Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi, 24 June 2016
‘And all the congregation lifted up their voice and cried: and the people wept that night’ (Num. 14:1). The words of our sidra reflect our feelings following recent events. We, too, must have wanted to weep as tragedy followed tragedy.
Just as we were celebrating Shavuot, fifty people were murdered by an Islamic extremist at a gay night-club in Orlando, Florida. It was the deadliest mass killing by a single gunman and the worst incidence of violence against LGBT people in the history of the USA.
Then last Thursday, our country was shocked by the murder of Jo Cox, MP as she was arriving to give a surgery for her constituents. The murder appears to have been motivated by hatred towards someone who reached beyond narrow confines to campaign on behalf of the dispossessed, the poor and the stranger.
Then there are the ongoing atrocities committed by Islamic State/Daesh and violence and war in so many other parts of the world that doesn’t make the news.
At times like this, we may feel a sense of despair and hopelessness, a sense that the world is a dark and dangerous place. At such times, it helps to remember the capacity of human beings like Jo Cox for good. We should remember, too, Bernard Kenny, the 77-year old who had the courage to try to protect her and is in hospital badly injured. There are people everywhere who go about their work with courage and love, with no desire for recognition for what they do. I recently visited the Calais refugee camp and met volunteers who give up their time selflessly to help those who are trapped there.
They, too, are an inspiration.
Our Torah reading tells us how the Israelites were overcome by despair, hopelessness and fear when ten of the spies told them that they would not be able to overcome the Canaanites and enter the promised land. Only Joshua and Caleb had the courage to stand up to the people and to look forward with confidence and trust. It was they who, by their fearlessness and their faith, were eventually able to lead the people into the promised land.
This week we are voting on one of the most important decisions for our country in the past fifty years. Each of us will have to make our own decision, but let our decision not be determined by fear, which some in the campaign have stirred up. Fear clouds our vision and impairs our judgement, as we learn from our Sidra.
Let us rather look forward with hope, with openness to others and confidence that we can make a difference together. Let us trust that we can part of creating a better world, both for the citizens of the UK and beyond our borders. Let us think about how we in the United Kingdom can best engage with the world and be effective in working with other countries to bring about peace in our troubled world.
May we always find inspiration and hope in the example of all those like Jo Cox who work for others, who strive for peace and who care about their fellow human beings. And may we always remember, especially times of doubt and despair, that each one of us has the capacity to do good and to bring into this world, kindness, gentleness, goodness and peace.
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