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Isn't it pretty?

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The Republic

I have been working on a paper based on a excerpt from Plato's Republic (The excerpt I have been working from is the beginning of Book 7). The excerpt I have been using is a parable about people being chained inside a cave, seeing only shadows and believing the shadows to be real life. These people get used to looking at the shadows, identifying the shadows and using the shadows to predict what will next occur. Plato then goes on to describe someone being unchained and taken from the cave into the real world, now being exposed to the sunlight and the real world. This person's eyes take quite a bit of time to adjust, and at first it is painful. After the adjustment takes place, the person then comes to realize the beauty of the world around him, and begins to see what he has been missing. This story is a parable for the process of education. (The exact nature of the education is a source of debate that my paper focuses on.) The impact of this education is such that a person who has been educated typically reacts in a variance of ways. Some people use their knowledge for evil. Some decide to sequester themselves away and focus on their education exclusively and choose to block the uneducated from their lives, drawing a very tight circle around themselves. And some reach a high level and see the education for the incredible good it can do, and are subsequently forced to go back down into the cave to use their education to help those who are stilled chained. They become the leaders of society, albeit reluctant leaders, which Plato posits are the best kind. As Plato says, they are the best leaders because they "are truly rich, not in silver and gold, but in virtue and wisdom, which are the true blessings of life." The reason that these people who are reluctant to lead will do so anyway is because they will understand that they have a responsibility to share the knowledge and wisdom that they have been fortunate enough to have been given (Sorry, I know that was an awkward sentence). Reading this parable (over and over and over), I was struck several times by how relevant this story was to my life in becoming a baal teshuvah. The exposure to the outside world being the exposure to Torah. I see a lot of parallels in the fact that this exposure did at first cause a lot of pain, but after some adjustment (and I am still adjusting), I have to say that it enriched my life remarkably. And while I don't aspire to be any kind of leader, the introduction of Torah into my life definitely came with a lot of responsibility. The responsibility of treating others correctly, of following mitzvos, of being a kiddush Hashem in my daily interactions. I feel like it would be a waste to take that knowledge and never have anything to do with those who don't also share the knowledge. I think it is important to see how that knowledge can fit in with the world around us. How it can work with, rather than against, and hopefully benefit, others who have not been so "enlightened." It amazes me how much insight Plato had. I think those who believe that humans are getting more advanced as time goes on show how little they know.

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