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Fortune Tellers

Nearly every human society reserves a special respect for those who claim to be able to predict the future. The fortune-telling professions run the gamut from witches and astrologers to meteorologists, physicians and other scientists. The tools they employ have become increasingly sophisticated. We have progressed from bones and crystal balls to space satellites and complex mathematical models. However, at their root is the same human drive – to keep anxiety at bay and gain some measure of control over the unknown.

“Expectancy” is the scientific term for our beliefs about the future, and how those beliefs affect our behavior. Any decision, from the mundane to the most complex, depends on us having some sort of idea about what the future holds. For example, I might plan my dinner tonight around what vegetables are in season, what is on sale in the store, and if the weather is hot or cold. Expectancy also influences far-reaching decision such as how to invest money, what type of job to train for, and whom to marry.

Researchers of expectancy effects distinguish between forecasts, or predictions of the future that we are reasonably certain will happen, and hopes, which are desirable future events which may or may not happen. Whenever we work towards any goal, we use a combination of both these expectancies. First we envision the future that we desire. Then we figure out the steps we need to take to get there, in practical and predictable ways. Or, in the Torah’s terminology, sof maaseh b’machshavah techilah – the final action is what we had in mind to begin with. We need to go through countless steps to get to our final destination, the one we had in mind to begin with.

In order to reach our destination we need several things. We need a clear concept of where we’re going. And we need to be reasonably confident that we will get there. Only then can we plan and take the actions needed to bring our plans to fruition.

There is a well-known Chassidic expression, tracht gut vet zain gut. Think good and it will be good. This is not some ode to magical thinking. Rather, it reflects the most current scientific thinking – positive thinkers are able to achieve more than more pessimistic, “realistic” thinkers. Their positive expectations give them the energy needed to overcome any obstacle in their path.

When G-d created the world, He had one destination in mind – He wanted a dirah b’tachtonim, a dwelling in the lowest worlds. He gave us the privilege of being His partners in creation. Our faith and commitment to this project has kept us going through seemingly insurmountable trials and hurdles. But we are approaching the time when it will no longer be just a hope or wish. The dream of generations is about to come to fruition, with the revelation of Moshiach and the final Redemption.


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