It seems that the intrinsic nature of human beings is to be optimistic about the future and about life generally. This is a very strange phenomenon since it flies in the face of all of human experience and seeming reality. We are all aware that the rule, that whatever can go wrong will eventually go wrong, has had very few exceptions in human history.
Therefore, foreign policy or military preparedness based upon optimism as to the motives and circumstances of rival nations or the world order, must be deemed to be foolhardy and dangerous. We may hope for the best but we must always prepare for the worst. But, being too much of a pessimist leads to depression and offers a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom and sadness.
One of the unique qualities of the Jewish people over all of the millennia of its history has been the fact that no matter how bitter and disappointing our past experiences have been, we retain a sense of optimism regarding our future and that of humankind generally.
Judaism, as a faith and way of life, encourages optimism. It always points a way towards a better future and provides ample means for repentance for past errors and even sins. It treasures life itself as a gift that is continually bestowed upon us by our Creator. In the words of the Talmud – is it not sufficient for us that we are alive? I have always felt that it is this optimistic attitude that Judaism creates within us that it is part of the secret of Jewish survival against all odds and in spite of all the enemies that have attempted to destroy us.
I think that any realistic observer of the Jewish world today must realize that the greatest enemy to optimism regarding our present condition or future events is the incessant media pillorying of our accomplishments and our leaders. The negativity which dominates most of the mainstream media, here in Israel and throughout the world, dampens, if not destroys, any sense of optimism regarding our present or future.
I do not suggest that we be blind to our troubles and failings or that the future of the world and especially of the Middle East will be transformed overnight into a bed of roses. The problems are real, the dangers are mortal and caution must be the byword regarding any future policies and/or leaders. Yet, we should not succumb to the cynicism and negativity that permeates so much of our media. This affects all facets of our lives.
Part of the joy of seeing generations in one’s own family is the sense of optimism that there is continuity and that, so to speak, later generations can redeem the errors of their ancestors. All of us feel that future generations will be able to cope with the problems of life in a better fashion than perhaps we were. That creates within us a resilient form of optimism.
The pinnacle of optimism in world affairs has been and is the restoration of the Jewish people’s sovereignty in their ancient homeland. Even in the darkest days of exile, Jews believed that somehow the Jewish people would be able to return home and rebuild themselves in the Land of Israel. The song of the Jewish partisans of World War II was not one of revenge but rather one that stated that this is not our last road.
The Jewish world, in spite of all of its ongoing problems and difficulties, has rebuilt itself over the last seventy-five years in a manner that defies a reality. I am astounded by the Torah world; its numbers, options and institutions, that my grandchildren are able to participate in. They do so without giving it a second thought since they have no personal memory of how weak and few we were little more than a half-century ago.
But, I remember as a youth that somehow my teachers and mentors were always optimistic about the future and in spite of living under the shadow of the Holocaust and the difficulties facing the nascent State of Israel, they inspired their students to believe that great things were possible and that the future would create positive opportunities for the growth of Torah and the security of the Jewish people.
We are told that optimistic people are healthier and live longer lives than those who are unfortunately depressed. That alone should suffice to put us into a more optimistic frame of mind with regard to our future.