Rabbi Jonathan Malamy, Director of Meaningful Life

Today is Wednesday, June 10.

Hi there, Jewish Home Manhattan. 

I don’t know why, but I’m feeling hopeful. How come? Let’s investigate. I mean, the world is just as messy as it way yesterday, right?  There are some pretty bad things going on. But today, for whatever reason, I’m vibing on the good stuff.

I’m sure you have this experience sometimes too. Some days you’re up, and others you’re down. Some days you’re optimistic and others, it’s … the pit of despair. As we all know, the very same glass can look half-full or half-empty depending on the attitude of the viewer. 

In that classic example, the only thing that changes is our perception. Which part do we notice? Which part do we see as more significant? Is it what’s there or what’s absent? Both things are true, but we tend to read one part as more important.

What is it that affects this perception? In part, it’s the balance of neurotransmitters in our brains, affecting our moods and shaping our interpretations. But it’s also our past experiences, making us suspicious or skeptical when we’ve been hurt before, or positive and open if things have gone well in the past.

Another factor that makes a difference is our values. What we affirm as more important. What we care about more. In the face of information on multiple sides of an issue, what do I believe matters more? Perhaps what I can actually do with half a glass of water is more important to me that what I am not able to do with the absent half.

One beloved teaching from Jewish tradition asks the question: What does it really mean to be wealthy? And one sage answers, it means to feel content with what one has.

Of course, there are time where life is not even a half-empty glass. When someone has a glass that’s only a quarter-full, or less, it’s cruel to tell them to look on the bright side. Justice demands that we work to ensure everyone’s glasses are filled equally. Half a glass of water can quench your thirst, but half the Brooklyn Bridge will just drop you in the middle of the East River.

While always fighting injustice, we must nevertheless always work to see the blessings in the half-full glass, in what we have and not what we lack. Today, amidst the pain and loss that surround us, I am buoyed by hope, by the richness of what we possess even in the face of what we lack. I don’t know how you’re feeling today, but if you’re thirsty, you can take a sip from my cup. 

I think this old song sums it up pretty well:
Accentuate the Positive (by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer)

Performed by Nellie McKay