The other day, I bemoaned the fact that while the world is falling apart, Israel is used to it, as every other day we have one crisis or another.
I postured (posture to assume a certain attitude or behave in a certain way, especially to make an impression or gain an advantage:) that all of the facts seem to show that we are in Messianic times.
As the world continues to collapse, we know that we are completely in G-d’s hands. If the Messiah comes before Passover (less than three weeks) then our worries are over, but if he doesn’t our Jewish infra structures are falling apart.
The Jewish secret to survival. Consider the Book of Esther: Mordaicha and Esther cry out to heaven, fasting and praying until they see the deliverance of Israel and their enemies vanquished. The name of God does not even appear in the book. His Name is hidden, but not His power.
There is a famous book called “The Choice” by Edith Eva Eger. Eger survived the Holocaust, while her parents were sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. It’s her spirit of embracing the possible that makes Eger’s post-Holocaust psychology stand out. “We can choose what the horror teaches us,” Eger reminds us. “To become bitter in our grief and fear. Hostile. Paralyzed. Or to hold on to the childlike part of us, the lively and the curious part, the part that is innocent.”
No matter our struggles, challenges, insecurities or pain, we have the power of choice. The question is, what do we choose?
Tradition tells us that on the ninth of Av, we lost the Beit HaMikdash, the Temple, because of the sin of spies who, upon return from the Land of Israel, spoke about the land in an unbecoming way. Yet, the sin of the spies seems quite vague and the punishment so severe. God tells Moshe to take the best and the bravest, the outstanding leaders of the Jewish people to scout the land. These aristocrats do just that, and they come back with their objective assessment of what’s taking place. They cite the good (i.e. land flowing with milk and honey), then the bad (i.e. there were giants and a lot of other nations). Their description was accurate. It was honest. And that was the problem. Their objective assessment of the Land of Israel was not good enough.
Kalev, who, in the face of adversity from the other spies, peer pressure and group-think, asserted his own view and heroically declared, “Aloh naaleh, viyarashnu otah, ki yachol nuchal lah,” “We can do it! We can conquer the land!”
The job of a Jew is not to describe things as they are, but as they ought to be. We’re not just realists; we’re thoughtful and reflective optimists who, in the words of the late Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, choose optimism over pessimism because “optimists and pessimists die the exact same death, but they live very different lives.”
Rabbi Akiva and Optimism
One millennium after the story of the spies, the Talmud tells the story of Rabbi Akiva and his rabbinic colleagues traveling to Jerusalem. When they approached the Temple Mount, they saw foxes exiting the Holy of Holies. How did the rabbis respond? With tears. How did Rabbi Akiva react? By channeling his inner Kalev — with optimism and laughter.
The rabbis asked Rabbi Akiva this very question, and his answer is a subtle hint into the psyche of the success of the Jewish experience from antiquity to today.
“Why do you laugh?” they asked.
“Why do you cry?” he replied
How can we not cry, they said, when we see foxes milling about a place of which it is written that “a stranger who draws near shall die?”
To which, Rabbi Akiva replied, “This is precisely why I laugh. Uriah wrote, ‘Zion shall be plowed as a field.’ Zachariah wrote, ‘Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem.’ So long as Uriah’s prophecy was not fulfilled, I worried that Zachariah’s prophecy might not be fulfilled. Now that Uriah’s prophecy was fulfilled, there is no question that Zachariah’s prophecy will also be fulfilled.”
Of course, seeing the Temple desolate was devastating. The rabbis’ objective assessment was accurate. It was realistic. It was fair. But Rabbi Akiva saw things through the lens of anchored optimism — not objective reality and not juvenile fantasy.
Russian author Leo Tolstoy asks, “What is the Jew? What kind of creature is this whom all the rulers of all the nations of the world have disgraced and crushed and expelled and destroyed; persecuted, burned and drowned, and who, despite their anger and their fury, continues to live and to flourish?”
I think we can begin to answer that question. From Kalev to Rabbi Akiva and from the early Zionists who conquered this land by sheer will, the Jewish people have shown the ability to see what others either cannot or choose not to, to live lives of anchored optimism and to “choose life” in the face of adversity and trauma.
I don’t know if the synagogues will let us pray this coming Sabbath or if they will be closed. But where-ever we pray, we need to add Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father our King) to the prayers for that is the secret of Jewish Survival. At the time of Purim and today.