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172http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2013/12/RabbiLyonsBlog-12_13_2013
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 12_13_2013
12/12/2013 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
December 13, 2013

 

This past week, Nelson Mandela died. There are details about his life that will keep scholars busy for their entire careers. His life’s story will be written about in more books and told in movies for years to come. The laudatory words that have been used to describe his life are appropriate and well-earned. He lived a life that is the quintessential story of a person who endured and overcame, who was beaten down and stood back up. He fulfilled the purpose of his life and inspired others to fulfill theirs. As the world takes note of his life’s achievements, we can learn much about his humanity and ours.

                First, Nelson Mandela is not an American and therefore not a uniquely American hero. In the last century, it hasn’t been common for Americans to find their heroes outside the United States. Though the world is freer and we can travel to more places than we could even 30 years ago, we have honored our own leaders and soldiers for greater freedom. Today, the internet breaks down barriers, and Mandela became a man to watch and the world’s hero. He brought us with him as he made his way from prison to the presidential palace. He left behind him in prison more than his personal experience; he left behind a past that every person of the world needed to discard, too. Then he brought us with him into a fragile new world that learned how to welcome his message about unity and peace.

                Second, though Mandela possessed all the qualities that made him uniquely able to achieve the stature of a modern day hero, there is no reason to believe that we don’t also possess the same potential. You and I will not be Mandela, but I am suggesting that the humanity he revealed in his life’s work is inherently present within each of us. Extraordinary experiences in his time and place unlocked his rare combination of passion and justice to move him to do and to be the man we remember this week. But, if it’s true that we possess the same humanity, and I believe that we do, then in concert with others whose hands we hold and whose hearts we touch, we can emulate Mandela’s hope for unity and peace at home, in our cities, in our nation and across the world.

                Third, Nelson Mandela has a large number of mournful fans but also a fair number of detractors. No person is perfect. Mandela will be lauded for his obvious accomplishments and assailed for what he didn’t or wouldn’t do. Despite his shortcomings, the memory of Nelson Mandela should be recalled for what he did for his people and his nation at home, and then for what he labored to represent in the world around him. Humanity is difficult to find when it’s needed most; so, when it is revealed and allowed to make lasting and permanent change even in a small part of the world, it is for us to behold and for us to emulate in the small part of the world we occupy. For these things we thank Nelson Mandela for his courage and his choices, and we thank God for the gift of humanity revealed and for the wisdom to take note of it. To honor Mandela is to learn from his life and to build on his deeds. If he couldn’t finish the work he began in all his 95 years, then let us pick up where he left off and begin to make a difference today.

                Shabbat Shalom.

 

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