Getting to ‘Perhaps’

A critic of military might recently reminded me that Israel is an elite global military power.  “Fair enough” I replied.  “But symbolic losses remain security threats.  Take Hezbollah” I continued.  “While they do not anticipate defeating Israel (much as this remains one of their foremost dreams), they do present grave security threats.  For example, were they to capture and hold hostage a boarder Kibbutz for just one hour, such an incursion would represent a decisive victory.  Beyond the killing and hostage situations Israel would be forced to endure, ceding temporary sovereignty over any portion of her bordered land would be an ominous victory for Israel’s enemies.”  His response, “Hmm.  Perhaps global military ranking isn’t the only factor that’s important to consider.”  What was memorable about this exchange was his willingness to get to perhaps.

Today, we live under the reign of reductionism.  We draw categorical conclusions about people based upon their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, and political persuasion.  Learning is increasingly rare.  Ideological differences deepen.  Daily data is available to conform to our beliefs and to confirm them.  We dislike stories that do not agree with our assumptions.  So why would anyone want to get to perhaps?

Two reasons.  First, although confirmatory information makes us feel good, new credible information can also feel nourishing because it expands the scope of what we know.  Physical exercise that expands our muscles, hurts during exertion but makes us feel healthier later on.  Secondly, getting to perhaps can generate hope, and feeling hopeful also makes us feel better.

A biblical Jeremiah is not the first prophet to invoke the lament Eicha, “How did Jerusalem become desolate” (Lam. 1:1).  Moses earlier invokes the word Eicha in this week’s portion of Torah when he recalls shouldering the burdens of a ungrateful, demanding people (Deut. 1:12).  But within Jeremiah’s Lamentations, which form the central text of our calendar’s saddest day, Tisha B’av – which begins this coming Monday night – we also discover an intimate bond between the words perhaps and hope.  “With mouths of mourners in the dust, perhaps there will be hope”(ulai yeish tikvah) (Lam. 3:29).  Perhaps signals curiosity.  Curiosity seeds learning and fertilizes growth.  Perhaps thus holds the potential to unfurl hope.

Symbolic threats to Israel aren’t just hypothetical.  Today’s willful violence on the Temple Mount is highly worrisome.  For fifty years worshipers have been able to pray in accordance with their faith in a violence-free setting.  May calm soon be emboldened to enable sanctity and serenity to rhyme.  And may we all experiment with getting to perhaps, discovering that around the next corner we may find hope.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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