Thought for the Day: “If every distinct group within our society were to proudly express its own unique identity and respect all others who do likewise, we would have the capacity to produce a harmonious and peaceful society.”
During the week of the Festival of Succot, the Chief Rabbi contributed to Thought for the Day.
We are living in a newly divided world.
Only a few years ago, the notion of a ‘divided world’ referred to tensions between East and West, left and right or liberal and conservative. Such divisions still exist, but some political commentators have identified a new fault-line that runs through many societies.
Our newly divided world is separated between exclusive and inclusive, particular and universal, or simply ‘them and us’. Division runs deep on issues such as immigration, trade and culture.
Those who focus entirely on values which are particular to them and have no regard for universal principles become most vulnerable to radicalization. Conversely, those who have no sense of the particular and no understanding of the need to express one’s unique sense of identity, will inevitably inhibit the richness of our diversity.
In either case, tension is created and hatred and violence are often not far behind.
But, it doesn’t have to be like this.
During the festival of Succot, or Tabernacles, which Jews around the world are celebrating this week, we eat our meals in temporary outdoor dwellings in order to recall the experiences of our Biblical ancestors when they travelled through the wilderness of Sinai. You might notice some of these huts with flimsy roof coverings.
You can’t miss them as they are outside, exposed to the elements.
The succah is a visible symbol of Jewish pride and it sets us apart.
Yet during the festival we also recall the central feature of Temple worship in ancient times. Seventy offerings were made to represent the original seventy nations on earth in order to prompt us to pray for the needs and be mindful of the welfare of every person on earth.
From Succot we learn that our particular identity complements our universalist aspirations. Similarly, it is possible for everyone who chooses to do so, to excel as part of a proud, distinct faith or ideology,
living lives that are true to their particular identity, in order that they should be a blessing to all of society.
A symphony orchestra provides a model for the way forward. In an orchestra, each instrument makes its own unique sound. Under the baton of the conductor all the sounds merge to produce pure harmony. Similarly, if every distinct group within our society were to proudly express its own unique identity and respect all others who do likewise, we would have the capacity to produce a harmonious and peaceful society.