Why believe?

Why claim that God’s invisible hand was guiding the Civil Rights Movement or any other Liberation Movement?  What difference does it make to share divine credit for positive outcomes?  Perhaps we should simply credit those forces that are clearly responsible, like courageous leaders. determined lawmakers. and grass-roots movements.

God certainly doesn’t need the credit.  But when we elect to believe that the convergence of hope-engendering forces is not accidental, when we claim that the invisible hand of God was quietly and subtly encouraging events to unfold as they did, then the next time we face an insurmountable challenge, we’ll be less inclined to give up.

This is what the biblical Prophet Hosea seeks to convey by stirring hope amidst the bleakest times, transporting us from “a valley of desolation to a gateway of hope (petach tikvah)” (Hos. 2:17).  The founders of today’s Tel Aviv suburb (Petach Tikvah) took this sentiment literally.  Today, we would do well to take it personally.

Believing in progress feels particularly hard these days.  The incarceration rate among women in the United States in has gone up 646% in the last twenty-five years.  More than two-thirds of these women are single-moms which disrupts the lives of their children.  The rate of despair related deaths due to suicide or substance misuse has soared to the point that the life-expectancy rate in America has actually declined over the past three years.  Beyond growing global threats from belligerent regimes in the Middle East and Far East, the plight of millions of refugees and starving Venezuelans in our own hemisphere have normalized mass-suffering.  Yet too much acceptance makes us allies of despair.

“The charges against you are being dropped” the Judge warmly said at a Hearing earlier this week.  Among the businesses where the gentleman in his 70s had been arrested for trespassing was a nearby Cellphone Store.  “You are free to go, just make sure you don’t go to the Phone Store.” “But how can I fix my phone when it’s not working?” he worried.  “The next time you have trouble with your phone, bring it to one of the local Police Officers and they will help you fix what’s wrong.”

A helpful Hearing.  Everyday goodnesses.  They are all part of a relentless divine urge toward resourceful mustering of hope.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “What was expected at Sinai comes about in the form of a good deed.”  As we embrace God’s Sinai revelation again this weekend with the Festival of Shavuot, may we discover fresh resolve to become change-agents who co-sponsor more redemptive tomorrows.

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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