A As we close out this decade, there is a pervasive underlying pessimistic mood about our nation’s long-term prospects. In a year-end interview, Ariana Huffington succinctly described the situation: “There is ‘a deep crisis in the lives of millions of people’; a middle class that has been ‘shorted’ by the delirium of sub-prime derivatives; a whole generation now forced to deal with downward social mobility, the blighted hopes of their unemployed children; the assumption that cuts the heart out of the American dream – that the lives of the next generation look certain to be less fortunate than those of the last.”
Drawing on our Jewish wisdom, where can we find the hope and optimism to balance our lives and effectively move through these difficult times? (The complete teachings are part of JInsider’s documentary “A Traveler’s Guide to Uncertain Times.” To view please visit www.jinsider.com)
God is a Contraction of Good
To be a believer must mean to be an optimist. Otherwise, one is saying this world is out of control, this world is meaningless, there is no guide. Do you know that the word “God” is actually a contraction of the word “good”? To believe in God is to believe that there is some plan, that there is some purpose and therefore, be a pessimist to the extent that you don’t fool yourself into thinking that everything will work out all right, be a pessimist to sufficiently warn you of dangers implicit in things that are too risky, implicit in things that you shouldn’t be doing, be a pessimist to say maybe it won’t work out, but be an optimist to say “But I’m here for a good reason, there is a good God and, bottom line, life makes sense and I’m going to help it make sense.”
– Rabbi Benjamin Blech is a prolific author, renowned lecturer and Yeshiva University professor of Talmud.
The Bigger Picture
We can look to Judaism for comfort in a number of ways. First of all, Jewish history gives us a sense of being part of something that goes back for thousands of years. So even though we feel like our world is moving incredibly fast and even though we feel like everything’s urgent, it’s helpful to look back and say we’re actually part of a bigger picture and to think about where we want to be in that bigger picture.
Second, Jewish practice also gives us many tools for finding peace and calm. We have the tools of prayer, which allow us to look inward, as well as to be part of a community. Jewish practice pushes us to be part of a community of people who can support us no matter what’s going on in our world, in our lives, in their lives. Of course, especially in times like this we can also think about our relationship with God. It’s in a time that sometimes we don’t know what else to do that we can just offer our pure emotions to God or look for support from God, however we might define God.
– Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the author of “There Shall Be No Needy” and founding director
of Ma’aseh: The Center for Jewish Social Justice Education.
It’s such an advantage to be an optimist and not a pessimist in life because the only people who end up accomplishing anything are the optimists. The pessimists have given up in advance. Once you become aware of all of the reasons why something is not going to succeed, you will not make the effort any more because you don’t think it will help. So optimism is the precursor for an improvement of the world. And the rabbis actually tell us virtually as a command, “Did you hope for the world’s redemption?” Because guess what, you can’t pass the test of being a good person and improving the world if you’ve given up on the possibility of the world’s redemption. Improvement depends on having that hope.
– Joseph Telushkin, rabbi at the Synagogue for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles, is the author of 16 books, including “Jewish Literacy,” “The Book of Jewish Values” and “Hillel: If Not Now, When?”