Dear Temple Emanu-El members and friends,I would like to share my Erev Rosh HaShanah sermon with you: Hope in Hard Times….Tonight, I want to talk about despair and hope, but mostly hope. A lot of the people I talk to these days feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the world’s problems: climate change, political polarization, rising authoritarianism as well as the ever-present issues of poverty, racism, misogyny, violence, and so on. Too often I hear a sense of powerlessness: there’s nothing I can do, one person doesn’t make any difference, I just stop reading the news. Despair has, of course, always been part of human experience. Our earliest Jewish writings describe deep feelings of discouragement. In the biblical Book of Numbers, Moses is portrayed as being so overwhelmed by his responsibilities that he feels suicidal. He asks God,Why have you treated one who serves you so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me?I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me….If this is the way you are going to treat me, if you care about me, put me to death at once and do not let me see my misery. (Numbers 11:11, 14-15)The Book of Psalms also has many examples of despair. Psalm 13 begins:How long, O Adonai? Will you forget me forever?How long will you hide your face from me?How long must I bear pain in my soul,and have sorrow in my heart all day long?How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?And if we think the list of problems we face today is overwhelming, we have only to look at Jewish history from the time of the Bible onwards for a devastating list of disaster: conquest, destruction, exile, persecution, ghettos, pogroms, concentration camps. How is it possible that Jews did not give in to despair, that we continued to live as Jews and to hope? One answer is an optimistic view of human nature. Genesis teaches us that we are created in the image of God and the daily morning service tells us that “the soul You have given me is pure”—we are essentially good. Writer Rebecca Solnit points out that American disaster relief planning is based on the idea that people in extreme situations will become violent and need to be controlled but that, in the vast majority of cases, the truth is quite the opposite. Disaster survivors from New York during 9/11, for example, recounted stories of people doing all they could to help others, even to theirown detriment.1Debbie Friedman always prefaced a request with, “I wonder if you can help me.” When I asked her why, she said, “People like to help,” a phrase that often comes to mind because she was right. Helping allows us to experience our significance to others.Judaism is a profoundly optimistic tradition and nowhere is this more clearly expressed than in the High Holiday practice of teshuvah, usually translated as “repentance,” but really meaning 1Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Historiies, Wild Possibilities, Haymarket Books, 2016.