11 Aug SHOFTIM- THE CASE FOR OPTIMISM
Often, when a person is going through a trying time, his friends and family will urge him to “think positive.”
We might ask, why should such a person think positive? Why should he assume that the outcome will be positive, and not, Heaven forbid, the opposite?
The Torah commands in Parashat Shoftim,
תמים†תהיה†עם†ה’†אלוקיך†, which is
commonly translated to mean, “You shall be simple with Hashem your G-d.” This translation has led many to mistakenly think that Jewish faith is only for the simpleminded, that in order to believe in Hashem, we can’t be intelligent or sophisticated, and if we are more intellectually inclined, then we cannot have faith.
This is absolutely false.
A study was once done of experts in a large variety of fields, testing their rate of success in making predictions about their respective fields. The researchers examined over 82,000 predictions, testing the outcomes over the course of many years. The findings were astounding. The researchers found that experts’ predictions were even less accurate than those of ordinary folks with no expertise in the fields.
When my father was in the hospital for an extended period, I spoke at length with some of the greatest doctors in the relevant field of medicine about his condition. I was amazed by two things: by how much they know, and by how much they don’t know. Their knowledge was simply extraordinary and dazzling. But even with all this knowledge, they were so limited. They could not predict what would happen.
I mentioned this to one of the doctors, and he said, “This is exactly what I tell the members of my team, over and over again.”
Even the brightest, most knowledgeable, most sophisticated people on earth cannot predict the future. Hashem created the world in such a way that we have absolutely no idea what the future will bring in any area of our lives. Nothing about our lives is guaranteed to stay the same, for better or for worse.
This is what תמים†תהיה†עם†ה’†אלוקיך†means.
It doesn’t mean we should be simpleminded and not be smart. It means that we must realize that no matter how smart and sophisticated we are, only Hashem knows what is going to happen. We have absolutely no idea.
Halachah requires blowing the shofar from the narrow end of the shofar, such that the sound leaves from the wide end. The Gemara bases this requirement on the pasuk in Tehillim, מן†המצר†קראתי†י≠ה
– we call out to Hashem from the ,מצר
from the narrow constraints. The Arizal explained that we must cry out to Hashem recognizing our constraints and limitations, and recognizing His unlimited abilities. As we approach the new year feeling “constrained,” feeling that we are trapped in problems and difficult situations, we must be aware that Hashem can infinitely expand the range of possibilities, that He can make anything happen.
This is the case for optimism. Being optimistic does not mean being foolish or delusional, or being irresponsibly impractical. Of course, when we face a crisis, we need to do everything possible to help ourselves. But at the same time, we need to recognize that so many things can happen that we cannot even imagine. Hashem’s range of capabilities is endless. There is so, so much that we don’t know. There is so, so much that can happen that we cannot ever predict. The possibilities might seem very limited, but in truth, they aren’t.
When we live with this belief and this awareness, we begin opening our eyes to see beautiful things in the world. We start living with positive energy and enthusiasm, because we know we aren’t stuck, we know that anything can happen, and we gradually start to see how wonderful things are happening that we weren’t expecting. Thinking positive does not ensure that everything will work out well, but it most certainly helps ensure that we take notice and appreciate when it does. And this makes life so much happier, and so much more beautiful.