Russian philosopher and theologian Vladimir Solovyov wrote the following in his essay, "The Meaning of Love:"
"Truth as a living power that takes possession of the internal being of a human and actually rescues them from false self-assertion is termed Love. Love as the actual abrogation of egoism is the real justification and salvation of individuality...The meaning of human love, speaking generally, is the justification and salvation of individuality through the sacrifice of egoism."
Solovyov died in 1900, in a world very unlike our own - yet his insight into the meaning and purpose of love remains more vital than ever. We are faced with a society which defines itself by egoism - taking pride in the prurient placing of the 'self' above all else. Late-Capitalist liberal economies have degenerated into a festival of selfishness, justifying individuality through precisely the oppose of Solovyov's formulation - rather than establish the individual through the 'sacrifice of the ego,' we have done so through the veneration of the ego. Nothing proves better evidence of this than the election of a self-obsessed predator to the office of President in, what is often assumed to be, the most advanced society of our contemporary world.
How do we respond, as religious people, to this reality? Denial is no longer a valid option. Despair reigns over those who envision a different world today - and more than ever we must seek the advice of our religious traditions on how to move beyond the egotistical society we have created for ourselves. Love and truth are the ingredients needed to formulate the world we want - but how do we raise them up above the ever-spreading influence of the 'self?'
Are those of us who grieve today simply foolish 'idealists?' Perhaps. We must hold ourselves accountable for being unwilling to see the degree to which secular self-worship has taken hold of our world. But, truly living to the principles of religion is perhaps the best antidote to the tired accusation of naive idealism. The sacrifice of egoism mandated by religion goes much further than the watered-down secular version, spawned by the de-mystifying 'Enlightenment.'
Believing ourselves to be commanded by God to transcend our self-interest is the only remaining path to purity. We cannot annihilate the ego, individual or collective, simply because we want to - we must do so because God wants us to. R' Yehuda Ashlag said much the same in his article, 'Building the Future Society:"
The difference between religious people and idealists is that an idealist’s acts are unfounded. They cannot convincingly explain to any person why they prefer justice and who has necessitated it. Perhaps it is only 'for the weakness of the heart', as the philosopher Nietzsche asserted. That person [the secular idealist] would not have a single word of sense to utter, and that is why Hitler and Stalin have overpowered them. However, the religious person will boldly answer that this is God’s commandment and that they would give their soul for it.
If we wish to move forward into a world free from the poison of the Egoism that rules it today - we must do so not on the basis of secular principles of altruism, but religious ones. If we live as we have been taught, to put others first, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to acknowledge no king but God - only then can we supersede the failed idealism of secular society and answer the challenge of Egoism with an affirmation of those things which provide us both justification and salvation: love and truth.