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Hope in the Impossible / Shabbat Lech L’cha…Sermon by Rabbi Saks, October 23, 2015 – 11 Cheshvan 5776

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Hope in the Impossible

Shabbat Lech L’cha

October 23, 2015 – 11 Cheshvan 5776

Congregation Bet Ha’am

Rabbi Jared H. Saks

 

 

One of the first outfits I bought for my newborn son was a set of three Florida State onesies. On his second full day of life, Zak wore one of them at the hospital as the two of us dozed off between plays of the Florida State Seminoles and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. So, when we left the hospital and were staying with our friends Robin and Becky in Gary, Indiana, I was perfectly content with Robin holding him while she pounded the arm of the rocking chair in her living room as she rooted on her team, the Chicago Cubs, in the hopes that they’d make it to the World Series for the first time in 107 years.

Alas, it was not to be for the Cubs, at least not yet. Congratulations to the Mets fans among us. I’m nonetheless impressed by the hopefulness of Cubs fans and the belief that their team can still make it, even though among them it is unlikely that anyone remembers firsthand the last World Series win in 1908. Yet, the possibility of a win still remains a living hope for Chicago Cubs fans. In fact, this week only reinforced that hope, even as the Cubs lost their chance at this year’s pennant. This past Wednesday, October 21, 2015, was also known as Back to the Future Day. In the 1989 film Back to the Future Part II, Marty McFly travels to 2015 to save his children and upon arriving there, on October 21, 2015, learns that the Cubs haves swept Miami in the World Series.

The truth is that Bob Gale, the screenwriter for that 1989 movie, is actually a St. Louis Cardinals fan, the rival team of the Cubs. His including a win by the Cubs in Back to the Future Part II was a bit of a joke on his part, including the most unlikely win by his rival team in the script of the film. In fact, when Gale wrote Back to the Future II, there wasn’t even a professional baseball team in Miami, so the win by the Cubs was even that much more implausible when the movie debuted.

Nonetheless, Cubs fans have held onto the possibility that their team would win and when it seemed possible this year, the year that coincided with the movie’s prediction, it only bolstered their hope in their team. Hope is a fascinating thing. We can hold out hope even when what we desire seems entirely impossible and even when it is a mere joke to others. Hope is a foundational tenet of our tradition. When Abraham enters into the covenant with God as detailed in this week’s Torah portion, Lech L’cha, the premise of that covenant is hope. God promises to make Abraham a mighty nation, as populous as the stars in the sky and as the grains of sand on the seashore. Even when God asks for the sacrifice of Abraham’s son, compromising that promise, Abraham holds out hope. So do we.

The national anthem of Israel, Hatikvah, meaning The Hope, was taken from a 19th century poem by Naftali Hertz Imber titled Tikvateinui, or Our Hope, and was the national song of the Jewish people long before there was a Jewish State and actually long before Israel made it the official national anthem in 2004. Hatikvah and its original poem speak about a longing for return to the Land of Israel, even after 2,000 years of exile. The fact that Imber could pen those words over half a century before Israel became a State, words based upon a 2,000 year old dream, and that those words would come to be fulfilled is a tribute to what it means to hold out hope.

In fact, in 1989, the Dalai Lama met with Jewish leaders at a Buddhist monastery near New York City to learn about how to survive exile. Thirty years earlier, his people had been exiled from their home, so the Tibetan Buddhist leader sought the advice of the Jewish people, leaders from four movements, because in spite of our exile, we have maintained our traditions. As reported by The New York Times on September 26, 1989, “The Dalai Lama said he wanted to learn the Jewish ‘secret technique’ of survival. He said his question was not academic, but highly practical. The Buddhist leader, once the religious and political leader of Tibet, went into exile in 1959 in the face of the Communist takeover. He now lives in Darmasala, India, one of the many places of Tibetan ‘diaspora.’ He compared the Tibetan diaspora to that of the Jews,”[1] indicating the Tibetan Buddhist people’s need to learn from Jewish experience.

The secret technique the Dalai Lama sought, in my opinion, was hope. Hope that a people will survive. Hope that a team will one day be victorious. Hope that the impossible isn’t as impossible as others have led us to believe or as we have thought. Shabbat Shalom.

[1] Ari Goldman, Dalai Lama Meets Jews From 4 Major Branches, The New York Times, September 26, 1989.

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