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Words are like feathers…

This has been another week when the news has buffeted us like the autumn winds, sun and rain. There has been some encouraging news on the Covid vaccines front, but there have also been troubling developments in both major political parties this week.

My training is as a rabbi. As a consequence of my Liberal Jewish upbringing and values, I hold with free speech unless it harms or endangers others. When there is evidence of prejudices or threatening behaviour being spoken out or acted out, then this cannot be acceptable. So for me, I cannot condone the dual decisions of the Labour Party to reinstate Jeremy Corbyn and the Prime Minister to back Priti Patel (and of Ms Patel not to resign) when an inquiry found she had broken the ministerial code.

Words are dangerous – one of the lessons taught by the Torah portion being read tomorrow on the joyous occasion of a Triple Bat, Bat and Bar Mitzvah celebration will remind us of this. Isaac, Rebecca, and perhaps most of all, Jacob misuse words wilfully and do harm, especially to Esau. Sadly, both the Torah itself and later commentators condone such misuse of words; I’m not sure we should lower our standards or provide a justification.

There is a Chassidic story that tells of a child being told to shake all the feathers out of a pillow and then told to go and retrieve all the feathers to re-fill the pillow – an impossible task. It leads to a teaching that words are like those feathers, you cannot control where they go after you’ve said them; even feathers when in the wrong place at the wrong time can do damage.

Words and deeds of leaders carry more weight and so leaders have to be held to higher standards. Moses provides a stand-out example of this in the Torah; a relatively trivial misdemeanour led to him not entering the promised land, but such is the requirement of all who would lead.

Words and deeds set a tone that permeates through society. Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, established to ensure that we do not forget people murdered solely for seeking to be the person they feel they are. Sadly, each year, too many are killed by others and too many more feel driven to end their own life. As a blog on the Amnesty International UK website tells us: There is a heartbreakingly long list of names at https://tdor.info/. If you feel able, please read some of the names – but be aware the link contains descriptions of killings. Please hold them and countless others in your thoughts and actions, today and all days.

This Shabbat is also Jewish Women’s Aid Shabbat, and I’m grateful that Merle Muswell, one of our Ambassadors for JWA will be speaking at this evening’s 6:30pm service about their #Amaskwontprotecther campaign.

Words often lead to deeds. If we don’t watch our speech – the words and the tone we use for them – we all have the power to harm others. On the other hand words can also heal and we continue to aspire to provide words, and appropriate tones of speech, to comfort and support each other. What goes on in our world can be very tough and we are in one of the toughest of times. None of us needs to make it worse by our words. On the contrary, we can use our words to spread kindness and care.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Richard Jacobi

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