What is hope? Is hope something we are born with or is it taught to us to believe in a spiritual salvation or a personal salvation? Can we learn to have hope or are we born with it? The ancient philosopher, Epictus, once said, “Neither should a ship rely on one small anchor, nor should life rest on a single hope.” If we take a dive to learn from the biblical builder, Noach, who built the vessel that saved his family, we can learn about hope and how to incorporate it into our lives.
Before we continue, we need to distinguish the difference between ‘hope’ and ‘emunah’ (faith). According to Merriam Webster (2014), hope is defined as, “to cherish a desire with anticipation,” and another definition is “trust.” According to the famous dictionary, it has one definition as, “belief and trust in and loyalty to God,” with reference to faith. It specifically uses God in its definition. So, we can assume that the two are related to one another and faith is defined as a religious obligation and hope is more of a non-theistic belief.
At the end of the first chapter of the Bible, Bereishis, we are introduced to the prophet, Noach and his family. Up until this point, the world has been one long tale of sorrow and regret. First, Adam HaRishon (the first man) cut off his relationship with his creator by eating from the Eitz Hadatz Tov Vara (Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil), thus bringing mortality into the world. Society then started living by “might makes right” with murdering, violence, and idolatry. Along with these principles, humanity forgot who molded them and molded their views by intern worshipping nature and any gods they created. A man named, Noach and his family were the least corrupt among the people of our planet but G-d decided to do the biggest do-over in history by wiping out the planet with a giant flood. Noach then went down in history as the only Jew who built a boat and actually used it. We won’t get into what happened afterwards as we will deal with Noach and the process of hope.
Noach and his family had hope that they were doing the right thing as they were the minority and not the majority. They were just the 1% in the world. They had to have hope to lead while others were following. According to verse 8:15, G-d tells Noach, “Go out of your ark.” Why does G-d tell Noach to leave the ark. It is explained by ancient commentaries that he lived in a pre-Messianic era in the ark. The animals didn’t eat each other because it states in 6:20 that the animals came on their own without fighting. They didn’t have any roughhousing amongst themselves. So, Noach enjoyed the spirituality inside his home, his ark. His family’s ark is our spiritual ark, an outer shell that we have to walk out of and lead. We have escaped our comfort zone in hope that we will be ok. We will be alright if we anchor ourselves to our belief.
After the miraculous flood, we are introduced to a well-known leader, Avraham (Abraham). He has two children, Esav (Esau) and Yitzchak (Isaac). While not going into detail of Yitzchak and his son Yaakov (Jacob), let’s journey to the great leader of the bible, Moshe (Moses). Moshe was, and still is, one of the greatest leaders to ever exist. He started out not being able to speak clearly (he had a lisp) to being able to lead the Hebrews out of Mitzrayim (Egypt) with hope. He, and the Hebrews had to have hope with what they were doing. They lived in Mitzrayim for 210 years. Without getting into detail on 400/210 years they spent in Mitzrayim, they left after witnessing 10 disastrous plagues upon Mitzrayim.
Imagine living in a place for generations. You may not quite enjoy it, but you are accustomed to the living conditions. Then, you are told to pack your bags, grab some paper-thin bread, and put on your sandals and leave. Leave to a place that you don’t know. You don’t know the weather. You don’t know your neighbors and you don’t even know if that land will be able to harvest fruits and vegetables. You are told that it is “flowing with milk and honey” but it doesn’t have any oil. You must have hope in what you are doing because Moshe had hope. He also had faith because God informed him to do certain acts. His brother and sister had hope in him, and we must have hope in ourselves.
We must get out of our ark, our comfort zone, and journey to an unknown destination just as Noach and Moshe did.
Later on in the story of the Jewish people, there is another example of hope, Channukah. The story starts with the reign of Alexander the Great. He took over Syria, Egypt, and Palestine and allowed the cultures to continue their beliefs. Later on, Antiochus IV ruled with a demonic fist. He began oppressing the Jewish people and others and the Jews lost their temple to dedicate to God. Once they revolted and won, they only had enough oil to last for one night. As a big extraordinary miracle, the oil somehow lasted for eight nights. They had hope in what they were doing and were rewarded respectively.
As someone with hope, even among a group of different faiths, you must have a spark to be a leader. A leader has hope, even if he doesn’t lead a group of people. A follower does have hope, but once that follower takes on a duty, he becomes a leader. As a leader, you must take the road less traveled. You must get out of your ark and into the vast world. As the famous tehillim (psalm) 23 states
“Yet though I walk in the valley overshadowed by death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. That part of Ps. 23 refers to us that we have to have hope as we are walking by ourselves. Sadly, leaders are usually alone and often misunderstood, but they still have hope in what they are doing with the world.
As we’ve seen, we can find many examples of hope in our sacred book, but what about for modern times. Can we find hope in our modern world? The answer is a loud “yes.” In 1878, a poet in Poland by the name of Naphtali Herz Imber wrote a poem called “Tikvatenu” (Our Hope). Many years later, it was adopted by the Zionist Movement in 1897. A former member of the Sonderkommondo reported that Czech Jews spontaneously sung it while they were being loaded in the gas chambers. Even toward their death, they sang about hope. As we all know, that song later became the national anthem for the founding of the state of Israel. Israel, to this day, sings that song because they have hope. Hatikveh (The Hope), as it is now known, declares that we will always have hope, and never lose it.
As you leave this lodge, look at the scriptures on the alter and remember that our biblical ancestors had hope in the darkest of times. One saw a huge wipe-out and only survived because he and his family weren’t doing heinous crimes because they had hope in what they were doing. His lineage, lead a group of slaves into an unknown destination. They had hope in the unknown. Later on, a group witnessed a miracle and had hope to live, while fighting against the Greeks. And in modern times, a song literally called “The Hope” is sung everyday in a country surrounded by people that see its destruction.
If our ancestors have hope, so can we. The genius, Albert Einstein once said about hope that sums up everything, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”