The pessimists among us

The rabbis stated it in a pithy manner in the Talmud: “is it not sufficient that one is alive?"

Rabbi Berel Wein, | updated: 07:37

OpEds Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein
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Purely on an anecdotal basis, I believe that the diehard secular leftists amongst us are really pessimistic people. In a recent article written by the Israeli historian Benny Morris and published in the Haaretz newspaper – where else but there could this be published – he posited that the Jewish state here in the land of Israel is doomed to disappear within the next half century.

He based this dire prediction on the fact that there will be hundreds of millions of Muslims here in the Middle East and, at best, there will only be seven or eight million of us. This is exactly what all the experts said over 70 years ago when the possibility of creating a Jewish state here in the land of Israel appeared be possible. Even when the state was declared, and the War of Independence was won, there were many great and knowledgeable people who stated that the state could not survive for even half a century.


Benny Morris and many others like him, no matter how great their scholarship, their knowledge lacks a spiritual perspective. They look at this world and think they understand it.
The reason I feel that this pessimistic outlook was present and persists is the belief that somehow the state was founded illegitimately and without moral right. In order to defend this higher moral ground, that the left always assumes it is in charge of, must be that this state, founded unfairly and unjustly, must somehow disappear. That it must do so becomes a moral certitude for the true believers. No facts or circumstances can alter this belief or counter this completely unjustified pessimism. Since it should not have happened, then we must come to believe that in the future it will not exist.

Ideologues, from the full spectrum of beliefs and movements, are by nature pessimistic people. No one is happy with the present situation since it does not live up to his or her ideal expectations. And they become frustrated when events do not go their way and the utopia they seek, whether religious, social or political, is not achieved. The rabbis attributed this attitude to the basic weakness of man, that he or she lacks gratitude. The rabbis stated it in a pithy manner in the Talmud: “is it not sufficient that one is alive?"

Benny Morris and many others like him, no matter how great their scholarship, their knowledge lacks a spiritual perspective. They look at this world and think they understand it. They are super rational to the point of seemingly becoming irrational. And since the world does not conform to their view and does not really make coherent sense, they doom society to oblivion and destruction. Historians usually deal with facts and overlay those facts with their own opinions and worldview. This serves to obfuscate the facts and distort conclusions and true understanding. And, it creates false illusions, dire predictions and general despondency.

The Jewish people have lived for millennia on a large diet of faith and belief. If the Jewish people would have made a rational reckoning of its situation in this hostile and inimical world, it would long ago have disappeared from the face of world civilization. However because of faith and belief, the Jewish people have weathered and survived enormous storms and crises over its long and bitter history. This is not to say that we should not be realistic about our future and about the problems that face us. Blind faith alone without human action and wisdom will not carry the day.

However, Judaism is not a religion of pessimism. It has a strong positive vote for the future. It encourages family life, children and a long-term perspective on personal and national life and events. The Jewish future is based upon facts and reality, but just as importantly, it is also based upon hope and faith. It always aspires to a better world without denigrating the world that exists currently.

According to opinions in the Talmud and of Maimonides, even the messianic era will not be that different from the times and world that we live in. It will be our task to raise human civilization to realize that peace achieves more than war and goodness is greater than evil. Today this is a constant struggle and will remain so for the future of humanity on this planet. But the struggle must be conducted with optimism and confidence that we will not only survive but that we will triumph and that all of humankind will be better because of our accomplishments.




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