Rabbi's Corner

Six Great Thinkers: One Thousand Years Of Jewish Thought- Lesson 6 of 6

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Full text of remarks at a special brunch hosted at The British Consulate New York City



Good morning,

I would like to begin by thanking our gracious hosts the consulate of Great Britain under the dynamic leadership of the honorable consulate-general Antony Phillipson.

Today’s elegant and delicious brunch is a reflection of a deeply meaningful -and might I add- unexpected relationship.

Approximately one year ago, on a balmy Saturday morning I arrived at our synagogue on 53rd st to find that the lights were off. Without getting into the technicalities of Jewish law, it is prohibited to turn on the light on the Jewish Sabbath, however- it is permitted under certain circumstances to ask this of  someone not of the Jewish faith. And so I found myself on the curb, with a rather unusual request and no takers to come in to the synagogue to ignite the light.

And then came along Mr. Edward Price. Yes the great Ed Price, with no pretense of suspicion, no judgement and no projection of any negative attitude or stereotype. In his gentlemanly way and uniquely British accent he said, “let’s do it, Im glad to help”. and so in addition to turning on the light, a spark of deep friendship was ignited. it's a relationship that I cherish as we’ve become good friends.

Our sages teach Choviv Adam Shenivra B’Tzelem –A human being is precious as he is formed in the image of Gd. he is given free choice, agency, and stands at the helm of creation. This is more a responsibility than a privilege.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson –The Rebbe- perhaps the most important Jewish voice of the 20th century- suggests in his writings that the reason for the round shape of our planet –with no technical beginning or end- is that every man and woman on the globe should feel that his or her place on the earth is the beginning and end- it’s all up to the individual.

Our sages teach Bshvili Nivra Ha’olam – , the entire world was created for me, that is to say that the world, its challenges and its burdens, are mine solely, not the collective responsibility of mankind. there are and always have been men and women who live their lives this way, and I present Exhibit A.

Recently Rabbi Motti Seligson (who is with us today) and his wife Shterni were joined by my wife Raizy and myself for dinner. As the dinner conversation evolved we realized that we all had a Polish grandparent. Now, this is highly unusual as there was an almost complete genocide of Polish Jewry. We then realized that four of our grandparents were saved by the exact same person - the Japanese Consul to Lithunia, Mr. Chiuni Sugihara with the help of his dedicated wife Yukiko Kikuchi. each one of us was alive today not because of political maneuvering or the actions of a sovereign government or group of activists, but by a morally upright soul from a foreign land.

Seven decades ago, a courageous Englishman, Sir Winston Churchill stood on the right side of history at a moment of indifference, and saved the world. If not for his individual moral courage, chutzpah (that's cheek in English) despite indifference and dissent, one wonders where the world would be today. Indeed, the UK was and is a beacon of hope and freedom for all peoples. Great Britain is also home to a thriving Jewish community of all persuasions  including 60 centers of the Chabad movement under the leadership of 119 dedicated husband-wife teams. The old Chassidic adage goes "better one action than one thousand sighs" -- we thank our dear friends of the British government for being proactive and sending an unambiguous message by hosting this event for our community.

What is it that motivates a person to act in a moral and just way? Perhaps it is the awareness that we are not a combination of chemicals cast into time; we are united despite our differences- imagined and real- by a higher purpose, by an eye that sees and an ear that ears, something greater than the sum of parts of the universe by the great power that we refer to by the name of Gd. Gd creates us all, and consequently all of life is sacred. The Seven Universal Laws known as the laws of the children of Noah lay out the ground rules of human conduct by respecting life and provisions, a non subjective moral code.

...we pray that the current sense of jitters and prejudice in Europe, the US and elsewhere is cyclical and not structural or systemic. On Passover eve we raise a glass of wine and exclaim “In every generation they try to destroy us..however almighty G-d saves us from their hands”. the jewish faith and the jewish people shall persevere, not because we can run swim or jump quicker than those who err on the side of cowardice and prejudice but rather and more importantly because we are assured that almighty Gd designed the universe in a way that the unfinished narrative of history will ultimately have a happy ending. 

I thank all our friends here today, in the great and noble traditions of Sir Winston Churchill and Chiuni Sugihara and great men and women who fought for freedom and justice, putting life and career on the line, for making that reality one day closer. 
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