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Thought for the Day: Succot 2020

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Greatness is not achieved by following our own agenda, but by being motivated to act in the interests of society.

Two hours and forty four minutes. That was the amount of time it took for Sir David Attenborough to reach a million followers on Instagram last week – a new world record.

This came as no surprise. Sir David’s lifetime of advocacy for the health of our planet has made him one of the most beloved broadcasters in the world. His work to highlight the dangers of plastic in our oceans has had a remarkable global impact. However, sadly, we still have a long way to go in the spheres of reusing and recycling.

One of the world’s oldest calls for recycling is found in the laws of the eight-day Jewish festival of Succot, or Tabernacles, which commences this evening.

During the course of the festival, Jewish families have meals in small temporary structures outside our homes, to recall the nomadic travels of the Israelites in the wilderness. The most significant feature of the structure is the roof. Flimsy items of foliage, previously considered surplus to requirements, are repurposed and elevated to become the most sacred part of the structure. This goes well beyond a praiseworthy civic duty to create a more sustainable world. It’s a profound, timeless  precept. It inspires us to rediscover value, not only in the material world, but also in ourselves, if we ever feel that we have become ‘surplus to requirements’. We can all elevate ourselves to become truly great. 

I have been deeply inspired by the heroes of the Coronavirus pandemic, some of whom will be recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours in a week’s time. A list which has previously been dominated by household names will now recognise inspirational volunteers, carers, doctors, nurses and other key workers who have made extraordinarily selfless contributions to the UK’s coronavirus response. 

Our experiences of the past six months have given us a new understanding of what greatness is. 

Greatness is not achieved by following our own agenda, but by being motivated to act in the interests of society. Greatness is not measured by what we receive, but by what we give. It’s not measured by what we achieve in our lifetime, but what we achieve for all time. Greatness is not what we see in a mirror, but what we see through a window, which troubles and challenges us. Greatness is not the people we become because that is what we believe others want us to be. Rather, greatness is achieved when we are elevated to become our real selves – and that’s something all of us can do.