Those of us who grew to maturity in the 20th Century, had the following basic message drilled into us consistently, consciously and subliminally: Every day, in every way, the world is getting better. Perhaps this perspective arose from personal and national pride stemming from advances in technology, democracy, human rights and helping to `civilize’ so called Third World Countries. There was a boundless optimism that arose in the years following the Allies’ success in World War II and a resurgent economy in Europe, Japan and the United States.
This world view helped create an attitude in most of us that things were bound to stay good or even get better. Democratic values would remain strong and would eventually vanquish Communism, which it did, and that the world was marching to a time of robust economies, an increasing number of democratic societies, and a greater affinity by the rest of the world for America, its ideals, and its good friend, Israel. The air of optimism permeated the environment, and growing up in those years brought with it confidence in the future, and an increasing sense of security for Jews around the world. When contemplating the future, despite whatever personal and local challenges there were, it was taken for granted that opportunities for individuals were limited only by the effort put in to succeed.
Now, the world has shifted. Now the future is not so automatically bright. New threats are arising daily, to our economy, our technology, our people and to our very own lives. How does this impact our children’s attitude, their optimism? Whereas 50 years ago America could be compared to the Golden Age of Spain, the Jewish commonwealth under Kings David and Solomon, today’s landscape bears a greater resemblance to the Jews in Mitzrayim depicted in this week’s Parsha. It has eerie and scary echoes of Nazi Germany in the 1930’s. The enemy may still be without, but one hears the same anti-Semitic rhetoric, sees similar propaganda and even more strident threats of annihilation to the Jewish People, and this time around, the entire Western World.
Are our children scared? They don’t seem to be, but perhaps that’s because we’re oblivious!? Is it possible that we are making ourselves oblivious, because we don’t know how to deal with or share a less-than-rosy perspective with our family! We need a realistic view of events unfolding, but not one that will paralyze us. We should not be forging ahead in this world without a certain measure of apprehension about what will be, because if we do, we’d be guilty of the same blindness as those unfortunates who chose to remain in Germany in the 1930’s. On the other hand, our situation calls for a different response – not of flight, but of precaution; not of impending disaster but of lowered expectations, heightened awareness and a focus on what is truly important in life.
We can blunder forward with a whatever-is-now-will-always-be approach, caught up in our society’s focus on materialism, personal comforts and pleasures, or we can redirect towards the spiritual, a focus heavenward, rather than earthward. Our children need spiritually and emotionally strong parents now more than ever. The time to prepare for stormy times is when it’s quiet. But it’s not that `quiet’ anymore. Unfortunately, now we have to prepare by thinking, not so much about saving money for the next car, but about saving for a rainy day, for unexpected needs and circumstances.
We will all come to different conclusions about what changes, what actions, what steps we should take. As Torah Jews we are not doomsday types, but our history tells us we cannot be like the proverbial ostrich with his head in the sand. As with all decisions, the Torah guides us to a reasonable middle path. In times of tzara, trouble, we always need to strengthen our Torah learning, Tefila and performance of Chesed. Equally important is to begin to think in terms Americans and even American Jews have never had to think.
Our Bitachon is strong – but Bitachon does not mean difficulties don’t happen. It happened in Mitzrayim to a prosperous, comfortable community of our forebears and the pattern has repeated itself countless times during our centuries in Eretz Yisrael and certainly throughout our long and bitter 2,000 year Galus. Hashem will help us bear whatever happens, and we will emerge triumphant in the end. Our challenges, decisions, and actions lie in the space in between. We cannot ignore the need to think about what’s happening around us and to seek guidance and to fortify ourselves and our children.
May Hashem guide us and protect us. May these difficult times be the last darkness before the light of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, coming speedily in our times.
Have a meaningful and fortifying Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann