Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D.
It has been said that life is funny. Perhaps at times it is, but most often, we encounter episodes that test our faith and even cause us to doubt our purpose or the reason for our existence. We sometimes look at life through rose-colored glasses, and when reality sets in, we are stunned, amazed, and perplexed.
The history of mankind contains episodes of defeat, but also instances of salvation. Through it all, we survived, but more than that, we continued to explore and create. We dreamed and reached unimaginable heights in searching for a life with meaning. We read the words of Jeremiah and realize that even though his message was one of gloom and doom, it also contained hope. We also gained a better understanding of how God works, how to realize that adversity can bring redemption.
It reminds of me of family. Our parents teach us the path to independence; however, we often rebel and challenge. We can be audacious and obnoxious, but we know that our parents will accept us with open arms, ever forgiving. God, too, sees us succumbing to temptation and floundering with no purpose or destination. God sets a plan before us, and we choose not to follow, knowing full well the consequences of our actions. Still, we forge ahead.
What does God do? Does God throw up His hands and turn His back on us? Perhaps at times it seems that way. God smiles and understands full well the good and the bad, because that is what life is. Finally, there is connection. We connect to an idea, an ideal, and to the fate that awaits us. The fate that we created—not God.
The Psalmist tells us that God is there to lift us, comfort us, and then move us along, because life is to live, and hope is the secret ingredient in survival. Moreover, just like a parent, no matter how many children God loves, each child is the only one God loves.
All of us have rebelled more than once. There are penalties that must be accepted, just as there are rewards that will be forthcoming. Isn’t that what Jeremiah tries to impart to us? We have all endured much in our history, but then we lift ourselves up and continue the quest for acceptance and salvation.
The inspiration we receive from reading about tragedy is that if we really try to do what we can, God will help us achieve what seems impossible, to overcome the difficulties. “Enjoy life … through all the fleeting days of your life that God has granted you beneath the sun … for that is your compensation in life….” Solomon writes this in Ecclesiastes to affirm that life is transitory, but with guidance, anything is possible. We should not travel aimlessly. Life can and should have meaning.
Perhaps the greatest gift Jeremiah gave us in his writings was the hope that God will redeem us. Look around and what do you see? Those who survived the nightmare of the coronavirus now dance in the streets, and the glory that was is here again. The innocents who lost their lives in a horrific tragedy in Florida will know that we will remember. Overall, mankind has been salvaged from the depths of degradation and despair. Once our heads were faced downward, and now they are up, looking up at the miracle of deliverance.
We should remember the past, not only as a reminder not to repeat history, but to learn from it. Commemorate the tragic events as we do when a life is lost. Light a candle, say a prayer, and rejoice in our ability to continue the chain of legacy left to us by the sacrifices of those who preceded us. The flame of their existence will remain forever. To forget would desecrate their memories.
Once again, we are optimistic. Once again, we are witnesses to a new birth, a new freedom, a new vision. We can live, we must live. As Eric Fromm so beautifully wrote, “In essence, all human beings are identical. We are all part of one; we are one.” When one of us is hurt, we all hurt. When one of us is redeemed, we are all redeemed.
The secret ingredient in living is a simple word that we seem to lose sight of—hope. Hope in ourselves, in our determination to survive; most of all, hope in the One who is there to lift us when we are in great need.