Office of the Chief Rabbi

Time for Reflection: The Chief Rabbi addresses the Scottish Parliament

In an address to the Scottish Parliament, the Chief Rabbi explains the essence of Judaism, and stresses the importance of being a ‘doer’ in life, as opposed to just a ‘dreamer’. You can read the transcript below.

“Presiding Officer, Members of the Scottish Parliament. Thank you very much for the opportunity to address you today.

A week ago, Jews around the world celebrated our Festival of Shavuot, or Pentecost. As we marked the anniversary of the giving of the Ten Commandments by God to Moses at Mount Sinai 3,300 years ago, we recalled the response of the Israelites immediately after this epic, historic event. They unanimously and enthusiastically declared, “All that the Lord has said we will do.” This was a call to action. The Children of Israel highlighted for us the essence of Judaism – a life that is devoted to the pursuit of constructive, meaningful and positive deeds.

Our great Talmudic work, the Ethics of the Fathers, puts it this way: It is not the talking that is important, it’s the doing.

‘Religion must embody good deeds and faith must lead to responsible living.’

The people who change the world are not the dreamers and thinkers. The people who change the world are the doers. And, the sincerity that accompanies their actions is crucial.

We feel best within ourselves when we know that we have done the right thing for the right reason, no matter what the consequences might be. Abraham Lincoln commented: “The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.”

With all that, reasonable, simple action is not enough.

Through His revelation to His people at Sinai, God was going one step further through setting a seemingly unattainable goal. A group of slaves, liberated from Egyptian bondage just weeks before, was invited to embrace a moral and legal code that would transform mankind. But only if they would reshape their lives and conduct themselves accordingly.

That’s the very approach the Israelites took, as they went on to achieve the seemingly unachievable.

As public representatives, we have ambitions and aspirations for our society. For the sake of bettering our world, we should not be set off-course by the doubters or the pessimists. We should aim for dizzy heights and we’ll probably be surprised by what we can actually achieve. As Pablo Picasso said, “I am always doing things I can’t do, that’s how I get to do them.”

May God be with you in all your noble endeavours to achieve truly great things for our nation.”

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