How hope can work

Responding to mass-shootings has, alas, become normalized.  Hardly a week passes without agonizing scenes and testimonies that have become far too familiar.  We long to remain maladjusted to such devastation.  Yet its decline feels remote.

How then can we continue to believe that hope works?  How can we stay driven for good?   

This week’s portion of Torah opens with a rare treatment of the subject of inevitability.  God grants to a pregnant Rebecca an oracle, a predetermined future.  “Two nations are inside you and they are destined to struggle” (Gen. 25:23).  A violent and tumultuous destiny is foretold for the descendants of Jacob and Esau, symbolizing Judaism and Christianity (Esau’s name Edom is identified with Roman Christendom). 

Fated futures feel rather unbiblical.  God’s Torah consistently insists that our deeds write the story of our lives, and when things happen outside of our control, our responses to those things determine our fate. 

Brutality and bloodshed have indeed defined much of the shared history between Judaism and Christianity.  Yet in our lifetime, copernican shifts have taken place – Vatican II, principled Christian esteem and affection for Israel, and numerous other trends are writing a new chapter in the historic rapport between the descendants of Jacob and Esau. 

Perhaps God’s message to Rebecca was less a promise than a caution.  Power struggles and pain would occur.  But their inevitability was never sealed.  Human responsibility and generosity could begin to take hold.   Inevitability with a Jewish accent always makes space for unanticipated outcomes. 

May our determination to enact such responsibility and generosity demonstrate how undetermined our future may yet become.

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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