Two deaths deeply affected me this week

The first was the brutal death of George Floyd. The second was the tragic passing of Rabbi Dr Norman Lamm, former President of Yeshiva University, New York.

The way George Floyd was killed demonstrated the dehumanisation that racism brings about, that is at large in American society. As Jews, we know, only too well, what it is to be the victims of racism, and our hearts go out to George’s family. I hope and pray that the outpouring of emotion we have seen, will lead to the road of healing and equality that so many people desperately want.

Rabbi Lamm died, aged 92, only six short weeks after his wife, Mindella, succumbed to covid 19. Although he had been in declining health in the past few years, he had more than six decades of dynamic leadership and scholarship in American Jewry and Modern Orthodoxy. As an active pulpit rabbi in the 1960s, he spoke passionately about the importance of civil rights.

Rabbi Lamm was an inspirational figure to me when I was a student at University. I discovered his writings in Tradition Magazine (which he founded) and other journals, and I began corresponding with him. At the time, I was studying Chemistry and I was contemplating a move to the rabbinate. Rabbi Lamm told me he himself had taken the same route and encouraged me to do the same.

In July 1976, he visited England as the guest speaker at a fundraising dinner and was invited to preach at St John’s Wood Synagogue over Shabbat. I was excited at the opportunity to hear him in person, and I walked all the way from Stamford Hill. Rabbi Dr Solomon Goldman introduced him and David Weisz thanked him.

The Shabbat was parashat Chukat-Balak. A few days before, Israeli commandos had undertaken the amazing Entebbe Operation hostage rescue mission.

Rabbi Lamm contrasted two key verses in the parasha of Balak:

Hen Am Kelavi Yakum – “Behold, the people rise up like a lion!”


Ma Pa’al El – “What has G-d wrought!”

Rabbi Lamm extolled the courage of the Israeli soldiers, who had won the admiration of the world. He spoke about the importance of man being a master of his own destiny. He praised modern Israel, and particularly its army, who had the lion-hearted courage to undertake one of the most daring operations in military history.

At the same time, he stressed, the outcome of so much of what we do is not in our hands. We have to acknowledge that G-d, ultimately, is the Master of events and if we are successful, we have to have the humility to say, Ma Pa’al El – “look, what G-d has done!”

I have no doubt that Rabbi Lamm would want us to dedicate our best efforts and our sincerest prayers to tackling the ills of our society, especially racism, wherever we live. As Jews, we proclaim that every human being has been created in the image of G-d. We must strive to bring about a better world with equality and justice for all. Shabbat Shalom.

Dayan Ivan Binstock