Optimism

Our Sages state (Megila 31b) that Ezra ordained that Jews read the “curses” of the book of Devarim immediately before Rosh Hashana (the sedra of Ki Tavo), so that, symbolically, “the year and its curses will end,” and a new, more joyous year will commence.

Each year has its share of blessings and curses, but the bad tidings seem to linger a bit longer and transform our lives in unanticipated ways. Illness and death, job loss and economic hardship, personal upheaval and psychological dislocation can shatter the way we see ourselves and our world and leave us reeling, groping for some words of comfort or grounds for optimism. But they are there, if only we open our minds and our hearts to them.

My late cousin, Ehud Manor, one of Isael’s greatest songwriters, was commissioned in 2003 by the Zionist Congress convening in Yerushalyim to compose an “optimistic song,” following several years of persistent death and mayhem, and pervasive despondency, in Israel. He wrote one of his last songs, simply titled “An Optimistic Zionist Song” (Shir Tzioni Optimi), but its lyrics (not exclusive to Zionism) are profound, inspiring, and filled with solace and succor for anyone who has experienced difficult moments and remains troubled by the vicissitudes of life. The song breeds a sense of optimism about life – its value, its opportunities – and reinforces what is perhaps one of the essential notions about life that often takes years to learn: we usually cannot control our circumstances; we can only control how we respond to those circumstances.

Herewith follows “An Optimistic Zionist Song” (translation mine; the Hebrew, of course, rhymes, and the melody is upbeat):

Deep within the winter you will find that there is still within you summer,

deep within the sadness you will find that there is still within you joy,

deep within the night you will find that there is still within you morning,

deep within the anger you will find that there is still within you forgiveness.”

“Deep within the fear you will find that there is still within you courage,

deep within the silence you will find that there is still within you a voice,

deep within the ice you will find that there is still within you a flame,

deep within the clouds, you will again find the blue-white-blue.”

Life can contain within it a coldness that appears relentless, a gloom that seemingly will never lift, a night that never ends, and an anger that people can cling to – long after the causes of that anger have faded into the mists of time. They all stifle our initiative, rob us of our zest, and cheat us out of years on this earth. We become paralyzed by uncertainty, and think that our predicaments are frozen and the good life unachievable.

That is an error, because the means of our psychological liberation usually lie within us – if only we desire to dig deep, to access it, to bring to the fore new, heretofore buried but healthier emotions. That is the choice we are given – in the Torah’s words, “and you will choose life, so that you and your descendants may live” (Devarim 30:19). The person who is embittered by life stops living, and pejoratively colors the way his/her children will view the world, as well. Certainly, not every problem in life can be solved with the right attitude, but every problem can be ameliorated with the right attitude.

“And if you are not an optimist, it is a sign that you are no longer young,

and if you are not an optimist, it is a sign that you must again wake up,

to the chirping of birds, to the gentle winds from the sea, and

to the  fragrance of the citrus in bloom.”

“And if you are not an optimist, it is a sign that you are no longer young,

and if you are not an optimist, it is a sign that you must again wake up,

to the laughter of children, to the sun that still rises, and

to the song of several friends.”

The young have a boundless sense of optimism. They see a world of limitless potential, as the tableau on which they will implement their dreams. As we age, we realize we will not fulfill half of our quests in life (probably, for the better). But the sense of hopefulness must remain – as we appreciate the carefree chatter of children and grandchildren, the beauty of the world around us, the deep and abiding relationships we have with family and friends that enrich our lives, and the opportunity to serve Hashem at every stage in life. On Rosh Hashana, we are again all children, davening with our parents and grandparents even if they are not physically present, and standing before our Father in Heaven: “Have compassion on us, as a father has compassion on children.”

“Deep within the silence you will find that there is still within you a voice,

deep within the clouds, you will again find the blue-white-blue.”

We can thus dispatch “the year and its curses,” and usher in “the new year and its blessings” – that our lives will be filled with good health and bounty spent wisely, that our voices will resonate with Torah and tefila, that the people of Israel will be blessed with tranquility, that we will all find solace and hopefulness in the pleasure of friends and our community, and that we will be worthy this year of beholding the redemption of Israel and all mankind.

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