From the Rabbi - January 2017 Print
January 2017 -  Hope

This year Chanukah and the secular New Year overlapped which is apt considering the themes of both celebrations are quite similar.  Both are about hope.  On Chanukah we celebrate the hope of a small band of rebel Jews fighting against a mighty empire for their right to live as Jews and the hope of light in the darkness of the winter.  And on the secular New Year – as with the Jewish New Year - we hope for renewal, looking forward to a year in which we can turn over a new leaf and in which the difficulties we have faced in the past year may give way to hope for something better in the new. 

Hope is sometimes dismissed in our modern world as a rather “fuzzy” virtue.  The business adage: “Hope is not a business plan,” suggests the reason why.  Hope gives the impression of being an exercise in magical thinking, a belief that if one only hopes hard enough everything will turn out for the better. But in the eyes of many it lacks specificity, practicality and realism. 

But hope is an essential part of Jewish tradition and history – hope for an end of exile, hope for victory over the Greek empire, hope for the return to Zion and the establishment of the modern State of Israel.  Indeed Israel’s national anthem is Hatikvah, the “hope” and every time we sing it we declare “od lo avdah tikvatenu”, ‘our hope is not yet lost.’  And our future is also based on hope, the hope of a messianic age in which all the problems of the world will be swept away and all will be made right under the rule of G-d. 

Hope is not magic, but it is incredibly powerful, able to give meaning even in the darkest times.  Rabbi Hugo Gryn told of his experiences in Auschwitz.  One day in the middle of winter they realized that it was Chanukah.  His father, with whom he shared a bunk, decided to make a makeshift Chanukah menorah from scrap metal, using some butter as oil to burn.  Hugo protested that the butter should not be wasted in such a way and that surely the butter could be better used to feed someone.  “Hugo,” said his father, “both you and I know that a person can live a very long time without food. But Hugo, I tell you, a person cannot live a single day without hope. This Menorah is the fire of hope. Never let it go out. Not here. Not anywhere.”

Hope cannot fix all things.  But hope can raise our spirits even in the midst of darkness and it can inspire us to do what needs to be done to help make the world better despite all odds.  Hope keeps us going so that, faced with what the world is, we never give up on creating the world as it should and could be in this secular New Year and beyond.

Rabbi Ilan Emanuel