D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
Rise Up (by Audra Day)
You're broken down and tired
Of living life on a merry go round
And you can't find the fighter
But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out
And I'll rise up, I'll rise like the day
I'll rise up, I'll rise unafraid I'll rise up
And I'll do it a thousand times again
And I'll rise up high like the waves
I'll rise up in spite of the ache
I'll rise up and I'll do it a thousand times again
Back in 2001 my life underwent a transformation. When I say transformation I don’t mean I changed my hairstyle; or got a makeover; or bought a new car; or got a new job……. No wait that’s not right, I actually did get a really fantastic new job that year. But in essence what happened to me in 2001 was a massive shift in the way I thought about life; in the way I presented myself to the world; and in the way others responded to me. Without that transformation I would surely not be standing in front of you today. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be standing in front of anyone or anywhere were it not for the miraculous new and positive direction my life managed to take.
But of all the things that changed for me that year, one particular detail stands out more than any other. The year 2001 was the year I first encountered hope.
Having grown up with a verbally abusive mother and having lived for many years with an alcoholic husband, hope had rarely if ever entered into my vocabulary let alone my thoughts and actions. Up until 2001 my days were focused on a single thought--making sure I – and by extension, my husband Joe-- got through the day safe and sound. I was consumed with survival. I was filled with fear.
In Rise Up, the song I just sang; a song made famous by Audra Day, the lyrics cry out that despite being broken down and tired; despite the ache in our hearts-- we can and we will shake the fear; we can and we will move mountains, and together we can and we will rise up. What drives us and gives us the confidence to rise up is hope. Later on the lyrics proclaim: All we need is hope and for that we have each other.
In 2001 my life crashed all around me. I could no longer hide from the world what was happening at home and I was faced with two choices. As one of my best friends said to me at the time: Ellie, you can go down with the ship-- or not. Fortunately for me this wasn't a choice at all. I wasn’t ready to give up. I wasn't willing in the least to go down with the ship. It doesn’t mean it was easy.
While in those early days it was basic survival skills that got me through, as I eventually got back on my feet a little bit more, it was hope that carried the day. It was hope that saved me.
Hope is defined as “the perceived capability to derive pathways to a desired goal and motivate oneself despite possible obstacles, to use those pathways and achieve your goal.” Just like the Little Engine that Could, thoughts such as “I think I can” serve as motivators for us in pursuing goals.
But, using the word hope in a sentence doesn’t mean we are hopeful. When someone says: “I hope you have a great day” it isn’t an expression of hope, it is a wish. Unless the person who speaks that sentence is going to spend the entire day with you they really have little control over whether or not you will have a great day. When someone says, “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow,” this is also a wish since most of us anyway, have no control over whether it is going to rain tomorrow or not.
Hope is something unique to human beings. As Dr. Shane Lopez writes in his book Making Hope Happen: Whenever someone poses the question, what’s unique about humans? feel free to skip the usual answers about opposable thumbs, the use of tools, and language, and instead answer: Hope.”
When we are hopeful we have high expectations for the future, as well as a clear assessment of the obstacles we need to overcome in order to get there. It isn’t just something you sit around and wish for or wait to happen. Hope requires action. It is the belief that your future can be brighter and better than your past and that you have a role to play in making it better.
According to Shane Lopez people who are hopeful share 3 core beliefs.
First: the future will be better than the present.
Second: I have the power to make it so.
Third: There are many paths to my goals and none of them is free of obstacles..
In the course of human history hope has not always been perceived as a positive force. Plato called hope a “foolish counselor,” while the Greek philosopher Sophocles believed human suffering was prolonged by hope. Benjamin Franklin declared that anyone who lives on hope will die fasting, while Friedrich Nietzsche like Sophocles called hope “the most evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment.” Religious leaders have consistently used hope to buoy the spirits of their flock, but demagogues have utilized it for their own nefarious purposes.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes about one of the most formative moments in Jewish history-- the encounter between Moses and God at the Burning Bush when Moses asks God what name he should use when people want to know who God is. God’s response is mysterious – Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, literally I will be what I will be. As Rabbi Sacks writes--God’s name belongs to the future tense. God’s call is to that which is not yet. If we fail to understand this, we will miss the very thing that makes Judaism unique. 
In Torah the Jewish story begins with God’s call to Abraham to leave his birthplace and travel to the land that I will show you, (Gen. 12:1) but Genesis ends with the promise unfulfilled. In Exodus Moses is called to lead the Israelites back to freedom and the Promised Land. But a journey that should have taken days takes 40 years and by the end of the Torah, the end of the book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites have still not fulfilled the promise. It’s a gloomy conclusion but it is also a hopeful one because we don’t know the end of the story. The story is incomplete.
