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11/16/2023 09:51:24 AM


Rabbi Deana Sussman Berezin


When I was a little girl, I thought that raindrops were God’s tears. I thought that the wind was God’s exasperated sigh. And I thought that thunderstorms were evidence of God’s anger. And when the sun shined, I knew that God was smiling down on me. 

And though I eventually came to understand that mercurial weather patterns were not indicative of God’s emotions, I sometimes catch myself looking into the sky, wondering.

How is it, I wonder, that the sun shines and the birds chirp in the midst of war? How can it be that a soft breeze gently caresses the tops of the trees while half a world away and yet so near, there is violence and destruction and death and utter devastation? 

Where are God’s tears, I ask myself? Where are the thunderstorms and the lightning bolts of God’s rage?

How can the sun still shine, and the world still turn, when we are in so much pain? 

Because that is where I’ve found myself these past few weeks. I am utterly bereft. I feel abandoned and isolated. I feel despair and sorrow. I am in such deep pain. 
And I feel such cognitive dissonance in the fact that my world still turns in much the same way it did before October 7th.  I go on living my life – I go to work, I teach, I pray, I take care of my children, I go out to dinner with my husband or my friends. And yet, for thousands of people, my own extended family included, their worlds will never again be the same. 

And I find myself growing more and more angry. Angry about so many things that I have little to no control over. And as the death toll increases on all sides and the hostages remain in the captivity of terrorists, my pain turns to anger and despair and the kernels of hope that I have been trying to hold onto these last 5 weeks dissipates a bit more.

So I’m left to wonder – where do I go from here? How do I move myself forward and propel myself out of this cycle? I wish I had the answers, but like most of us, I have more questions than answers at any given moment (which is, of course, a very Jewish worldview). 

One of my Rabbis taught me that prayer doesn’t always give us clear answers. But what it can do, he said, is open our minds to the wisdom of the world around us that might provide us with direction and insight. And sometimes those answers come from the most unlikely of places. And in this case, the wisdom came from my four year old, Robbie.

Two nights ago, Robbie was singing with me before bed, and before I knew it, he started singing the words of Hatikvah. Now, Robbie has been singing this for weeks – he learned it in late September from his preschool – and it always brings tears to my eyes, particularly now. But two nights ago, I heard the words of Hatikvah differently and it pushed me to revisit what hope really means. 

Last year, some of you might remember that I did a deep dive on the topic of hope in one of my high holiday sermons, and I spoke about the notion that sometimes, despair is the foundation of hope – only when we sit in the pit of despair will we have the tools we need to rise from the ashes and move towards hope.

Rebecca Solnit, the author of Hope in the Dark, says that hope “is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine…Hope locates itself in the premise that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty, there is room to act…Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable…” 

“I say all this,” writes Solnit, “because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say it because hope is an ax you should break down the doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door…Hope calls for action….To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.” 

For Jews, too, hope is vibrant and active and dynamic. We are not a people who wait passively for hope to come to us. And if that is true, then hope cannot be stagnant and unyielding. It must be flexible and nimble and adaptable, changing as we, ourselves, change. And therefore, what we hope for and the very act of hope itself ought to shift as the world shifts around us. 

So what does hope mean for us now, in this moment, when it feels so very distant and unattainable right now? How do we actively work towards hope?
Truthfully, I’m not sure. But I do know that it starts by a willingness not to turn inward and shut out the world. I do know that it starts by sitting with real people and having hard conversations with people with whom we may disagree about almost everything. I do know that it starts by building bridges instead of tearing them down. And I do know that it won’t be simple or easy. 

So in this moment when it seems that the easiest thing might be to build walls around ourselves to protect us from the pain, we have to do the opposite. Instead of building walls, we have to knock them down. 

I know that we cannot and will not solve the world’s problems from our corner of the world here in Omaha. We are all hurting. We are all in deep pain. And yet we are not powerless. The wisdom of our tradition is a gift for it gives us the tools to reach for hope in the face of despair, if only we have the courage to try. 

Shabbat Shalom.


Watch the entirety of Friday’s service here.

Temple Talk is a recap of sermons given from the Bimah for those who missed a Sermon or who wanted to revisit the words spoken at a previous sermon.

Tue, December 5 2023 22 Kislev 5784