"Hope springs eternal," wrote essayist Alexander Pope. This sentiment forms the spiritual core of Chanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, and (not coincidentally) also this week's Torah portion, Miketz.
Hope, by its nature, transcends perceived reality however bleak. Hope is what remains when the night seems most dark, when the chips seem most down, when the deck seems most stacked against us. Hope sometimes is irrational, propelling us forward (or keeping us afloat) against seemingly endless odds. And yet, time and again, history and spirituality vindicate irrational hope as a powerful force of renewal.
Such is Chanukkah's mythic history of Jewish resistance to Greek dominion: outnumbered and overpowered, ancient Jews had little earthly reason for hope that they could prevail. They did anyway. Maccabee victors had no earthly reason to believe that remnant oil would be enough to rekindle and sustain the Temple's eternal flame. It did anyway. In this week's Torah portion, the biblical Joseph had no earthly reason to believe that a forgotten political prisoner wrongly accused would catapult to Egypt's highest civil office. He did anyway. Egypt had no earthly reason to believe that the nation could survive such a famine as never seen before. It did anyway.
Jewish life (and, indeed, all spiritual life) testifies to the miraculous illuminating power of hope – how even impossible odds can't defeat hope without our consent. It is hope whose light we kindle on Chanukkah, the eternal spring of possibility precisely amidst seeming impossible odds. This is the hope that dispels darkness: as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that." Hope is the miracle before the miracle, and this hope is in our hands and hearts to bring to light.
This week, we can physically light candles for the Festival of Lights. Better yet: let's spread the light of hope to somewhere dark in our lives or the lives of others. Even better still: let's ourselves become that light, that source of hope, where it's needed most.
It really is possible. It starts with hope. It starts with us.
R' David Evan Markus