These have been such difficult days. It seems that virtually everyone I speak to is despondent or confused or both. People wonder if the violence and despair in Israel will ever end and how to make it to the end of the day without hope. Loss is everywhere. A few weeks ago, people were afraid to go to a mikve. Now there's fear about stepping into a shul to pray in the morning. Both fears are very different but very real in different ways. Sacred institutions which felt safe are now under question. But should they be?
We all have to be careful and vigilant. But we can't let rare, extreme and unusual circumstances tarnish the holy, loving and healthy Jewish spaces that we have come to call our own. And most importantly, we cannot lose hope. We cannot lose faith, and we cannot lose trust because when we lose those three precious spiritual commodities - hope, faith and trust - we lose Judaism.
When Moses begins his farewell speech at the beginning of Deuteronomy, he points out a dream and then he points to the problems on the way to the realization of all dreams. He looks out at his nation - our nation - and says, "The Lord your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as many as the stars in the sky" (1:10). Finally, after so many generations have passed, the impossible dream given to Abraham had been realized. He looked out on a sea of people and affirmed that we had indeed become those sparkling, numerous stars that no one could have imagined in the early chapters of Genesis.
And then Moses reminds the people of an attitude that got in the way of the realization of this dream. People on the journey lost hope. Some traded in the big picture because of small material complaints along the way. Some wanted out of this immense spiritual adventure because they were terribly afraid of enemies, harking us back to the days when scouts gave a bad report of the land: "You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your fathers, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged" (1:20-21) God tried to put fear into perspective but to no avail. Many people would not continue. They took their own route and perished at the hand of unexpected enemies.
There are several different translations of "Do not be afraid; do not get discouraged." I like the translation "do not lose resolve." Fear and discouragement are different. You can be afraid to start a new venture or be scared to confront a problem. But then you take a leap of faith and jump into the unknown. The trick at that point is to not lose resolve, to keep going because new fears and anxieties will surface and present their challenges. You have to keep renewing your sense of resolve that inspired courage in the first place, not despite the dangers and risks but because of them. Risky, impossible challenges are often the only ones worth making.
Anne Lamott in her latest book Stitches:A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair asked how we can find coherence in a world where children are massacred in their schools and friends are dying of illness. She imagines all of these incoherent pieces of sadness and tragedy lying everywhere, making no sense. And then she creates a metaphor for responding to pain: "We live stitch by stitch, when we're lucky." We live in the moments between, focusing on the way that we stitch, the way we put together into a pattern of meaning that which seems puzzling and vexing. "You have to keep taking the next necessary stitch, and the next one, and the next," Lamott advises: "Without stitches, you just have rags. And we are not rags."
We are strong. We cannot be doubled over in so much pain that we forget to stitch together joy with our unhappiness and purpose with our pain. Persecution is not our only or most important legacy. We gave the world hope, faith and trust. We are still here. We are still thriving and actualizing a beautiful future. The price, however, is horrendous and impossible at times But the cost of losing hope is greater. Be strong and of good courage, we read in the Bible. And when that fails us, then at the very least, do not be afraid and do not lose resolve.