Sermon: Inspiration around us (Rabbi Maurice Michaels)

Written by Writings & Sermons by others — 21 March 2015

Perhaps the most inspirational speech in peacetime was made just fifty years ago. Martin Luther King Jr. put aside the script he had prepared with the help of his writers and responded to the gospel singer standing by his side on the podium at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.  Mahalia Jackson had said, “Tell them about your dream, Martin!”  Hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life, white as well as black, listened intently, totally inspired, as he continuously intoned, “I have a dream!” and proceeded to outline what America would look like, what it would be when his dream was achieved.  And it was for him ‘when’ and not ‘if’.


Time magazine have just issued an anniversary edition, that includes interviews with many of those present that day and it’s quite clear that King was regarded as the moral leader of American society, far more so than the Government and President John Kennedy.  It was he who could inspire the multitude, both by his vision and his oratory.  And yet, fifty years later, much of his dream is unfulfilled. It’s true that there are facts on the ground that even he could not have envisioned, an African-American President.  But despite that, his dreams of equality – of opportunity, of achievement, of economic viability, in employment, in home ownership, in education – have not been met.  Of course, there have been great strides forward, the level of inequality has been dramatically cut, but clearly fifty years was not long enough to completely wipe out the differentials.


I was reminded by the fifty years, of another rousing inspirational speech, also looking for greater freedom for his people.  This was the oration by Theodore Herzl at the first Zionist Congress in Basle in 1897.  Following it he wrote in his diary,  “At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will know it.”  His prophecy was to come true with the historic vote in the November 1947 United Nations meeting agreeing to the partition of the land, to include a Jewish state.  Another life changing experience, both for those listening in 1897 and those in 1947.


Yet for me, inspiration doesn’t have to be so earth shattering.  Very ordinary people doing mundane things can be inspirational to those who experience them.  I had an uncle, who worked six days a week, but he visited the sick at the London Jewish Hospital every shabbat afternoon, leading a service and chatting to people. He never thought he was doing anything exceptional, but to me, a youngster at the time, I was inspired by his giving up the only free time he had to bring comfort to others.  I’m sure we can all recall the sort of thing I mean.  Parents who give up everything so that their children can have a better start in life; teachers who go out of their way to ensure that a pupil who shows promise can achieve; people who perform acts of loving kindness and charity, often without any knowledge of the recipient.  And much of this activity is done without fanfares and certainly not with any thought of self-seeking or reward.  And yet we should be publicising such actions, because these things inspire others to do likewise.


Of course, the Torah has its own understanding of inspiration.  We might consider Moses or Abraham or the prophets to have been inspiring and well they might have been.  But the biblical term for inspiration is linked to God.  Ru’ach  ha-Kodesh, divine inspiration, is what enabled Joshua and many others to carry out their God-given tasks on behalf of the ancient Israelites.  And that, I think, is the permission and encouragement we need.  We are told that being created in the Divine image means aspiring to succeed in the attributes with which we associate God.  God’s mercy, God’s compassion, God’s kindness, etc. are all things to which we should aspire, to which we can now add God’s inspiration.   As we move into this new year may we be inspired by and may we inspire others with all the good things, with which we’ve been blessed.  Amen