Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,
As you begin your service to our fragile, fractured country, the challenges you face seem almost insurmountable. How will you achieve the lofty goals that motivated you to run for office amidst a devastating pandemic, assaults on our democracy, the corrosive effects of systemic racism, and ample evidence of an imperiled planet?
The word for “hope” in the Hebrew Bible offers an answer. Psalm 27 ends with the charge, repeated twice, to hope for God (v. 14). The same verb appears when Job exclaims: “I hoped for good, but evil came” (Job 30:2); and when the people lament: “Why do we hope for peace, but there is no good; for a time of healing, but behold there is terror?” (Jeremiah 14:19). The verb recurs in Isaiah 5:7, an ancient verse with a contemporary resonance: God “hoped for justice, but behold, injustice; for equity, but behold, iniquity.”
Be hopeful about your ability to bring about a better world.
In these and other citations, hope leads to disappointment when an anticipated positive outcome fails to come to fruition. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized the relationship between hope and disappointment in an address delivered on February 6, 1968, when he declared: “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”
How can we hold both hope and disappointment, in our own lives and in your work as our elected leaders? In between the two calls to hope for God in Psalm 27, we find a phrase sometimes translated as: “Be strong and be of good courage.” Elsewhere in the Bible, the two roots in this verse are used as part of an expression of encouragement, as when Moses charges Joshua: “Be strong and courageous” (Deuteronomy 31:7). But only in Psalm 27:14 and Psalm 31:25 does the second verb appear in the causative grammatical form, which I would translate as: “Be strong and cause your heart to be resilient.”
Take that advice to heart as you get to work. Be courageous. Be kind. Be hopeful about your ability to bring about a better world.
Andrea L. Weiss
Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss, Ph.D.
Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost
Associate Professor of Bible
Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion