Office of the Chief Rabbi

Thought for the Day: We must grasp every oppurtunity

On the eve of Yom Kippur, the Chief Rabbi reminds us to grasp control of every opportunity, on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day.

“The brief pangs of a day of fasting and prayer are a far cry from the perpetual state of hunger caused by extreme poverty. One is a phenomenon comfortably within our control while the other lies outside of it…”

TRANSCRIPT

“Some six years ago, a young boy, Felix Byam Shaw was playing in a football tournament and became deeply upset when he discovered that almost none of the boys on an opposing team from South London had had anything to eat that day. The boy’s parents were moved by his innate sense of compassion for others. And so, when Felix tragically passed away from a rare strain of meningitis in 2014, they resolved that his legacy would be one of tackling the scourge of food poverty.

‘Wilful waste permits woeful want and each of us there looked at the need to tackle poverty through the prism of our own faith’

Last week, I joined the Bishop of London and other faith leaders at a soup kitchen in Brondesbury to show support for the remarkable Felix Project, which today works across London to reduce food waste by delivering surplus food from supermarkets and other retailers to thousands who would otherwise go hungry. Wilful waste permits woeful want and each of us there looked at the need to tackle poverty through the prism of our own faith. But we all agreed that concern for the basic physical wellbeing of others amounts to a spiritual imperative. Our Sages teach that we must ‘eat to live’ not ‘live to eat’ because nutrition and physical sustenance exist so that we might embrace the precious gift of life.

But, in an apparent contradiction, on the holiest day of the Jewish year – Yom Kippur – which begins tomorrow evening, we are required to live without food or drink for twenty five hours. Can our hunger deliver spiritual fulfilment?

Actually, there is no contradiction. The brief pangs of a day of fasting and prayer are a far cry from the perpetual state of hunger caused by extreme poverty. One is a phenomenon comfortably within our control while the other lies outside of it.

‘The brief pangs of a day of fasting and prayer are a far cry from the perpetual state of hunger caused by extreme poverty. One is a phenomenon comfortably within our control while the other lies outside of it’

On Yom Kippur we pledge to reassert a measure of control over our lives and our environment – rather than being controlled by it. Every aspect of the physical world has the capacity either to be harmful or to be a catalyst for great holiness. A crate of fresh fruit left over in a supermarket after hours can either be destroyed, perpetuating a culture of surplus and waste, or it can be redistributed to the poor, making it holy. On Yom Kippur, hunger can distract us from our goal of prayer and repentance or we can grasp control of it and sanctify it.

Wastefulness is the loss of a precious opportunity to improve ourselves and the world around us. Yom Kippur is my annual reminder to grasp control of every opportunity, and this year I’ll do so with Felix in mind.”

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