Never Give Up Hope
Va'eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35 )
There are some situations that may be difficult, but we can at least see a way out of them. Then there are other situations when there doesn't seem to be any hope at all. The slavery of the Jewish people in Egypt seemed totally hopeless. The Egyptians were a mighty superpower, and the Jews were powerless slaves. Yet in this week's portion, God promises them that they will indeed get out of Egypt, and then sends miraculous plagues that eventually cause the Egyptians to set the slaves free. A life lesson here is never to give up hope for things to turn out well, no matter how hopeless they might seem. God has ways to make things happen for us that we would never have imagined.
In our story, we meet a girl who learns never to give up hope.
It was a gorgeous sunny day, I was sitting at the edge of a beautiful lake, dangling my feet in the cool, refreshing water - and I was miserable.
It had been a normal Sunday at camp. I enjoyed my job as water counselor, and as usual looked forward to the long afternoon ahead of me of swimming and sunning. That is, until my cell phone rang...
"Hi! It's Liz!" the voice said.
"Liz! You're in town?" Liz was my best friend. We used to be next-door neighbors and became like sisters ever since we could walk and talk. That's why it had been so hard on both of us when she moved away last year. Sure, we tried to stay in touch - emails, the occasional phone call - but still nothing could compare to actually seeing each other. Now we would finally get the chance. She and her family had come up to the nearby Shady Acres Hotel for the weekend. She phoned as soon as she learned I was working at a nearby camp. I was thrilled.
But my excitement soon melted into disappointment when Liz told me that they were leaving in just a couple of hours. "But Liz, why did you only call me now? There's no way I can get out of work on such short notice!"
She apologized and explained that she had only found out I was up here a little while ago when her mom had happened to speak to mine on the phone.
"Hey Liz - can you come here?"
No go. Her parents were busy packing and couldn't bring her to see me. Our only hope was if I could somehow get to her.
But it was hopeless! I couldn't believe it - so close and yet so far. My oldest, dearest friend, who I hadn't seen for over a year, was only five minutes away, but she might as well have been in Alaska! I sadly resigned myself to reality and told Liz that the situation was hopeless.
"Why hopeless?" she asked. "Things only become hopeless once we give up hope. Maybe somehow it will work out. After all, I'm going to be here three more hours."
Didn't she understand? "Liz, I'm really sorry that we're going to miss each other, but that's how it's going to have to be. Listen, I have to get to work now. Maybe we'll email each other tonight, but there is just no chance for us to get together." But my never-give-up friend just told me her room number, and repeated how nothing was hopeless unless we give up hope.
As I hung up, I felt sad and mad. Liz had always been kind of a starry-eyed optimist and I could see she hadn't changed. Usually I liked her attitude, but this was too much! I sat down on my chair at the side of the lake and paid attention to the kids swimming.
Suddenly I felt it starting to get cooler. That was strange. I looked up and saw some dark clouds moving over the horizon. Hadn't the weather report said sunny all day? They would probably just pass in a minute, I figured. But they didn't. In fact, I thought I heard the distant rumble of thunder. Maybe it was just a jet. Then I felt a tap on my arm.
"Blow your whistle, Judy. Everyone out." Mrs. Hass, the camp director, explained how a surprise thunderstorm was on its way, and that swimming had been cancelled for the afternoon.
I couldn't believe it. Suddenly I was free. Maybe I would get to see Liz after all! Then my heart sank. So what if I didn't have to work? She was still ten miles away and I had no way of getting there. There was just no chan... I stopped myself in mid-sentence as Liz's words popped into my mind. 'Nothing is hopeless unless we give up hope.' But what now? I could have all the hope in the world but Liz was still ten miles away?
I started walking toward the dining room to get a piece of fruit and think about what to do when I noticed Mrs. Hass coming my way. She has a funny look on her face.
"Judy, I hate to ask you this. I know that it is officially your time off when swimming is cancelled, but I need a big favor." I nodded as she went on. "I just found out that a new camper has arrived and needs an escort to come to camp. I plan on sending a driver, but I thought it would be nice if an older girl could go along to help her feel at home. She's at the Shady Acres Hotel and..."
I nearly fell over and only recovered in time to hear Mrs. Hass explain that I was welcome to sit down for a snack in the hotel's restaurant at the camp's expense for my trouble. This was incredible. Within minutes, I was on my way to the Shady Acres Hotel, and to Liz! I phoned her on the way, and she didn't even seem surprised, only pleased.
We had a great visit together and as I got up to go I said, "I hope we get to see each other again soon."
She only smiled and said, "As long as you keep on hoping, I have no doubt that we will." You know this time I had a funny feeling that my starry-eyed friend was right.
Q. How did Judy feel when her friend, Liz, first wanted to get together?
A. She felt like there was no chance for it to happen, and that Liz wasn't being realistic.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She was amazed to see that it worked out and that things can happen that we might have thought were impossible.
Q. What was the difference between the attitudes of the two girls?
A. Judy had felt that certain things were so unlikely to happen that they weren't even worth hoping for. That's why she gave up on the idea of being able to see her friend since she had to be at work, and far away from where her friend was staying. But Liz was never willing to totally give up hope. She felt that even a small chance was still a chance, and that was enough of a reason to keep hoping for it to turn out in the end.
Q. Whose attitude do you think is more realistic? Why?
A. On the surface, Judy seemed to be more realistic, after all things did look hopeless. But in the end, it became clear that Liz had a more accurate picture of reality. She understood that God, who can do anything, is actively involved in each of our lives, and that things don't always have to go according to the odds. She also knew that remaining optimistic and hopeful made it more likely that God would fulfill her hopes, and arrange things to make it happen.
Q. Can you think of a time when things worked out in a surprising way?
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Can a person's hopeful attitude have any effect on the events around him, or do things just happen however they do in spite of how we feel?
A. Our attitude affects reality in many ways. Firstly, a positive attitude gives us additional energy to help us think more clearly and act more effectively to reach our goal. But in a deeper sense, God designed life in a way that we, through our attitudes, can have a say upon how we perceive events, and even to an extent upon their outcome. A positive, hopeful attitude can really be the key to living a life full of miracles.
Q. Our sages instruct that one shouldn't rely on a miracle. Isn't that what Liz was doing?
A. Not to rely on miracles means that we should try our best to live according to what appear to be the rules of nature and not take foolish chances, such as running across a busy highway and assuming that God will cause the speeding cars to miss us. However, this doesn't preclude hoping and even praying for unlikely events, or even miracles to happen. Nothing is beyond God's ability, and the more deeply we realize it, the more miracles God will reveal in our lives.
Q. Can you think of a time when things worked out in a surprising way?