As 2021 is upon us with the promise of a new year and all that it may bring, let us summon hope, a Jewish tradition that permeates the entire history of our people.
Judaism teaches that hope is crucial to mankind’s survival. Arnold Eisen, one of the foremost scholars of American Judaism and former chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, has written that Judaism calls for hope and meaning to combat “complacency and despair” every day in every year.
Now, two vaccines have been introduced to inoculate Americans against COVID-19 and the horrors of its economic and spiritual effects. As American Jews, let us look forward to the promise of renewal in 2021.
Rather than despair at deadlocks between Congress and President Trump that have characterized the last year, let us look to the promise of new leadership from President-elect Joe Biden when he is sworn into office on Jan. 20. The nation has endured a tumultuous year. The coronavirus and its effects have roiled America’s national life and shaken the nation as few events have in our history.
More than 330,000 Americans have perished from the scourge, and the death toll increases daily. Vaccines are being distributed among older Americans and our nation’s health care workers.
The New York Times reported last week that Dr. Anthony Fauci now believes that 90% of Americans need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity from the virus. Dr. Fauci told The Times that he has revised his estimate upward from 75% because he now believes a higher percentage of Americans will need to be vaccinated to defeat the coronavirus in 2021.
The promise of 2021 is that Americans will be able to see the “Promised Land” of a renewal of national life from widespread inoculation against the virus. Although this is a secular new year, we can draw strength from the Torah portion that is traditionally read in synagogues as Rosh Hashanah approaches. Moses speaks to the Children of Israel for a final time. He is allowed to see the Promised Land, but G-d does not permit him to enter it.
“Hear, O Israel,” implores Moses, preparing his people for a new tomorrow that they will experience but that he will not share.
“Moses has to make his words adequate to a reality that he will never know — the facts to be built on the ground, the things to be done, on the far side of the Jordan. The Israelites, once they cross the river to new possibilities, have the task of making all they say and do adequate to the teaching that G-d and Moses gave them in the wilderness — a task that Jews still face every day,” Professor Eisen has written.
As our forefathers confronted a new reality as they crossed into the Promised Land, we face a host of challenges as 2021 begins. How will we sustain ourselves over the coming months? What must we do, as individuals and as a community, to cross over to a life where we are not choked by the pandemic? Every endeavor has a beginning. As a first step for 2021, let us renew our faith and hope for a better tomorrow. Let us remember the sacred covenant that Hashem bestowed upon us when we were in the ancient wilderness dreaming of the land of milk and honey.
In Deuteronomy 29:13-14, the Torah teaches that Moses reported the Almighty’s sacred promise to the ancient Israelites: “I make this covenant not with you alone, but with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our G-d and with those who are not with us here this day.”
We are all part of the sacred covenant that Moses foretold. Let us draw strength from G-d’s promise that we will see a renewal of strength and spiritual well-being in the days to come. While disease and illness still plague us, let us rekindle our belief that just as Hashem brought the Children of Israel into the Promised Land, America and the world should be sustained by hope and faith that we will transcend the valley of despair experienced by millions in 2020.
May the promise of hope be a reality in 2021 for the Jewish people, America and the world.
A version of this editorial appeared in the Dec. 31 issue of the Jewish Herald Voice and is reprinted with permission.