Yaakov Trump

Comfort in Discomfort

Photo by Johannes Plenio:
Photo by Johannes Plenio:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

There is comfort in predictability. When we cannot plot tomorrow based on today and yesterday, it provokes discomfort and unease. Yet, we live at a moment in which we have no certainty of what tomorrow may hold in store. In the last months we have witnessed the bizarre unfolding. The war started on October 7th 2023 with atrocities we could not dream up. We witnessed initial sympathy for Israel but within short order, the campaign to free the hostages and dismantle the terrorist group of Hamas triggered violent anti-Semitism in almost every city in the world. Jews have faced verbal, emotional and physical attacks internationally. The nation which was the victim of an intentional massacre becomes accused of massacres and ethnic cleansing. We live in bizarre and upside-down times.

When we lack a model to explain our experiences, we look to systems of wisdom to see if there are tools to navigate our new and complex landscape. As Jews we have much wisdom and often the tools of old have far greater insight that the passing posts of contemporary ‘thinkers’ and influencers.

This is a passage from the last Mishna in Sotah (9:15). This text carries a tradition which was officially codified 1800 years ago. It’s words are haunting.

It describes the era of the footsteps of the messiah in the future. Society will be characterized by a number of trends.

  1. Impudence will increase – חוּצְפָּא יִסְגֵּא

This reflects the distressing devolution of communication in the last few years. People are more likely to take to social media to shame others than to reach out to resolve the issue with empathy and conversation.

  1. high costs will pile up – וְיוֹקֶר יַאֲמִיר

This sounds like costs of living will be rising and in fact the next line confirms that:

  1. Although the vine shall bring forth its fruit, wine will nevertheless be expensive – הַגֶּפֶן תִּתֵּן פִּרְיָהּ וְהַיַּיִן בְּיוֹקֶר

This sounds like inflation will be skyrocketing at such times because supply chain will be up but prices will still be up. Moreover, the fact the example chosen is wine, indicates that maybe we will be living in a society searching intoxicating substances to escape the difficulties of pedestrian life.

  1. the monarchy shall turn to heresy, and there will be no one to give reproof about this – וּמַלְכוּת תֵּהָפֵךְ לְמִינוּת וְאֵין תּוֹכַחַת

This reflects the moral relativism of ideas in the powerful countries of the world. Where basic objective and traditional ideas come under attack and there is noone who can stand up for fear of being cancelled.

  1. The meeting place of the Sages will become a place of promiscuity – בֵּית וַועַד יִהְיֶה לִזְנוּת

This reflects either a perception of flawed leadership or in fact leadership which is not living by the standards it preaches.

Up till this point in the passage, one could argue that these are all general-enough trends that any decade could have complained as such. But from now on inwards, the ideas become more chilling.

  1. the Galilee shall be destroyed – וְהַגָּלִיל יֶחֱרַב

This is something we all fear. In the crosshairs of Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, the Galilee is uniquely vulnerable. We pray not to witness this.

  1. the Gavlan will be desolate – וְהַגַּבְלָן יִשּׁוֹם

The Gavlan, according to many interpretations refers to the Southern border of Israel. When one visits the kibbutzim of the South, as I have – Kfar Aza, Netiv Haasara, Kisufim, Reim – life stood still on October 7th. The sukkot are still standing amid the death and destruction.

  1. the men of the border shall go round from city to city to seek charity, but they will find no mercy – וְאַנְשֵׁי הַגְּבוּל יְסוֹבְבוּ מֵעִיר לְעִיר וְלֹא יְחוֹנְנוּ

These words are perhaps the most terrifyingly true. How many tens of thousands have been and are still not home?

  1. the wisdom of scribes will putrefy, and people who fear sin will be held in disgust – וְחַכְמוֹת סוֹפְרִים תִּסְרַח  וְיִרְאֵי חֵטְא יִמָּאֵסוּ

These two statements point to the lack of sound leadership and guides.

