The absence of Meghan Markle and the participation of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis at the coronation of Charles III speaks volumes about cultural values
This Saturday, the world will witness a rare tradition as Prince Charles ascends the throne to succeed his mother as monarch of the British Isles. According to reports, his daughter-in-law Meghan Markle will not be in attendance.
However, Britain’s Chief Rabbi will be there. The dichotomy offers a profound lesson in noblesse oblige.
I’m not a big fan of Meghan Markle, although I think she’s a fine actress. It’s true, she has faced some difficulties and discomforts as Duchess of Sussex. But she had ample opportunity before marrying into the royal family to contemplate and prepare herself for exactly what was coming. Moreover, as a Hollywood celebrity, she certainly understood the demands and responsibilities of fame. For her to play the victim card so publicly is more than a little disingenuous.
Moreover, it’s beside the point. After all, her father-in-law is becoming King of England.
Most families have members who have trouble getting along, sometimes for entirely valid reasons. But there are moments when we put aside our histories, our feelings, and our egos to honor the family bond.
To deprive Charles of the presence of his grandchildren, and to deny them the memory (if only through pictures) of having taken part in the once-in-a-generation celebration, bespeaks a degree of self-absorption and pettiness that is frankly inexcusable.
On the other extreme, consider the obstacles facing Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. The requirements of Torah law prevent him from driving on the Sabbath, and Sabbath morning services overlap the coronation ceremony. He could easily excuse himself for purely logistical reasons.
But he has made no attempt to do so for two simple reasons: reverence and gratitude.
Some 2500 years ago, the sages encouraged Jews to seize any opportunity to go and behold royalty; they even composed a blessing to be recited in the presence of gentile monarchs: Blessed are You, O L-rd, our G-d, King of the universe, who bestows from His glory upon flesh and blood.
In an age when we have lost respect for leadership, it is more important than ever to remind ourselves of our responsibility as subjects and citizens to honor the trappings of power.
All too frequently, individual leaders fall short of the mark; but institutions endure. Indeed, the sages admonish us to pray for the welfare of the government, for without it man would swallow his neighbor alive.
In this case, there is much more involved than formality and propriety. Charles has displayed sound friendship and commitment toward the Jewish people, which is more precious than ever with anti-Semitism on the rise. It would show appalling ingratitude for the Chief Rabbi to miss the coronation if there were any possible way for him to attend.
One good turn
What’s especially heartening is the length to which the British have gone to make the rabbi’s attendance easier. He and his wife are invited to stay at St. James’ Place, walking distance from both Buckingham Palace and a neighborhood synagogue, where he will pray a special sunrise service in order to be on time for the ceremony. His menu for the entire weekend will be provided by a kosher caterer.
As one of a host of religious leaders, Rabbi Mirvis will offer a blessing over the milestone. Since Torah law prohibits him from using a microphone, it was decided that none of the clergy will use microphones — although there is certainly no Jewish objection to them doing so. This gesture demonstrates the lengths we go to in a civil society to show consideration for one another, to respect others’ practices and beliefs, and to strive to make others comfortable even when it causes some inconvenience to ourselves.
Shalom means more than peace
The fallout from our cultural obsession with personal rights is that we too easily forget about personal responsibility. If I demand my rights and you demand yours, we end up butting heads again and again and again.
But if I take responsibility for your rights and you take responsibility for mine, then we will live together amidst harmony, mutual respect, and love. This is true in our homes, in our businesses, and in society at large.
Judaism teaches that, as a prerequisite for Torah law, we are required to observe what is called derech eretz. The term translates as the way of the land, and it refers to character, manners, refinement, and sensitivity for our fellow human beings who share our world. A healthy and vibrant society is the natural outcome of committing ourselves to what is best for all of us together, even if that means we may have to occasionally put the interests of others ahead of our own.
When we do, we will find that the deal is a bargain, for we then get to live in a better, more beautiful world of our own making.