“Dum vita est spes est.” I know…you’re used to getting a little Yiddish from me, and here I pull out the Latin? This is a quote from the Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero. It means “While there’s life, there’s hope.” Cicero lived in the century before Jesus was born, dying in 43 B.C., and while he may not have been a student of Jesus, he most certainly was a student of Solomon.
No, Cicero was not Jewish, but was well read and much of what he wrote could be attributed to his study of the Hebrew Scriptures. This quote could have its origin in his study of Ecclesiastes, where Solomon wrote in 3:4, “But he who is joined with all the living has hope…” This sentiment is historically expressed often among the Jewish people, who, in the face of persecution, and especially during the Holocaust, leaned on this maxim to get through another day.
January brings the Jewish festival of Tu B’Shevat. It is the new year for trees, and is often the catalyst for Jewish people planting trees in Israel. Following the end of World War II and the liberation of the concentration camps, many Jews migrated to the then British mandate of Palestine. They found a land much bleaker than they expected. The “land of milk and honey” had become the land of sand and strife. So these settlers formed kibbutzim, small cooperative farms, to reclaim the land, and they began to plant trees. And following the U.N. vote to establish the State of Israel and the subsequent war, the new nation began reforestation projects that Jews around the world participated in as we planted trees in Israel to commemorate almost anything. Trees usually cost $18.00, the numerical equivalent of the word “Chai,” which means life, and the maxim, “Where there’s life, there’s hope” became associated with this reclamation project.
Of course, when we think of trees, it is hard not to remember the anecdotal saying of Luther, “If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant an apple tree today!” Interestingly, Luther was a student and admirer of Cicero. So whether Luther said this or not, he certainly reflected this attitude of life and hope. So this is a great time to share your faith with your Jewish friends. You can still, believe it or not, plant a tree in Israel for $18.00! If you go to the website http://www.treesfortheholyland.com, you can plant a tree in someone’s name and send them a certificate. Include a note to your friend sharing the fact that you have planted a tree in their name for Tu B’Shevat (or any other occasion you can think of!), and end the note with “Where there’s hope, there’s life.” Then, if you’re led to, say “Y’shua is the way, the truth and the life!” (Yes, I did get it backwards, maybe they’ll call to ask why and then you can share this truth.)
By the way, Anne Frank got it backwards too, and I don’t really believe she did! Yes, while there is life, there is hope. But our greatest hope is that many would truly find life, and life eternal through faith in our Messiah, Y’shua. “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).