Ralph Genende
Ralph Genende

Give me people with heart!

What do you look for in people?

What’s the most important thing for you when selecting a good friend, a good neighbour, a good worker?

The kind of people we choose to surround ourselves with reflect who we are, what we aspire to and what we really value.

Positive, refined and thoughtful individuals diffuse their energy like the perfume from a beautiful rose. Negative, toxic individuals spread their gloom and cynicism like a sardonic pall.

Give me people who aren’t up themselves. Save me from the arrogant and narcissistic. Yirei Elohim

Give me people with initiative, strong-hearted people, people who stand up for what they believe in. Anshei Chayil

Give me people who seek and know the truth, people I don’t have to fact check. Anshei Emet

Give me people who hate injustice, who are principled and virtuous. Sonei Batsa

These are precisely the kind of people that Moses, on the advice of his wise father-in-law, Jethro, sought out to help guide and direct the Jewish people –Yirei Elohim, Anshei Chayil, Anshei Emet, Sonei Batsa (Exodus18,21).

These are precisely kind of qualities that the celebrated Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai (Avot 2,13) would have approved of. The human being with the good heart is singled out as the preeminent example of humanity. The heart is the place “where all ladders start” (WB Yeats).

Read or listen to Joe Biden’s poignant speech this week about the loss of half a million Americans to coronavirus; it’s a contemporary example of leadership with heart:

“And for me, the way through sorrow and grief is to find purpose. I don’t know how many of you have lost someone a while ago and are wondering, ‘Is he or she proud of me now? Is this what they want me to do?’ I know that’s how I feel. And we can find purpose – purpose worthy of the lives they lived and worthy of the country we love….”

In the Purim story, the major protagonist, Esther, is a woman with a strong and determined heart. She draws others to her through the sheer power of her presence, her charismatic Chen. She is a stand-out among all the striking and beautiful women of Persia because she isn’t pushy but principled. She is a role model of Jewish leadership because she is a woman of courage and initiative. With bravery, foresight and patience she plans for the downfall of Haman and the restoration of justice. Unlike her canny uncle Mordechai she intuitively grasps that you can’t rely on miracles or God’s intervention in a post-prophetic age. You have to discern your own talent and grab hold of your own destiny to discover what God expects of you.

In an age where the truth is battered and distorted, when King David’s lament that all persons are liars is so sadly and overtly apparent; in a time when the position of women is still so under-appreciated and under threat (witness the rape allegations at the seat of power in Canberra); when arrogant political figures parade their hubris with reckless confidence; when the good too often lack the courage to speak out; in such an era we need to look back and draw inspiration and fortitude from the Moseses and Esthers of our history.

The example of Esther is of particular relevance to our religious Jewish community because she prompts us to strengthen the number, role and involvement of women in our Shules and religious institutions. From our Orthodox Shule and school boards to our rabbinical appointments. There are deeply learned and talented Orthodox women who should be stepping up to lead our Shules and not just as support acts to their husbands or as catering queens and coffee club hostesses.

We need strong and singular Mordechais and Esthers to help guide us through this age of anxiety and polarisation. It’s a brave new world which calls for brave hearted leadership, leaders of truth, principle and compassion .

As we say in our daily morning prayers:

‘’May it be your will, Lord my God and God of my ancestors, to save me today and every day from the arrogant and from arrogance itself, from a bad person, a bad friend, a bad neighbour, a bad mishap, a destructive adversary…”

And I would add – May it be Your will to surround me with people of good energy and humour, with lively minds and loving hands, strong values and refined feelings. Give me people of heart!

Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach to you and your family from Caron and my family,

Rabbi Ralph

About the Author
Born in Zimbabwe, raised in South Africa, Rabbi Ralph Genende is a well-known and popular Modern Orthodox Rabbi. Ralph was Senior Rabbi to the Auckland, New Zealand Jewish community for ten years. He then became College Rabbi at Mount Scopus College, member of its Executive Team and Rabbi of Beit Aharon congregation. Currently Rabbi Genende is Senior Rabbi of Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, one of Melbourne’s largest congregations. He was a senior Reserve Chaplain in the South African Defence Force and is now Principal Rabbi to the Australian Defence Force, Member of the Religious Advisory Council to the Minister of Defence (RACS), board member of AIJAC (Australian Israel Jewish Affairs Council) and member of the Premier's Mulitifaith Advisory Group. He was President of JCMA (Jewish Christian Muslim Association) and a long time executive member of the Rabbinical Association of Victoria. He also oversees Yad BeYad a premarital relationship program, is a member of Swinburne University’s Research Ethics Committee and on the Glen Eira City Council’s Committee responsible for its Reconciliation Action Plan for recognition and integration of our first peoples. Ralph has a passion for social justice and creating bridges between different cultures and faiths. For him the purpose of religion is to create a better society for all people and to engage with the critical issues facing Australian society. The role of the rabbi is, in his words, to challenge the comfortable and comfort the challenged. In 2018 Rabbi Genende was awarded an OAM for his services to multi-faith relations, and to the Jewish community of Victoria. Rabbi Genende is a trained counsellor with a Masters degree from Auckland University. He is married to Caron, a psychologist and they have three children – Eyal (who is married to Carly), Daniella and Yonatan and a grandson Ezra.
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