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by Rabbi Berel Wein

The only thing certain about life is uncertainty. But we all abhor the feeling of uncertainty. We spend a great deal of wealth to secure professional advice about the future of our wealth, health and all other sundry matters of life and living, all in search of certainty about our futures.

We dread uncertainty, but it is uncertainty that always forms the stuff of life itself. I had reservations to fly to America for my grandson’s bar mitzvah. Made months in advance, the reservations were perfectly coordinated so that my flight connections in America were such that I would not have to fly on Friday and that there would be a chance to rest a little between flights. After all, I am not twenty-five any longer and I have to give in to the realities of my more mature years.

Well, El Al informed me twenty hours before my flight that they have changed the departure time in such a way that I cannot make any of the necessary connections in America to arrive at the bar mitzvah in time .I panicked but my trustworthy travel agent somehow got me on an earlier flight and I am able to attend the bar mitzvah.

But, phew, who needs that uncertainty and aggravation? But that is life itself. Nothing quite goes as planned and hoped. But having the ability to roll with the punches is essential for living and recognizing and dealing with uncertainty is a sign of maturity and strong mental health.

Apparently that is how God created our world and our challenge is to live positively, no matter what, in an uncertain world.

Jewish history is a history of uncertainty. The entire experience of exile and being “the other” is the supreme example of living with uncertainty. Jews for the last two thousand years always lived at the changing whim of monarchs, governments and societies.

Even though Jews and their communities made long range plans and built magnificent structures, physical and spiritual, in their locations, all of these structures eventually proved to be only temporary in nature.

The maskilim – the “enlightened” ones in the nineteenth century derided Jews as being “luftmesnchen” – Jews who live in the air, who have no base and no certainty. They sought to somehow remedy that situation either through secularism, socialism, communism or Zionism. But their certainty that the Jewish situation of uncertainty could be changed to certainty with the adoption of such ideologies and programs proved to be illusory and false.

Europe, apparently stable and mostly peaceful for the nineteenth century in the post-Napoleonic period, exploded in two unbelievably ruinous wars in the twentieth century, destroying empires, changing borders, establishing and dismembering nations and destroying the Jewish population in Europe. How is that for uncertainty compounded?

And the ironic and fearsome point of this is that practically no one saw these events coming. We are always blindsided by life itself. It interferes with all of our best-laid plans and aspirations. At the end of the day, we are left alone to deal with the realities of life and never with what we imagined to be its certainties.

Among the certainties that Zionism advanced was that anti-Semitism would disappear and that Jewish security would be achieved through the establishment of our national state. Well, miraculously and against all odds and with great personal sacrifice and loss, the state was established, strengthened and exists in all of its glory and achievements.

Yet none of the promised certainties that the state was to achieve have really come into being. Anti-Semitism is a thriving industry everywhere in the world. The State of Israel, through no fault of its own, has to a certain degree even exacerbated this problem. In the non-Jewish world (and tragically enough, even sections of the Jewish world) have the luxury of being anti-Israel while piously professing that their statements and policies are not all associated with anti-Semitism.

The Lord has blessed us that over five and a half million Jews are now concentrated in the state of Israel, an area of land far smaller than was the eastern European Diaspora.

Our enemies speak only of our destruction so that our security is uncertain though we believe that the Lord together with our own arms and resources will help protect us somehow.

All of us now realize that we face an uncertain future. But not fooling ourselves with imagined certainties is a step in the right direction - of being able to live and prosper in a very uncertain world.

Shabat shalom.

Berel Wein

Reprinted with permission from



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