10. the truth will be absent וְהָאֱמֶת תְּהֵא נֶעֱדֶרֶת

This trend is called today ‘post-truth.’ People post comments and issue statements which are simply not true and yet their supporters excuse or even embrace these lies. The word ‘genocide’ was created in 1944 by Professor Raphael Lemkin to describe the intentional mass killing of a race because of whom they are. This word was birthed in the context of Nazi exterminations campaigns. It is a bitter irony that today that term is used to describe the work of the IDF as it painstakingly tries to avoid collateral damage in its campaign to protect lives by eliminating a terror group.

11. A son will disgrace a father; a daughter will rise up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be the members of his household. נְעָרִים פְּנֵי זְקֵנִים יַלְבִּינוּ זְקֵנִים יַעַמְדוּ מִפְּנֵי קְטַנִּים — בֵּן מְנַוֵּול אָב, בַּת קָמָה בְאִמָּהּ, כַּלָּה בַּחֲמוֹתָהּ, אוֹיְבֵי אִישׁ אַנְשֵׁי בֵיתוֹ

These statements reflect a generation in which the youth does not respect experience. In the generation described, the leadership of the generation cannot reprimand the new generation for fear of being shamed and silenced by the uneducated yet tech-savy youth.

12. The face of the generation will be like the face of a dog פְּנֵי הַדּוֹר כִּפְנֵי הַכֶּלֶב

R. Elchonon Wasserman writes that when one watches a dog and master walking, sometimes the dog races ahead, as if leading. But once it reaches a corner, it looks back to the master to find out which way to proceed. The generation of the messiah is one in which leadership it out in front but cannot make decisions without looking back to pander to the masses.

All the statements reflect realities we experience. But what of it? Is this just a litany of current woes against the backdrop of nostalgia?

I would argue that the Mishna is questioning the reader.

What are the psychological nets we make for ourselves in life? What are the things which provide stability for us in times of trouble?

One answer is money. We tell ourselves that if things get bad, we will be able to pay to protect ourselves, our families and our communities. Like in South Africa, as the government continues to fail its citizens by providing basics like electricity, water, postal services, medical services, security services etc, the citizens band together to pay for each system privately. But that only works if there is money. What happens when there is inflation and this cannot be sustained? Then what?

Another security we have is our leaders. They will stand up for what is right… won’t they? The last 6 months have been punctuated by many silences from leadership. The disappointment in the intellectual elite and entertainment industry is profound.

Another idea we pin our hopes on is government. But is that really the solution? What happens when the government starts pandering to loud protestors? What happens when the government is not prepared to stand up for what is right?

Another anchor we have is the basic moral principles of humanity. Won’t people just see what is right and wrong? But then we hear about Israel being taken to the ICJ. We hear about the  equating of terrorists intentionally raping, mutilating and murdering and on the other side mistakes made by Israel when trying to eliminate terrorists and hitting aid workers. How can one compare intentional wanton destruction with infrequent mistakes?

Finally, we rely on the army. The IDF will prevail. We pray and hope so. But it is 6 months later and it isn’t so clear that Hamas will be eliminated. It isn’t so clear what will happen in Gaza in the end. The border communities still remain vulnerable.

The Mishna questions each of our assumptions about what gives us comfort. It concludes with the following phrase:

וְעַל מָה יֵשׁ לָנוּ לְהִשָּׁעֵן — עַל אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם – And upon what is there for us to rely? Only upon our Father in heaven.

Once we have disavowed every other possible idea of safety, we can truly embrace the uncertainty and acknowledge that only God has the keys. The Mishna is not trying to intimidate the reader. It is asking the reader to acknowledge there is a bigger arc in Jewish history. It is asking the reader to embrace the discomfort of not being able to control or understand the situation. It is in the discomfort of releasing our aspirations of understanding that we find solace in our Father in Heaven.

About the Author
Rabbi Ya’akov Trump serves as the Rabbi of the vibrant community of the Young Israel of Lawrence Cedarhurst. His mission is to share his passion for the Torah and its relevance in contemporary times. His innovations have led to numerous engaging programs in the community and beyond. He is a featured speaker on, has his own Nach Yomi website, has a podcast and recently released his own App.