Daily news accounts focus on enough misery to drive anyone to horde freeze-dried foods and fresh water and head off to their Y2K survival shelters. At the top of the list are nuclear threats, terrorism, genocides, and an international shortage of Gulden's Brown Spicy Mustard.
Is optimism possible in the face of all this misery? And perhaps more importantly, even if there is reason to be optimistic about the future, is it socially responsible to focus on a bright future when the present is so bleak?
Before responding to this question, allow me to dispel some of the gloom and doom with a tidbit of good news: Tisha b'Av is coming! We're so excited about this day's approach that this past week we started a three week countdown to this day. And starting this Shabbat, we will intensify our anticipation during the final stretch of nine days leading up to Tisha b'Av. Be still my heart!!
Well, truth be told, this is a little premature. As I type this, Tisha b'Av still commemorates many tragedies, chiefly the destruction of the Temples and the ensuing exiles; it's a scheduled day of fasting and sorrow. The three week buildup is void of celebration, the "nine days" consumed with mourning.
Yet Maimonides writes that ultimately these tragic days will be joyously celebrated. Moshiach, and the changes he will inspire in the world, will expose the latent goodness and G‑dliness in events currently perceivable only as barbaric. But, mirroring the question I asked earlier: dare we return the emergency generator and store away the Scott M-95 military-grade gas mask? In these final moments, while we still await the Redemption, can we incorporate the future festive character of this season?
Let us draw insight from one of the darkest moments in our history, the day the Golden Calf was created.
It was the 16th of Tamuz. The Jewish people, less than six weeks since receiving the Torah at Sinai, panic at Moses' apparent delay in returning from the mountain top. Frustrated, a mob confronts Aaron and demands that he make for them a god. Hoping to deflate their zeal, Aaron instructs them to ask their wives for their jewelry for use in crafting their new deity. The Jews hotheadedness gets the better of their judgment and they eagerly offer up their own personal earrings and bracelets. Aaron, still hoping for his brother's return and an end to the madness, stalls, declaring: "Tomorrow will be a celebration for G‑d" (see Exodus 32).
The Midrash interprets this statement prophetically; indeed "tomorrow [the 17th of Tamuz] will be [in Moshiach's time] a celebration for G‑d."
Imagine Aaron's predicament. His holy nephew, Hur, was just stoned to death for his attempts to stop this mob. They are ready, willing and able to do the same to Aaron. His only option to save this gang of thugs from irreversible sin is to build them an idol. And in the midst of this chaos Aaron has the clarity to foresee and even proclaim: "tomorrow will be a 'festival' to G‑d"!
How often do we panic and abandon reason? The stock market dips and it's sell, sell, sell (at a loss) only to have it come back stronger. A good friend misses a lunch appointment and we are sure the relationship is doomed, and then she calls to reschedule. The printer won't work and we rush to spend $700 on a new one when it just needed toner!
The antidote is to always maintain perspective; never to drown in the darkness of the moment.
The Rebbe had the chutzpah to speak about redemption and Moshiach—despite Darfur, crumbling economies, and the like. It takes chutzpah to speak of a world that is filled with the pursuit of G‑dliness when the newspapers are filled with horrors. Like Aaron, the model of love for the Jewish people, the Rebbe alerted us to the good that is right now and the better that is coming, while tending to the nightmares of the moment.
No one was more keenly aware of the hardships of life than the Rebbe. His proclamations that Moshiach's arrival is imminent were not the product of Pollyanna hopefulness; they constituted a vision driven by true love of Israel and trust in G‑d's constant kindness.
The Three Weeks offer us a unique opportunity to discover good where there seems to be only darkness. The darkness demands that we reach down deep and find a genuine remedy for a hurting world, a healing salve, and not a mere band-aid.
May these days be transformed into days of joy now!