I've always had a hard time reading the stories in Bible because the whole thing sounds like a soap opera. It seems like everyone is always going through different troubles. I don't understand why there are constant ups and downs and such hardships in the Torah. I think we're supposed to make our lives as optimistic and happy as possible. So what's the point of us learning about all the problems?


Let me tell you a story about a girl named Sarah. On Monday morning Sarah woke up just before her alarm clock was set to go off. She peered out the window and saw a brilliant sun in a bright blue sky, with just the right amount of cloud to keep it from being monotonous. A quick tap on the glass window pane told her the temperature was pleasantly cool, no need for a sweater.

Breakfast was hot waffles and orange juice, followed by a hug and kiss from Mom. Sarah stepped outside to her waiting carpool and responded happily to the cheerful good mornings from the other six people in the van. At school she carefully removed her exquisitely done math homework from her bag and laid it neatly on the teacher's desk. In return she received the test she had taken the day before, but now it was adorned with a big red 100% on top and a colorful sticker that read "Great Job!"

Sarah coasted through her day at school, her homework, her extra-curricular activities, and in fact, the rest of her life. But this is where I stop telling the story, because this is about where most people stop reading. It's not that anyone begrudges Sarah her happy life, but somehow, nobody seems to relate to her. They want a heroine that oversleeps, can't focus because she missed breakfast, spent hours working on her homework but left it at home and hasn't seen a sticker on a test since second grade.

When you read about that version of Sarah, a voice inside you says, "I know that girl. That's me!" And you think, "How does she do it? What gets her through the day?" And then you wonder, "Can I do that too?" You begin to imagine yourself in Sarah's shoes. If it was a meaningful book, you've gained new insight by the time you put it down...insight into yourself and your own interaction with the world.

The Torah is not a history book. Its very name - Torah - tells us what it is. Torah derives from the Hebrew word hora'ah, instruction. The Torah is our guide book, instructing us how to live. Some of that comes from the commandments, but a large part is the story itself. You read about Sarah's life in the Torah, and you see she suffers hardship. You can relate; perhaps she has something to offer you. You read that the Jews who left Egypt complain to Moses when they run out of food, and you see yourself staring at an empty bank account balance. You read about the desire of the Jews to fit in with the Persians in the Book of Esther, and you see yourself studying the latest styles to make sure your appearance is exactly right. You read about Ruth's courage and integrity in following her penniless mother-in-law to a strange country in pursuit of truth, and you think to yourself, "Can I do that too?"

And you can. You can because the people in the Bible have shown you how. They've paved a road you can walk because it's built on struggles, and you struggle too. That knowledge is the greatest source of hope. Optimism is not ignoring trouble; it's the conviction that you can and will rise above it. As it was for the Jews in the desert, in Persia, and Ruth on the journey to Israel, each hardship becomes a point of growth and movement to a higher plane.