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David Lerner

Where Do You Find Hope? Shabbat HaHodesh/Sh’mini 5784

A couple of weeks ago, our short Emunah Israel solidarity trip was coming to an end. After an intense 3 and a half days, we arrived at the airport for a midnight flight.

Photo credit: Rabbi David Lerner

Our tour guide, Ezra, treated us to a VIP airport guide. A young man met us at the bus and took our group quickly through the airport to a special line where we would get our own speedy passport check and be allowed to check in at a separate area reserved for business and first-class passengers. 

It was good to have a little treat after this experience.

We zipped past the long lines.

We got right up to the first El Al security check and they took our passports; I smiled and knew we would be allowed to pass a few seconds later. 

But then, the woman at the desk just put our passwords aside and started to take other people and other groups. First, it was like a couple of minutes – fine. then five, then ten more, nothing.

Our VIP liaison started to complain in an ever louder voice.

After 20 minutes and lots of arguing between the airport staff, they finally took us. There are a few other fashlahs – messes and we got a bit annoyed.

But when I looked at our airport VIP guide, I noticed that he was calm, and even had a small smile on his young face.

He whispered to me: “Last week I was in Gaza…”

That said it all. 

He was in hell last week – so this airport ridiculousness was not really that important.

* * *

When you see what is going on in the world, the little things fade in comparison. 

And right now, we are living through a time of incredible pain. Not just for us, but for the Palestinians in Gaza who are suffering from Hamas’ deliberate plan.

When we visited Israel, we could see the trauma on the faces of the Israelis, we could hear their suffering. 

And now we can see even more clearly than ever how Palestinians are suffering. 

They are suffering from famine.

Israel and the Palestinian civilian population are unable to stop their armed Hamas oppressors, who “win” by prolonging the Gazans’ pain and causing their deaths.

Credit: World Central Kitchen (https://wck.org/)

 

This week, we learned of the tragic deaths of the volunteers of the World Central Kitchen, which the IDF has claimed responsibility and apologized for.

To me and much of the world, this tragedy is a moment of inflection – where the scope of the humanitarian crisis and Israel’s inability to protect these people is clear. 

And let us not forget that Israel is also unable to bring home the hostages.

* * *

Since October 7th, I have been sitting with members of our community who are coping with their traumas and struggles, with people whose families are suffering in Israel.

I have also sat with people who have had issues with their kids’ schools and these schools’ inability to see the complexity and the nuances of this situation. 

I have also sat with people who have struggled in work environments where only the anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian narrative is lifted up. And, if you do not support that narrative, you are marginalized or worse.

In one of these conversations, which drifted into the hopelessness of this war, not to mention how it ripples out into other disparate areas of hopelessness (there are so many to choose from), I was asked “Where do you find hope?”

At first, my brain went into problem-solving mode… Well, I would find hope if there could be a deal to get the hostages home or if this or that…

But that was not really the question. 

“Where do you find HOPE?”

It’s not in problem-solving, it’s looking for inspiration.

* * *

Today is Shabbat HaHodesh, the fourth of the special Shabbatot leading up to Pesah. It comes just before the Rosh Hodesh – the beginning of the month of Nisan which means Pesah is only two weeks away – that always scares me a bit.

The special maftir reading we read contains with the commandment to observe Rosh Hodesh – “Hahodesh hazeh lakhem rosh hodashim – this month shall mark for you the beginning of months.” (Ex. 12)

The word lakhem – this month shall be for you of special significance; it means that we are responsible for our own timekeeping.  

The Midrash teaches that the ministering angels said to God, “‘Master of Infinity, when do you declare the festivals?’ God said to them, ‘You and I will accept whatever Israel calculates.’ The Holy Blessed One said to Israel, ‘In the past, these holy days were in my hands. But from now on they are in your hands.’” (Sh’mot Rabbah 15)

Just as there is human responsibility for the calendar, for declaring the new moon and when the holidays will occur, we have to take agency.

God is waiting for us to act.

* * *

So, where do I find hope? 

I look for people.

As Fred Rogers taught, I look for the helpers.

Where do I find hope?

When we met Adir Schwartz in Jerusalem who created a massive NGO to help Israelis in need on and beyond October 7th, I found hope.

When we heard the director of the ER at Hadassah, Dr. Ahmad Nama, a Palestinian-Israeli, speak about how Israelis of all faiths and backgrounds came together on October 7th and beyond to care for each other. How their ER has even cared for a terrorist and in the next bay, the victim of that attack. 

