The Jewish view of world history is optimistic, but it is an optimism with substance and meaning:
The realization of the hope that it offers depends on us.
It can be summarized like this:
Humanity is born into the perfect world of the Garden of Eden, and begins to descend into decadence and immorality.
But this downfall is only part of the story.
At the same time, there is another, parallel momentum: a path that leads upward.
Step by step–sometimes revealed, sometimes hidden–this inexorable process leads to redemption.
And when that process is complete, Man and the entire world will ascend to their point of departure and even transcend it.
How do we know whether we are ascending?
We must look more closely at how we measure human "progress."
In the course of its transition from spirituality to secularity, this idea has lost one of its most essential dimensions–namely, the ability to examine itself, the criteria for examining it, and the inner sense of what is really of value.
The religious idea of future redemption contains an entire system of introspection and self-examination that must guide our outlook and our behavior, not once a year–between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur ? but every day.
Each year is not necessarily better or more perfect than the preceding one:
It must first go through the crucible of Divine Judgment and prove that humanity and human history are worthy of continuation.
We claim that this or that thing represents "progress," but there is at least a 50% chance of progressing toward Hell in this world.
When Man, and only Man, decides how to measure "progress," he expels God and the acceptance of the absolute values emanating from the Throne of Judgment.
When Man makes the measuring rod, his measurements are meaningless and he ceases to measure altogether:
The lowest individual becomes equal to the greatest, and Man can no longer tell if he is growing or shriveling.
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From an essay, "Universal Introspection – A Message for the New Year" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz