The span of our life is seventy years, or, given the strength, eighty years; but the best of them are trouble and sorrow. They pass by speedily, and we are in darkness. (90:10)
The title of this Psalm is “A Prayer of Moses.” According to Deuteronomy, Moses lived to the age of 120. Although he had his share of aggravation, dealing with a sometimes uncooperative Israelite people, to characterize the best of his years as “trouble and sorrow” is pessimistic, to say the least.
Were I to write a Psalm imagining Moses contemplating his life and speaking with God, my Psalm would focus on the miracles and the redemption from Egypt. “You give life to human beings, nurture and sustain us in the desert of our lives; when all seems bleak, you are a source of blessing, comfort, and strength.”
The historian Salo Baron argued that the age of the “Lachrymose view of Jewish history” is over. No longer should we write history from the perspective that “gentile persecution and Jewish suffering have been the shaping forces of Jewish history.” Rather, as he said in a 1975 interview, “suffering is part of the destiny’ of the Jews, but so is repeated joy as well as ultimate redemption.” The 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia has an article entitled “Optimism and Pessimism” arguing that optimism is a fundamental Jewish value.
Moses died a hero, so much so in fact that the Torah deliberately obscures his burial place lest it become a place of pilgrimage and Moses take the place of God as a focus of worship. Moses died with his zest for life intact (Deuteronomy 34:7). Many of us, perhaps most of us, will experience significant physical infirmity at the end of our lives. However, isn’t it a worthy goal to remain positive and energetic to the best of our physical ability right up to the moment we die?
Whether we live through the century mark or whether our years number only 70 or 80, let us live them in the light of optimism, rather than the darkness of pessimism. Our years might fly by, but let us notice and celebrate the moments of joy as they come – the births, the b’nai mitzvah, the high school and college graduations, the weddings, the birthdays and anniversaries and other celebrations.
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