To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility by Rabbi Lord Johnathan Sacks: Insights

Become co-authors with God of the world that ought to be

“We are here to make a difference, to mend the fractures of the world, a day at a time, an act at a time, for as long as it take to make it a place of justice and compassion” ~Rabbi Sacks

1. How to lead a meaningful life?

“Those mourned were not the most successful, rich or famous. They were the people who enhanced the life of others. They were truly loved. The best predictor of happiness is the sense that you have a purpose in life. Happiness is the ability to say: I lived for certain values and acted on them. I was part of a family, embracing it and being embraced by it. I was part of a community, honoring it’s traditions, sharing in its griefs and joys, ready to help others, knowing that they were ready to help me. I did not only ask what I could take; I asked what I could contribute. To know that you made a difference, that in this all-too-brief span of years you lifted someone’s spirits, relieved someones poverty of loneliness, or brought a moment of grace or injustice to the world that would not have happened without you.”

Only a life lived for others is a life worth while. ~Albert Einstein

2. Being Holy must lead to being good

“The prophets warned against a rift between the holy and the good, our duties to god and to our fellow human beings. There are those for whom serving god means turning inward to the life of ritual and prayer. There are others for whom social justice has become a substitute for religious observance of god. The message of the Hebrew Bible is that serving god and serving our fellow human beings are inseparably linked. Unless the holy leads us outward toward the good, and the good leads us back for renewal to the holy the creative energies of faith run dry.”

3. What makes the Jewish people great

“Shakespeare: some are born great;others achieve greatness, while others have greatness thrust upon them. Jews unexceptional, often stubborn and rebellious made great by being asked to do great things. “

“I believe that all of us are made in the image of god and that each culture has a contribution to make to the human heritage.”

3. Importance of responsibility

According to Rabbi Sacks, postmodern secular culture tends to under-emphasize the importance of responsibility.

There are several variations of an ethical life- civic ethic, ethic of duty, ethic of honor and ethic of responsibility. God call us to accept responsibility and become his partners in the work of creation. The bible is not humankind’s book of god but the opposite, god’s book of human kind. We learn from the bible that God is very much involved in human history.

A famous example of this from the bible is when Abraham exercises collective responsibility when he prays for Sodom.

4. Importance of human association and community

“Each of us is the image of god, but each of us is also incomplete and therefore we seek the company of others. Out of this come the gradually widening forms of association: marriage, the family, the tribe, the community, market(coming together to trade) society and the state (coming together to defend against enemies). “

Adam Smith claims that seeking our own gain benefits the ecosystem. One known contradiction to this is prisoners dilemma where acting in one’s best interest actually creates an outcome that is not overall good for the system. We can learn from this the the group needs to develop cooperation, based on trust. In a community, when you share you have more, not less.

5. Always be an ambassador

Kidush Hashem- (=sanctifying God’s name) is a major theme in Jewish thought. Your work, character and life should be a living “advertisement” for god.

The nation of Israel’s role is to be an example. We are gods ambassadors on earth, by translating his words into deeds. Therefore, when Israel is exiled, this is a desecration of god’s name.

Another aspect of kidush hashem was under Greek and Roman rule, where ‘sanctifying god’s name’ has come to mean martyrdom. Being loyal to god even more than life itself. Jews throughout history were ready to go to their deaths rather than to embrace another faith.

6. Find your why, life’s purpose

“Where are you”, God asks in the bible. This is the question heard by those who have internalized the ethic of responsibility. What have you done with the gift I gave you of life? Have you sought blessing, or have you been a blessing?

Life purpose Quotes from the book-

#Even the smallest good deed can change someones life.

#Where what we want to do and what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be.

#That each situation in which we find ourselves did not happen by accident: we are here, now, in this place, among these people, in these circumstances, so that we can do the act or say the word that will heal one of the fractures of the world.

#Those who spend at least part of their lives in service of others are the most fulfilled and happiest people.

“When I was young I wanted to change the world. I tried, but the world did not change. Then I tried to change my town, but the town did not change. Then I tried to change my family, but my family did not change.

Then I knew: first, I must change myself.”( R Israel Salanter)

At the end of this books he lists a few life lessons he’s learned. I listed a few of them in this previous post.

Jewish wife and mother, pursuing a life of happiness and meaning