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Between Grief and Hope

By Rabbi Kami Knapp

What a blessing to be able to pick up our sacred texts and find words that encapsulate what we struggle to express ourselves.

As we enter our summer months, traditionally we use this time to rest after a full year and prepare for our holy High Holidays. I suggest we spend the summer months focusing on two themes that feel especially relevant and real to our experience this year: grief and hope.

Many of us are facilitating between grief and hope: grief over what has been lost these last few months and the changes we anticipate as we move forward, but also hope that things will get better and we will return to certain degrees of normalcy. Our feelings of grief and hope are very alive, and at times it can be hard to recognize and process them. But our tradition has a rich well of texts which give voice to our laments as well as our hope, and studying them gives us space to process.

In our holy Tanakh we have an entire book dedicated to grief, to the act of lamenting. Our tradition honors the validity of lamenting by giving voice to our feelings of grief through the text of Eicha.

אֵיכָה יָשְׁבָה בָדָד, הָעִיר רַבָּתִי עָם--הָיְתָה, כְּאַלְמָנָה; רַבָּתִי בַגּוֹיִם, שָׂרָתִי בַּמְּדִינוֹת--הָיְתָה, לָמַס. בָּכוֹ תִבְכֶּה בַּלַּיְלָה, וְדִמְעָתָהּ עַל לֶחֱיָהּ--אֵין-לָהּ מְנַחֵם, מִכָּל-אֹהֲבֶיהָ: כָּל-רֵעֶיהָ בָּגְדוּ בָהּ, הָיוּ לָהּ לְאֹיְבִים.

“Alas, lonely sits the city once great with people! She that was great among nations is become like a widow; the princess among states is become a thrall. Bitterly she weeps in the night, her cheek wet with tears. There is none to comfort her of all her friends.” (Eicha 1: 1–2)

Although painful to read, the words speak to us and echo the grief we feel, the loneliness and despair we may feel during this time of the unknown. There is comfort in reading these words, knowing that we are not alone in our feelings. Our text encourages us to reach out to G-d in these moments and share this grief.

סְחִי וּמָאוֹס תְּשִׂימֵנוּ, בְּקֶרֶב הָעַמִּים. פָּצוּ עָלֵינוּ פִּיהֶם, כָּל-אֹיְבֵינוּ.

“I have called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit. Hear my pleas; do not shut your ear to my groan, to my cry!” (Eicha 3: 55–56)

But just as our tradition has texts which accompany us in times of deep grief it also provides us with texts which represent our hope, a feeling that may be bubbling within us during this time. The book of Psalms holds a variety of feelings: grief, but also hope and joy.

קַוֵּה, אֶל-יְ-ה: חֲזַק, וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ; וְקַוֵּה, אֶל-יְ-ה.

“Hope in the Lord; be strong and of good courage and hope in the Lord.” (Psalms 27: 14)

Or perhaps one of our most well known Psalms can provide comfort during this time:

אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי, אֶל-הֶהָרִים-- מֵאַיִן יָבֹא עֶזְרִי

עֶזְרִי, מֵעִם יְהוָה-- עֹשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ

“I turn my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalms 121: 1–2)

Jewish tradition provides such rich expression to the wide variety of feelings we may be experiencing. What a blessing to be able to pick up our texts and find words that encapsulate what we struggle to express ourselves. That is why I encourage us all during these summer months, when we may not be as busy as we normally are, to take some time and engage deeply with our texts. Go exploring and see what you find, what resonates with you, what speaks to your experience; perhaps find words of comfort for the moments that feel unbearable.

Rabbi Kami Knapp is was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) in 2017. She holds a BA in International Studies from Seattle University and an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy from the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. Learn more on her profile page. Connect one-on-one with Rabbi Kami by booking a Rabbi Connect session.

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