Hope will light the way

These are difficult times. There is no way around it. Sometimes it is hard to hold on to hope, to find our way in the darkness with out a map that can tell us how far we have to go or when we will get there. Or even where “there” is. Yet, like the pinecone after the fire, whose relentless flames release the possibility of new seeds for the forests of the future, the challenging heat of our corona crisis might just have released in us new hope and creativity.  What we have witnessed in the last weeks as we have scrambled to support and nurture one another while sheltering in place has been so inspiring. We have embraced new technologies to stay connected with one another, be it for services or classes or simply chats. We have reached out in a variety of ways to express our care and concern despite the limits of physical distancing. We have innovated and initiated countless opportunities to remind each other day by day of the joy and beauty in the world and to lift each other’s spirits up. Through it all, we are reminded that life is a story that we have no choice but to make up as we go along. There are no ready-made answers and we are all learning on the fly. But we are doing it. We are rising to the challenges. And this gives me hope.

This week’s Torah portion, VaYikra, begins a new book in the Torah, the Book of Leviticus.  The theme of our portion is that of the sacrifices to be brought before God. The Hebrew word for sacrifice, however, gives us a new insight into the meaning of the word sacrifice. In Hebrew, the word for sacrifice is Korban, which derives from the word l’karev, to draw near. The ancients brought sacrifices as a way to come close to God and to their community. Today, we have all been called upon to make sacrifices, to give up a certain amount of our freedom, to do what we must to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Each life that we can save is so precious and beyond value or measure. In doing so, we have also discovered that we are learning new ways to come close to each other and to appreciate one another. What we know deep in our hearts is that our fate and future is bound together. Not just here,but around the world. We give each other a reason to hope, to believe and to have faith. 

My colleague, Rabbi Steven Bob, recently shared this teaching: 

Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf wrote, “Hope is not extrapolated from events, but is always and inevitably imposed upon history. It comes despite, not because of, “reality.” It is always a hope against hope.” (Sh’ma 12/231, April 2, 1982) 

Rabbi Bob continues, “The confidence that our life situation can improve may not grow organically out of our life experience. In our individual lives, we need to impose hope rather than wait for our experience to create it. Hope illuminates the path from here to there. Hope is not the light at the end of the tunnel. Hope lights up the interior of the tunnel, making it possible for us to move forward.”

Let us choose hope, then, and not just wait for it. Let us embrace hope as our guiding light showing us the way. Let us use hope as a means to elevate our lives and the lives of others, reminding us that we have the power to respond and not simply react to what happens in our lives. 

The poet, Ada Limon, instructs us to pay close attention to nature, to the tree especially, so that we can learn to triumph over the challenges that we may encounter in our lives and return again to embrace life with resilience and hope no matter what.

Instructions on Not Giving Up by Ada Limon

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

Let us open our hearts and our hands, ready to receive all that life has to offer us.

With blessings,

Rabbi Greg