Office of the Chief Rabbi

Thought for the Day: “Sometimes we need to be prepared to acknowledge that there are no shortcuts through complex problems, only a listening ear, hard work and humility.”

Ahead of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the Chief Rabbi contributed to Thought for the Day.

 

Transcript:

A prayer was recited in which God was asked not to listen to the prayers of others.

Is such a thing possible?

Well, it’s one of the most extraordinary prayers in the Jewish tradition. In ancient times, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which begins this evening, the High Priest would enter the holiest chamber of the Temple in Jerusalem and he would implore God to answer the prayers of the people, but he would conclude with the words, “And do not hearken to the prayers of travellers.”

It was a remarkable caveat – the person closest to God stands in the holiest place, in the holy city, on the most sacred day of the year, with a unique opportunity to offer a prayer like no other, and he chooses this moment to rule out the prayers of those upon a journey?

Our Sages observe that tourists invariably pray for sunny weather. It stands to reason that one who flies in and out of a destination would have a limited sense of weather patterns that would be of most benefit to its residents, its wildlife and agriculture. What’s important to visitors is what they need, there and then. If every prayer for sunshine was answered, it would never rain.

On the fast of Yom Kippur, we examine our souls, recognise our shortcomings and make resolutions for the future. Whilst our introspection is intensely personal, the language of our prayers is intentionally plural, such as, “We have sinned” and “Remember us for life.” We reach beyond ourselves, acutely aware of the needs of society and the environment of which we are a part.

From the narrow desires of the tourist, a more profound lesson emerges. In a sense, every one of us is analogous to the tourist, spending just a brief lifetime here, without ever completely understanding the greater good.

Wherever complex problems are found, there invariably follows a line of political leaders, commentators and other public figures claiming to have the simplest of solutions – that they alone hold the answers to every challenge. But the lesson of the narrow-minded tourist is that no person or small group of people, can ever hold all the answers. They can never truly know what is in the best interests of all people. That is why we advocate for democracy over autocracy and constructive dialogue over absolutism.

These are increasingly uncertain times, both politically and ideologically, but sometimes we need to be prepared to acknowledge that there are no shortcuts through complex problems, only a listening ear, hard work and humility.

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