Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The People Who Hope

As some of you know, I was in a TV news clip yesterday, talking about the horrific terrorist attack in Jerusalem. A few people commented that they appreciated my hopeful message, so I wanted to take a moment and expand on it, because I do believe it's a key, beautiful Jewish teaching.

History is long. Very long. And, if looking at that history, particularly Jewish history, teaches us anything, it's that anything is possible. Not every thing is possible right now, in this moment. But this moment won't last forever, and neither will the circumstances which surround us. Our people's history is a testament to the possibility of achieving what is currently impossible, and my favorite formulation of this idea comes from Samson Raphael Hirsch, which I talked about a couple of years ago in this blog:
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the godfather of what we now call Modern Orthodox Judaism, noticed that the first born Jew, Yitzhak, was named after laughter. His parents, Abraham and Sarah, had grown so old that when God tells Sarah she’s going to have a baby, she laughs. It’s an utterly ridiculous idea, at her age (and, frankly, she’s more concerned with Abraham’s age than hers!). So, when she eventually has a baby, she names him after that laughter. That’s because, Hirsch teaches, from our first moments, our people’s history has been so ridiculous as to be laughable. Our patriarch and matriarch didn’t have a child until they had reached a ridiculous high age. The idea that we could survive 400 years of slavery and 40 years of wandering the desert, conquer a hostile land, establish a kingdom — it’s laughable. Survive 2000 years of exile and dispersion — and not just survive, but thrive? Laughable. Revive a dead language? Drain the swamps, make the desert bloom and create a modern state out of almost nothing? Survive the death camps and outlive Hitler? Become one of the great military powers of the world at the same time that those who remain outside of Israel become a thriving, vibrant people? Ridiculous, and utterly hopeless.
That’s who we are — we are the people who regularly do that which is so impossible as to be laughable. We are the people who never lose hope, no matter what.

You certainly don't need to turn to Judaism to see this lesson; it's all around us. Imagine telling someone, 200 years ago, that the US and England would be closest allies. Imagine telling someone 75 years ago that France, Germany and Italy, to name just a few countries, would be joined under a single currency, and would also be allies.  I'm not saying that we're only 75 years away from making peace with the Palestinians — I have no idea how long it might take. Truth be told, I seriously doubt it will happen in my lifetime. But, I don't know that for sure. And, even if I am right, my lifetime is really just a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things. To think that that which is impossible now is therefore impossible forever is a pretty egotistical way to look at the world.

That which is impossible now is regularly accomplished in the future. And, after that, it starts to seem as if it was inevitable, all along.

None of this takes away from the pain of the moment. None of this makes an intolerable situation any more tolerable. But, it does give us hope. If our people can move from slavery to freedom, if Israel can move from a dream to reality in a single lifetime, then nothing is impossible.

Not even peace with the Palestinians.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. 

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