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The Power of Words

The tributes have been pouring in. Captain Sir Tom Moore, who raised nearly £33 million for NHS charities by walking laps of his garden, has died in hospital from Covid-19. The 100 year old, who set himself the goal of raising £1000 to support our NHS, and was knighted by the Queen in July, inspired the nation during the challenging times of the past year. What was it about him that captured our hearts?

For the primary school children Captain Tom visited, it was his stories. Meeting a veteran who had actually lived through the Second World War and reached the age of a hundred was an incredible and awesome experience. For Second World War historian Sir Anthony Beaver, Sir Tom stood out as a representative of the War generation, embodying the old-fashioned British virtues of duty and self-sacrifice when those qualities have never been more necessary: ‘He was self-deprecating, he was optimistic. He just got on with things without complaint or self-pity.’ This was what enabled Sir Tom to provide so much reassurance to the public. For Captain Tom’s great-nephew Dr Adam Briki, himself an NHS doctor, his Uncle Tom’s effort boosted the morale of nursing staff, of medical staff and all the staff in hospitals, and also gave attention to the patients who have suffered so devastatingly in this pandemic.

Captain Tom’s optimism and positive attitude raised all our spirits and made us smile in the midst of such dark and difficult days, reminding us that, ‘You’ll never walk alone’. In his own words: ‘At the end of the day, we shall be all OK again, and although there’s people who are finding it difficult at the moment, the sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away.’

Perhaps what is most remarkable is that Captain Tom was an ordinary man who took on a challenge, had the determination to follow through on it, and wasn’t shy to share his positive outlook just when we needed to hear it. The outpouring of love for him from around the world reflects what a lovely human being he was, the twinkle in his eye, and his kind and generous heart. The power of his words to uplift and to inspire – both individuals facing their own tremendous challenges, alongside our entire nation – demonstrate that words not only raise our spirits, but change lives.

This Shabbat we will be reading the Ten Commandments, the central guidance of our tradition, which have shaped Western civilisation for the past two and a half millennia. They remind us of the power of words, and call on each of us to use our own words for shaping our lives and the lives of others for good.

Zichrono livracha – may the memory of Captain Sir Tom Moore be for an enduring blessing, and an inspiration to us all.

Shabbat Shalom, Stay Safe and Well,

Rabbi Lisa