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god save the king

09/14/2022 01:22:13 PM

Sep14

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

I, like so many other human beings on this planet, are unaccustomed to hearing or reciting the words “God Save the King”. The transition to King Charles III will be one that the entire world will watch with great interest, as his prior attention to matters such as climate change must continue without his vocal support.

The response to the death of Queen Elizabeth II has been remarkable in its emotion, but all of it has not been a bittersweet reflection on more than seven decades of public service. I certainly did not expect the range of comments to include certain ugly truths. There are those whose ancestors suffered under British colonialism, and do not grieve. There are those who witnessed or were taught about death of loved ones, slavery and harsh treatment by the British who will not mourn. There are those who feel that the monarchy is antiquated and should be abolished. There are those who feel that the wealth of the British royals is primarily of ill-gotten gains. There are those who have negative feelings about the new king. I certainly respect the varied viewpoints, but all of this made me wonder about how we should respond to a person’s death?

Should we be mindful of the pain the deceased’s loved ones are enduring and not add to their heartache with brutal honesty? Should the custom of not speaking ill of the dead always apply? Are we permitted to offer our own judgment on anyone who has died?

Many times over the decades I have read the following line when dedicating a monument: The righteous need no monuments, for their deeds are their memorial. It is clear from the varied responses that I shared above that there are people in pain. What I wonder is why were they silent during the life of the Queen, and only raised their voices upon her death, when she cannot respond, unless I was a bad listener and did not hear them? Her death has clearly opened the doors that house many forgotten scars, demanding deep, emotional conversations about difficult subjects that have lied dormant for a long time. Whether King Charles III inherits these questions and encourages debate remains to be seen. 

I’d like to think that Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) had it right when he wrote the following 3,000 years ago: A time for dancing and a tine for wailing; a time for birthing and a time for dying; a time for speaking and a time for silence; a time for seeking and a time for losing.

Being a mourner is a complicated time, as our emotions are varied and raw. I would hope that the period of mourning leads to new understandings, thoughtful conversations about difficult subjects, and respectful relationships between people. We are all on the planet together. It’s time already to figure out how to make it work.

Thu, September 29 2022 4 Tishrei 5783