Rabbi Lawrence’s address at the Order of Australia service

September 8, 2009 by J-Wire
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Order of Australia Service

6 September 2009

Address by Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence

At the heart of Jewish teaching is a reverence for modesty.  It is epitomised by Moses described as “anav mikol ha-adam” – more modest than any man.

In enjoining humility, the Talmud cautions, “honour flees from him who chases it and honour pursues those who flee it.”

In this vein, the story is told of a man who approached his Rabbi and asked, “I learned that if you flee from honour, it pursues you…  So tell me rabbi, how is it that I have kept running from honour all my life and it has never once caught up?  What am I doing wrong?”  Answered his teacher, “My son, I think the problem might be that as fast as you go, you keep looking over your shoulder to see if honour is running after you!”

Honour has value when it is freely given; accorded by others in recognition of genuine accomplishment.  And it is this freely accorded honour that we celebrate today.

The great sage, Ben Zoma taught, “Who is truly honoured?”  To which he answers, “One who gives honour to his fellow.”

The Order of Australia is a celebration of the best in humanity; conferring honour and recognition; highlighting, encouraging and endorsing the good deeds and worthy enterprises that edify us and our society.

Ben Zoma’s dictum begins “Who is wise? One who learns from every person.  Who is strong?  One who can subdue his passions.  Who is rich?  One who is content with his lot.”  The commentators ask, if you have wisdom, self-mastery and a wealthy contentment, what, then, is the value added component of honour?

With reference to the Hebrew expression of Ben Zoma, “hamechabed et habriyyot”, they answer that it is not merely the honouring of one’s fellow, that accrues honour; rather, and correctly translated, it is the honouring of creation.

The honouring of creation.  And implicitly the Creator.

When we give honour to our fellow and deal decently with our environment; when we concern ourselves with the sanctity of life and holy image of God imprinted upon us all – then we give real honour.  Then we merit real honour.  And that honour comes from above.

When our gift of honour joins us with the Almighty as a partner in the elevation of creation; then it is His honour which seeks us out and His recognition which is our reward.

There is a beautiful teaching by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, a deeply spiritual man and the first Chief Rabbi of the British Mandate.

Rabbi Kook echoes the truly universal implication of Ben Zoma’s words, the honouring of creation in its widest sense.

Rabbi Kook writes, “The highest position in the love of people must be taken by the love of humanity, and it must extend to all mankind, despite all differences of opinion, religion and faith, despite all distinctions of race and climate…

“We must know that the kernel of life, light and holiness never departed from the divine image bestowed on humanity in general, and is found on every people and time…  This holy, spiritual kernel will elevate everything.

“From this inner point or seed of vitality, we wish for the total elevation which will uplift the world, the light of justice and of righteousness. The perfection of all that is created; foremost, mankind and all his faculties. (Rabbi AI Kook, Mussar Avicha)

Though today’s service with its diverse faith readings and pageant might at first blush seem removed from the normal and Judaic business of a synagogue; how fitting it is to join in the home of these teachings of Ben Zoma and Rabbi Kook to celebrate those who honour humanity, honour creation, honour creativity and honour our Creator!

To honour those of all traditions who have shared in edifying God’s world.

We welcome the Order of Australia Association to The Great Synagogue Sydney.  It is our privilege to host distinguished exemplars of philanthropy, community, education, of enterprise; of excellence in every field of endeavour.

The virtues and values cherished by the Order are indeed those which God wills us to emulate so that His Presence is manifest in our society.  As you join with us today in this holy Sanctuary, we appreciate all the better how His Presence is felt in our community.  From here, through New South Wales we are inspired by your example.

May we continue the service of God with humility; pursue justice and peace for the welfare of humanity.  May we do this for His sake and for the sake of Creation.  May He bless us all with health and the wisdom to discern the right path in life.

And may those upon whom honour has alighted, the ACs, AOs, AMs and OAMs continue to run, setting the pace that we are all moved to follow.

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