I was sitting with family on the night of New Year’s Eve and someone asked the following question to all those around the table: “What do you predict for the year ahead?”
The end of a secular year and the beginning of a new year is always filled with reflections of the events of the past year and predictions for the future. Typically we reflect on bad stuff. We recall the deaths of famous people. We remember the horrible storms, the diseases and plagues, and the wars and the violence. Partially we do so because the source of our information and knowledge is the news, and partially because we are drawn to sensational stuff. Yet in spite of Ebola, there was incredible advances in medicine. Our economy looks good, the technological advances we have seen are amazing, and the amount of philanthropy is extraordinary.
There are more people well fed, sheltered and working then ever in the history of humanity. There are more people living in peace then we have ever known. From the perspective of Jewish history, we are more secure and more comfortable and live with more freedom then ever before!
And the future. How can we possibly know? I saw a piece written by Rabbi Mitch Wolberg that indicated the following about predictions: “So what will the New Year bring…more of the same or better news? It is not easy to say. It was the great thinker and philosopher, Yogi Berra, who once said: It’s tough to make predictions – especially about the future.
Being the first week of the New Year 2015, this week was filled with predictions of what lays ahead in the coming year. Predictions like those of:
– Thomas Watson, then Chairman of IBM, who once said: ‘I think there is a world market for about five computers.’
– And Ken Olson, the President of the Digital Equipment Corporation, who once said: ‘There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.’
– Or Business Week Magazine in 1979 which said: ‘With over 50 foreign cars on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t going to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market.’
– Or Admiral Frank Knox who said: ‘No matter what happens, the U.S. Navy is not going to be caught napping.’ He said that on Dec. 5, 1941.
Remember when Ebola first came to our shores? Everyone feared an epidemic! Yet, to date, as someone put it, ‘More Americans have married Kim Kardashian than have died from Ebola!’
No doubt about it, Yogi is right! Predictions, especially those about the future, are not easy to predict. But one thing I can tell you: it’s our responsibility as citizens of the world to continuously hope for a better future. Our world is filled with prophets of doom, and they are especially found in the Jewish world, where many who should know better see a dark cloud for the future of American Jewry, European Jewry and the Jews of Israel. The danger is that all of these can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.”
In the Torah reading this week, Jacob is on his deathbed and there is a verse that indicates that he gathered his children together to tell them about their future. And you know what? He doesn’t. Rather he reflects on their past. Nobody knows what the future will bring. That’s the uncertainty with which we live. And it seems that our past has much to say about our future, but maybe even more to say about how we perceive our future.
So here’s a simple “take away”:
Don’t worry too much about what has already been, but be grateful for what was good. Learn from what was in order to make life better. Know that in the midst of all the misfortune of the past, there is a tremendous amount of fortune. With appreciation for where you are and what you have, you can take a deep breath and give thanks for the fact that you are here and you are alive. Life is a gift, and we have some control in making it good. We can do good for others. We can give and express love. We can sing. We should appreciate ourselves and show appreciation to those around us.
Have a happy 2015!
See you in shul and Shabbat Shalom!
This column is dedicated to the memory of Rubin Shafran z”l