BBC Radio 4:Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis - 12/12/2017


The term ‘snowflake’ became fashionable last year to desCRIbe a young generation who take offence at things that would barely have held the attention of previous generations.

Though, judging by the impact of the weather over 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 have encountered people of all ages who have endured unimaginable tribulations without a word of sorrow or complaint.

The Holocaust survivor and celebrated psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, wrote powerfully about his fellow prisoners in concentration camps who comforted others and gave away their last piece of bread. “They may have been few in number,” he said, “but 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 one's own way.”

Without doubt, the people I've met who’ve 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 and oppression, nothing could shake their commitment to Godliness, nor dull their sensitivity to what was 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 origins 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 rain clouds.

Similarly, a 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.”

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