The Courage to Hope – the Greatest Courage of All
Preparing for Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur
In 2011, in advance of Rosh Hashanah, the Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur 5772, the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks recorded a series of ten short videos, each reflecting on a particular theme or prayer pertinent to this special and spiritual period in the Jewish calendar.
These timeless messages are equally applicable as we enter any new year.
Unetaneh Tokef is a prayer of intense drama. The world is a courtroom. The Books of Life and Death are open. God is the Judge. The shofar sounds, the angels tremble, the court is in session. And we are on trial, awaiting the verdict. Who will live and who will die. What will be our fate in the year to come?
Yet this we believe: that no fate is final. Uteshuvah, utefillah, utzedakah ma’avirin et roah hagzerah. Repentance, prayer, and charity have the power to avert the evil decree.
Two great cultures between them shaped the civilisation of the west: Ancient Greece and Ancient Israel. Athens and Jerusalem. Two different approaches to life. The Greeks believed in moira, ananke, blind, inexorable fate. What will be will be, whatever we choose. And the more we try to avoid it, the more we make it happen. Out of this belief came great drama, the Greek gift to the world. Its name is tragedy.
Judaism said no. It isn’t true. Fate is not final. The decree has not been sealed. God has given us the one gift that redeems life from tragedy, the gift of freedom.
We can choose. We can change. We can act differently next time. We can make sure the future is not an endless replay of the past. And as for the past, if we acknowledge it, God forgives. Out of that faith came the one word with the power to redeem life from tragedy. The word tikvah – hope.
Jews lost many things in the course of history: their land, their home, their city Jerusalem, their holy of holies, the Temple; sometimes they lost their lives. But never did they lose their hope. Jews kept hope alive, and hope kept the Jewish people alive.
And if you were to ask me what difference faith makes, I would say: faith is the ability to know the worst and yet remain committed to the best, to know how cruel life can be and yet never ever to despair. Faith is the courage to hope.