In that care and compassion, I found hope.

When I look at how our community has rallied together in so many ways over the last six months, I find hope. 

When I think of José Andrés: the founder of the World Central Kitchen and their volunteers, I find hope.

As he wrote in the New York Times this week, “From Day 1, we have fed Israelis as well as Palestinians. Across Israel, we have served more than 1.75 million hot meals. We have fed families displaced by Hezbollah rockets in the north. We have fed grieving families from the south. We delivered meals to the hospitals where hostages were reunited with their families. We have called consistently, repeatedly and passionately for the release of all the hostages.

“All the while, we have communicated extensively with Israeli military and civilian officials. At the same time, we have worked closely with community leaders in Gaza, as well as Arab nations in the region. There is no way to bring a ship full of food to Gaza without doing so.

“That’s how we served more than 43 million meals in Gaza, preparing hot food in 68 community kitchens where Palestinians are feeding Palestinians.”

And so when he demands change in the situation, he has a lot of bona fides.

I find hope in his mission.

And when I think of our VIP attache at Ben Gurion airport – his selfless service in Gaza and the next day, just trying to make a living, I find hope.

When I sat with a Christian colleague this week and we spoke about the war and holding the experiences of both Israelis and Gazans, I found hope.

When I heard the story of Yocheved Lifshitz, I found hope. 

She was on The Daily, the New York Times, podcast last week

Hamas terrorists took Yocheved, an 85-year-old hostage from her home on Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7th. Nir Oz was particularly devastated as 1/4 of its population was murdered or kidnapped. 

Her husband, Oded 83, was shot and only after Yocheved was released did she find out that he was not killed on October 7th, but was taken hostage and remains a hostage.

In the powerful and wide-ranging story of her life and husband’s, she exudes an optimism that is striking. 

When she was asked in the interview if she still believes in peace, she said yes. 

After the hell she endured and knowing that her husband is still enduring it, she still holds onto a vision of peace, of a different tomorrow.

That’s where I find some hope.

* * *

The Netivot Shalom, Sholom Noach Berezovsky, a 20th Century Hasidic rebbe, offers an insightful reading of the morning’s Torah portion.

The text states זֶ֧ה הַדָּבָ֛ר אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְהֹוָ֖ה תַּעֲשׂ֑וּ”

This is what יהוה has commanded that you do.” (Lev. 9:6)

What is the “this” that is being commanded? He explains that there are two acts in building the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that the Israelites utilized on the journey in the wilderness – they had to build it and then take it down to transport it.

But “this” is only one word – meaning, that there is building up and taking down in every moment.

He writes: “Bitterness and joy function as one… [they] function like two lovers who are never parted. 

“Thus, we experience an inner crush that is for the sake of light, a bitterness that comes for the realm of building: ‘I will build an altar from my broken heart.’” 

* * *

That’s it.

Even amidst tears of loss, we can find hope.

When we are struggling, when we are in pain, we can find hope. 

Where do you find hope?

Sometimes, I found hope pausing and looking up. The Psalmist says where does my help, my hope come from, as he looks up to the mountains.

There is something hopeful about looking up – looking for the sun after the rain and snow. 

Looking up for a spiritual power that lies far beyond and deep within each of us.

Photo credit: Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/millionaireat19/5573762704)

 

When I recite the Kaddish these days, I really focus on the penultimate line: “Yehi shlamah rabbah min sh’mayah – may a great peace come down from the skies, from the heavens.”

And when I say it, I look up, to the sky, to the heavens.

May that peace, that help, and that hope come down from above and inspire all of us, and like the helpers inspire us to build and rebuild this world. 

May we all find hope.

About the Author
For the past seventeen years, David Lerner has served as the spiritual leader of Temple Emunah in historic Lexington, MA, where he is now the senior rabbi. He has served as the president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis and the Lexington Interfaith Clergy Association. He is one of the founders of Community Hevra Kadisha of Greater Boston, ClergyAgainstBullets.org and Emunat HaLev: The Meditation and Mindfulness Institute of Temple Emunah. A graduate of Columbia College and ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary where he was a Wexner Graduate Fellow, Rabbi Lerner brings to his community a unique blend of warmth, outreach, energetic teaching, intellectual rigor and caring for all ages.
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