Weekly Sermon

KI TAVO 5782


KI TAVO 5782

Queen Elizabeth, May She Rest in Peace

Are you tired of all the pageantry surrounded the death and funeral of Queen Elizabeth, who died a week ago last Thursday? At 1st it was around the clock coverage. And after more than a week, it seems even Americans have not gotten enough. Her funeral will be on Monday.

The British people—even British Jews—really are enamored with her and the royal family. Cheryl lived in London for a few years and her uncle Solly, aunt Joan and their family are still there. They speak so highly of Queen Elizabeth. Their son, the other day, waited 8 hours just to pass by her coffin.

My feeling about all this pomp and circumstance surrounding her death? I hope you’ll excuse me when I say, “I could care less!” The monarchy—any monarchy—has no meaning to me. It’s perpetuating a myth that we Americans rejected in 1776. For me, the Queen and her family have come to personify the modern family—what we would call a “dysfunctional family”—not really worthy of celebrating. But if I’m honest with myself, I must admit that my negative feelings about the Queen are based on one very significant fact: during her 70-year reign, she refused again and again and again to pay an official visit to the State of Israel.

However, British Jews don’t share my opinion. Throughout her 7 decades as the UK’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth cultivated amicable ties with Britain’s Jews as well as cordial relations with Israeli leaders. At her platinum jubilee last June, Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said that Queen Elizabeth has “been a rock for the nation” and has cultivated “a long history of involvement with the Jewish community.” British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis also praised the queen’s “70 glorious years of leadership” and lauded “her humility, her sense of duty, the service that she gives to the nation [and] her selflessness.”

But the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, however, did make a personal visit to Israel in 1994 to accept Yad Vashem’s recognition of his mother as a “righteous gentile among the nations,” for saving a Jewish family during the Nazi occupation of Greece. He visited her grave—she is buried in Israel—and then met with members of the Cohen family she had hidden.

Now, it’s not as if the Queen had difficulty in traveling. Queen Elizabeth made hundreds and hundreds of official visits including to such major countries as Iceland, Malta, Brunei, Sri Lanka, Zambia, Malawi and Botswana—all, I’m sure you would agree, are major players on the international scene!? But not to Israel! No country has been snubbed by the royal family like Israel. 

This is explained as being the fault of the British Foreign Office, that wanted to maintain a good relationship with the Arab states. It seems British Jews have accepted that and looked beyond it. And so, all British synagogues recited a special prayer for the Queen every Shabbat. All the males in her family have been circumcised by a mohel. On the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Queen met with a group of Holocaust survivors way beyond the allotted time with them so as to give each survivor her focused attention. Prince Charles—now King Charles—has his own blue velvet yarmulke with a royal crest on it in silver to wear at Jewish events! I must admit, that’s not such a bad record.

Gila Ross, a British Jew writes in “Jew in the City” about the timing of the queen’s death: For those of us who live in the UK, the Queen of England’s death touched us…I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Queen’s passing occurred during the Jewish month of Elul. It’s a time when, as Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi described, the King of kings—Gd—is in the field. He’s accessible to all of us. There’s a difference though of course between this and my experience at Buckingham Palace. While I could see the Queen as she drove by, the Queen didn’t really see me. In Elul, we cannot see the King of kings—we cannot see Gd—but Gd is waiting for us.

It’s a lofty concept, but what does it practically mean to say that Gd is waiting for us? Research shows that a child who grows up not knowing whether he/she is seen, heard or loved can have more negative outcomes than a child that’s abused. The power of not being seen is so impactful. And on the flip side, knowing that someone is waiting for us is incredibly potent.

Gila Ross tells of an outstanding teacher who taught in a school for children who were thrown out of other schools. In other words, these were not the easiest to teach. Yet this teacher was phenomenally successful in reaching those kids. When she was asked, “What’s your secret?” she explained that she focused on the kids that showed up on time. Any child that showed up on time was welcomed with hot chocolate and a fresh danish. It wasn’t the danish that was her secret, it was that the kids knew their teacher was waiting and happy to see them. That’s what brought out the best in them.

When we know that someone’s waiting for us, it brings out the best in us. We’re in the month of Elul before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, It’s the month where the King of Kings is waiting for us. What does that mean?

A story: In the years following the Holocaust, Holocaust refugees in Israel used to go to the port of Haifa and wait for boats of more refugees to come in—waiting to see if any of their family were on one of those boats. There was one woman—a survivor—who went day after day after day. Finally, one day, she saw a thin child come off the boat. He took one look at her and shouted, “Mama, mama.” It was her son! And they hugged for what seemed like an eternity.

My friends, that’s the image we need to keep in our mind as we approach Rosh Hashanah. Our Supreme Parent in heaven is waiting for us, saying: “You are so precious to Me. All you have to do, is to come back to Me, and then I will forgive you and bless you.” All we need to do is to return to Gd and let our inner beauty—created in Gd’s Image—shine.

10 years ago, at Queen Elizabeth’s 60th anniversary of her coronation, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews wished her “until 120 years.” She was puzzled. It was explained to her that this was our people’s way of offering thanks and prayers that she may continue for many years in health and strength. I wish the same for all of us. May we have the best year yet in this New Year and may we live to 120. Amen!


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