It made me laugh, it was a message I received from Israel.
There is a queueing system for reaching the Queen lying in State:
Information on where the queue has reached and rough estimates of how long it will take will be provided to the public.
Mourners will be given different coloured wrist bands when they reach different zones of the queue. This will allow people in those areas to temporarily leave the queue to go to the toilet, sit down or get a cup of tea.
I’m trying to imagine this happening in Israel!
Yes, the queue is quintessentially British – but it is also magnificent.
As I write, they are about the close The Queue as waiting time is approaching 15 hours! I have not had the ability to venture into London, but I know people who have, and they have told me of the incredible sense of unity and devotion during the hours of queuing and the sense of duty that the huge crowds expressed.
I have watched it. As Alison Pearson explains
Through the wonders of technology, the BBC has launched a live stream of the lying in state for people unable to travel or queue. It is utterly mesmerising. Every kind of Briton imaginable has shown up. Old, young, prosperous, struggling, soldiers, students, formally-attired, sweat-shirted, families, radiant girls, weeping widows, a perky terrier who would have made instant friends with Her Majesty. Each has a few seconds alone in front of the coffin. A lad in a hoodie paused awkwardly before bowing his head. Behind him, visibly touched by this act of obeisance in one so young, stood a veteran, the chest of his macintosh bristling with medals. When his turn came, the old soldier took off his beret, put down his walking stick, snapped to attention and saluted. A weeping lady in a wheelchair sported a squidgy Queen Mother memorial hat. A dashingly handsome man in a spiffy suit dropped to one knee as if proposing to a sweetheart. That one really got to me. Mothers brought tiny babies so, one day, they could say they were there as the page of history turned. A worker wearing a yellow fluorescent jacket blew a kiss at the coffin and turned briskly away to hide his emotion. Watching people trying not to cry makes you cry.
It just remarkable, people who have queued for hours to come into Westminster Hall, where phones are forbidden, they can’t even take a picture after all those hours. They have a few seconds to stand by the coffin and pay their respects. Hours and hours of waiting for just a few seconds!
However, that was the point, the queuing is part of the devotion to the Queen. Why?
Last Friday Lord Wolfson gave a remarkable speech in house of Lords
Noble Lords might be familiar with the Hebrew word “mitzvah”. “Well done for doing this or that,” you might hear somebody say, and they will add, “You’ve done a mitzvah”—you have done a good deed. But a mitzvah is not a good deed which you do because you are in the mood or because the urge takes you; it is not something you do only if you feel like it. The Hebrew root of the word mitzvah, its basic etymology, is the word “tzav”, which means “commandment”, “order” or “duty”. You do a mitzvah not just because it is a good deed and not just because you feel like doing it; you do a mitzvah because it is your duty. Her late Majesty spent her whole life doing the right thing and not just because she felt like it or because the mood took her. She spent her 96 years doing the right thing, day in, day out, out of a sense of duty. It was a life, if I may respectfully say, of mitzvah, of acting out of a profound sense of personal duty and under the solemn oath to God which she took at her Coronation.
In Hebrew, every letter also has a numerical value and you can add up the values of individual letters to get the value of a word. In one of those coincidences which perhaps are not, the numerical value of the Hebrew word tzav, the root of the word mitzvah, is 96: 96 years of tzav, of duty, and also of mitzvah, of doing the right thing because that is your duty.
People recognized that, recognized the remarkable devotion to duty of the Queen. The Queue has become a way of reflecting that sense of duty that the Queen gave over seventy years of service. The attitude being, if Her Majesty did all that for us for seventy years, then we can jolly well put up with a bit of discomfort to honour her.
However, I believe there is another reason why people are queuing for hours – a important and beautiful reason, which is the focus of the start of the parsha.
Ki Tavo is one of the most depressing parshiot due to the tochacha. However, it starts on such a high with the beautiful ceremony of the Bikkurim, the bringing of the first fruits to the Bet Hamikdash.
The fruits are brought to the Kohen and the presentation is accompanied by a declaration (Devarim 26:5-10) expressing one’s gratitude to Hashem, while giving over a brief history of the Jewish people.
The Alshich is bothered by a Midrash in Parshat Bereishit. The Midrash (in a play on words of the opening words of the Torah) states that the world was created for the sake of that which is called “Reishit” (first): The world was created for the sake of the nation of Israel who is called “Reishit”. Likewise, the world was created for the sake of Torah, which is called “Reishit”. Finally, the world was created for the sake of the Mitzvah of Bikkurim, which is called “Reishit”.
This is a remarkable Midrash! It equates the importance of Am Yisrael and the Torah with the singular mitzvah of Bikkurim!!
The Alshich answers that the mitzvah of Bikkurim contains within it something that is fundamental to being a human being — the obligation for people to express their gratitude and hakarat haTov. HaKarat haTov is so basic and primary that the whole world’s creation was actualized just for this mitzvah, which teaches us and trains us in the attribute of gratitude.
There is a profound simplicity, almost a holiness, to the impulse which is calling thousands to honour the Queen. “I cannot lead you into battle,” the young Queen told the nation in her first televised Christmas message in 1957, “I do not give you laws or administer justice but I can do something else, I can give you my heart and my devotion to these old islands.”
What we are seeing all across the nation and specifically with hundreds and thousands of people is an outpouring of hakarat ha tov – to thank her for all she did for us.
On Motzei Shabbat, as the world begins to prepare for her funeral, we will begin reciting Selichot in the lead up to Rosh Hashanah. There is a powerful link between Rosh Hashanah and The Queue.
Over these last few days, hundreds of thousands have and will pass before the Queen, lying in state.
Next week on Rosh Hashanah, all mankind will pass before the King, sitting in judgement. As we say in Unetaneh Tokef
All mankind will pass before You like members of the flock. Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the fixed needs of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdict.
Hashem will ask us – have you done your duty?
And just like The Queue, we must commit ourselves, not for hours, but for a lifetime, to devote ourselves to the Divine. To live lives of duty, of mitzvot, of gratitude, of charity and of holiness. To realise that life is about connecting to those things that bring meaning and sense to the world around us. To connect to Hakadosh Barachu – to connect to the King.
On Monday the country will stop to honour and respect one of the most remarkable human beings in recent times. She achieved so much in her life and has already managed in her death to inspire a nation to hopefully realise that duty and gratitude are what we all need to live for, in all that we do.