Sometimes I don’t know what to worry about first. The list goes through my head in no particular order.
The polarizing divisiveness in our country that I fear will lead to violence, including the racial divide, the political divide and economic disparity; the rise in anti-Semitism; school shootings, mass shootings, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Iran’s support for terrorist organizations while racing to acquire nuclear capability; the list goes on. I can’t even find relief anymore by changing the subject and talking about the weather because I’m so scared about the problems in our environment and climate change.
But since I’m Jewish, I have hope. The source of our strength is hope, and this is even more remarkable when one considers the trajectory of Jewish history. Despite all that we have faced as a people and as individuals, the destruction of Jerusalem, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the pogroms, and the Holocaust, we have consistently held onto hope. Jewish people kept hope alive, and hope kept the Jewish people alive.
What is Judaism’s greatest gift the world? The belief that there is a G-d in the world Who is concerned with how we live our lives, that history is linear not cyclical, the prophetic notion that the world can be a better place, and that individuals have a responsibility to work towards that goal.
We have this inclination not to accept the inevitability of suffering and injustice, to speak out against injustice, to strive to work for a society that is fair and equitable, to fight poverty and to take up the cause of social justice. This concept may also explain what motivates so many
Jewish people to work in health care professions, working to cure illness and disease.
Most religions focus on getting their followers into heaven, Judaism is more concerned with how we bring heaven. G-d’s vision, to earth. While many religions encourage their adherents to accept the world as it is, Judaism encourages us to change the world.
And the underpinning concept of all these noble ideas – that we focus on this world, not the next, that we look to the future and believe we have the capacity to change the world, can be summed up in one word: hope.
And if there is any one thing we need today, it is hope. Hope is the belief that, if we work hard enough, we can make things better. In the modern era, the creation of the State of Israel would never have happened were it not for hope. It is not a coincidence that Israel’s national anthem is HaTikvah, “The Hope” which proclaims, “Od lo avda tikvatenu – we have not lost our hope….”
The role of hope in our lives is one of the main themes of Rosh Hashana, as we get ready for a New Year, with its promise of the potential and possibility born of new beginnings. We are granted this gift, a New Year, a fresh slate, a time to make an honest assessment of the need to make amends, to narrow the gap between our reality and our ideals. It is our annual opportunity to reflect and to search for the inner voice, the spark of G-d within each of us.
Some people mistakenly think that the High Holidays are all about G-d. Our prayers focus on G_d’s role in the universe. But it really is about us, about the human condition. The prayers establish a mood conducive to reflection and introspection leading us to consider our destiny as individuals and as members of a community. To be Jewish is to be an agent of hope. Every ritual, every command, every syllable of the Jewish story is a protest against escapism, resignation and the blind acceptance of fate.
We conclude each of our services at this season and the weeks leading up to the High Holidays and in the days immediately following, with Psalm 27, which affirms: “Lulai he’emanti lirot betuv hashem, be’eretz hayim. Mine is the faith that I shall surely see G-d’s goodness in the land of the living. Kaveh el HaShem, Place your hope in the Lord and be strong. Take courage, hope in the Lord.” May we face the new year, with its challenges and possibilities, with hope, and may it be a year of peace, health and blessing for you, your families, our community, our people, and the world.