A few random thoughts inspired by Rabbi Suzanne Singer’s “Judaism & Hope” sermon.
It cannot be denied: To live is to hope – that somehow, against all odds, evil will not triumph; that somehow, in the face of heartless bigotry, hatred will not prevail; and that somehow needless suffering (despite the toll of human misery) will abate. To hope for a better plight is as vital to the human spirit as white blood cells are to the human body.
But what is this hope, and how is it to be realized, if at all?
Hope is struggle. It is more than a child’s naive wish, and it is quite different from an optimist’s blind faith in a benign future. It is a commitment to change – a change for a better world. It is active rather than passive; it seeks to move the world rather than wait to be moved by it. Seize the day, push the rock!
Hope trades in chance . . . in the chance that at a particular pinpoint in time life may get better. Thus our hope must be humble and patient; we must understand that the future may not come in time to save us. Hence our hope must be sober-minded; it must not be unduly romantic; it must not trade in the intoxicating promises of panacea.
Hope is a process; it is that spirit within us that struggles on and on in the face of discouraging prospects depressing enough to turn a man to stone. And why engage in such seemingly Sisyphean acts? Because to live is to struggle, not thoughtlessly, but with a commitment to justice and kindness and all other things that improve the human condition. Struggle gives fiber to hope.
Heed his words: I do not give the human race more than one chance in a thousand, but I would be less than a man if I did not act on that chance. So wrote Albert Camus, the Resistance fighter who in the darkest of moments did not lose hope in the cause of humankind to be better than it was at a time when malice and barbarity seemed unconquerable. By hope’s standards, had evil prevailed, Camus’ hope would not have been any less genuine or important. For what counted most was the struggle, the will to improve the plight of so many millions uprooted from the soil that gives life meaning.
The moral: Hope is a prayer that may go unanswered in one’s lifetime, but it is an act of the highest human order. In its noblest form, it touches that something buried deep within us that denounces evil and affirms goodness. If hope dies today, it does so in the belief that it will inspire yet more hope for tomorrow, which alas, may usher in the springtime of a new season of humanity.
As an aspiration worthy of our shared respect, hope must be something other than a commitment to greed. To be sure, one can hope to become a billionaire and dedicate herself to that quest, and to do so for no more than the sake of pride and pleasure. But the hope of which I speak is not the hope of avarice. It deals not in the wheel of roulette.
If hope is to be a virtue, it must be virtuous; it must speak to the best in each of us. Take, for example, the woman who amasses a fortune with the hope of rebuilding a temple leveled by a terrorist’s bomb or with the hope of sponsoring a group to repair the limbs of wounded soldiers – that kind of hope converts money into humanity.
There is a line in Rabbi Singer’s sermon that touched a nerve in me; it is this: Hope, not out of victory and success, but hope out of defeat and despair. We turn to hope because we cannot abide despair; our psyches simply cannot endure the hopeless specter of a Nietzschean nightmare cast eternally. By that measure, there is something therapeutic in hope, and that something helps us go on with our lives. Hope is an antidote to the melancholy that can rob one of the will to live.
To echo Rabbi Jonathan Sachs’s words: To be a Jew is to be an agent of hope in a world seriously threatened by despair. How heartening those words! To that end, may the agents of hope help to remake our world, repair our hearts, repel our fears, and rekindle that spark within us that longs for light. Or to draw from Simone Weil, “there is only one fault: incapacity to feed upon light . . . .”