Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.
There are those who view an authentic Jewish life as confining and repressive – pessimistic even. So many restrictions. Countless obligations. So much “observance” rather than “celebration.” Yom Kippur fasts. Tzom Gedaliah. Tisha B’Av. The Seventeenth of Tammuz. So much sadness. So much pain. And then there is the emphasis on the in-depth study of mussar – ethics – emblematic of the Jewish need to continually rise to higher moral and spiritual levels.
“Just accept yourself for who you are,” suggests the Jewish cynic. Rather than a full thirty days of reflection and prayer in preparation for the Yamim Noraim isn’t it enough to come on the first of Tishrei, or even the tenth, to pray, wish, reflect and amend? Why sound the terrifying sirens of the shofar from the second day of Elul?
Why recite Psalm 27 – L’Dovid Hashem Ori – and awake in the predawn darkness to recite Selichot? Mind you, in the Sephardic communities, Selichot is recited for the full month of Elul. Ashkenazim begin “only” a week before Rosh Hashanah. Nevertheless, the entire month of Elul is to be a period of spiritual preparation and rejuvenation, anticipating the Days of Awe. Blowing the shofar rouses Jews to the approaching awesome, serious and introspective days.
“All so gloomy, depressing and pessimistic,” the cynic sighs with a shrug. “It makes us all seem like lost sinners, hopeless and forlorn, who by some supernatural grace of God will be saved from His wrath.”
But does it? What I have presented is Judaism through the eyes of the cynic, the one for whom the glass is only half empty. That same glass, viewed through the eyes of the faithful, is wonderfully half full.
Considering the other half of the glass, we quickly discover the state of mind God actually intends for us – from the start of Elul through the very close of the Days of Awe and holiness, on Shemini Atzeres. Open up your prayer books and discover the most optimistic of all psalms, selected specifically for this awesome period – Psalm 27. The Midrash teaches that the words L’Dovid Hashem Ori – “The Lord is my life” – refers to Rosh Hashanah; v’yishi – “and aid” – reflects on Yom Kippur; while ki yitzpeneni b’suko – “He will hide me within His tabernacle” – places us within Sukkot.
Glance through the psalm and discover all the words that conjure up hope, optimism, happiness, and strength. Begin with the first verse and go through the chapter: light, aid, stronghold, not fear, confident, desire, dwell in the house of the Lord, pleasantness, shelter, safe, high, sing, chant, gracious, seek you My presence, help, care, teach, guide, land of the living, hope, strong, brave.
In fourteen short verses, twenty-four terms and phrases that sing out loud and clear to an optimistic soul and worldview.
God’s name appears thirteen times in the psalm, we are taught, for during the month of Elul the thirteen gates of rachamim- of mercy and hope – are open to us.
The commentaries teach us the psalm is divided into two distinct parts. Verses 1-6 express the clearly stated hope of David to “dwell in the house of the Lord” and to behold His pleasantness. Verses 7-14 are a call for help on behalf of all Jews. It is a clarion call that brings to mind the sign put up by Breslover chassidim on the gate to their Second World War ghetto: Yidden, zeit zich nisht m’yaesh – “Jews, don’t give up!”
It is natural to want to give up when the other half of the glass is so clearly empty. Just as then, the emptiness of that half of the glass can feel overwhelming. There is growing anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment worldwide; rampant assimilation and intermarriage in the midst of an ever-expanding secular city; blatant disregard for honesty and integrity, for plain good old ehrlichkeit in the midst of increased Torah learning.
There is so much evidence to justify the cynic’s perspective. And yet and yet, by whose say do we succumb to pessimism and gloom?
Listen to these words, uttered twice a day for fifty days, repeated a hundred times: “Hope in the Lord, be strong, and let your heart be brave: yes, hope in the Lord.”
Has optimism ever been given a stronger voice?
Malbim notes that of all the pleas uttered before God during the Days of Awe, the Jew pleads most determinedly for the one thing that will enable him to overcome all other spiritual obstacles – to become totally attached and one with God.
“The Lord is the stronghold of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?” When I sense that I can grasp God’s hand, as it were, “even though an army were arrayed against me, my heart would not fear; though war shall arise against me, still would I be confident.”
Among the students coming in for a new year at college was a young man on crutches who was particularly friendly and optimistic. He won many academic honors and the deep respect of his classmates. One day, a classmate asked the cause of his deformity.
“Infantile paralysis,” the young man answered directly.
“With a misfortune like that, how can you face the world so confidently?” the classmate asked, astonished.
The young man managed a shrug while leaning on his crutches. “The disease,” he said simply, “never touched my heart.”
We all have limitations. We ache. We fear. We tremble. We feel lost in this world. But let us, this holy season, resolve not to allow these to touch our hearts.
“Hope, be strong, and be brave.”
Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran serves as OU Kosher’s vice president of communications and marketing.
About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an educator, author and lecturer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
Because let’s face it: Hamas obviously can’t defeat the IDF in the field, soldier against soldier
The Gazans are now paying for the choices they have made.
As Peres retires, Israel fights sour legacy: Insistence on setting policy in line with hopes, rather than with reality.
Our capital was not arbitrarily chosen, as capitals of some other nations were.
UNHRC High Commissioner Navi Pillay accuses the IDF of possible war crimes in Gaza again, cutting slack to Hamas.
There is much I can write you about what is going here, but I am wondering what I should not write. I will start by imagining that I am you, sitting at home in the Los Angeles area and flipping back and forth between the weather, traffic reports, the Ukraine, Mexican illegals and Gaza. No […]
Should Jews in Europe take more responsibility in self-defense of community and property?
It is time for a total military siege on Gaza; Nothing should enter the Gaza Strip.
Germany’s The Jewish Faith newspaper ominously noted, “We Jews are in for a war after the war.”
The truth is we seldom explore with kids what prayer is supposed to be about.
Almost as one, Jews around the world are acknowledging the day-to-day peril facing ordinary Jews in Israel and the extraordinary service of the IDF in protecting them.
So on the one hand Secretary Kerry makes no bones about who is at fault for the current hostilities: he clearly blames Hamas.
King Solomon said it long ago: “Cast your bread upon the waters” because you don’t know when you’ll hit something. Our job is to do.
One who may leave his wife an agunah is not included in the general rule that we may not imprison on Shabbos.
“Fulfill my requests for good, grant my request, be mindful of us for deliverance and compassion…remember us for a good, long life…give us bread to eat, clothes to wear…”
Too often, as parents and teachers, we think it means talking at our children, delivering to them good and worthy content that they should simply hear and assimilate into their minds and hearts.
I was singing, dancing, jumping and, sweating. Just joy and happiness. One child on my shoulders after another. What happiness! And then, the little boy on my shoulders – he could not have been older than six – began to cry.
The only way for children to find a way back to the path is through parental love and understanding.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/on-jewish-optimism/2010/08/25/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: