What a Beautiful World It Will Be 

I grew up with the bedrock Western philosophical assertion that as time goes on, life will get better. People of all colors and creeds will recognize that what joins us together is so much more significant than our differences. As our technological skills increase geometrically, so too will our ability to cope with issues like poverty, hunger, and disease. The cup will not be half-full. The cup of Western civilization will “runneth over.”

This ideology is best expressed in a Donald Fagen song called “IGY” which stands for International Geophysical Year. The IGY was an international scientific project that lasted from July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958. It marked the end of a long period during the Cold War when scientific interchange between East and West had been seriously interrupted. Sixty-seven countries participated in IGY projects. The promise of a new course for the world was palpable. When Kennedy was elected, the New Frontier promised a world soon free of fear and oppression.

Standing tough under stars and stripes
We can tell
This dream’s in sight
You’ve got to admit it
At this point in time that it’s clear
The future looks bright
On that train all graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
Well by seventy-six we’ll be A.O.K.

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free…

A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We’ll be clean when their work is done
We’ll be eternally free yes and eternally young

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free

The lyrics simultaneously recall the spirit of the moment, the true belief that we were really on to something. After the Holocaust and Hiroshima, we were ready to forge ahead into the New Frontier. Of course, the lyrics also evidence the profound naivete of that time and are actually sad.

We are farther than ever from a beautiful world. There is so much fear. People are more divided than ever into political and socio-economic wagon circles. The cup has gone from overflowing to cracked and slowly leaking out.

It is at such moments, reflecting on the hope that was and the present sense of doom and disappointment, that we Jews need to reflect on our history and philosophy. We survived the destruction of the Second Temple, actually emerging from that traumatic period with renewed purpose and resilience. We did not fold, though many other civilizations teetered and fell under far less dire circumstances. The fact that after 6 million perished during the Holocaust we did not shut down and quietly fade into history is the example par excellence of Jewish grit.

We have faith in our story of rising and falling and rising again. We have faith in the value of life in all of its diversity. We don’t need the world to be Jewish to justify our existence. Because we are all created in God’s image, we know that that we have an ongoing obligation to make this world better than it is right now. Some Jews believe that the completion of history will come with the arrival of a Messiah, a human designated by God, to bring about a beautiful, perfected world. That belief is often accompanied by the necessity of war and struggle and bloodshed as preliminary to the great peace.

Most Jews no longer believe in a personal Messiah. Instead, we contend that there may be a time called the Messianic era and that we, not God, are the architects of that time. So we work. We build. We pray. And then we build some more. And even though logic might suggest that the world as we know it is circling the drain, we persist. As Rabbi Tarfon teaches in Perkei Avot, “You are not required to finish your work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it.”

We are not looking for perfection. It’s not about the dream being in sight. It’s about making it better. That’s our job: through our work and the sweat of our brows and the hopes we cultivate, to make it better.

 

Shabbat Shalom

rebhayim

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