A whole nation held her breath for 18 days, hopeful. “To be a realist in Israel, one must believe in miracles”, said Israel’s first primeminister David Ben Gurion, and this is how we grow up, this is what we teach: the worst can happen, but always remain “hopeful”. What is hope, this fragile line between reality and delusion?
In Hebrew, tikva, hope – and the name of Israel’s national anthem – comes from the same root as mikveh, the spiritual water pool. The same root is used in the description of the 2nd day of creation – yikavu hamayim, let the water gather. The root k.v.h. therefore, implies, not a mere fantasy, but a purposeful gathering of energy. We hold on to it even when we know chances are slim.
Being under attack – sucks, but is nothing new. Already thirty five hundred years ago, our enemies devised different tricky plans to “get us”. A fearful and evil king. A wise yet greedy magician. Then as now, we are not bullet proof. Having faith or a special way of life doesn’t provide insurance that something bad won’t happen; it doesn’t shield us from pain, from vulnerabilities, from horrible events and terrible heartache. We are human. We get hurt. We can’t take every hit. But then, somehow we get up. The fact that we’ve been able to do so, gives us that hope, that purposeful energy to go on.
I’m on route back from Mount Rainier National Park as we speak (lost reception in the morning :-), spending this month tour guiding a Jewish youth group through the U.S. Western States. Needless to say, it’s beautiful. But the trip is not just about beauty. It’s a leadership program and therefore our itinerary includes working with a nature consortium and environmental organizations, getting our hands in the dirt (literally) and opening our minds to how we can make a positive difference in the world around us.
One of our stops was at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Remember Tevya “If I were a rich man”? It’s fun to play a game of what would I do if I had a million, two, 10, 100. We usually think about all the things we’d like to do and get – mostly for ourselves, and at best, our nearest and dearest. What if we saw everybody as part of us, thereby realizing what we have / want is enough? Looking to care for others?
Bill Gates had a dream: to make computers accessible to all. Then he realized that while this is starting to happen, there are also still people in the world with no clean water to drink, no good medicine, no useable, healthy toilets. In dismay he noticed that the dream to connect people, might pull them apart. The experience made them come in touch with some of the gravest pain in the world. It’s the point where most people would stop and turn away because it hurts too much.
But as they share, they went after the pain, after what is lacking. Rather than turning away, they felt that davka where there is pain, there is an opportunity for positive action. Being at their foundation, is a truly inspiring stop.
It’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to become enraged. The Torah, never blind to the existence of evil, asks us to refocus. And in this week’s reading, the haftara, the section from the prophet Micha 6:1-8, also offers a different route. “For it’s been told to you, oh human, what G-d demands from you: to do justice, and loving kindness, and walk humbly with your G-d”.
“Katonti”’ said Jacob, “I’m too small for all the kindness You shower me”. I don’t understand everything. I want to know why. Especially when something horrible happens, I want to know why; I need to know why!
But turns out, why is not my question. Of course, I can ask it, but it will only take me so far. My question is – what. What can I do about it; what can I do at all; what is my task.
“Vehatzne’a lechet”, walk humbly, Micha’s words, was the motto of my school. It’s all that mattered. There will be bad. There will be good. It’s just is what it is. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn.t At some point, it doesn’t matter. Just don’t show off. Just do what’s right. On weeks like this, that’s all we got.