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Thought for the Day: Faith must lead to responsible living

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As we approach the Festival of Purim, the Chief Rabbi teaches us that one cannot simply ‘outsource’ their destiny to God – we must take responsibility for ourselves.

Listen to the Audio and read the full transcript below.


Last week, a secondary school in California became 24 million dollars richer overnight, when its relatively small investment in a little known app, five years before, matured. They could never have imagined then, that Snapchat would eventually be valued at some 28 billion dollars.

We never quite know what the great adventure of life has in store for us.

I’ve thought a lot about the Price Waterhouse accountant Brian Cullinan over the last few days. In a split second, the pendulum swung dramatically for him, when he accidentally handed the wrong envelope to Warren Beatty at the Oscars. We’ve all made honest mistakes, but fortunately, they don’t usually precipitate death threats and the need for bodyguards.

‘We never quite know what the great adventure of life has in store for us’

By any measure, the achievements of humankind are astonishing and inspiring. We have conquered great distances, mastered science and the arts – and yet, life has a way of reminding us that ultimately, we’re always at the mercy of the next swing of the pendulum.

This is a major theme of this weekend’s Jewish festival of Purim. Purim celebrates the dramatic and unlikely deliverance of the Jewish people from certain destruction at the hands of the vast Persian empire two and a half thousand years ago. Nothing in the story turns out as expected: The architect of the impending genocide, Haman, expects to execute the Jewish leader Mordechai and be publicly honoured by the King. Yet, ultimately, it is Mordechai who is honoured and Haman who is hanged on gallows built by his own hands.

However, this is not a simple, cautionary tale to reveal that God is the master of our collective fortune. In fact, remarkably, God’s name is absent from the Biblical story of Purim. I take from that the lesson that one cannot simply ‘outsource’ one’s destiny to God – we have to take responsibility for ourselves.

‘Faith must lead to responsible living’

Again this lesson is dramatically illustrated in the Bible when God stops a prayer in its tracks. When the Israelites were perilously caught between the Egyptians and the deep blue sea, Moses instinctively prostrated himself in prayer. God called out: Why are you crying to me? Speak to the Israelites and take action!

Faith must lead to responsible living. While, of course, there will be some surprises, my faith in an Eternal, All-Powerful Being must empower me to be a responsible citizen who respects all life, an ethical person, a lover of peace and harmony and a force for good. The fact that my fate can swing in an unexpected direction does not let me off the hook.