The Eternal Optimists
The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Einstein sardonically stated that to attempt the same thing over and over again and expect different results is the definition of insanity. Then perhaps we are an insane people. Here we are celebrating the New Year yet again. It’s not a big surprise. The rituals are exactly the same. The prayers haven’t changed in hundreds of years. The shofar is the same type and form which has been used for over 3,000 years. Yet how many of us can state that there was some significant difference in our lives after Rosh Hashana? What does all the praying, moaning and bellyaching actually do? I can understand the food and the festive meals. That’s always fun and I’ll accept any excuse to celebrate. But what are we doing yet again in the synagogue?
I think that the secret is none other than an intrinsic, divinely inspired type of insanity that is nothing less than pure optimism. In the face of years and years of failure, disappointment, heartache, loneliness, illness and all the other maladies that are the human condition, we stand in front of God and we say: “We want better.”
And perhaps the madness is that we expect an answer. We expect God to listen to our pleas. We expect God to serve us our cure, our success, our comfort, our prize on a silver platter. On rare occasions He does, though we are often so distracted or clueless that we fail to note or appreciate the divine intervention. On many occasions the answer is a brutal no. No, you will not get better. No, your loved one will not survive. No, you will not find a job. No, you will not find the love of your life. No. No. No. The constant failure, the constant silent rejection of our innermost pleas is devastating.
Yet we come back again. We plead again. We pray again. We hope again. This is the definition of insanity.
But our sages, our traditions, instruct us to continue with this insanity. They command us never to give up hope. While there is breath in our bodies we look to God to deliver us. At the same time our traditions guide us to deal with our reality, to accept present circumstances, yet always hoping, praying, working for a better future.
That is the secret of Rosh Hashana. That is why we return every year to meet our Creator. That is the unquenchable optimism, which states that no matter how bad things are, no matter how many times we’ve been down the same road, we are allowed, we are enjoined, we are commanded to seek better. We must never give up. We must never tire. We must never quit.
Perhaps this Rosh Hashana will be different.