No Room for Despair
“Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.” —Zechariah 9:12
This month, Jews around the world will observe Tisha B’Av, the darkest day on the Jewish calendar when we mark the destruction of the two Holy Temples and other calamities that have occurred on this day. I’m sharing with you weekly devotions based on my book, Generation to Generation: Passing on the Legacy of Faith to Our Children, about Tisha B’Av and the lessons of hope it has for us today.
By engaging in these yearly customs of mourning, our children — no matter what age — can grasp the sense that something is not right. They can tell that people are sad — unusually sad. It’s not rare that adults cry during the Tisha B’Av service. I still remember in my childhood hearing the sobbing of Holocaust survivors in the synagogue.
As children get older and begin to understand the sadness related to the loss of the Temple, they also begin to embrace the possibility of a Third Temple and a better world. If not for Tisha B’Av, it is highly unlikely that we would remember that there was a Temple and that there will be a Temple rebuilt again in Jerusalem, and the significance of God’s Holy Temple in our midst.
When we teach our children that this isn’t the way the world is supposed to be, we teach them that, indeed, there is always hope; this world will not always be broken. The Temple will be rebuilt, the messiah will come, and our souls will be complete. In the Scriptures we read, “Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you” (Zechariah 9:12). We are prisoners of hope, captive to our faith, confined by our trust in God. What a beautiful word picture to instill in our children!
Hope is a foundational idea in both the Jewish and Christian faiths. In fact, it has been argued that Judaism brought the concept of hope to the world in the first place. When the biblical Abraham lived, the prevailing belief was that the “gods” determined man’s fate. People had no control in changing their destiny. Their fate was left in the hands of the capricious gods. Abraham, however, taught of a loving God with whom anything is possible. Sarah and Abraham, who had their son Isaac at ages 90 and 100 respectively, proved that point. No matter how terrible or impossible a situation may seem, there is always room for hope.
In the Book of Exodus, the very foundation of the Exodus story is that the Israelites cried out to God because of their suffering. God heard and intervened. Their situation seemed hopeless, but the Israelites demonstrated that the God of Israel is a God of hope. There is no room in faith for despair.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote, “Despair is not a Jewish emotion. Od lo avda tikvatenu (the Hebrew words from “Hatikvah”): our hope has never been destroyed. For there is a Jewish way of telling the story of our situation . . . What happens is not chance but a chapter in the complex script of the covenant which leads, mysteriously but assuredly, to our redemption.”
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