The pageantry of the Queen’s funeral was a once-in-a-lifetime event, watched by billions of people, across the world. But perhaps, even more impressive was the respect and affection shown to the Queen by hundreds of thousands of people from the time she died. The crowds outside the palaces. The queues to file past her coffin in Westminster Hall. The throngs lining the route of the funeral.
We have parallels in Judaism. The days of national mourning for the Queen have their echo in Jewish law, which states that when a Monarch or Nasi dies, everyone tears a garment and the Houses of Study are closed. Leisure activities are suspended and each family mourns in its own home that day. (Maimonides, Mourning 9:15)
Yet, despite the reverence we have for leaders, this week’s parasha opens with stressing the fundamental importance of every individual.
“You are standing here today, – kulchem – every one of you, before the L-d your G-d; the leaders of your tribes, the elders, the officers, every person in Israel; your children, your spouses, and the stranger in the midst of your camp, from the hewer of wood to the drawer of water, so that you will enter into the covenant of the L-d your G-d, and his oath that He is making with you today.” (Devarim 29:9-11)
The message is clear. Everyone carries responsibility. Every person, great or small has a role. No individual should consider themselves intrinsically inferior or superior in the eyes of G-d.
But it cannot be denied that there are vast differences in society and in the community. There are scholars and lay people. Rich and poor. Powerful and powerless. Famous and unknown. Surely, by any objective measure, some people are making a greater contribution to the common good than others?
The answer is that we are judged for the choices we make in the context of who we are and where we are. Our background doesn’t determine our value. Our choices do. There are leaders who become corrupt. There are scholars who turn astray. There are woodcutters who become the great sage, Hillel. That is why the Torah stresses kulchem – every one of you. Each one of us is given almost daily opportunities to sanctify G-d’s name, to make moral choices: at home or at work, among friends or among strangers.
Our challenge is to become the best version of ourselves. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II did that. She was a role model for us all.