November 3rd, 2020 — Rabbi Sharon Brous
Last week, a friend quoted me in a blessing to his daughter on her bat mitzvah. He shared that I once said the following:
Hope is not naïve. It’s not some opiate to dull the pain of an oppressive reality. Hope may be the greatest act of defiance against a politics of pessimism and a culture of despair.
My first thought was, “I’ll have what she’s having.” To be honest, I’ve been aching for that kind of hope this year, that fierce, honest, rebellious hope—the kind that pierces the cynicism of today and allows us to see the possibility of a better tomorrow. So I tried to reconstruct and tap back into what I was thinking when I first wrote that, four years ago.
I remember now. That was the fall of 2016. While I wore my worry for the future like invisible protective gear against the inevitable, in my heart I believed that we were poised to witness the final repudiation of a white supremacist narrative that had defined, and threatened to destroy, the American project. I thought that the excitement generated around a campaign of fear and division really just represented a kind of extinction burst, a not-so-grand finale to the thinking of segregationists and supremacists. It was time to look to a brighter future.
No electoral setback could steal my hope. The morning after the election, our kids ran into our room and we wept. I told them: There is a lot of callousness and cruelty out there. From this point forward, our home is an oasis of love and justice. We give each other the benefit of the doubt. We listen to one another. We lead with love. We go out into the world today being exactly who we’ve always been, but better. More compassionate. More generous. More awake. Because that’s what it will take to build a more just and loving world.
The thought that we were all responsible for holding the dream, that sustained my hope.
Four years have passed, and we’re exhausted. At times, demoralized. Maybe we’ve been burned by all that hope.
But my friend, R’ Uri Herscher, pointed me yesterday to a verse from the prophet Zechariah (9:12) that I never noticed before: We are prisoners to hope, he says. We have no choice. It’s built into the system. It’s the only way to live. We’re locked into that spiritual mindset because we might otherwise abandon it for the more alluring and sometimes logical alternative: resignation and despair.
But this is no time for despair.
Yes, we’re tired. We’ve protested and written and organized. We’ve prayed and sang and wept. We’ve learned to listen deeply and we’ve grown, in spirit and understanding. We’re smarter now than we were before. We’ve built alliances and gotten strategic. We’ve made mistakes and we’ve course corrected. We’ve held one another with grace and tenderness. Most importantly, we’ve countered the lie that we are powerless… we have found our power, our voice.
The Torah ends before the people reach the Promised Land, I think to teach us how to live in that liminal space between oppression and redemption. To teach us that hope is not an option, but essential to our nature. That the work is not nearly done, and therefore we’re not nearly done.
Stay strong today, and in the days ahead, you who stand on the side of justice and love, of equity, equality and liberation. We will prevail. Remember that hope is both an act of defiance and an expression of love. For ourselves, for our children, and for the future.
R’ Sharon Brous