19th Elul : those we could trust have gone away
The days of Elul are falling away and Rosh Hashanah will soon be upon us. On the streets of Jerusalem the pomegranates redden on the trees. The playgrounds empty and quieten as the new school year begins. A new year that promises both new delights and new challenges. We hope for good health and renewal in the Book of Life, with the strength to deal with the many uncertainties of the world in which we live.
I write this reflection on the evening of the day on which the Queen has died; Elizabeth II, who was long to reign over us but is now no more. She came to the throne when my parents were children, when my grandparents were just parents themselves, in the olden days, when the world was young and giants walked the land… she was a young and beautiful monarch back then, long, long before I was born. Always present, regal, calming and constant, linking the generations of glorious technicolour with the black and white that went before. As a boy, I remember my whole school lining the High Street to wave our Union Jacks. We tried to catch a glimpse of Her Majesty as her car passed by. Each of us waiting for hours for a memory of just those few impersonal, exciting seconds; I didn’t see her, yet they stay with me all my days.
A monarch for young and old; she exists even for my own son, three years old and boisterous, yet to visit the Sceptered Isle of his passport. From his favourite book, Thomas goes to London, when the Fat Controller goes by train from Sodor to meet her, and from the popular Peppa Pig, when the animals visit Buckingham Palace for a special royal audience, my young son knows who is his Queen too.
Those we could trust have gone away… and yet Rosh Hashanah still approaches at the very same speed. The moon of Elul will soon complete its waxing, and each night as it wanes, another layer that once protected us will shred itself; our nocturnal world will become a little darker. The warmth of summer gently dissipates; sharp stabs of cold begin to pain our consciousness. Even on our heated planet, we can be left vulnerable and chilly.
Like my parents and grandparents, no longer with us, the Queen shall not wholly die, but her memory will live on, in our thoughts, as a blessing. The sun will still rise, the moon will ever wax and wane, and the New Year will bring both new challenges and new delights. God save the King! Long live the King! And may we all be written in the Book of Life this Rosh Hashanah.
September 8th 2022
Rabbi Nathan Alfred LBC 2008 Vilnius and Jerusalem