Between Hope and Despair

Life under lockdown often feels like a struggle between hope and despair – the numbers go up and down; the promises of freedom and opening of boundaries and then there’s yet another cluster in one of our favourite Malvern Malls. A glimmer of hopefulness that we’ll have that family Shabbat meal (and who knows maybe even a hug?). A downer of hopelessness as the magical low number sudden climbs up precipitously.

Life under Corona is one rocky roller coaster ride of expectations and disappointments, losses and longing. There’s the sense that our previous lives are gone forever, the doors shut, Finito la Commedia; an end to all that once was. As Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) gloomily concludes his philosophical musings – “Sof Davar / This is the end of the matter”.

Yet, for all this, life goes on and there are fresh ideas, births and new beginnings. When my grandson Noah was born several weeks ago, our hearts lifted – a boy born in a time of deluge like Noah of old; a child bringing an ark of hope and light into a brave new world. The glimpses of his tiny face illuminating our lives, reminding us what really matters: love, connection and relationships.

I was reminded of the evocative lyrics of Jacqu Brel:

“If we only have love

Then tomorrow will dawn…

If we only have love

To embrace without fears…

Then the young and the old

Will stand at our side

Then the parched desert earth

Will grow green again”

I was transported back into the opening chapters of Genesis, Bereishit, this week’s parasha. A story of love and hope, a tale of violence and desolation. You can read these chapters with growing despair at the errant soul of humanity, the persistent failure of human kind. There’s the folly and weakness of Adam and Eve; the rivalry, jealousy and anger of Cain and Abel. There’s the disillusionment of God Himself at what He has created; creatures who can’t take responsibility and show restraint:

“The Lord saw how great the wickedness,

of the human race had become on earth,

and that every inclination of the thoughts

of the human heart was only evil all

the time. The Lord regretted that He

had made human beings on the

earth, and He was grieved to

His very core” (Gen 6:5-6)

 

You can read these same chapters with growing hopefulness and wonder at the sheer beauty of the world, at the power of the human spirit and the spirit of the power of God and His love for us. There’s the pathos of Adam’s relationship with Eve, his recognition that in her he has found a soul mate:

“And the man said: ‘This time (this one) is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.

This [wondrous] one shall be called Woman…” (Ibid 2:23)

There’s the Torah’s assertion of the necessity of separation (from parents) to create the possibility of intimacy:

“Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and embrace his wife and they shall become flesh” (Ibid 2:24).

There’s the miracle of birth and Eve’s wonderment at it:

“I have acquired a human being together with God” (Ibid 4:1).

Even after the killing of Abel by his brother, there is the promise of redemption in the evolution and development of humanity (Ibid 4:22), the building of cities, the discovery of music (“Jabal – he was the first of all to handle the harp and flute” – Ibid 4:21). And God Himself is consoled by the birth of the gentle Noah who was good and upright and “allows” Him to start again.

 

There are times in our lives when darkness and despair enshroud us as expressed in       the plangent lyrics of the Psalmist. And yet even as we may lose heart, God does not lose hope in us. His light is all around us just waiting to be discovered and uncovered.

“You have transformed my mourning into morning / dancing… So that my soul might make music to you…” (Psalm 30) or to echo Jacques Brel, if we only have love than Jerusalem stands, death has no shadow and we will have conquered all time, space, the sun and the stars …“““““`

 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Ralph

About the Author
Born in Zimbabwe, raised in South Africa, Rabbi Ralph Genende is a well-known and popular Modern Orthodox Rabbi. Ralph was Senior Rabbi to the Auckland, New Zealand Jewish community for ten years. He then became College Rabbi at Mount Scopus College, member of its Executive Team and Rabbi of Beit Aharon congregation. Currently Rabbi Genende is Senior Rabbi of Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, one of Melbourne’s largest congregations. He was a senior Reserve Chaplain in the South African Defence Force and is now Principal Rabbi to the Australian Defence Force, Member of the Religious Advisory Council to the Minister of Defence (RACS), board member of AIJAC (Australian Israel Jewish Affairs Council) and member of the Premier's Mulitifaith Advisory Group. He was President of JCMA (Jewish Christian Muslim Association) and a long time executive member of the Rabbinical Association of Victoria. He also oversees Yad BeYad a premarital relationship program, is a member of Swinburne University’s Research Ethics Committee and on the Glen Eira City Council’s Committee responsible for its Reconciliation Action Plan for recognition and integration of our first peoples. Ralph has a passion for social justice and creating bridges between different cultures and faiths. For him the purpose of religion is to create a better society for all people and to engage with the critical issues facing Australian society. The role of the rabbi is, in his words, to challenge the comfortable and comfort the challenged. In 2018 Rabbi Genende was awarded an OAM for his services to multi-faith relations, and to the Jewish community of Victoria. Rabbi Genende is a trained counsellor with a Masters degree from Auckland University. He is married to Caron, a psychologist and they have three children – Eyal (who is married to Carly), Daniella and Yonatan and a grandson Ezra.
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