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Rabbi Berel Wein

(July 27) This week's column is not being written on Saturday night, as it usually is. I wanted to hear the results of the Camp David summit before commenting.

But I did not sleep so well Saturday night, for I found myself thinking about the perilous nature of events engulfing us. I came to the conclusion that I would not be any wiser knowing whether the summit ended in "failure" or "success."

For the ultimate result is a deep and abiding uncertainty about the State of Israel.The only certainty for our future is uncertainty.

Now, this is not a new situation for Old Israel, the unappreciated Jew of the exile, and tradition. In fact it is not a new situation for humanity generally. We are completing a century wherein mankind has been constantly blindsided by unpredictable and in fact unimaginable events.

No one in 1900 imagined that there would be World Wars I and II. No one foresaw the disappearance of all the major empires that had existed for centuries. The rise and fall of communism and the technological and space accomplishments of the coming century were all stuff of fiction then. The Great Depression, which would discredit economic soothsaying forever, was never contemplated. The world order was secure and certain in 1900, or so most of its citizens and political leaders believed.

But they were all wrong, dead wrong.

The Jewish world in 1900 also could not imagine what fate had in store for it just a few short decades hence. The Holocaust, the communist repression, the secularization and assimilation of a large portion of the Jewish society resulting in the loss of millions of potential Jews, the creation of the State of Israel, the growth and strength of American Jewry and the growing role of Torah in that society, all were the stuff of frenzied imagination. Dreams of Zionism were unrealistic; Eastern European Jewry would continue to be the nucleus of Jewish creativity and communal life, the forces of the Left would bring true emancipation to Jewry and the world, and by becoming more and more assimilated into the countries of their residence, the Jews would overcome antisemitism.

These were the certainties of the age, assented to by the scholars, editorial writers and intellectuals of the time.

But they too were all wrong, dead wrong.

So WHATEVER the result of the Camp David summit, there is neither certainty of war nor of peace, of cooperative prosperity nor of festering hatred. No leader or op-ed writer knows what the morrow brings. We can only do what we think to be best under present circumstances. But that presupposes that we will have to live with uncertainty for the long future, if not forever. And if there is anything that our generation abhors it is uncertainty. Family planning, financial planning, job security, clearly defined borders, all are the mantras of our day. But deep down within us, the monster of uncertainty nags and gnaws.

So we should temper any euphoria, but also refrain from predicting disaster. The future is far too uncertain for bold and rash statements. Remember that Chamberlain predicted "Peace for our time" after the Munich Conference.

We should attempt to reacquire that ancient Jewish skill of being able to live creatively and productively in spite of external uncertainties. Of course, this skill is much harder to master in a society guided by a know-it-all elite, which openly claims that it has no beliefs, no absolutes, no permanent moral or social standards of personal behavior and communal life.

All of us who truly yearn for peace with the Arabs - and I think that this includes almost all of Jewish Israeli society - should also train ourselves to function in the reality of uncertainty which will engulf us in the immediate future. We should hold our breath, tone down our rhetoric and keep our powder dry. As in the time of Ezra and Nehemia, we should continue to build with the trowel in one hand while we hold the spear in the other.

Faith in ourselves and in Jewish destiny, belief in the verities of Jewish tradition and the God of Israel, the righteousness of our cause and at the same time the necessity for accommodating other humans, are essential ingredients for productive living in an uncertain and volatile environment.

Copyright 2000 by Rabbi Berel Wein and Project Genesis. We welcome your comments.

 


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