As the year 5779 is about to begin, thinking people worldwide have to be in somewhat of a quandary as to how best to vision the future.
On the one hand, in many parts of the world, certainly here in Israel and in most western countries, the economy is doing well, unemployment is at record lows, and people are generally happy. A recent survey in Israel found that 86% of the population considers themselves happy on multiple counts. So, outwardly, things are positive and one can choose to look forward to the next year as one filled with promise for continued prosperity and satisfaction.
Yet, there is a subconscious feeling as well that there is a lot wrong with the world. For one thing, there are more refugees in the world today than at any time in human history (although for the first time in history there are no Jewish refugees thanks to the existence of Israel).
Similarly, we watch the frightening rise of global anti-Semitism, the emergence of democratically elected governmental leaders whose actions often seem more autocratic than democratic, along with the intentional dismantling of political frameworks that, more or less, kept the nations of the world from destroying each other for the last 70 years. Some would even say that the natural order of the world is chaos, and, as if in a reality TV show, as we speak we are witnessing the destruction of democracy and the emergence of dictatorial regimes intent on returning the world to that natural state.
So how do we square these two visions? Thankfully the liturgy and customs of this period of introspection helps us do so. In a world moving in a chaotic direction, our tradition comes along and blasts out at us through the sound of the Shofar, that there is a force in the universe that provides a guide to show us the way through all of this and gives us hope.
The year 5779, if one adds the digits together, comes to 28 and adding those digits together yet again we get 10, the base number of commandments given to us at Sinai and which, for over 3,500 years has been our lodestar. When all else fails, when the future looks bleak, we stop for two days and listen to the blast of the Shofar heralding the promise of a new beginning. And then, for the next 8 days, the liturgy urges us to be introspective, to shut out the rest of the world, take stock of ourselves, make amends with those we have hurt, and prepare ourselves for the year ahead with its joys and its challenges.
Maimonides put it succinctly: All stand as equals before God. In His fury He casts down the lofty, and in His goodwill He elevates the lowly. Therefore, humble yourself, and God will lift you.
The message is clear that even when the future looks bleakest, faith and belief will serve to get us through the challenging times.
May 5779 be a year of health, happiness and good fortune and may everyone be inscribed and sealed in the book of life. Shanah tova!