So much has been and will still be written about the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. I myself, have dedicated my last two messages for Hamizrachi weekly to this event. I will now make it a third week in a row but there will be no chazaka!
I wish to write this week about an area that I have not really seen commented on, which I think is the perfect introduction to Rosh Hashanah on Sunday night. Let me explain.
It is thought that billions of people watched the funeral. In the UK alone, 37.5 million people were estimated to have watched, making it the most viewed event in history. What did we see? We saw tradition, we saw pageantry and we heard and saw religion in a major way. Not just us, the whole world saw and heard.
The funeral and the whole ten days of national mourning reminded people of how life used to be. When the values people held dear were duty, family, responsibility, service and God. These were the values of the Queen when she became Queen in 1952 and were still the values of the Queen when she died 70 years later – unchanging, a servant of God till the end.
What I have heard so often from commentators about her passing is that this is the end of an era. How we are moving into an unknown and new world with the end of 70 years of Queen Elizabeth.
We left the world of Queen Elizabeth many years ago, when we as a western world stopped believing in the values that she firmly believed in. I believe and hope that what the past week has done, has reminded people of the values we should all be living – not just the Queen.
Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952. At the time the country was still in recovery mode from the Second World War. It was still a very traditional country. Belief in God was in the mid 80’s and over 90% professed an affiliation to Christianity and only 5% were unaffiliated. Fast forward to 2022 and we see belief in God, especially amongst the under 30’s languishing at just above 20%. The unaffiliated has risen from 5% to 40%.
Marriage and family were also in a very different shape than they are today. In 1952, 50 out of every 1,000 women in the UK got married annually. This increased to a peak in 1970 of 61. Now, according to the Office for National Statistics in 2022, marriages are now down to record lows of 15 out of 1000 women.
How did this change happen? The western world has gone through many eras since Elizabeth became Queen. She didn’t change, but her subjects certainly did.
The first major change was in the 60’s and 70’s – this was the beginning of the end of traditional family values. It was the era of sex, drugs and rock n roll. We cannot underestimate what effect this era had on the trajectory of the moral breakdown of the western world.
This was followed by the 80’s and 90’s where materialism, greed and power began to take shape. Where success was defined in purely financial means, suddenly the physical became all important and spiritually made a rapid retreat.
And now over the last two decades we have seen the rise of the new religions. Did this signal a return to the Divine, to true spirituality? Unfortunately not. Nowadays you are seen to blaspheme if you don’t follow the beliefs of a narrow group of people regarding a whole range of issues such as climate, race and gender. These are really important issues that have been hijacked and turned into almost religious beliefs. According to many these causes provide a way for them to find meaning in their lives, while retaining the illusion that they are people of science and reason, not superstition and fantasy.
Since the passing of the Queen, it seems as if, after decades of moral and spiritual decay, we as a society were suddenly thrust back into the world we all left behind so long ago.
And we missed it.
People realised the importance of tradition. The importance of living for meaning, of seeing ourselves as part of a bigger whole. Of a belief in a Higher Power.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg explains this in relation to the future coronation of King Charles versus the annual coronation of Melech Malchei Hamlachim Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu on Rosh Hashanah.
The royal website states that the coronation ceremony “has remained essentially the same over a thousand years,” so we can expect many of the same events from Queen Elizabeth’s coronation to occur at the coming one for King Charles, even though more than 90% of the current population was not alive to see it. In a world of constant upgrades and improvements, it is important to remember that new is not necessarily better and there are traditions that are meant to remain unchanged. We are blessed to be heirs to a uniquely rich tradition, one that goes back much further than 1,000 years. While our coronation ceremony remains unchanged, may each of us use this time to change for the better.
We say in our davening, ‘Hayom Harat Olam’. ‘Today is the birthday of the world.’ The Rabbis explain this phrase to mean that Rosh Hashanah does not celebrate the day of the creation of the world, but the day of creation of the human race.
There is a lesson to be learnt here. The idea is that the purpose of the creation of the world by God is us, that we are the pinnacle of His creation. That should imbue within us a sense of mission and motivation.
We must realise how much as humans we can achieve and how we must strive for greatness.
As Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch said:
The natural world around us, all achieve what they are created for. Only we neglect our mission, our goals in life and swerve from our path. Tempted off our trajectory by a myriad of distractions. All the created world knows their Master, all work as part of a bigger picture, for their own good and for the good of the whole. Only we act in ways to damage and destroy our neighbour and intern damage and destroy ourselves. Nothing in this universe is insignificant, nothing is indifferent, everything produces endless consequences. Shall we, alone of all God’s creations, rebel, live our lives without thought for the Divine. Shall we play with our months, weeks, days and hours without reflecting that eternity belongs to every moment.
I don’t know if the events of the last two weeks will cause millions to re evaluate their lives and attempt to imbue their lives with those eternal values.
What I do know, is that as Orthodox Jews, we have not only survived the last 70 years but have thrived. All across the globe we are the only Jewish denomination that is increasing, in many places, increasing rapidly.
On Rosh Hashanah we rededicate ourselves to our national mission of Divine Service and we pray that not just the Jewish people but the whole world will wake up and realise that we all have to:
‘Love Hashem your God, to listen to His voice and to cleave to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days.’ Devarim 30:20
The Queen understood this.
Let’s hope the billions watching her funeral also now understand.