There are times it appears that to be successful one needs to be a harbinger of catastrophe. Optimism is the besetting sin; we like our Jeremiahs, our Cassandras, and we are forever opening Pandora’s box.
But you need not be rosy-eyed or naïve to doubt the certainty of decline. “On what principle is it, that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?” asked the historian Macaulay two centuries ago. In many ways, things have gotten far better since his time. Obviously the Jewish people have suffered terribly, and many other peoples have endured horrific fates, but the average Westerner lives a better life than an ancient king could dream. Life expectancy climbs. Living with antibiotics, modern dentistry and indoor plumbing already vaults you across the beleaguered centuries.
John Stuart Mill had it right when he wrote: “I have observed that not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons at large.” We Jews are a long-lived people. We’ve seen awful and we fear worse. But Nahman of Bratzlav taught that despair is a sin. Hope is a virtue. And (shhh) things just might keep getting better.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow his teachings at www.facebook.com/RabbiWolpe.