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Thoughts on To Heal a Fractured World (2005) by Jonathan Sacks

To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of ResponsibilityTo Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility by Jonathan Sacks

There are textbooks, and then there are text-people. Textbooks tell us how to live; text-people show us how to live. Rabbi Sacks was a rare soul that did both.

Midway through reading this book, I began to ask myself, “What does my life call for today?” And that seems to be the right way to live. Life is suffering, heartbreak, disappointment and regret, and then one day you die; but the Abrahamic faiths have taught us that we can choose how we respond to the tragedy of life. God presents us with a “blessing and a curse” [1]: we can choose to respond with bitterness or with kindness; with self-preservation or with generosity; with despair or with hope.

To Marx, religion was the “opiate of the masses”, a means of self-medication against the futility of the human condition; in Judaism, by contrast, religion is an act of protest against the suffering of the world. It is the voice of God in the Torah that repeatedly calls on the Israelites to not take their freedom for granted and to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt. It is the voice of Isaiah who cries out for his people to defend the oppressed, to take up the cause of the fatherless and to plead the cause of the widow [2]. It is the still, small voice that once called out to Elijah and now calls on us to fix what is there to be fixed. It is the call to turn our wounds into a source of compassion, to be people who realise that at all times – even in the midst of the greatest inhumanity – we have the ability to choose how we respond. And that is what sets us apart from the rest of nature. The French put it best: we are responsable.

It is easy to say and even easier to avoid doing. I confess myself overwhelmed at the thought of it. How much there is to be done, and how small are my capabilities, and how little time I have on this planet. But to do something is better than to do nothing, no matter how small the deed. And maybe it starts today, with the way I treat my bus driver, or the supermarket cashier, or the person who serves me my morning coffee. I don’t know. But it’s got me thinking about it. And that’s a good place to start.

“Where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be.” ~ Rabbi Jonathan Sacks [3]

[1] – Deuteronomy 11:26 NIV
[2] – Isaiah 1:17 NIV
[3] – Jonathan Sacks in “To Heal a Fractured World” (2005)

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