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Reflections on the Life of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

With the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday September 8th at the age of 96, we reflect on the life of an exceptional Monarch, and an extraordinary woman, a true Eshet Chayil – a woman of worth – who served her country and her people with dedication, strength and dignity.

Throughout the 70 years of her reign, Queen Elizabeth has been a constant  in our lives. Indeed, for some of us, she has been the only Head of State we have ever known, not only as an icon – a familiar face on our stamps and coins – or a much-photographed figure at State affairs but, as a calming, compassionate and unifying presence in times of national turmoil or disaster, or even, sometimes, a heartwarmingly mischievous one, during times of national joy and celebration.

It seems difficult to remember that young Princess Elizabeth was never born to be Queen but became heir to the throne through the unpredictability of history or perhaps more precisely, the unreliability of human nature. One may wonder whether the choices made by her uncle, King Edward VIII, who chose love over duty, influenced her own determination to never renege on the pledge she made to the nation on her 21st birthday: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” She kept that promise meticulously, carrying out her last official duty just two days before she died.  
As a young woman Princess Elizabeth, together with her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, showed strength of character, leadership, and inspiration during the dark years of the Second World War. Aged 14 she made her first broadcast to the nation and at the age of 18 she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service to assist the War effort.  

When she acceded to the throne as a young mother, she established herself as a figure of stability and continuity, acutely aware that it was the office she held, that provided power to lead, rather than voicing personal opinions. She never revealed her political views, nor campaigned for causes close to her heart, yet navigated world powers in much a subtler manner; with a visit, a handshake, a few subtle yet well placed words at a State banquet she could, and indeed did contribute to reconciliation in the peace process in Northern Ireland.     

Despite the grandeur of her office Queen Elizabeth maintained an air of humility. She never sought to be the centre of attention, even though her office placed her there, but always remained the servant to her people, she had pledged to be. Though surrounded by riches, pomp, and circumstance, she found enjoyment in simple pleasures that were close to her heart: the great outdoors, her horses, her Corgis, and her family, and through that love and appreciation she understood that we have a responsibility of stewardship for the natural world.

The Torah values humility, particularly in leaders. A few weeks ago, we read in Parashat Shof’tim that a ‘Sovereign should not feel superior to his [or her] people (Deut. 17:18). Indeed, of Moses, our most inspiring leader, is written that he was ‘very humble, more so than any other man on earth’. According to Parashat Shof’tim Monarchs should learn humility through Torah, by accepting that they are bound by the laws of Torah and that there is something greater than themselves in their lives, a sentiment reiterated by the prophet Micha ‘Only to do justice, to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God, will your name achieve wisdom’ (Micha 6:8). Queen Elizabeth was a woman who did walk humbly with her God, for she often demonstrated in her addresses to the nation a deep personal faith in God, which in turn inspired her to respect and honour all faiths.  

Queen Elizabeth’s sense of duty was exemplary, particularly because she carried out her duties not as a chore, but with dignity, compassion and charm, wisdom, and wit. Those who had the privilege to have met her, were touched by her warmth and compassion, and felt uplifted by her genuine curiosity and interest in their lives.

In an age in which concepts such as duty, service and faith are no longer held in the same esteem as they may have been when the Queen started her reign, it is particularly poignant that these are precisely the qualities which merited the deepest respect, gratitude, and love of the nation, which now mourns her death.
May we find inspiration in the dedication, faith and service of Queen Elizabeth II, to pick up the baton and work tirelessly and unstintingly for a better future and a better world. Tehi zichra baruch – may her name be blessed. 

Rabbi Kathleen Middleton represented The Movement for Reform Judaism at the funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, on 19th September 2022.

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