Jewish history is long and it is full of ups and downs. Our individual lifespans are very short. We can take both good news and bad too much to heart, not seeing the long view.
There is a story about a man who found a horse. His neighbors said, “Oh, what good luck!” but the wise man shrugged. His son rode the horse, and fell off and broke his leg. His neighbors said, “Oh, what bad luck!” but the wise man just shrugged. The army came through town, drafting all the young men, but they didn’t want the young man with the broken leg, and the neighbors said…. you get the point. What looks to be bad luck may be good, and what looks to be good luck may not be so great in the long run. Over the very long run, who knows?
Given that we cannot really tell what is good luck and what is bad luck much of the time, how can we make judgements?
Jewish tradition teaches us that what matters is how we conduct ourselves, no matter what the situation. Torah is often translated “Law” but what it really means is “Teaching.” Studying Torah is how we learn how to behave.
We need Torah when times are good because it is easy to fall into bad habits when times are easy. We need Torah when times are bad, because it is hard to be a good person when goodness is punished, and hard to behave rightly when people are hateful to us.
We are living in challenging times on many levels:
The State of Israel is facing decisions about its future: will it recognize all Jews, or only one interpretation of Judaism? How will it deal with women, and with religious minorities? How will it address the situation with the Palestinians? Will there be one State of Israel, or a Jewish state and a Palestinian state?
American Jews also face challenges. How will we behave when many Americans are hostile to minorities and immigrants? How will we behave under a government whose values are different from ours? How will we behave as Jews, towards other Jews who have different values?
In all these cases, Torah – not just the scroll itself, but the broader body of its learning and interpretation – Torah can sustain us as we navigate these challenges. The study of Torah is a great mitzvah, a sacred obligation, because it leads to all other mitzvot. (Kiddushin 40b)
As we say in the service for reading the Torah:
It is a tree of life for those who hold fast to it. – Mishkan T’filah, p 374.