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Can a person’s sense of individuality be suppressed? Should it be suppressed?

The Rebbe on the Kibbutz

The Rebbe on the Kibbutz

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Letter & Spirit - Personal and Public Correspondence of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Send Us Your Letters Letter & Spirit - Personal and Public Correspondence of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

The following is a free translation from a letter written by the Rebbe in September 1964 to Israeli author Kaddish Luz:

By the Grace of G‑d
In the Days of Selichos 5724
[September, 1964]
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Blessing and Greeting:

When receiving a book from its author, it is my custom to presume that he did not send it to me for no particular reason, but rather that his intention was that I read it, and that if I have anything to remark, to accept my remarks in good cheer, even if I do not identify with his views. So too, in the case of your book, I will allow myself to express a number of remarks, particularly regarding the primary focus of your book—to describe the commune (kibbutz) and the communal life there . . .

I trust that you will agree with me that the creation of a community is not an end in itself, and certainly not an ultimate end; rather, it is a means to the achievement, through a collective effort, of a desirable way of life.

In and of itself, the most apparent function of the commune is to equalize individuals of greater and lesser stature—something that runs contrary to human nature. For with human beings, “just as their faces are different from one another, so too are their minds and characters different from one another.” A person thus finds satisfaction and fulfillment when he is given the opportunity to actualize his potentials not so much in those areas which he shares in common with his fellows, but rather in those areas in which he, as an individual, is superior to his compatriots and his society—for in these areas lies his uniqueness.

At the same time, man is not by nature a recluse, and “it is not good for man to be alone.” The human being seeks a social life as the context and means by which to attain his personal fulfillment.

Indeed, a communal life enables a group of individuals to achieve far more than they could on their own—more, even, than the sum of their individual potentials. For, as it is known, the output of two people working together is more than double the output of one person working on his own. Another positive function of the commune is that it eliminates the jealousy and competitiveness that often bring a deterioration of the relations between a person and his fellows, while a communal effort usually draws people closer to each other.

On the other hand, the purpose of the commune must not be to eliminate all competitiveness, since challenge and competition are among the chief stimulants toward greater effort and advancement on a person’s part and an optimal and zealous utilization of his talents and potentials. Rather, the commune should channel the competition to a higher plane. In other words, instead of the competition being for man’s most basic, material needs—which is where the competition begins in an individualistic society—to the extent that, in the words of our sages, “Were it not for the fear of the government (i.e., society’s enforcement of its laws) a man would swallow his fellow alive”—in a communal society the competition can be transferred to higher aims, whether to the procurement of supplements beyond one’s basic needs or, on a higher level, to achievements in the life of the spirit.

What may be derived from all of the above is that the concept of community and communal life is not a goal and achievement in its own right, but a step, facilitator and path to the development of the individuality and uniqueness of its members and the realization of their individuality and uniqueness in the best and fullest way.

And what is the purpose?

Such a basic appreciation of the function and goals of the commune is important not only after the commune has been established and a full communal life is set up and running, when it now must be decided how to utilize its surplus resources and how to emphasize each member’s characteristics and talents to their fullest extent; rather, this appreciation is of utmost importance at the very beginning of the commune’s establishment. For often, and perhaps in most cases, the very establishing of a communally structured life will by necessity provoke an internal resistance on the part of its members to a regimen that attempts to suppress their individuality and turn them into parts of a mass. However, when the individual member appreciates that this is but a stage in his self-development and a path toward the expansion of his opportunities for greater achievement as an individual, by freeing him from lesser concerns (i.e., those regarding his basic material needs, which will be procured more easily and efficiently thanks to the collective communal effort)—this appreciation will not only eliminate his natural resistance, but will increase his enthusiasm and commitment in the fulfillment of his duties towards the commune.

Furthermore, such understanding and appreciation is important not only for the success of the commune, but also for the quality of life within it—an issue which you also touch upon in your book. For example, the quality of the relationship between parents and their children in the commune—an area in which the damage can far exceed the gains. For these relationships belong to the “spiritual” area of life, where a person’s individuality and independence are of paramount importance.

Another point, which I think important, is the difference in feeling and regard toward the commune on the part of its founders versus on the part of those born into it. The founders of the commune, or those who joined it in its early stages, can derive a deep satisfaction from the fact that they have come to this (as you describe in your book) from a very different way of life and from a society with very different views, and have achieved this communal life through great toil, sacrifice and suffering—all of which serve to make one’s achievements that much more precious and admirable in one’s eyes. On the other hand, those born into the commune or raised in it regard it as a most natural way of life; to them the limitations of communal life, such as discussed above, tend to be more pronounced than its positive aspects. This cannot fail to awaken in them a dissatisfaction, or even rebelliousness; it is inevitable that there will be dissent between them and those who enforce the communal regimen on them. Regarding them, it is even more important to emphasize the communal life as a stage and facilitator towards a higher goal.

Which brings me to the crux of the matter, to the burning question which, incidentally, I did not see addressed in your book: What goal or ideal is presented to the next generation as the objective to be achieved via the structure of a communal life, so that they should desire to achieve it even if this requires effort, toil and sacrifice on their part?

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