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To be great, be responsible

  • RabbiRickySeeff
Thankfully, we live in a day and age where there is a groundswell of advocacy for human rights. This is a day and age where social media enables complete strangers to raise their voices and defend the rights of others, as just seen in the tragic passing of baby Alfie Evans last week. (Alfie’s parents lost the battle in a British court to get their 23-month-old son alternative medical attention in Rome while he was on a life-support system. The court ruled the life support be switched off.)
by RABBI RICKY SEEFF | May 17, 2018

Without a system of law or a constitution to protect the rights of the marginalised, human nature is sadly prone to trample on them. There is, however, an unfortunate spinoff to the rights movement. It is a focus on entitlement.

People of all ages use the mantra of “rights” to justify an insatiable drive to fight for what they “deserve”. How often do we hear the angry customer lose their cool at the undeserving cashier or call centre agent simply because they “pay, therefore they have the right to demand better service”?

How often does the teenager lash out at a parent for not buying them the latest gadget or fashion trend – because they feel they deserve it? How often do striking workers (even when justified) physically harm co-workers who wish to carry on working for not supporting their cause?

A focus on rights inherently has a corollary of selfishness waiting in the wings.

There is another movement which is not as popular: the Responsibility movement. This movement focuses less on what others can do for you, and more on what you can do for others. Are you being a trustworthy employee? Are you being a compassionate and dedicated spouse? Are you a parent that truly has your child’s interests at heart?

Shavuot is the day in the Jewish calendar that defines us as a people. It’s a day in which Hashem bestowed upon us His wish for the Jewish people and for humanity. This is in the form of the Torah – a timeless book that expresses Hashem’s yearning for what we can become. It is a book of indescribable spiritual greatness that does very little other than demand that we step up to the plate and give of ourselves.

It relentlessly demands that we respect the rights of others. It relentlessly demands honesty and integrity in business. It relentlessly demands that we don’t settle for mediocrity as a citizen, a Jew and as a human being, and that we refine ourselves spiritually in every facet of our lives.

The Torah demands responsibility. It calls to each of us individually and says that to achieve true greatness, you need to be responsible. You need to live every day like something great is expected of you.

The Torah approach is not rights for rights sake. The approach is rather: If you take responsibility, then your rights will be taken care of.

The sheer scope of the mitzvot demonstrates that there is not a single area of our reality that is devoid of responsibility, not a single area that is devoid of spirituality. That is because for the Jew, spirituality is attained through action. From acts of tremendous importance to those that appear to be mundane, they all help stretch us and perfect us. Action makes us great.

Shavuot represents the greatest national call to action in the history of mankind. Hashem’s mandate has influenced all the greatest faiths and continues to drive the Jew today as it did 3 000 years ago.

We are responsible to Hashem, who gave us life, that we make our lives worth living. The message of Shavuot is simple: Be great – be responsible.

  • Rabbi Ricky Seeff is the principal of King David Victory Park Primary School.

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