At the end of the Tanakh, the end of the Bible, the Israelites are in exile again – this time in Babylonia and they have been given permission to return from almost the same place from which Abraham and his family set out. So here’s the deal. The stories in Tanakh have a beginning but while there is an end, it’s always just beyond the horizon. We always seem to be looking towards the future—like to the Messianic age when nation shall not lift up sword against nation. (Isaiah 2:4)
Having said all that, in the Torah hope is presented for the first time in history as a positive force. While the Greeks believed in fate, that our future is determined by our past, the Jews believed in freedom, that there is no evil decree that cannot be averted. As we will sing in a little while:
U’tshuvah, u’tfilah, u’tzedakah,
Ma’avirin et ro’eh ha-gezeirah
But repentance, prayer, and deeds of charity have the power to transform the harshness of our destiny.
If the Greeks gave the world the concept of tragedy, Jews gave the world the idea of hope. As Rabbi Sacks notes: Judaism is a sustained struggle, the greatest ever known, against the world that is, in the name of the world that could be, should be, but is not yet. There is no more challenging vocation. Throughout history, when human beings have sought hope they have found it in the Jewish story. Judaism is the religion, and Israel the home, of hope.
It is no accident that so many Jews spend their time pursuing justice; fighting poverty and disease -- refusing to see these things as inevitable. It is no accident that after the Holocaust, Jews did not become bitter and resentful, but instead looked to the future, building a nation whose national anthem is Hatikvah, the hope.
Elie Wiesel used to tell the story of a remarkable discovery he made in Breslov, Poland. Over the entrance to the oldest synagogue in the city he came upon a sign that had surely uplifted the ghetto dwellers of the city 150 years ago, functioning as a challenge and a forewarning of the need for hope many years later during the Holocaust. The sign read: Gevalt! don’t give up!
It's easy to be fearful of hope. It seems so unlikely while fear seems so logical and persuasive. After all, your hopes may not have come true in the past but maybe your fears did. Never be afraid to hope because once we become afraid we become paralyzed. Fear robs us of our courage, while our hopes can come true, sometimes against all odds.
Mark Manson, in his book whose name I cannot entirely say from this bima, Everything is f’d, the opposite of happiness isn’t anger or sadness. If you are angry or sad it means you still care. You still have hope. You still give a darn. No, the opposite of happiness is hopelessness—the belief that everything is messed up so why do anything at all. Hopelessness is the root of anxiety, mental illness, and depression, the source of so much misery, a major cause of addiction and a strong predictor of mortality.
In order to conquer the fear of hope here are a few suggestions:
*Don’t dwell on the past; the past is over
*Be in charge of your own future.
*Be patient but not passive. Nothing happens all at once
*Trust in God to help you along the way.
As Dr. Henry Viscardi founder of the National Center for Disabilities Services writes: The tragedy of life lies not in failing to reach your goals, but having no hope and thus no goals to reach.
One of my favorite stories in Torah is the story of Joseph. A bit of a spoiled brat, Joseph was betrayed by his family, thrown into a pit and left to die. We can only surmise what Joseph was feeling in that pit, but eventually he did get out-- only to be sold into slavery. And just when everything seemed to get better and he became a servant in the House of Potiphar, Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of sexual assault and he was imprisoned. Here we know Joseph had faith. The text tells us, God was with Joseph and he knew one day his torment would be over. Eventually he was vindicated and promoted to second in command in Egypt.
It doesn’t matter if the way you get to hope is through religious faith or evidence-based theory or an intuition or a well-reasoned argument, they all produce the same result—a belief in the potential for salvation in the future and the belief that there are ways we can navigate to get us there.
David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel once said that in his country if you don’t believe in miracles you are not a realist.
While Mark Manson in his book whose title cannot be spoken, gives a very good argument for why hope is hopeless, he still offers a hopeful path. Don’t hope for better. Just be better. Be something better. Be more compassionate, more resilient, more humble, more disciplined. Many people would also throw in there, be more human, but no – be a better human….”
Rise up, rise like the day
rise up, rise unafraid
rise up, and do it a thousand times again
rise up, high like the waves rise up, in spite of the ache
rise up, and do it a thousand times again
For you For you For you For you
L’Shana Tova u’metukah-- Wishing all of you a sweet and happy new year.
 Casey Gwinn and Chan Hellman. Hope Rising. (New York : Morgan James, c2019) 8
 Feldman, David B. Rand, Kevin L., Kahle-Wrobleski, Kristin. “Hope and Goal Attainment” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 28, issue 4 (2009)
 Shane J. Lopez. Making Hope Happen. (New York : Atria Books, c2013) 36
 Casey Gwinn and Chan Hellman. Hope Rising. (New York : Morgan James, c2019) 9
 Ibid. 18
 Ibid. 32
 Maurice Lamm. The Power of Hope. (New York : Fireside, 1997) 19
Jonathan Sacks. “Future Tense, How the Jews Invented Hope.” http://rabbisacks.org/future-tense-how-the-jews-invented-hope-published-in-the-jewish-chronicle/ (accessed August 2019)
 Maurice Lamm. The Power of Hope. (New York : Fireside, 1997) 47
 Ibid. 51
 Mark Manson. Everything is f’ed. (New York : Harper Collins, c2019) 12
 Ibid. 13
 Maurice Lamm. the Power of Hope (New York : Fireside, 1997) 52
 Ibid. 53
 Mark Manson. Everything is f’d (New York : Harper Collins, c2019) 15
 Ibid. 228.