Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes: “Western civilization is the product of two cultures: ancient Greece and ancient Israel. The Greeks believed in fate: the future is determined by the past. Jews believed in freedom: there is no ‘evil decree’ that cannot be averted. The Greeks gave the world the concept of tragedy. Jews gave it the idea of hope. The whole of Judaism – though it would take a book to show it – is a set of laws and narratives designed to create in people, families, communities and a nation, habits that defeat despair. Judaism is the voice of hope in the conversation of mankind.”
This week that voice of hope is heard loudly in the midst of the commemoration of tragedy. During this period in the Jewish calendar, we read some of the most poignant and disturbing words in our cannon. We read about the city of Jerusalem weeping as she is abandoned by her people, we read about God, lamenting the fate of our people, and we read words of rebuke, directed at us by the prophets and God, for our behaviour. The assault upon us is unrelenting. The past weeks and this Shabbat the haftarot are filled with painful assertions about our wickedness, until we reach Tisha B’Av.
On that day the tone shifts, we pour out our grief and our pain at the tragedies we have suffered as a people. We mourn and cry for those we have lost, for the holes left in our lives by their absence. We cry for ourselves, for our people and for the suffering of humanity. And then, after our time of lament, we find the veil of grief and darkness lifting, we turn towards the future, the promise of a better tomorrow which we will find if we work for it, strive for it, reach for it and dream it.
The last moments of Tisha B’Av we are delivered a soothing balm, we wrest hope from the ashes and for the next four weeks, words of comfort pour from our haftarah texts. We are called back to life, inspired to return to the world and resume the work of repairing the brokenness. We are reminded that hope burns within our souls, is something which can never be taken from us, and we place it in the centre of all we do.
Rabbi Lord Sacks again: “To be a Jew is to be an agent of hope in a world serially threatened by despair. Every ritual, every mitzvah, every syllable of the Jewish story, every element of Jewish law, is a protest against escapism, resignation or the blind acceptance of fate. Judaism is a sustained struggle, the greatest ever known, against the world that is, in the name of the world that could be, should be, but is not yet. There is no more challenging vocation. Throughout history, when human beings have sought hope they have found it in the Jewish story. Judaism is the religion, and Israel the home, of hope.”
Even in the midst of this most tragic period in our calendar, hope is the dominant theme, we are reminded to strive always to create the world of which we dream. Rabbi Mordecai often sings the prayer “olam chesed yibaneh” “we will build a world of lovingkindness” and Judaism reminds us that is the antidote to tragedy and despair; lifting ourselves from the darkness and working to build a new tomorrow.
Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio