Never before in the history of the universe have humans been presented with the amount of social opportunities that are available to us today. On a local level, there are all sorts of social groups, clubs and communities. On a global level, affordable travel and social media has given us the opportunity to meet and interact with any amount of people we wish.
Yet ironically and arguably, never before in the history of the universe have humans felt so lonely. No matter how many friends and connections we create, we still feel the pain of emptiness and isolation deep inside ourselves.
Existentialist philosophers have suggested that loneliness actually lies at the essence of being human. At the end of the day, we are all distinct beings, separate from each other, and only we ourselves can hear and know our deepest thoughts and feelings.
Is that what Judaism believes? Are we truly destined to go through life feeling existentially isolated?
In last week's Torah portion Devarim, the portion we always read before Tisha-B'Av, Moses recounts how he gave up hope on the Jewish people, saying "I cannot carry you alone", and "How can I bear your trouble, your burden, and your strife all by myself?"
The words "I cannot..." are a trigger for catastrophe. We have already seen that G-d doesn't like when we have such an attitude. Forty years earlier, when the spies returned from Israel, they said, "We cannot go up and conquer Israel." Hearing those words, and sensing their lack of faith in G-d and in their own strength, G-d became very angry.
"Never say never!"
Yet Moses seems to be making the very same mistake. When he cried out "I cannot..." is he too lacking in faith?
No. Moses wasn't saying that 'he cannot do it'. He was saying that he cannot do it alone. Nobody can do anything alone - not even Moses.
This is something we too often forget or ignore. Just look at yourself right now: your clothes; your device with which you are reading this; your car; your house; your pantry. How many people, across how many continents, did it take to put all this together for you? Thousands!
Life by definition is a collective effort.
A sociologist once observed: Imagine a human and an animal were stranded alone on an island. Who would survive the longest? Not the human. Singlehandedly it would be impossible for him to find food and water; build shelter; create clothing; and protect himself from danger.
But the animal would easily jump into things, know which plants are not poisonous; thrive outdoors; and easily withstand the elements. So, asked the sociologist, what makes humans superior to animals?
However, he explained, imagine if 100 humans and 100 animals were stranded on an island. In that case, the humans would be better off. With their combined efforts and abilities, the humans would be able to create viable living conditions through which they could survive.
Humans are designed to live among each other with cooperation and collaboration. Life is about give-and-take, whereby our lives are intertwined with each other, reaching out to help others in need, and receiving help when we are in need. When we live this way, we can endure anything. When we don't, we will crumble.
Let's take this even further: Living in collaboration with each other isn't only a wise pragmatic idea, but it is also a spiritual truth.
The view of the existential philosopher's sounds logical - at least to the extent that they understood humanity. However, they were not aware of the true depth of the human soul - the G-dly soul within each of us. Each of our souls are sparks of the same source; we are all strands from the same cloth. Thus, at our essence, we are not lonely at all.
On Tisha-B'Av, the date that commemorates the destruction of our Temples in Jerusalem and the end of our sovereignty in Israel, we read the Book of Eicha, authored by the prophet Jeremiah. In the opening sentence, he bemoans, "Oh, how does she sit so solitary, the city that was once so populous." Simply put, Jeremiah is reflecting over the fact the Jerusalem was once teeming with people, and now - after the exile - the city is empty.
Perhaps a deeper reading can be interpreted as follows: "Oh, how does a city, even when she was teeming with people, still feel so lonely?" Jeremiah is explaining how and why such destruction befell the Jewish people. Because even when they were many, they still lived in isolation - they failed to discover the true nature of their lives, that they were all united with an essential bond.
Instead of caring for each other lovingly, they chose to pursue their own interests and neglect the needs of others. When people live this way, they cannot survive.
So how do we alleviate our loneliness? Here's one answer:
A student once wrote to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, that since leaving home to learn in Yeshiva, he was struggling with feelings of loneliness. The Rebbe didn't allow him to indulge in pity parties.
Firstly, the Rebbe placed the responsibility on him to reach out to others - he should seek out friends to help alleviate their loneliness. By doing so, and being preoccupied with doing good deeds for others, his own loneliness will also be healed, and he will feel the inner connection that all Jews have with each other.
Jewish spiritual wisdom teaches that our lives are truly intertwined and dependent on each other. I need you, as you need me. We are essentially incomplete without each other. But we have to reach very deep within ourselves to uncover that truth. When we do, it will illuminate our lives and the lives of others as well.
And, when we all discover the innate bond that we share, our nation will be restored to her former glory.