Posted in: Judaism
Published on Sep 19, 2014 by Phyllis Chesler
A Rosh Hashana Greeting To My People
I cannot think of a better way to wish you all Shana Tova than to share with you some of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks' words. He has been on a lecture tour in New York City.
One knows when one has been in the company of a great soul when one feels elevated, uplifted, enlightened, included—and blessed. Come, share the blessing with me.
Rabbi Sacks is a trim, elegant, white-haired, man sporting a fashionably white goatee, a teacher who exudes erudition, integrity, dignity, and compassion.
Rabbi Sacks was beautifully introduced by New Jersey's Rabbi Menachem Genack, and he participated in a dialogue between himself and Rabbi Barry Freundel of Washington D.C, who also serves as a religious advisor to politicians. Lincoln Square's Rabbi, Shaul Robinson, deftly posed questions and served as moderator. The occasion was the book launch of "Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honor of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks."
The first question R. Robinson posed was: "What would the Rav (R. Soloveitchik) say right now about the state of affairs after such an unsettling and troubling summer?
Sacks began with humor: "Well, that's a conversation stopper." But he did not answer this question until he first thanked the many people who worked on the "Morasha Kehillat Yaakov," and those who made the evening possible.
The question, as Rabbi Sacks understood it: "Who is fit to lead the Jews?" He said: "There are two kinds of leaders, one is direct, the other indirect. The Rav was an indirect leader, he trained the leaders."
As to the profoundly unsettling summer, the first point Rabbi Sack's made was that "1.8 million Palestinians were being held hostage and used as human shields by terrorists."
His second point concerned the difficulties and dangers of the "asymmetrical warfare" that Israel faced together with Israel's "bruising confrontation with world opinion." The only way to defeat "the forces of darkness" is through "educating our children. It is a tragedy that Palestinian children are taught falsehoods, which make it so much harder for peace and reconciliation. How you educate your children is how you bring peace into the world. A Jewish leader is, above all, an educator."
"We have lost generations of Orthodox college students who are not Shomer Shabbos." More important, we have lost many potentially great minds.
Rabbi Sacks recalled a debate with the prominent atheist Richard Dawkins on the BBC. "The good bits were edited out." Dawkins claimed that no one really smart could really believe in God.
Rabbi Sacks addressed him as a scientist. "The Jews represent 1/5th of 1% of all humanity and yet we have won between 20-49% of the Nobel Prizes in Medicine, Physics, Economics, and other sciences. How do you explain that?"
Dawkins paused, then said: "You know, Jews must be different."
Sacks then laughed and said: "Of course, I did not tell him that probably most of these prize-winning Jews are, like Dawkins, atheists. And that is precisely our tragedy as a people. We have lost 95% of our finest minds. God chose us because God loves a good argument and Jews love to argue. But for 200 years, Jews have failed the intellectual challenge of bringing Jewish learning to bear on every conceivable subject. Perhaps this is because we were both welcomed but also rejected by all the European countries which proclaimed that equality now exists and assimilation was possible—but then, almost immediately, developed theories of racial superiority and race-based anti-Semitism."
Clearly, Rabbi Sacks believes in Jewish learning, Jewish thought, Jewish philosophy and the importance of leading a Torah-based life. Nevertheless—or precisely because he holds these beliefs so strongly--Rabbi Sacks said things that, in certain quarters, might be seen as heretical, but he said them with such learning, such love, such knowledge, such humanity, that one can only learn from the model of leadership he represents.
Sacks quoted Alexis de Toqueville who found in America that due the separation of religion and state, that "liberty and faith marched hand in hand." Rabbi Sacks made it clear that he has always been close to the leaders of all political parties in the UK. "If you want religion to thrive, keep it out of politics." That way, religious leaders will have "greater influence."
"I seek a voice, not a vote" Rabbi Sacks explained.
He reminded us that the Jews, of all people, understood the importance of the separation of power. "There was a King, a Cohen HaGadol, and a Prophet. One was not the other.
Then, he told us a tale of a certain Rebbe and his students at a seudah shlishit on a Shabbos. One student asked: Why hasn't Moshiach, the Messiah, come? The rebbe answered: "Why ask now, after thousands of years"? Nu, what would you do if the Moshiach came to your house?"
"I would honor him (or her) in every way, bring out the best food, spare no expense." "
Ah," said the Rebbe. "But the Moshiach will come disguised as a stranger. Therefore, if we all treat strangers as if they are Moshiach, perhaps….You know, the Moshiach has really been waiting for us. We are not ready for the Ultimate Redemption."
And then the Rebbe said: "How can the Moshiach ever come to Israel? If the Moshiach is a Satmar, the Lubavitchers will reject him or her. If the Moshiach is Modern Orthodox, the Hasids will reject him. If the Moshiach is a progressive non-Orthodox Jew, both the Hasids and the Orthodox will reject him or her. And if the Moshiach is at all religious, the secularists will reject him.
The point is that religion should unite, not divide a people."
This past summer, Rabbi Sacks accompanied choral groups to console an Israeli people who were at war and grieving. He did not sermonize. Rabbi Sacks always visits with secularists and atheists in Israel and they are hungry for a religion that does not coerce.
Earlier in the evening, and mindful of the awesome days that approach, Rabbi Genack explained that "blowing the shofar is both an individual and a collective responsibility," its raw and haunting sound is meant to "wake us up," we are emotionally moved by the shofar's "inarticulate cry."
Rabbi Sacks closed by saying that with the shofar, "God is calling to us. God believes in us and knows what we are capable of achieving. The more we believe in God, the more God believes in us."
Rabbi Sack's delivered this concept with great emotion and certainty.
Yidden: May our good deeds, our deeds of loving kindness towards each other grow in this New Year so that by this time next year—who knows? We may merit an ultimate redemption.
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