To Be Jewish Is to Have Hope
Jul 30 , 2020/Category

by Yvette Perry

Home of Hope, Shraga Weil (1918–2009)

“Optimism is the belief that things are going to get better. Hope is the belief that we can make things better … It takes no courage to be an optimist, but it does need courage to hope.”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of England 1991–2013

In the face of challenges the like of which our generation has not lived through, it is the Jewish tradition of hope that can get us through such strife. We learn early on that we are commanded to do mitzvot in order to make a better world. That in this world, we must act in order to be the force of hope.

Were we not slaves? Were we not driven out of Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella? Were we not almost wiped out per the vagaries of a mid-20th century despot? Now a virus is coursing through our world, changing the way we live our lives. It is at terrible times such as these that we cling to our faith. That we Jews can turn to Torah for guidance.

As our own Rabbi Ben Spratt taught in his D’var Torah a few weeks ago,

“…for each of us, in each place of struggle and trauma, is held the seeds of possibility … of growing and adapting, and changing … as hope is a function of struggle, it is also the means through which we have the courage to create anew.”

Seen through today’s lens, Vaclav Havel’s vision of hope is a prescription to be hopeful. Consider anew what he said, “It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

Going through COVID has given us—if we dare to give it a try—a sense of purpose. We keep going, not given any promise of certainty that everything will be okay. But if we just keep going, doing what we must and doing what makes sense, then by this very definition, we have hope.

A perfect example of such thinking is this conjecture put by Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs, “…instead of trying to get back to the old normal, maybe we can embrace the silver lining in the very dark cloud passing over us and create a new and better normal for ourselves… .”

No question about it, we are living through a dark cloud. A metaphor that nonetheless contains the simple wisdom to help get us through our difficulties. Because it is the silver lining filled with the good things that have sprung up all around us—neighbors helping neighbors, medical workers going beyond their capacities, the shows of little kindnesses and support—that reminds us we need look no further than Torah itself. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it, “Judaism is the voice of hope in the conversation of mankind.”


URJ Blog Post: Hope: The Silver Lining in a Very Dark Cloud by Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs

My Jewish Learning: How the Jewish People Invented Hope by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks