Thursday, 05 Sep 2019

Written by Etienne Kerber


The World is Yours

“The world is yours” was written on a big statue in the massive mansion of Tony Montana in the movie Scarface. If in 1982, we could think that this sentence was symbolizing the state of mind of the self-made gangster incarnated by Al Pacino, in 2019, with a little distance, this message coming from one of the most individualistic period of human history (based on a personal impression) feels like a warning.

Indeed, whereas this movie was probably not designed to do so, Tony Montana is now a pop culture hero, a role model, very often described as a model of success. Even if things end very badly for him at the end of the movie, for some people, in the collective unconscious, it does not matter. From “nothing” he became “something”, this guy made it, who literally sits on a throne in his office. And if it hadn’t been because of his ego, things would have turned up ok. He would still be sitting on the throne.

Whether it is wanted or not, sometimes, it feels like our post-modern world wants everyone to feel like he or she is a king or a queen. To do so, one just has to (1) get the right state of mind and (2) work to make it happen. From brand’s slogans to social networks, from pop culture to songs encouraging us to party like rockstars, there is an underlying message: we should all be entitled to live like monarchs, thinking to ourselves “this world is mine”.

However, looking at the Parashah of the week, three main instructions are given about the character of a man who would be king. A king should not :

-Keep many horses

-Marry many wives

-Amass excessive amounts of silver and gold

If we look at the essence of the message, God tells us that a leader should know himself, do a lot of inner work, and know how to resist his/her passions.

And if we put it in parallel to the messages delivered to our societies, all in all, if we were to ask the artists in the charts to encourage people to behave as such, the list of the most-streamed songs on Spotify would not be the same. Ed Sheeran, Drake, Post Malone, whom are artists I love and I went to see live, would have to write such different lyrics in many of their songs.

However, having said that, as a Netzer summer camp director, I also did not forget what it is like to be a teenager. And at a time of life when the world feels like the darkest place on earth, we must remember that those songs, movies, slogans are super empowering. They encourage the expression of feelings, they reach the deepest levels of the unconscious and very often bring many colors to a world that is seen as black and white.

Thus, we are facing an ethical dilemma. Today, as the world is now global, we know things have to change. We now know that we can’t live like “the world is ours”. Or, if we would like to do so, we should maybe remember a beautiful hassidic tale, and maybe add a little bit to it.

Rabbi Bunim of P’shiskha taught, we must walk with one message in each of our pockets, in one, a piece of paper saying “this world was created for me” (inspired by Talmud Bavli tractate Sanhedrin 37b), and in the other, a piece of paper saying “I am nothing but dust” (inspired by Genesis 18:27).

As for a modern interpretation of this hassidic tale, maybe both messages could be written on the same piece of paper saying “I must remember that this world was created for me, and I am nothing but dust”, and on the other piece of paper, it could be written “I must remember that the world was created for my neighbour too, and dust was created by God”.

As we are have entered the month of Elul, and we must get ready for the High Holidays and the Yamim Noraim , we must remember that we are entitled to feel “yirat Hashem”. This expression can be translated as “the fear of God”, but what it really means is that deep inside, our “awe of God” should be so grand that we are conscious of God’s presence every single moment of our lives.

The (supposedly logic) deriving effect is to feel humble, mindful, of every of our moves, words, and actions in order to live in respect of God, the Others and Ourselves.

So all in all, whether we let ourselves live with modern times, or keep our distance, the point is that we are allowed to feel like the world is ours. Yes, we should feel like kings and queens, but at one condition, we must never forget that we are beggars too, for there is only one Ruler, reigning over us all, the Source of All Life.

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom

LBC rabbinic student Etienne Kerber



The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.