From early on this week, I knew what I was going to write about for HaMizrachi Weekly.
The events of the last 24 hours have not changed that, my subject is unchanged, in fact it is enhanced.
You see, tonight is the 2nd Yahrzeit of the most wonderful, incredible and remarkable woman who was my inspiration – my mother, my queen.
That was going to be my theme, and it still is – with sadly another addition.
Yesterday the world lost one of the most wonderful, incredible and remarkable women who was an inspiration to millions – our Queen.
How can it be that I feel a sense of loss for someone I never met, someone who had no idea who I was? Yet, there was a deep connection to her, as there was for millions of others. Alison Pearson, a columnist for The Daily Telegraph said it beautifully.
‘She has always been there – a still point in a tumultuous world; the clock face over which the hands of time revolved for as long as anyone could remember. Her Majesty’s first prime minister was born in 1874, her last almost exactly a century later in 1975. Her long life, the home movie of our history; her face, the screensaver of the United Kingdom; a diadem in the national firmament; the stamp on every letter; the silhouette of the national self. Our Queen. Of course, we knew that she was very old and we knew how the story had to end. “Mobility issues” was palace-speak for the fact that our longest-reigning monarch, who put one sturdy foot in front of the other like the fell pony she rode every day until remarkably recently, was waning. But there she was on Tuesday at Balmoral – frail, yes, but welcoming her 15th prime minister with the most wonderful smile, immaculate in a grey tartan skirt and pearls. Everything must have been shutting down by then, but duty, her irreducible core, would be the last thing to go.’
If you pick up any paper from yesterday morning you will not see any headlines, any news stories about the Queen. Yet, 24 hrs later every newspaper across the globe carries the headline of her passing.
Right up till the end she was our Queen, still leading, still fulfilling her duties as our Queen.
Similarly, my mother, and I know many of you reading this knew her, right up till the end she was still teaching, still leading, still fulfilling her duties. I will never forget the last few hours I was with her, she never stopped being a mother, a grandmother right to the end – Hashem gave her that ability, to be active mentally almost to her last breath. It was humbling to see, and I will be forever grateful.
As we approach the Yamim Noraim we begin to focus more and more on our relationship with Hashem. We declare several times that He is our Avinu Malkenu – our Father our King.
These are very different relationships. A parent, a close familial relationship and a monarch, a distant ceremonial one. Yet the last 24 hrs have made me understand this differently.
Imanu – my mother
Malcotenu – our queen
Hashem’s relationship to us brings in both levels. The closeness and the love of a parent combined with the awe and majesty of a monarch.
One woman raised me, loved me, taught me the values and ideals that I should live my life by. She encouraged me, hugged me, invested in me. She took interest in everything I did, she was there at every stage of my life, celebrating every high, commiserating every low. She was my cheering section and yet my biggest critic. She knew me better than anyone else in the world and I never doubted her love and devotion to me – I was her son.
The other woman was our leader, she inspired us with her devotion to service, with her humility, with her ability to be the constant in a changing world. We celebrated every major stage in her life with her, her children’s and grandchildren’s weddings, her Jubilee celebrations. She was known by maybe billions around the world, yet she was a private person, yet we never doubted her love and devotion to us – we were her people.
My mother, our Queen
The links to Ellul and the Yamim Noraim go further. Her remarkable service to Great Britain and the commonwealth began from her coronation in 1953. Just before that day she said to the world:
‘I want to ask you all, whatever your religion may be, to pray for me on that day. To pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you all the days of my life.’
Remarkably, this is similar to what we have been saying and have always said in these days in ‘L David Hashem Ori’ the tefilah we add from Rosh Chodesh Ellul until Shimini Atzeret. We say ‘One thing I ask of the Lord, only this do I seek, to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.’
The Queen was our Malka, yet she saw herself as His servant. We too must follow her lead and realise what our mission in life is – to be an eved Hashem – a servant of Hashem.
On her 21st birthday, on April 21st 1947, Princess Elizabeth made a broadcast to the British Commonwealth and Empire that was to define everything that followed. ‘It is very simple,’ she said, ‘I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.’
We much repeat this declaration daily – ‘We declare before You, that our whole life, whether it be long or short shall be devoted to Your service’.
As Rabbi Lawrence Littlestone commented:
‘In צידוקהדין(the prayer we recite at a funeral) we refer to הצור – the rock. When all else is fickle, transient and changing הקב“ה is the one constant, immutable and reliable rock on whom we can lean. On earth, and this country in particular, the Queen was a צור the force that held the country together. She represented service, fortitude, humility and constancy. She stood for all those values which even members of her own family could not uphold, but she did not apologise for remaining steadfast. Values were values and not negotiable.’
My mother grew up in the shadow of the Shoah, she lost her father, her entire family to the conflagration. Yet she was always positive, always uplifting people. She was a rock, on which many, many people, not just her family leaned. For half her life she suffered physically, yet she never faltered, never wavered, never backed down from any challenge. She was the force that brought her family together. Her love of Yiddishkeit, of Israel, of Am Yisrael was remarkable to behold. She lives on in the lives of her two children, eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
So, thank you mum for your life of service to your family – you are so missed.
And thank you ma’am for your life of service to our nation – you will be missed.
My mother, our Queen.
I will leave the final thoughts to Her Majesty, appropriately, about her mother, just before the funeral in March 2002. I feel it could have been said about my mother as well.
‘At the ceremony tomorrow, I hope that sadness will blend with a wider sense of thanksgiving, not just for her life but for the times in which she lived …. full of examples of courage and service as well as fun and laughter… I thank you from my heart for the love you gave her during her life and the honour you now give her in death. May God bless you all.’