Just when we thought it was coming to an end, our government decided to put the entire country under another 10 days of lockdown and all hope of getting back to some kind of normalcy has been delayed yet again.
After making it through 2020 and not seeing our children or grandchildren for months on end, stuck in the house living with the constant fear of catching the disease and dying because my wife has underlying illnesses that put her in a high-risk group, our hope was dashed, and my frustration and anger spilled out over the government, the situation, and even on my dear wife!
With Israel leading the world in vaccinations it looked like we would finally be able embrace our loved ones, enjoy a good meal, and laugh and cry together. But now my hope wavers and despair lurks. Living with Corona is taking its toll.
Last night as I prepared for our weekly Book Club, I read over the section “Between Hope and Despair” by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book we are reading through. What I discovered helped restore my sanity, and I thought maybe all of us could benefit (my wife certainly did!) from his insights.
How hope helps
Heschel describes how the power of hope helped keep the Jewish people through times of misery and sorrow. That anticipation of better days focuses our attention on the possibilities that the situation presents, not just the darkness.
Perhaps the single most defining characteristic of Jewish life is this hope, the confidence that our future is secure. Through Crusades, Inquisitions and pogroms, the people of Israel refused tenaciously to give up their dream of returning home to Zion.
It was this enduring hope that drove the young pioneers from Eastern Europe to the swamps and deserts of Palestine where they miraculously resurrected Israel and nurtured it into what is now one of the most beautiful lands in the world. For two thousand years the Jews held on to this hope, in prayer and proclamation, three times a day, and facing scorn and ridicule they kept looking forward to the deliverance they knew would come, because they knew from whom it was promised.
And what did this desperate hope achieve? It kept their faith alive through ghettoes and gas chambers. It was their Hope that held on to what could be, what should be, and what they trusted would be. The Hope of Israel kept their hearts prepared, and hands readied, for the day they knew they would come back to live in a better place.
When shadows of despair descend, stifle our minds, stiffen our hearts, and blind our vision, it is our Hope that restores the soul.
Heschel reminded me that the first school of agriculture in the land of Israel was called Mikveh Israel, “the Hope of Israel” (Jer. 14:8) and the first agricultural settlement they called Petah Tikvah, “the Door of Hope” (Hosea 2:17). Even the national anthem of the Jewish State we sing is Hatikvah (“The Hope”), inspired by Ezekiel.
I remember visiting Mikveh Israel for a piece I wrote on Israel Today. This is where over 150 years ago young Zionists first put their hands to a plow, learned how to drive tractors, milk cows, find water, raise crops, ride horses and defend themselves. And they danced as the sweat poured over their brows because their hope had become a land, a home, and a song. They still sing today. In hope we never lost our love for this Land.
“Pagans have idols,” Heschel writes, “Israel has a promise. We have no image, all we have is Hope.”
We, too, should not lose our Hope and confidence in troubling times. The people whose very existence depended solely on the Hope of Israel are alive and well in their promised homeland to remind us that we too shall not be moved.
Heschel says that, “Israel reborn is a renewal of the promise. It calls for a renewal of trust in the Lord of history.”
We are not carried away with despair because our trust is in Him who always carries us through. “Israel reborn is an answer to the Lord of history who demands hope as well as action, who expects tenacity as well as imagination,” Heschel writes. So instead of sitting home feeling sorry for myself, I started to look to the future I know is coming, and choose to do what I can to get to the other side, like writing these words to you.
I hope these thoughts bring you comfort and inspiration to find ways of putting your faith into action and creative solutions to get you through whatever you may be struggling with. You may find that you too, like Israel, can bring hope and comfort to those around you.