Is there a future?

Much of what we do is predicated on the notion that there's a future. Having children, for example. Caring about the long-term effect of our actions. Caring about anything at all.

A few short years ago, there was basically one kind of person who went around proclaiming that "the world is coming to an end." The kind that got an alarmed, pitying look, and perhaps a quarter for a cup of coffee. Today, it's a notion seriously debated by scientists, lobbyists and world leaders. Daily we're fed a diet of high-pitched news reports on accumulating greenhouse gases, melting arctic ice, vanishing polar bears and rising sea levels, coupled with predictions of a world soon to be a barren desert, submerged under the ocean, or both.

As the doomsday predictions begin to filter into our consciousness, will a cloud of despair begin to fog our actions? Will our faith in the surety of life begin to waver? Will the determination and resolve that's needed to tackle life's challenges begin to slacken?

Doubt in Egypt

Egypt, 1394 BCE. Pharaoh decrees that all Jewish newborn males be thrown in to the Nile. That would effectively make the Hebrews an extinct tribe, a relic of history. Without any future, there was seemingly no purpose in life, and certainly no point in procreation. This was the logical line of reasoning embraced by Amram and his wife Jochebed, who decided to divorce. There was no point in staying married.

Miriam, their young daughter, admonished them not to give up. There is a master plan to which we are not privy, she insisted. There is no reason to despair when only G‑d knows what the future holds; what our destiny has in store for us.

They saw the wisdom of her words and remarried, their hearts full of trust in G‑d. Their courageous act was rewarded. Moses was born. There was a future; and what a bright future it was.

Kiddush on a Crust of Bread

Dovid Henoch Zaklikowski, the author's namesake, in his youth.
Dovid Henoch Zaklikowski, the author's namesake, in his youth.

Auschwitz. 1945. My grandfather, Reb Henoch as he was known before the war, is standing in line to the infamous Auschwitz gas chambers. His usual smile had faded away over the months he had spent in Auschwitz, replaced now by a frown and depressed look. He knew exactly where the line was headed, there were no secrets. The world was ending right here, right now. There was no turning back. There was no future — not for him, and not for his people.

It was Friday night; the holy Shabbat that has watched over the Jewish nation since their redemption from Egypt. Henoch fumbled for something in his pocket, he found it; it was the scraps of hard bread that he had collected the entire week. He had rationed his meager portion of daily bread so that at the end of the week he could sanctify the Shabbat by reciting the kiddush over a few crusts of bread.

He was determined to do this one mitzvah, even if it would be his last. To the utter amazement of those near him on the line, and despite their feeble protests, he proceeded to recite the kiddush as if he was standing at his Shabbat table. He ate a crumb and shared the rest with the other Jews around him.

On that night the heavens opened up to hear my grandfather's kiddush. And at that exact moment, the mechanism which operated the chamber of death malfunctioned. Thirty years later he was still around to tell the story of his fateful Shabbat at Auschwitz.

His Shabbat lives on in my young son, as he stands beside me when I sanctify the Day of Rest over a cup of wine at my Shabbat table in Brooklyn. Henoch did not give up and there was a future.

Will We Melt?

Such is the way of the Jew. To never give up. There is always a future, and a good one at that. Giving up on the future is a failure in and of itself.

The academia will continue to debate whether our fate is in the hands of the changing climate. We, on our part, will continue to do what we need to do, intent on making this world a better place, with less pollution, less violence and darkness.

One thing, however, we will never doubt. There is a future.