Just the other day, a fellow approached a newsstand to buy a drink. When the vendor offered him the daily paper, the man declined saying: “I am too depressed as it is.”
Indeed, the headlines these days are dominated by bad news. Economic woes. Natural disasters. Abuse and family breakups. Our collective mood is despondent. Many people feel that they are very far from heaven – toiling for basic survival, like farmers in the field, with our technological progress only amplifying the contrast. Many are out of a job, or struggling to make ends meet.
For Jews in particular, the news coming out of Israel isn’t pleasant. The anti-Israel PR machine is working full force to convince the world how Israel and the US will be increasingly isolated if they don’t accept the Palestinian demand for an independent state without any security guarantees for Israel. The pressure keeps mounting with no comfortable future in sight.
But as the ultimate optimistic farm boy says, looking at a barn full of manure: “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere.”
What do we Jews have to say about all this pessimism? It’s two weeks before Rosh Hashana – a time of hope and renewal – but do we know where God is? Can we reach for the stars when things below seem so grim?
The current Hebrew month of Elul – and this week’s Torah reading – holds the secret of how to access heaven on earth. It teaches us how we can hold infinity in the palm of our material hand and eternity in the mundane hours of our routine life; how we can experience the extraordinary in the ordinary, and yes, how we can touch the sky even as the news on earth isn’t very pretty.