A recent study by researchers at the London School of Economics found that: “…as they moved from paid employment to setting up their own venture, business owners with above average optimism ended up earning 30% less than those with below average optimism.”
This is nothing new. In the story of Joseph, his Divine ability to forecast 7 years of doom and gloom (the years of famine in Egypt) sets the stage for his political and financial success. As the story of the descent and eventual redemption from Egypt unfolds we encounter many other examples of pessimism (and Pharoh’s unbridled optimism). At the burning bush, Moshe receives a prestigious job offer as God’s ambassador, but cannot envisage success. He argues that he’s not eloquent enough for the role. Later, he exclaims, “how will Pharoh possibly listen to me? Even the Jews don’t believe they’ll be redeemed.” Having barely left Egypt, the Jews see the Egyptian army chasing them. Our Torah portion records a communal “I told you so” moment where the Jews ask Moshe why he took them out just to die in the desert. Commentaries point out that after safely crossing the sea (only) the women danced with musical instruments. they had been the optimists throughout the Jews’ time in Egypt, and packed instruments before leaving, anticipating eventual redemption and the desire to celebrate with gusto. Ergo, the men – not such great optimists.
If it seems like redemption is far away, or like the light at the end of the tunnel is just another train hurtling towards you, you aren’t alone. Maybe it’s true that ours are 1st world problems and worse things are happening in the lives of others, but that doesn’t magically erase our pain. Got a predisposition to always looking on the bright side of life and seeing the silver linings in everything? Take a moment to consider that others may be colorblind and just see clouds. Like our ancestors in the desert who were guided by a “Pillar of Fire” at night, and a “Pillar of Cloud” by day, at times we may be guided by the energy of light, fire and hope; at others, all we see is clouds ahead. Whatever we are experiencing, during uncertain times we can stand fast to our beliefs and heed Moshe’s timeless guidance imparted immediately before leading us through the sea: “Do not fear, stand fast and see God’s salvation…”
Written in memory of my mother, Shaindel bat Yitzchak whose Yahrtzeit is this week.