Judging by media reports, the Jewish people are not long for this world. Iran predicts that the demise of the State of Israel – now home to the majority of Jews in the world – is at hand. Hezbollah is reported to have amassed an arsenal of rockets numbering in the hundreds of thousands and that they are preparing to use them. And what enemies without plan to do, enemies within are succeeding in doing. Intermarriage rates continue to skyrocket. Support for Jewish institutions is in decline. Young Jews are increasingly less likely to care about Israel or about Judaism. The reports are, to say the least, disheartening.
I am concerned, but not worried. Here is why.
Among the shortest (a mere thirty-eight verses) and least studied books of the Bible is the prophetic Book of Haggai. Haggai or Haggiah (cf. Chronicles 6:15) is twice mentioned in the Book of Ezra (5:1; 6:14). He prophesied during the building of the Second Temple and it is in this capacity that we discover his importance. The returnees from Babylonian Exile were in distress. Life was tough. The surrounding population was unwelcoming. The tasks the people faced were formidable. Unity was elusive. World politics were volatile. Allegiances were questioned and alliances shaken. To these tumultuous times Haggai brings a message of optimism. The Jewish people enter into a period of ascent. The rebuilt Temple will be more glorious than its predecessor and usher in a time of peace (2:9).
God has previously been the primordial and pre-eminent encourager. God boosts the spirits of Cain after his sacrifice was rejected in favor of that of his brother. God tells Cain that he can become the master of his feelings and not let a single setback defeat him (Genesis 4:6). God, through the prophet Isaiah, tells the Jewish people they have nothing to fear (Isaiah 44:2). So it is not out of character for God to offer encouragement to the Jewish people through Haggai at this critical historical juncture.
To do so successfully, however, requires a specific strategy – a strategy identified and discussed by Ariane de Bonvoisin. To move forward in challenging times first requires dropping negative beliefs and re-writing the sad story being told to reflect the outcome desired. In short, stop telling all the bad things that happen and why. Haggai does not rehearse the factors that resulted in destruction and exile. Rather, he points to the future as glorious and imminent. After crafting a new story, it is essential to articulate a belief is something bigger and better. Of the many people be Bonvoisin interviewed, those who coped effectively with crises believed that there was a bigger reason for their challenge and a greater meaning behind their struggle. Haggai interprets the turbulent present in terms of the fulfillment of the grander mission of Judaism.
And it is the grander vision of Judaism that buoys me. Judaism came into this world as a necessary remedy for the moral failings of civilization. That has not changed. As such, Judaism is not merely essential to humanity; it is indispensible. Hence, despite any evidence to the contrary, Judaism will not disappear.