There is a great mantra that is repeated very often in Israeli society that basically states “That is what it is.” Basically it is a stoic observation of the never-ending problems, challenges, disappointments and frustrations of life. Many if not even most of these issues are far beyond one’s ability to change or influence. That fact many times serves to make those problems and frustrations even more maddening.
We long to feel that we are in control of our lives and destinies but we innately realize that this, in the main, is untrue – a false assessment of our abilities and of life’s circumstances. We realize that acceptance of life’s situations and difficulties are a necessary trait if one is to be able to be productive and vital. We cannot be King Canute, raging against the sea and hoping somehow to accomplish much thereby.
Yet, governments and individuals spend enormous amounts of time and resources in attempting to fix the unfixable. We have made great strides at lengthening the span of lives in this past century yet we are always aware that eventual mortality awaits us all. Judaism is not a pessimistic faith. It does not limit or denigrate human ingenuity, accomplishment, potential or achievement. Yet it is not a faith that offers easy salvation and freedom from human toil and difficulties. It is this sense of the realities of human existence that allows people to say ‘that is what it is’ and move on with life.
There was once a senator from the state of New York, upon surveying the debris of wrecked family life, crime and societal and educational dysfunction, directly or indirectly caused by massive governmental welfare programs meant to help the poor, who said that the issues involved could benefit from a period of “benign neglect.”
He was roundly chastised for this comment by the media and his fellow senators. Yet fifty years later in spite of massive funding, a bloated bureaucracy and countless new laws and regulations, all intended to help, the situation regarding welfare and the underclass of American society has gotten worse and not better. Every piece of legislation and/or governmental regulation automatically brings with it unintended consequences.
And, after fifty years of unintended consequences one should not be surprised that the situation has so deteriorated that many now despair of helping it at all. A recent survey taken here in Israel reveals that almost seventy percent of all laws passed by the Knesset over the last sixty years are either ignored by the governmental authorities themselves or are simply not enforced and are irrelevant to daily Israeli life.
Jews are supreme practitioners of the idea of benign neglect. It has stood us in good stead over our long and difficult history. Judaism has high expectations of human beings. It does not have unrealistic expectations. It takes into account human shortcomings and societal difficulties and it does not strive to eliminate them. Rather, it provides a program and a way of life as to how to live with the situation for that is what it is.
Is peace – true peace, not cold peace – ever to be attainable with our Arab neighbors? We certainly hope so but the near term prospects for achieving it are pretty dim. So we have to be prepared for all of the difficulties that the current conflict has imposed upon us. There will be daily attempts to kill Jews and our security forces will have to continue to do their utmost to foil those murderous attempts.
That is the environment we live in and it is foolish to think that there is any new brilliant plan or ingenious compromise lurking somewhere that will magically change the reality of our situation. The Oslo agreements proved the danger of being seduced by unrealistic expectations and ignoring human nature. If after seventy years of United Nations enmity and discrimination against Israel and the Jewish people, only fools would have expressed surprise at the latest UNESCO decision regarding the connection between Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the Jewish people.
We have to continue to treasure and visit the Western Wall and build Jerusalem with all of its beauty and holiness. Because, that is what it is and it would be unthinkable for us to act differently. Changing reality is often tilting at windmills. Dealing with reality, squarely and honestly, is a necessity in Jewish national and personal life. And that, my friends, is what it is.