BBC Radio 4:The Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis - 29/09/2017

What is the greatest gift of all?

An ancient Jewish teaching explores this question by contrasting Israel’s two landlocked seas, the Sea of Galilee, important to Christians and Jews alike, and the Dead Sea. Both are famous. The former for being one of the largest sweet water lakes and the latter for its high concentration of salt, which inhibits sea-life in its waters. The River Jordan, sourced at the foot of Mount Hermon, flows into the Sea of Galilee. At its southernmost point, the Jordan re-emerges and its waters reach the Dead Sea, from which there is no outlet.

The Sea of Galilee, which both receives and gives water, embodies kindness and generosity, leading to sweet consequences. The Dead Sea, however, as its name suggests, reminds us that taking without giving will never lead to anything positive. Existing only to receive is not an existence at all.

In this spirit, the Hebrew for love, ahava, literally means ‘giving’. A truly enriching relationship provides life-enhancing opportunities to give and share through selfless love.

Today, on the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, there is a beautiful custom for parents to bless children.

It is a time when we are mindful of the Book of Genesis which reveals details of Abraham’s last will and testament. We are told, "Abraham gave everything he had to Isaac and he gave gifts to his other children". Now, how can this be possible? If Abraham gave everything he had to Isaac, what was left for the others?

Isaac had proved his worth to Abraham and so he received all that meant everything to his father – his identity, his values and his faith, while to the others he gave material gifts. They received something to live with, while Isaac received something to live for.

The power of a meaningful existence was encapsulated by the renowned Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, who said, “Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.”

This is what we will be celebrating on Yom Kippur. Through fasting, we will acknowledge the gift of a meaningful life, centered around our families, our friends, our communities and the values and deep principles which govern our actions; blessings that don’t cost anything and which mean everything to us.

The greatest gift we can give to our children is to empower them to have meaning, fulfilment and joy, through a life of values that transcends a hunger for materialistic gain.

Empowerment, unlike an unwanted gift, will never end up on eBay.