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Thought for the Day: ‘There is no education like adversity’

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To mark the beginning of Chanukah, the Chief Rabbi contemplates on how facing adversity can often lead to the greatest achievements.

Listen to the Audio here.

You can read the full transcript below.


The term ‘snowflake’ became fashionable last year, to describe a young generation who take offence at things that would have barely held the attention of previous generations. However, judging by the impact of the weather of the last few days, we write off snowflakes as a fleeting inconvenience at our peril.

Attitudes to adversity do indeed differ; one person’s suffering is another person’s learning curve. I’ve encountered people of all ages, who have endured unimaginable tribulations without a word of sorrow or complaint.

The Holocaust survivor and celebrated psychiatrist Victor Frankl, wrote powerfully about his fellow prisoners in concentration camps, who comforted others and gave away their last piece of bread. He explained that although they may have been few in number, they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a person but one thing – the last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances: to choose ones’ own way.

Without a doubt, the people I’ve met who have inspired me most are those who have endured hardship, and who have been a blessing for others not despite their suffering, but because of it.

The eight day festival of Chanukah, which begins this evening, is a joyful celebration of how Jewish communities have kept the fragile flame of tradition burning, even in the most unlikely of settings, and often against all odds.

From the Maccabees in Ancient Greece, through exile, expulsion, the depression; nothing could shake their commitment to Godliness, nor dull their sensitivity to what right.

Benjamin Disraeli said, “There is no education like adversity.” Quite remarkably, so often it is in the encountering of great challenges that people reach the most extraordinary levels of human achievement.

The Book of Genesis records the origin of the phenomenon of the rainbow. God declared, “It shall come to pass, when I cause clouds to cloud over the Earth, then the rainbow will be seen amongst the clouds.” Clouds are repetitively mentioned here, to remind us that the most spectacular rainbows, bathing the heavens in an arc of beautiful colour, are created when sunlight breaks through the darkness of rainclouds.

Similarly, the human journey through pain or grief can offer us an opportunity to emerge with an even greater capacity for achievement. So often, it depends on our attitude.

In his stirring song anthem, Leonard Cohen put it perfectly, “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”