This post was written by Rabbi Peter Berg, the senior rabbi of The Temple in Atlanta, GA.
On Abraham Lincoln and Hope
It is well known that Abraham Lincoln was a master storyteller. As a leader, he was able to motivate his Cabinet, the U.S. Army and countless Americans through the art of the parable. Lincoln’s favorite story, the one that got him through all of his trials and tribulations as a public servant, is titled “This Too Shall Pass”.
It is said that King Solomon had two tables before him – both containing the phrase gam zeh ya’avor – this too shall pass. When the kingdom prospered and he feared falling prey to arrogance, he glanced at these words and was reminded that wealth is only temporal. When troubles befell him, he once again looked at the tabled and was comforted that his difficulties would be resolved. With the simple phrase: this too shall pass, King Solomon realized that his wisdom, tremendous wealth, and power were fleeting. One day, he would be nothing but dust.
While this story is rooted firmly in Jewish tradition, it was President Lincoln who first made popular the saying – this too shall pass. He used the expression as a mantra to help him through the stress of troubled times with his family and during his Administration.
Like Lincoln, we too live in a world plagued by financial run, devastating hurricanes, political upheaval, international conflict, terrorism, poverty, disease, and environmental threats. Many of us are wondering about our jobs, our retirement funds, whether or not we can pay the mortgage or send our children to college, or whether we will be able to give enough tzedakah to the world.
When tragedy strikes, when we loose a loved one, when we loose perspective – we can find comfort in saying this too shall pass. These words have been passed down from King Solomon to President Lincoln. During World War II, it became popular for Jewish soldiers to wear bracelets with this inscription. Now, this powerful phrase belongs to the human family and the collective psyche. The words are a constant reminder that however we suffer or are exalted, the moment is fleeting.
Let us follow Lincoln’s example with conviction and honor, with passion and resolve. To pursue our deepest dreams, to follow our fervent prayers, to preserve our lofty ideals, and to embrace the hope for a better tomorrow.
Lincoln was neither bone of our bone, nor flesh of our flesh. Indeed, he was spirit of our spirit and essence of our essence. With this simple phrase, he was able to communicate the singular greatest contribution of the Jewish people: hope.