Accepting poor circumstances comes with an exhausted sigh of relief. Though the situation may be disappointing or disastrous, solidifying the liquid unknown creates a stand for us to perch upon. We take comfort in the known. Acceptance is by no means a benign matter. Indeed, it is the necessary fifth step in Kubler-Ross’ famous “Five Stages of Grief.” That space is fitting for circumstances such as death, when there truly is no unknown, when the materialization of reality is undeniable. Sometimes, we misappropriate acceptance for matters that need not be final; we become stuck in where we are with a stubborn and unconscious refusal to move forward.
The chutzpah to imagine that life should—that life could—be better is extraordinary. More than such imagination is belief that things can and will improve. It is bold, inspiring, and most of all, brave. Cliché as it may sound, hope is courageous.
In Parshat Vayelech, Moshe Rabbeinu is blunt: “I am now 120 years old, I cannot go further,” and I will not cross into Israel (Devarim 31:2). Yehoshua will replace him, Moshe says, and Hashem will accompany the people and deliver victory into their hands against the land’s inhabitants. “Be courageous and strong, be not in fear or dread of them,” he says, “for it is Hashem your God who marches with you. [He] will not fail you” (31:6). The phrase “courageous and strong,” chazku v’emetzu in Hebrew, is repeated three times throughout the short parsha—to the people once and to Yehoshua twice.
Ibn Ezra reads the phrasing nicely and simply. Now that you know Hashem will assure victory, he writes, you need only be courageous and strong heading into battle. It works with the text, but it appears more is peeking in between the lines.
“Hope for Hashem—be courageous and strengthen your heart! Hope for Hashem” (Tehillim 27:14). This concluding pasuk in a perek of Tehillim utilizes the same phrasing from Parshat Vayelech, chazak v’ametz libecha, meaning “be courageous and strengthen your heart.” Yet, commentaries read this in a different light than Devarim. It carries a greater abstraction to it, a generality inclusive of diverging human experiences and conditions.
Rabbi Hama in Berachot 32b says that if one sees that their prayer was not answered, they should return and pray again. He cites this pasuk as a proof. In Olat Reiyah, Rav Kook expands upon this for a more weighty reading. Prayer completes our souls, and the Divine will seeks to evoke such completion. We, as people, are existentially fulfilled by prayer, and as we continue to pray, we continue to complete. If, as in the case Rabbi Hama draws out, our circumstances remain unaffected by prayer, we need not worry. Life is about our soul filling its space, expanding into its highest order—and prayer is the primary mechanism to fulfill that vision. We are drawn closer to God, closer to ourselves, through prayer. It is only productive to continue praying.
Hope depends upon will. The Divine will to change our reality, sure, to allow for new possibilities we deem favorable. But hope also depends upon our will to be hopeful, to intuit a sun rising over the horizon, to sense a smile peeking through the darkening sky. The courage and strength come through the inherent knowing that hope is worthwhile for its own sake. Hope is a Divine creation and ideal. Radak writes that our hope should never run out. “Hope for Hashem” is repeated for that very reason. It takes courage and strength to believe in something better.