middot humility mesorah haze in the olam

haze in the olam

Written by  rebbetzin malkah

art-smogThe books of Martin Buber, and especially his seminal work "I-and-Thou", allow us, it seems to me, to distinguish with better precision between Olam Haze and Olam Haba, using criteria which are meaningful to the individual and communal life of any educated reader, be (s)he Christian or Jew, religious or secular or even an agnostic.

In his "I-and-Thou", Buber distinguishes between two types of human existence which are characterised by two kinds of relationship: "I-Thou" and "I-It". Taking exception to the way Buber's originally German book was translated to Hebrew, I propose that what he calls "it" is what is in Biblical and Modern Hebrew "Ze" to denote "that", and denotes a form of distancing and alienation. From the alienated relationship between self and other or self and environment grows an alienated world. It is possible to point at different types of alienation, and they seem to multiply. Buber was concerned both with alienation between people and the alienation between humans and God, which is, of course, the alienation that concerned the author of Genesis and our sages of blessed memory.

The most crucial question is perhaps the amount of alienation in inter-human relation and the recognition of each person as a brother and a "thou". (Many traditional societies which might have had an extremely strong inner solidarity probably did not recognize the native of the next village or next valley as a human identical to themselves and certainly not the native of another continent with a different skin color). The real test, in my opinion, to the emergence from the "Olam Haze" state of alienation to "Olam Haba"(world to come) is that each human being receives any other one as "welcome".  —Dr. Yitzhak I. Hayutman [1] 

I have always loathed transliteration.  I know it is an aid for many, but I have always found that things get lost in the transliteration.  I can't find the Hebrew root of the word, and I grapple with the varying conventions by which words are transliterated.  Today was another prime example of my transliteration fuzz.  As I was skimming this article above, I was completely in accord with Dr. Hayutman.  I agreed that this haze we have in the olam is keeping us from a greater relationship from our fellow adamites and HashemThen it dawned on me: the word wasn't haze, but hazeh.  The transliteration was omitting the "h" at the end of haze in his section titles.  I hadn't gotten to the next section which would made it more obviousThis of course means something completely different.  It means "this" in Hebrew.  While this seemed like a ridiculous mistake for me to make (it can happen when you are skimming something), I also feel it was serendipitous.  We are living in a haze in the Olam Haze(h).  And this haze causes us to have limited vision, limited relationships with those around us, and short-sightedness when dealing with our Creator by and through our relationships with each other.

As we become even more engaged in our technological society, we can have a far reaching effect on many through our blog posts, emails, and social media connections.  But at the same time, we can also live in a fuzzy world, where our connections are behind a curtain and we lose face to face contact.  We can either become more aware or more detached. Also, in a world where many of us are distanced from agrarian concerns and know not where our produce comes (except from the label), we find ourselves lapsing into consumerism with minimal concern as to how that product came to be.  True, many of us give a hoot if something is kosher, organic, local, free-range, fair-trade.  But is that enough?  Are even those labels being sold out just to please us, while people's lives fall by the wayside?

Martin Buber challenges us to look at "other", whoever that may be, as "thou" and not "it".  But this takes training on our part.  We have to look at each of our actions as affecting "thou" and seeing how that affects our Olam Haze(h). Our carbon footprint, the one we make with our lives, affects many. We have to respond to "thou" from the deepest compassion for "thou's" humanity and divinity. Do we truly love our neighbor as ourself?  And how can we say we love our neighbor if we know nothing about our neighbor's plight and care not as long as it doesn't affect our little bubble of life?

How can we bring ourselves out of this haze we are in?  What can we do to bring the kingdom of Heaven on this earth and bring the Olam Haba closerAs Dr. Hayutman aludes, it is "the revelation of God to humans, the revelation of self to other, namely human intimacy, bodily and spiritual." [ibid]  We need to see that every connection we make with another person and on this earth matters.  By validating the existence of others, being aware of their condition as we are able, and giving value to their place in this world, we draw nearer to a world that is less hazed by our own ambivalence and closer to what our Creator has for us.  Through our purposeful and holy connections to each other and our environment, we draw nearer to the Olam Haba and closer to the realization of the world to come. How and when we make these purposeful connections will look differently for each of us.  However, one thing will be the same no matter who we are: we won't be the person we were before once we make those connections.  We will become aware and more welcoming, concerned and less alienating.

Be welcoming, be purposeful, be aware, and lose your haze in hazeh. 


1. Dr. Yitzhak I. Hayutman, Cybernetician and Urban Planner, Dean of Research & Development, The Academy of Jerusalem.This paper appeared originally in Hebrew in Mudaut (Consciouseness) Number 29, June 1988.

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