By Rabbi Amy Scheinerman (originally published as Planting Seeds of Hope: Let Them Bloom, by Mekor Chaim, JFNA)
Lying on his back atop his doghouse, Snoopy gazes at the sky and bemoans, “Yesterday I was a dog. Today I’m a dog. Tomorrow I’ll probably still be a dog. Sigh! There’s so little hope for advancement.” Curiously, Snoopy doesn’t shut out all possibility of hope: “so little hope” suggests there is some.
Overwhelming change and events can generate gratitude and hope, or despair and hopelessness. The Israelites, despite a spectacular and public redemption, go the latter route.
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites caught sight of the Egyptians advancing upon them. Greatly frightened, the Israelites cried out to the Lord.
they said to Moses, “Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness! What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us be, and we will serve the Egyptians, for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness’?” (Exodus 14:10-12)
The Israelites are gripped by fear (“greatly frightened”), certain that they are doomed (“it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness”), and looking for someone to blame for their predicament (“What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt?”).
Where is their hope for the future? We might expect that redemption at the Reed Sea was an enormous mikveh that transforms them from slaves to free people and would thus attune them to mikveh-Yisrael. Yet the midrash describes: Reuven then said to Shimon: “In Egypt we had clay, and now in the sea again clay. In Egypt we had mortar and bricks, and now in the sea again mortar and bricks.” Perhaps their inability to appreciate the miracles God wrought in Egypt precludes their ability to feel hopeful about the future.
Gratitude is a powerful drug. When it courses through our souls it ignites hope for the future. I write this in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The devastation is horrifying. Yet many victims appear before TV cameras to their gratitude to be alive, coupled with their hopes to rebuild.
Gratitude fuels hope, but it is not always sufficient. Many of us need to ground hope in empirical evidence: we need to know that what we would hope for is possible. Tradition comes to the rescue. Pesach reminds us to hope for redemption: if it happened once, it can happen again.
But what if you regard the Exodus as religious legend, and not history? It is said that King Louis XIV of France asked Blaise Pascal to provide proof of God’s existence. Pascal responded, “Why the Jews, your Majesty, the Jews!” On countless occasions, we have been redeemed from degradation and deprivation. Our amazing survival over the centuries supplies reason to hope. So, too, in our personal lives, we have seen people brought from the depth of addiction, depression, disability, calamity and illness, and go on to lead meaningful lives. This reality is reflected in our sacred stories: As R. Yehudah ha-Nasi approached death, his maid hoped for his peaceful passing. Amidst devastation, Job hoped for wisdom.
I work with hospice patients. You would think someone close to death would have no reason to hope, but they all do. They hope their children and grandchildren will remember them and grow up to be successful, contributing members of society. They hope their loved ones will forge and maintain close and loving relationships with one another. They hope to be remembered for blessing.
The nasty irony of hope is that the worse things are and the more you need it but the harder it is to hold on to. Viktor Frankl wrote: “In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious ‘Yes’ in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose.”
So it is hope that makes it possible for all of us to actually face everything. As Rabbis we can help people find seeds of hope to plant. With caring and compassion, we can tenderly nurture the emergent sapling of hope. After all, are we not here to heal one another? What better healing balm than hope.
 Shemot Rabbah 24:1.
 Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.