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Singing from the same song-sheet

10/02/17 15:04:37


It’s all in Time magazine this week – it’s got a scary looking Steve Bannon on the cover with the ominous title “The Great Manipulator – Chief White House Strategist.” Open it up and you’ve got depressing articles about the world in turmoil over Trump’s travel ban and America in disarray over his policies and pronouncements… If you’re not feeling distressed enough you can read Gorbachev on how “The world is preparing for war” or the article on the world’s failure on refugees. There’s the ‘comforting’ one about the war on science and the further depletion of our environment. After all this, the spectacular picture of the eruption of Volcano de Colima in Mexico is warm and welcoming!

So it’s Shabbat Shira (the Sabbath of Song) this week, referring to the exultant song after the people of Israel cross the Red Sea and are saved from imminent death. And just what have we got to sing about in a world split by dissent? Well, there are a couple of uplifting articles in the magazine, one on Roger Federer’s spectacular win right here in Melbourne and the other a short piece on how family ties keep us going in times of adversity. I’m going to focus on the positive song sheet since there’s little I can do about Trump and Bannon (except kvetch) and not much I can do about refugees and the environment except to do my bit to improve things…

Roger Federer may not have faced a ferocious Egyptian army or a tumultuous sea, but like the people of Israel, he had to get his mind focused and his heart strengthened. Time magazine calls him a Man Out of Time, for he reached beyond himself and defied expectations by winning a Grand Slam at the ancient tennis vintage of 35 years old and following a six-month layoff (following a knee injury). The people of Israel defied all expectations by taking on the greatest empire and dictator of the time and proving that freedom is won not by the powerful, but the strong in mind. Wounded in body and spirit by centuries of slavery, armed only with their newly-awakened faith (“this is my God and I will praise him”) and their inspirational coach (Moshe) they play out one of their finest moments.

One of the defining qualities of Federer is his equanimity, his grace and generosity. It is said of him that he “never sacrificed decorum on the altar of success”. His gracious post -match remarks about his opponents reflects this; he comes across as a real mensch. Menschlikheid is nowhere more apparent than in the way we relate to our family and Federer has always said that “I want to be healthy as a person – No 1 – for me and my family – No 2 – to play tennis”. Roger Federer is a family man and his young children (two sets of twins) accompany him and his wife on most major tournaments. When most players are resting in their hotel, Federer is out doing family things with them.

If there is one thing that characterises the message of Moses to the nascent nation of Israel, it is the primacy of family. His first speech to the people on the cusp of liberation (in last week’ parasha) is not about freedom or politics but about transmitting values to your children. Three times, he returns to the same theme: teach your children. Education transforms; it changes hearts and souls, it changes the world. As Confucius put it” “Plant rice and you plan for a year, plant a tree and you plan for a decade.” Raise a child and you plan for a future.

Family connections strengthen us in the good times and they sustain us in the bad times. This is the theme not only of the Torah but also of the article in Time Magazine. It reports a recent 2016 study that family ties impact our longevity; in Alexander Sifferlin’s words: “There are plenty of good reasons to spend more time with your grown kids or to call your sister, and living longer turns out to be one of them.” Another 2015 study of siblings found that people with siblings and especially those who had a positive relationship with them are less likely to report feeling lonely, unloved, self-conscious or even fearful! It’s also been found that even just feeling that a partner is responsive is linked to better overall health.

At the Red or Reed Sea, the new nation stood together, they sang from the same song-sheet it’s a song of faith and liberation and it’s also a lyrical affirmation or just how good it is to belong to a family (to be bound by the “God of my fathers” and mothers). How good it is to be one of the children of Israel!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Ralph

Tue, 14 July 2020 22 Tammuz 5780