An article to mark Rabbi Raymond Apple‘s 30th anniversary at the Great Synagogue, Sydney, in 2002.
I still stand for more or less the same principles as always. But I work for them differently. Where once I was an angry young man who was going to change the world, now I think more calmly, plan my strategy more carefully, speak more judiciously, and go by the advice of a judicial friend that the best public work is done privately.
I have always had a religious outlook and wanted to share it with others. Not that being religious means that the problems of life pass you by. True, religious faith gives you an anchor; the Psalmist says, “The Lord is my Shepherd: I shall not want” (Psalm 23). But at the same time you wrestle with agonies that give you no peace. The Psalmist also says, “Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord!” (Psalm 130)
The person without faith in God cannot cry out, “Shall the Judge of all the earth not act justly?” (Gen. 18:25); without God they have no-one to accuse. It is belief that raises agonising questions. But it does not always find answers. So what is its point? A saying of the Chassidim is, “You find it hard to believe in God? Then for six months do not believe! Within a week you will say, ‘How can I live if I do not believe in God?'”
Being me is not only to be religious, but to be a Jew. Einstein said, “I am sorry I was born a Jew, because it deprived me of the opportunity to choose to be a Jew!” For me, too, Jewishness is an accident of birth, but I like to feel I would have chosen it anyway. As a Jew I am part of a vibrant old-new people, heir to a rich heritage of culture. I have a challenging ethical tradition; a faith that dares, a faith that cares; a philosophy that stretches the mind; a way of life that enriches the heart. I have poetry and prose, individuality and community, history and destiny. I sometimes wonder why the whole world is not Jewish.
Because I am a Jew I am a Zionist. To me, Israel is the dwelling place of God, proof that Biblical promises come true, a step in the messianic redemption. I yearn to see Israel as the spiritual and moral capital of civilisation. I recognise the mixed reality, but we have to keep trying. I want peace for my children and grandchildren in Israel; I am convinced all the children and grandchildren of the Middle East have grandparents with a similar dream.
As a rabbi I am not a priest, a functionary without a prophetic dimension. I am not a prophet either, though there are times to lift up one’s voice and discomfit the comfortable. I am fundamentally a teacher who believes in the ability of human beings to learn and listen. I have the teacher’s philosophy that in the end it will be ideas that will prevail, neither might nor power but the spirit of the Lord.
In my youth I thought I was going to work miracles. Now I know I will not greatly affect the course of history. The sages say, “It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it”. All human work is unfinished, but I add what I can to the process. I hope to contribute to Utopia, not in some futuristic sense as a place where all striving and struggle is over, but one where human beings no longer impede each other as they go about their task.
I cannot assess the quality of my contribution. I don’t pretend I have achieved nothing, but neither do I claim to have wrought miracles. I have my moments of depression when I would willingly change my profession to one (if it exists) that does not require me to love others as myself. But most of the time I thank God for the gift of life, the opportunity to make something of myself and to assist others, and the passionate thirst for the future that drives me onward.