This column, written by Shalom Kantor, the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield, Michigan, first appeared in The Detroit Jewish News, December 22, 2016 (p. 33). Its powerful and important message resonates with two of my earlier blog postings Hatikvah – “The Hope” and Song of Hope, as well as my book Living Beyond Terrorism: Israeli Stories of Hope and Healing.
Bad things and difficult situations happen to everyone. Family members get sick; you lose a job; and children lose their way. We all have such things in common as human beings.
When you think about moments of despair in your life, what keeps you moving forward? What do you hold onto in the pit of despair?
Joseph was thrust into literal and figurative pits throughout his life. In parshat Vayeshev (Genesis 37:1-40:23), we learn that Joseph was a self-assured young man who was so confident in his own abilities that he had no need for external (or internal) “help.” He tells of his dreams of grandeur and authority with pomp and arrogance.
Then it all changes. His brothers sell him into slavery, he goes to Potiphar’s household and then to jail – a literal pit of despair.
As a slave and a prisoner, Joseph could have easily been negative and downtrodden. He could have simply served his masters and wallowed in captivity as though it was his destiny, without any possibility of redemption.
But the Torah repeats the phrase, “The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man …” Joseph went through a transformation. No longer arrogant, Joseph realized that if he held onto hope, his life would continue to improve.
Hope, in its simplest form is an optimistic outlook that things will get better; but unlike optimism, we must be active in hope. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains, “Optimism is the belief that things will get better. Hope is the belief that, together, we can make things better.
“Optimism is a passive virtue, hope is an active one. It takes no courage to be an optimist, but it takes a great deal of courage to have hope. Knowing what we do of our past, no Jew can be an optimist. But Jews have never – despite a history of sometimes awesome suffering – given up hope.”
When we hold hope in our hearts and souls, it shapes the way we interact with the world around us. Even in our darkest moments, hope brings us out of the pit of despair. The founders of the State of Israel knew this when they looked for a national anthem, and chose the poem titled “Hatikvah” – “The Hope.”
Hope is a manifestation of the spark of the Divine within each of our souls. Holding on to hope, we demonstrate our connection and faith in God to deliver us from our pit of despair. When Joseph actively reached out and held onto hope, he accepted God as his guiding light and the hope that kept him going.
The spark of God is within each of us, but it is up to us to reach out and use it to propel us forward in our own journeys. We each walk out of our front doors to face the world every day. How we see the world depends on how we choose to look. Hope is a great place to start.