To Believe is to be Optimistic (Isaiah 51:12-52:12)

We have reached the fourth of the seven haftarot of consolation which follow Tisha b’Av (Shiva d’nehamta). The return from Babylonian exile was fraught with challenges and the prophet sees as his charge to imbue the returnees with a spirit of optimism and a sense that while the future may have its difficulties, their return to their homeland will herald for them a better life filled with beauty and happiness: “How beautiful upon the mountain are the footsteps of the messenger of happiness, heralding good fortune, announcing victory.” (52:7) The image of God’s messenger on the mountains of Judea welcoming the returning exiles, was intended to inspire thoughts of peace, well-being and redemption.

A whole section of the last chapter of the Talmudic Tractate Berachot is dedicated to dream interpretation. In it, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi (3rd century Eretz Yisrael) presented a guide to symbols one might see in a dream and how to interpret them. His formula was simple. When one saw a symbol in a dream, one was to associate that symbol with a biblical verse with a positive outlook before some other more somber verse might come to mind. In one example, the above cited verse plays an integral role in his teaching: “If one dreams of a mountain, he should rise early and say: ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger of happiness’ (Ibid.), before another verse occurs to him: ‘for the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing’ (Jeremiah 9:9).” (Berachot 56b)

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi clearly understood that the dreamer is the arbiter of the meaning of his or her dream. If one dreams a vision and interprets it optimistically, then that interpretation will shape the person’s reality. The converse is also true, if one views that same dream as negative, then that reality will rule.

This insight applies not only to the interpretation of dreams. It represents an outlook on life. Every experience in life can be viewed as an opportunity for triumph or as an omen of tragedy depending on how one approaches it. Positive events can be turned into losses and tragedies can be turned into triumphs. We see in our generation whole peoples who have taken their tragedies and built them into even greater tragedies, attempting to draw the world into their darkness; and we have seen others who time and again have turned tragedy into triumph. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi expresses the Jewish way of faith – Better to grab hold of an optimistic outlook rather than to be swallowed up by tragedy and darkness.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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