Office of the Chief Rabbi

Thought for the Day: Finding the ‘extraordinary’

As the Jewish world prepares to celebrate the anniversary of the giving of the Ten Commandments, also known as Shavuot, the Chief Rabbi reflects on the unknown location of this revelatory event and the potential of the ‘ordinary’ to be transformed into the ‘extraordinary.’ The transcription of this ‘Thought for the Day,’ which was broadcast by BBC Scotland, is below.   

“Good morning.

Nothing is as dull as dishwater. Yet, G. K. Chesterton commented “Naturalists with a microscope have told me that dishwater teems with quiet fun.” It all depends on how you view it.

Seeing the spectacular within the mundane is a central theme of the Jewish festival of Shavuot, or Pentecost, which starts tomorrow evening. We will be celebrating the anniversary of the giving of the 10 Commandments by God to Moses on Mount Sinai 3,300 years ago.

That location was chosen because previously, at the foot of that mountain, God appeared to Moses from within a burning bush and directed him to lead God’s people out of Egypt.

“To this day, we are not even certain of its exact location”

There could hardly have been a more ordinary place for this historic event. This was no Grand Canyon, Everest or Niagara Falls. It was a bare, empty and inhospitable wilderness within which a simple bush had grown.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the location of God’s revelation to the Children of Israel would be a central focal point of the Jewish faith and a sacred destination for pilgrimage. It is not. To this day, we are not even certain of its exact location.

It is not the place itself that is significant but rather what transpired there and the lasting effect it continues to have. It is awe-inspiring that a group of slaves, the Children of Israel, could transform themselves into a nation with a moral and legal code that continues to have such a profound impact upon the world until this day.

There is a Jewish tradition that the world exists through the merit of 36 righteous individuals whose quiet and unheralded piety sustains our civilisation. We trumpet the remarkable achievements of ordinary men and women who, out of the glare of publicity, show selfless, tireless devotion to others. They are the true heroes and heroines of our society.

“If we judge by celebrity status or by who has more, we have missed a trick”

Dishwater can be fascinating, a simple bush can be holy and a nondescript mountain can host an event that was to transform mankind forever. Similarly, someone who appears to you to be ordinary could be one of the 36 righteous individuals sustaining the world. You might never know.

The lesson of Shavuot is that if we judge by celebrity status, by the X factor or by who has more, we have missed a trick.

Through the choices we make, we can transform ordinary into extraordinary.”

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