web analytics
July 7, 2015 / 20 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post


Defining Reality

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

One of the gifts of great leaders, and one from which each of us can learn, is that they frame reality for the group. They define its situation. They specify its aims. They articulate its choices. They tell us where we are and where we are going in a way no satellite navigation system could. They show us the map and the destination, and help us see why we should choose this route not that. That is one of their most magisterial roles, and no one did it more powerfully than did Moses in the book of Deuteronomy.

Here is how he does it at the beginning of this week’s parshah:

See, I am setting before you today the blessing and the curse – the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. (Deut. 11: 26-28)

Here, in even more powerful words, is how he puts it later in the book:

See, I set before you today life and the good, death and the bad… This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life so you and your children after you may live. (Deut. 30: 15, 19)

What Moses is doing here is defining reality for the next generation and for all generations. He is doing so as a preface to what is about to follow in the next many chapters, namely a systematic restatement of Jewish law covering all aspects of life for the new nation in its land.

Moses does not want the people to lose the big picture by being overwhelmed by the details. Jewish law with its 613 commands is detailed. It aims at the sanctification of all aspects of life, from daily ritual to the very structure of society and its institutions. Its aim is to shape a social world in which we turn even seemingly secular occasions into encounters with the Divine presence. Despite the details, says Moses, the choice I set before you is really quite simple.

We, he tells the next generation, are unique. We are a small nation. We have not the numbers, the wealth nor the sophisticated weaponry of the great empires. We are smaller even than many of our neighboring nations. As of now we do not even have a land. But we are different, and that difference defines once-and-for-all who we are and why. God has chosen to make us His stake in history. He set us free from slavery and took us as His own covenantal partner.

This is not because of our merits. “It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land” (Deut. 9: 5). We are not more righteous than others, said Moses. It is because our ancestors – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah – were the first people to heed the call of the one God and follow him, worshiping not nature but the Creator of nature, not power but justice and compassion, not hierarchy but a society of equal dignity that includes within its ambit of concern the widow, the orphan and the stranger.

Do not think, says Moses, that we can survive as a nation among nations, worshiping what they worship and living as they live. If we do, we will be subject to the universal law that has governed the fate of nations from the dawn of civilization to today. Nations are born, they grow, they flourish, they become complacent, then corrupt, then divided, then defeated, then they die, to be remembered only in history books and museums. In the case of Israel, small and intensely vulnerable, that fate will happen sooner rather than later. That is what Moses calls “the curse.”

About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.”


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

One Response to “Defining Reality”

  1. Beautiful presentation of the truth!

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei
Iranian Expert: Khamenei Says No to Signed Deal as Iran Already Getting All it Wants
Latest Judaism Stories
17th_of_Tammuz_(medium)_(english)

17th of Tammuz: Beginning 3 weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Avi Weiss

With Ruth, The Torah seems to be stating that children shouldn’t be punished for the sins of parents

Neihaus-070315

Without a foundation, one cannot hope to build a structure.

Torat-Hakehillah-logo-NEW

Why do we have a parsha in Sefer Shemos named after Yisro who was not only a former idolater, but actually served as a priest for Avodah Zarah!

Question: Should we wash our hands in the bathroom with soap and water, or by pouring water from a vessel with handles three times, alternating hands? I have heard it said that a vessel is used only in the morning upon awakening. What are the rules pertaining to young children? What is the protocol if no vessel is available? Additionally, may we dry our hands via an electric dryer?

Harry Koenigsberg
(Via E-Mail)

This Land Is ‘My’ Land
‘[If The Vow Was Imposed] In The Seventh Year…’
(Nedarim 42b)

The Shulchan Aruch in the very first siman states that one should rise in the morning like a lion, implying that simply rising form bed requires strength of a lion, in line with the Midrash.

Attempts to interpret the message of Hashem in the absence of divine prophecy ultimately may twist that message in unintended ways that can lead to calamitous events.

Suddenly, the pilot’s voice could be heard. He explained that this was a special day for those passengers on board who lived in Israel.

If the sick person is thrust into a situation where he is compelled to face his sickness head on, we who are not yet sick can encourage him by facing it with him.

All agree that Jews ARE different. How? Why? The Bible’s answer is surprising and profound.

What’s the nation of Israel’s purpose in the world? How we can bring God’s blessings into the world?

“Is there a difference between rescuing and other services?” asked Ploni.

To my dismay, I’ve seen that shidduch candidates with money become ALL desirable traits for marriage

Bil’am’s character is complex and nuanced; neither purely good nor purely evil.

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

All agree that Jews ARE different. How? Why? The Bible’s answer is surprising and profound.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Of Chukkim “Satan and the nations of the world made fun.” They may appear irrational & superstitious

Heaven answered Moshe dramatically. He was proved right. End of revolt. End of story- Not at all…

There’s no obligation TO wear tzitzit; opting to wear them symbolizes free acceptance of the mitzvot

Sadly, we’re no longer an edah; We’ve fissured and fractured: Orthodox & Reform; religious & secular

The desert, with its unearthly silence & emptiness, is the condition in which the Word can be heard

This week’s parshah inspired the Jubilee 2000 initiative leading to debt cancellation of $34 biilion

Rambam: Eating blood’s forbidden because connected to idolatry;Ramban: We’re affected by what we eat

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/defining-reality/2014/08/21/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: