Chacham Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, the Ben Ish Chai (1832-1909) relates the parable of a monarch who requests his advisor to engrave his signet ring with a message that will uplift him in difficult times and will humble him in good times. The wise advisor engraved the ring with the words This too shall pass.
Thus, when the king was beset with enemies, external or internal, or was losing his battles, when his kingdom was plagued with famine or drought or when national epidemic struck, he would look at the ring and see the message This too shall pass. Better times are surely ahead!
And when the better times came, when the king was riding high on a wave of popularity or even adulation, when his enemies fell before him and the realm was prospering mightily, he would gaze again at the ring and internalise the message This too shall pass. I must not become too proud or complacent as this won’t last forever!
The monarch in the parable was perceptive to seek a message that would console him in times of adversity. But his true wisdom and strength of character lay in the fact that in the times of his greatest triumphs he was prepared to heed a meme which would humble him.
I believe that the monarch in the parable could quite easily have been Queen Elizabeth II of blessed memory.
Even from before she became queen, she was consoling people in times of tribulation. In 1940, when she was just fourteen years old, she made her first public speech to the children who had been evacuated away from home because of the war. . “When peace eventually comes” she declared with young innocence and idealism “remember it will be for us, the children of today to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place!”.
Later, throughout her seventy-year reign, she was to encounter frequent moments of challenge. Tragically most of these were brought about through misdemeanours or scandals involving members of her own immediate family. Throughout she stood above it all, firm as a rock, refusing to succumb to despair, continuing to smile with the same grace and stoicism, lead and serve with the same care and solicitude and in so doing comforting and reassuring herself and her subjects that despite all her monarchy would continue to have a bright future.
But, more significant even than that, at the times of her greatest popularity – notably the Silver, Golden, Diamond and latterly the Platinum Jubilee celebrations – while she always radiated regality, she never ever displayed a scintilla of haughtiness. Her diffidence when she spoke at these occasions, allied to an ever-so-slight hesitant nervousness – told me that she felt humbled not conceited, grateful not entitled, obligated not privileged, and, as such, was always aware that these moments of triumph and of adulation too can so easily and speedily pass.
And now she too has passed.
May the lessons she taught us through not only what she did but through the grace with which she held herself – a grace surely bestowed upon her in potentia by the One Above (in whom she believed deeply), as we infer in the b’racha traditionally said on seeing a monarch, but also a grace which she embraced and internalised into her noble character – be her lasting legacy.
Yehi zichra baruch!