Lately, I realize that I am reaching a new status and level in life. I receive calls and requests daily from people whom I do not know, who apparently have no relationship to me, and who wish to hold conversations with me and seek my advice. Naturally, I am very flattered that somehow people both here in Israel, and in the English-speaking diaspora feel that I could be of help to them. The truth is that in both situations, the only hope that I can offer is that of a listening ear and a sympathetic heart.
For whatever reason, I am currently receiving more requests from people who simply want to talk to me about issues and challenges that they face in their own personal and family lives, more than I received when I was officially occupied full-time in the American rabbinate. I attribute this increase in the volume of petitioners to the fact that people realize that I am an old person, and that elderly people have the time and disposition to share conversations and thoughts with others. After all, people reason, what else does he have to do with himself all day long. I am willing to admit that there is a modicum of truth in that statement. There are certain days when time drags on, and not much is accomplished. However, Thank God, that is still not the norm for most of the days of my life on this planet.
We certainly live in dangerous and uncertain times. There is no question that previous certainties in life and society, that we once took for granted and assumed would always be part of our daily existence, have now been called into great question and clouded with doubt. This is especially true regarding the political, economic, and demographic changes that have overtaken Jewish society and general society in the English-speaking world.
In the 1980s, in the United States, I felt, as most American Jews did, that public, vicious, and violent anti-Semitism was a thing of the past, and would no longer exist within American society. It is now quite evident that this notion was a mistake in judgment on my part. Members of Congress and other elected public officials openly express their hatred of Jews, and especially hatred of the state of Israel, and do so without real reprimand or harmful consequences to themselves or their causes.
This is a very worrisome event, for in the past, anti-Semitic speech sooner or later morphed into violent and physical anti-Jewish behavior and policies. Because of this unforeseen and, in many respects, amazing turnaround in the attitudes towards Jews in the free and democratic societies of the world, Jews, both individually and collectively, have become concerned and nervous about the future role and place in the general society in which they are living. There are those who see, on a personal level, that emigration to the land of Israel is a solution, regarding the issues that face them and their families. But that is a big step especially for American Jews to take, and moving to Israel is, therefore, viewed with trepidation, and grave doubts.
What people want, in effect, is a prophet to tell them what to do, when to do it. And a guarantee of success in whatever choice they may have made. This is a natural human reaction – the transference of having to make every consequential decision, from ourselves onto the shoulders of others. And if we invest those others with a certain degree of respect for their accumulated wisdom over the years, it is not difficult to realize that we are creating prophets to help instruct us as to what our future behavior and decisions should be.
But I am convinced that it is exceedingly difficult to give good advice to someone you do not know and have never met. You are asked to be blessed with the spirit of prophecy, to be able to advise others in a meaningful fashion. I am certainly willing to listen to others and to empathize with them over their difficulties, but empathizing with others is a far cry from predicting the future for an individual or a family. History can help us discern general patterns, but it cannot be relied upon for specific ideas and actions to guide us in our behavior in the present and the future. Being a false prophet is worse than being no prophet at all.