Spring! A season of renewal and for religious communities, themes of rebirth, creation and, hope. I came across a very interesting piece in the March 21, 2016 edition of the Wall Street Journal. “An Emotion We Need More Of” by Elizabeth Bernstein. The sub title of the article was “Hope is a crucial element of our well being, psychologists can teachpeople to gain or restore hope.” I will admit that I had never considered that hope can be taught. I sort of thought that people had a proclivity to be hopeful. Yet the article distinguished between hope and optimism.
Hope’s crucial component, psychologists say, is agency. People who are hopeful don’t just have a goal or wish, they have a strategy
to achieve it and the morivation to implement their plan. Hope is the belief that the future will begetter than the present and that
you have some power to make it so. It differs from optimism. which is the belief that things will work out no matter what you do.
In this sense, we can understand how Judaism is a religous philosophy of hope. We have a belief that things in the future will be better, we have an entire strategy (“mitzvot”, values such as “tikkun loom” or “pikuach nefesh”-saving a life) that is designed to effect that belief. And, crucial to that belief is the understanding that it is up to us to make it so; that we DO have the power to make this so.
This fundamental belief system again allows us to look beyond our own “self”, but also holds each of us accountable. A great tension. For Boomers, this is manifest a lot these days by our generation moving from the material to the spiritual. So many of us have begun to understand that material possessions may have little impact on the betterment of the world. The hope we have for a better life for us and our children can best be based on securing for our own self a sense of meaning and purpose. To that end, I came across a great line in Kenneth Pargament’s “Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy”. He is discussing aspects of the sacred from a pyscho-spititual perspective and wrote concerning the spark of divinity that rests within each of us that: people who are trying to develop themselves and find meaning in their lives are ot engaging in secular pursuits; they are involved in spiritual quests” (p. 43)
If hope, as the article suggests, “is a crucial element of our physical and mental well being” than we can celebrate the values and beliefs of Judaism as a organized system of belief and action that guides one in actualizing that hope into reality. Happy Spring.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min