What Will the New Year Bring? A Prediction
2008 is hardly the worst
year in history, but it sure feels like it reading the news, blogs, commentaries
and analysis of the past year. People are tentative and fearful. The mood
is generally miserable. The outlook grim.
2008’s economic meltdown
– you can check out all the historic statistics on any popular website – is
nowhere close to ending. A global recession, considered by many unprecedented,
has suddenly erupted, with a domino effect continuing to ripple through the
world. Mumbai has shaken us all up. The Middle East is at war again, or should I say, not at
war again, but an ongoing battle that never seems to end. What is even more
distressing is that Israel, perhaps for the first time in all of history,
refuses to acknowledge that war has been declared against it, and to act accordingly
and decisively, instead of just reacting to the latest missile attacks, second-guessing
itself and moving forward with so much uncertainty. Read Israel Harel’s article
in Haaretz, Israel Blinked First.
What will happen in the
coming year? Will the new United States President change things, or will we
have just more of the same? How many more foreclosures, bankruptcies, failed
companies and financial institutions can we look forward to in 2009? What
new revelations and corruptions will emerge? Will our economic systems fail
completely or will they rebound? Are we headed toward better times or worse
The questions are many.
Answers few, if any.
Predicting what the new
year will bring can seem quite presumptuous, if not outright folly. Yet, I
will venture to do so anyway. No, I don’t have a crystal ball. I have something
far better. Read on.
By looking back we can
see ahead. The greatest guide for the future is the past. We cannot predict
the coming year’s events. But we can learn from those before us who have seen
and experienced far worse than we will ever see, and rose above it. What is
the secret of the resilience and power of heroic people who endured and thrived
despite great suffering?
One of the most remarkable
and overlooked stories of history was the transcendent ability of Torah scholars
to produce an enormous volume of literature despite the harshest circumstances
Throughout the Early and
Middle Ages, with Jewish persecution at its heights, sages like Rashi, Ramban,
Rabbeinu Tam, Rashbam, the Tosafists and so many others – literally hundreds
of scholars – wrote thousands of pages, containing the most brilliant and
eloquent commentary you will ever read. And no where in their writings will
you find complaints, bitterness, depression or demoralization. Pogroms, the
crusades, persecutions, expulsions, inquisitions were ravaging Europe. But
as much as you analyze their words, you will not uncover an iota of the tragic
and difficult events taking place around them!
Quite the contrary. Page
after page is filled with inspiration, uplifting words, enormous strength
and powerful insights.
Usually, you would expect
to find some mention or reference in a book to the personal challenges of
the author. Often authors bare their souls and their life traumas in their
writings. But even when they don’t, with a bit of deconstruction and analysis,
we can uncover the author’s personal traumas. Indeed, entire studies today
are dedicated to show us how to recognize in an author's words his abusive
father and dysfunctional mother, every grievance against society can
be seen in his pages.
When it comes to our Torah
sages, you find none of the sort. No fear, no tentativeness, nothing in their
writings reflects the most trying challenges of their times! And what is even
more amazing is that this is not an isolated case. Literally every scholar
and sage, from the time of Moses, through all the ages, left us with a legacy
of writings that reflect a higher world, not at all scarred or touched by
the horrible events of the world below.
Where did they have the
composure, the presence of mind, to focus and produce such clarity? How were
they able to not be overcome by doubts and fears for themselves and their
Take Joseph in this week’s
Torah portion: Despite his travails – sold by his own brothers into slaver,
22 years away from his beloved father, orphaned from his mother Rachel – you
would think that he would have retained some bitterness. In fact, when Joseph
finally reveals himself to his brothers, instead of fury and revenge, despite
his great suffering, Joseph ends up calming his mortified brothers: “Do not
feel guilty,” he tells them, “for it is not you who sent me here, but G-d,”
in order to save lives! (See
Simply remarkable. A powerful
lesson for all history.
Where did Joseph find
such strength of character, such power, to not allow his circumstances to
shape his life, and instead he shaped his circumstances?
Was Joseph – and all the
Middle Age sages – out of touch? Hardly. They were keenly aware and sensitive
to the welfare of their own children. Yet, they still were able to rise above
The answer lies in a powerful
expression: “az men iz tzugebunden oiben, falt men nischt unten.” When you
are bound above, you don’t fall below.
This is the secret of
transcendence: the ability to not be defined by the events around us; the
recognition that we are products of our own perceptions, and we write the
script of our own destinies.
Worship man-made devices
below, and your life will be determined by your attitude. Connect to the sublime
above, and you will be able to rise above the immediate events and move forward
with fortitude and optimism.
If you feel that mortals
– or money – control the forces of your life, then you have delivered your
own verdict: You will be subject to these forces, with all their unpredictability.
If however, like Joseph, you recognize that the circumstances of your life
are driven by a higher hand, and nothing, absolutely nothing that humans do
can control your destiny, then you have freed yourself from the behavior of
others, and can ride through the challenges and even discover how they have
empowered you to “save lives.”
The very question – “what
will be?” “what will happen?” – is our undoing. If you feel that things “happen”
to you, or that you “find yourself” in a predicament or situation, then you
have relinquished control, and surrendered your destiny to the “things” that
The secret to success
in the new year is to not empower the weak forces that drive fear into our
hearts. But to empower your own soul; to recognize that you have within yourself
all the necessary strength to fulfill your life’s mission. To realize that
things don’t happen to you; you make things happen. You don’t “find yourself”
in situations; you place yourself in them.
We cannot control the
events to come. But we can certainly control whether and how we will be influenced
by them. Good ships are not those that can stop the storms or tame the waves;
they are the ones that ride the swells, confident in their own ability to
know when to thrust forward and when to slow down.
Not to minimize the challenges
of our times, but we can hardly call 2008 the worst year in history. By looking
back to far worse years we can learn how to proceed. And how much of our troubles
are actually psychological? Imagine, if a critical mass would have a change
of attitude, and learn from our predecessors how to “bind” ourselves to that
which is “above.”
But for now, before we
address the critical mass, let us look at ourselves.
No, we do not know what
the new year will bring. But I will make confident prediction: Your attitude
will define your year.
No matter what happens
this year, whatever up and downs will be coming our way, your destiny will
be shaped by your attitudes; you will experience exactly what you allow yourself
to experience: You will either be dragged down by the gravitational pull of
the earth that you worship, or you will be lifted on the wings of your soul
that you believe in.