Something unusual happened to me today. I was asked to open a meeting with a prayer.
Normally, that’s not unusual. After all, I am a rabbi. But the meeting was the Community Relations Council (CRC) of the local Jewish Federation. I’ve served on the CRC for nearly two years, and they’ve never opened a routine meeting with a prayer before. It’s not the norm for this, or indeed for any Federation committee.
I was specifically asked to open the meeting with “words of hope.” And given what we have all been through over the past weeks and months, it wasn’t an unreasonable request.
We are grieving the loss of hundreds of thousands to the pandemic, and the loss of our own individual freedoms because of it. We are reeling from the unprecedented attack on the capitol last week. We are stunned by the historic second impeachment of an American president. And we are appalled to realize how deeply this nation is divided.
Last week Jews around the world began reading the book of Exodus. It is a story of hope realized. The Children of Israel had endured slavery in Egypt for hundreds of years, until finally God appeared to Moses and together they challenged Pharaoh and led the people out of Egypt.
That’s an awfully long time. Why did it take God so long to end their suffering? I think the answer lies in the first two chapters of Exodus, when the midwives Shifrah and Puah refused to kill the male Hebrew babies. Just a few verses later Miriam and her mother put baby Moses in a basket and floated him down the river, where he was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter.
Five women took matters into their own hands, at great risk. God didn’t show up in the story until afterwards. In short, God didn’t step in until we stepped forward to help ourselves.
Why do we humans continue to take matters into our own hands, not waiting for God or anyone else to step in, but instead do whatever we can to resolve difficult situations ourselves?
Because we hope. Hope, the ability to look forward and see something better in the future, is essential to the human psyche. Hope allows us to reach beyond our own bounds, to attempt the impossible and even achieve it.
Hope is part of our very essence, the ability to see the good, and to work towards the good. And when we begin to despair and worry that our goals are too difficult to achieve we ask each other for help, for words of hope.
Even in the darkest of times we can see the light and know that darkness can and will be dispelled, and that people of goodwill and good conscience will come together, just as the CRC and others have done. Across this nation dedicated people – people of all religions and backgrounds – are working for what is right and what is just, and what is needed.
It is a blessing to know that there are so many groups of like-minded, dedicated people. And it is truly a blessing to be a part of my local community, both my synagogue and our Federation, as we strive to do our part to repair a broken world.
May we go from strength to strength, bringing light into a sometimes dark world, doing the important work of righteousness and justice, truth and peace.
May each of us and those who support us have the strength and commitment necessary to continue. As the Talmud teaches, we do not have to complete the task. That is impossible. Our task is to continue to hope and never lose sight of our goal, and our role in making the world a better place.