human is attempting, in accordance with its directive from G-d, to use its connection to and inter-relationship with other parts of Creation to protect and care for all of Creation simultaneously. 

Unlike the Netflix series, however, Jewish philosophy posits the battle is not outside, but rather inside each and every one of us. Both types of human exist in each of us, such that each of us can behave as the First, who is driven at all costs to dominate over and become master of all others, or we may, like the Second, use our ability to connect with others to reach goals that create the greatest possible good for everyone. 

Thus, each of us must repeatedly choose: 

Do I want to be the kind of human who ignores the struggles of those around me (because, when others are struggling, I have a greater probability of being more successful than them)?? 

OR 

Do I want to be the kind of human who understands that all of Creation wins or loses together, and so I would use three minutes of a twenty-minute lunch to help a classmate who is too upset to eat?? 

The decision isn’t always easy, but regardless whether consciously or unconsciously, the decision must always be made.  

Praying we all live more consciously and more connected to all of Creation in the Jewish New Year, jen

Additional Resources 

For those who want more explanation about the impact of living as “a person who masters” or “a person who connects,” I recommend this five-minute Ted Talk by New York Times Columnist David Brooks:

https://www.ted.com/talks/david_brooks_should_you_live_for_your_resume_or_your_eulogy?language=en#t-285748

For those who wish to dig a little deeper than five minutes permits, I highly recommend Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s The Lonely Man of Faith, an essay first published in 1965 but now also available electronically. 

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