A Religion Of Optimism

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer criticized Judaism for being an optimistic religion. One could make a case for Judaism’s pessimism based on a history of suffering, or even on certain verses from the Tanach, (e.g. Ecclesiastes 7:1: “The day of death is better than the day of birth”). Nonetheless, Schopenhauer was right. Judaism is, in the end, optimistic.

The Torah teaches that the world is created by a God who cares, and therefore our losses are not ultimately meaningless and our struggles are not futile. Even though at times we feel dismayed by the injustice and anguish of the world — just the sort of sentiments to which Ecclesiastes gives voice — that is not the final verdict.

The greatest spirits of Judaism have known darkness. We read about depression in such spiritual titans as Maimonides and Rebbe Nahman. But in the end, each rose to a height that dwarfed the depth. The sin is not sadness, but despair; not pain, but the conviction that pain has the final word. In the evening there will be weeping, writes the Psalmist, but joy will come in the morning.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book, “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press), has recently been published.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.