“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” This touching quote, brought to my attention by our dear neighbor and congregant Shelly Weil, has been attributed to Dr. Seuss. Turns out, it likely has a different origin. Still, it hums melodically with our glide from Yom Kippur toward Sukkot.
In some ways, shifting from a cry to a smile is a colossal emotional u-turn. It takes time, sometimes a lifetime. Yet such a formative repositioning is possible. Ask any mourner. Better yet, let any mourner ask somebody else who has been through a period of acute mourning. When you’re inside dark grief, glimmers of light feel imperceivable. It may take faith to believe they’ll eventually come out of hiding.
This week’s portion of Torah touches upon such faith. But it’s not our faith, it’s God’s. That’s right, it’s God’s faith in people (el emuna) (Deut. 32:4). To appreciate this colossal shift in perspective, we need to appreciate three aspects of ‘the course of human events’. First, all faith-traditions instruct human righteousness. Second, humankind continues to defy such lessons. Lastly, the real question is not “Given all we know about the universe, how can we sure God exists?”, but rather, “Given humanity’s endless tendency to defy calls to live righteously, why are we, as people, still here?” Stepping back to appreciate the soaring costs of having granted human beings free will, we might ponder how, every time we choose to do something righteous, we actually vindicate God’s ongoing faith in us. There may be more riding on your next choice than your own personal urge or need.
Divine faithfulness can emit your own faith in yourself. Personal faith can take the form of trusting your own reliability. When you struggle emotionally, you can remind yourself that you’ve struggled this way in the past and somehow emerged intact. You might say, “I’ve managed to do this before. So I can do it again.”
Although getting there may seem, at times, like climbing Everest. It begins with an ever-so-slight incline in the form of gentle encouragement from others who believe in you.
Having just prayed Yizkor for the first time for both of my beloved parents, Betty and Bert Hamilton, I know this more personally than ever before. I look forward to completing that emotional shift, from a cry to a smile, with Sukkot’s concluding Yizkor. May each of us get to know, up close and personally, this fresh current of spiritual energy that is capable of running counter to gale-force winds.