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One of the great challenges in life is retaining belief and optimism regarding humans when one is, in one's heart of hearts, a confirmed skeptic. This challenge is corroborated for us by King Solomon, considered the wisest of all humans, in his monumental work, the book of Kohelet. There is a great deal of difference between realism and skepticism on one hand, and pessimism and depression on the other hand.

The book of Kohelet is a book of skepticism and pessimism. It does not allow for unfounded belief in ideas or people to be considered just and proper. Belief and faith in God, Torah and the tradition of the ages are the fundamental mainstays of Judaism. However, the Torah itself warns us of following and believing in strange gods, superstitions and in following the ways of our wandering eyes and willful hearts.
The tradition in Jewish life regarding judging people and leaders is always to be respectful towards them but also to be skeptical of their motives and promises. Solomon himself said that a fool is someone who believes whatever he is told. And, in our era of biased media reporting, fake news and the willful distortion of facts, events and history, skepticism is more than ever necessary for a wise assessment of situations.
The famous statement of the Musar movement was that not everything that is thought should be expressed, not everything that is expressed should be written, not everything that is written should be published and read widely and not everything that is read should be believed. There is a great deal of wisdom in that maxim of skepticism.
Since the events that regularly occur in our world do not fit a pattern of logic and rationality, there's plenty of room to search for answers to problems outside of normal human consultation and advice. There is no question that the supernatural is part of our existence. There is also no question that there are people in this world and in the Jewish religious world who do seem to have such powers of advice and guidance. But the skeptic remains unconvinced that all those that claim to be omniscient are really legitimate and that all advice that is advanced is truly helpful.
Unfortunately, charlatans have always abounded in all human communities and ours is no exception. The fact that holiness and reputed omniscience seem to be always tied up with money and would-be hangers on, troubles me greatly. It raises my level of skepticism and challenges my powers of belief. I have met some truly holy people in my lifetime and had some extraordinary events occur to me, so I do not deny in any way that such people and situations do truly exist. Nevertheless, I have also experienced how thieves and con men, dressed in holy garb with false credentials have victimized the innocent and gullible. Perhaps all of us have witnessed or have been aware of such situations. Therefore a little healthy skepticism regarding all such matters is certainly in order.
Our world is a dangerous and confusing place. Without faith or belief in our Creator, the arbiter of ultimate justice in all affairs, one is likely to suffer from an almost paralyzing pessimism. But Judaism does not allow for such a somber assessment. Skepticism is allowed and in fact encouraged but depression and pessimism are to be avoided at almost all costs.
Drawing this fine line is really the challenge of human life and of our society. Skepticism is not synonymous with cynicism. The Jewish people and the State of Israel have a perfect historical right to be skeptical about the true intentions of those who proclaim themselves to be our friends, and certainly about those who openly state that they are enemies and wish to destroy us.
But we should never give up hope that better times can and will come and that what currently seems to be beyond any solution or reasonable compromise will eventually be settled and quieted. Again, patience and realism are the necessary ingredients to create the proper balance of skepticism and belief.
Skepticism teaches us that there usually are no shortcuts on the road to achievement in personal and national life. Belief teaches us that there is always a better tomorrow that can be achieved and that one should never despair regarding the omnipresent challenges of human existence. So, to sum it all up, I imagine I can call myself a satisfied, believing skeptic.
Shabbat shalom

Berel Wein

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