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Thursday, June 5, 2014

from ..."Rabbi Jonathan Sacks--The Dignity Of Difference" transcript at with Krista Tippett


from ..."Rabbi Jonathan Sacks--The Dignity Of Difference" transcript at with Krista Tippett

Rabbi Sacks:  Yeah. It seems to me that one of the things we most fear is the stranger. And at most times in human history, most people have lived among people who are mostly pretty much the same as themselves. Today, certainly in Europe and perhaps even in America, walk down the average Main Street and you will encounter in 10 minutes more anthropological diversity than an 18th-century traveler would have encountered in a lifetime.
So you really have this huge problem of diversity. And you then go back and read the Bible and something hits you, which is we're very familiar with the two great commands of love: Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might; love your neighbor as yourself. But the one command reiterated more than any other in the mosaic box — 36 times said the rabbis — is love the stranger for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Or to put it in a contemporary way, love the stranger because, to him, you're a stranger. And this sense that we are enlarged by the people who are different from us — we are not threatened by them — that needs cultivating, can be cultivated, and would lead us to see the 21st century as full of blessing, not full of fear.

Rabbi Sacks:  What is the point of being a religious leader if you don't say something that's difficult for people who follow you? You know, you've got to challenge them and be challenged by them. You have to listen when they say, "Chief Rabbi, you're going too far or too fast for us to follow." Then you say, "OK, we'll slow it down, but I want you to come with me." I will not allow myself to be a lone voice within Judaism.

Rabbi Sacks:  I use metaphors. You know, each one may be helpful to some and not to others. One way is just to think, for instance, of biodiversity. The extraordinary thing we now know, thanks to Crick and Watson's discovery of DNA and the decoding of the human and other genomes, is that all life, everything, you know, all the 3 million species of life and plant life — all have the same source. We all come from a single source. Everything that lives has its genetic code written in the same alphabet. Unity creates diversity. So don't think of one God, one truth, one way. Think of one God creating this extraordinary number of ways, the 6,800 languages that are actually spoken. Don't think there's only one language within which we can speak to God.

Rabbi Sacks: The Bible is saying to us the whole time, don't think that God is as simple as you are. He's in places you would never expect him to be. And you know, we lose a bit of that in English translation because, when Moses at the burning bush says to God, "Who are you?" God says to him three words: "Hayah asher hayah." And those words are mistranslated in English as "I am that which I am." But in Hebrew, it means "I will be who or how or where I will be," meaning don't think you can predict me. I am a God who is going to surprise you. One of the ways God surprises us is by letting a Jew or a Christian discover the trace of God's presence in a Buddhist monk or a Sikh tradition of hospitality or the graciousness of Hindu life. You know, don't think we can confine God into our categories. God is bigger than religion.

Rabbi Sacks: By being what only I can be, I give humanity what only I can give. It is my uniqueness that allows me to contribute something unique to the universal heritage of humankind. I sum it up, the Jewish imperative, very simply — and it has been like this since the days of Abraham — to be true to your faith and a blessing to others regardless of their faith.

Ms. Tippett:  And come back to this complicated notion of this dance between what is particular and what is universal. I mean you said that the Bible argues that universalism is the first step, not the last step, in the growth of moral imagination.
Rabbi Sacks: Surely.

Ms. Tippett:  But I think you're also saying that the most vibrant contribution to plurality, to civil society, in fact is having a vital strong particular identity. Of course, it depends on how it's expressed, but that that in fact is the best hope for the sake of what is universal.
Rabbi Sacks:  Yeah, yeah. I mean, listen, I can't say honestly at my extreme age that I am seriously into rap music. But there's a Jewish Hassidic rap singer called Matisyahu. You've come across him?

Ms. Tippett:  I have not.
Rabbi Sacks: He's a very Orthodox Jew with a big hat and his fringes hanging out and he's got millions of young fans, most of whom aren't Jewish. Now you can't be more particularistically Jewish than Matisyahu. He's so Jewish and everyone can relate to him, Jewish or non-Jewish, because you know what? That's a distinctive voice and I think that's, for instance, why people relate to the Dalai Lama because he's different from us. You know, when you really reach the very depth of particularity, that is where all of us can relate to him or her and that's the big paradox.

Ms. Tippett: And it's a gift, it's a gift.
Rabbi Sacks: : It's a gift, you know, and I don't know why it is. But, you know, it's just — an Isaiah comes along and he delivers his prophecies and they're so particular to that faith, that place, that time. Yet I call Isaiah the poet laureate of hope in you. You know, at the height of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, at the very height of it, there he is quoting verbatim two lines from Isaiah, Chapter 40, the King James translation. I can't remember it — I don't know it so well in English — but, you know, I have a dream that one day every valley will be yada, yada and every mountain yada yada and all flesh will see it together.
You know, I doubt whether Isaiah 27 centuries ago in the Middle East could envisage the one day, you know, black civil rights activists will be moved by his words. But it's the particularity of Isaiah that spoke to a Martin Luther King. That's how we are as a people, you know. I don't know why it is, how it is, but it's the authentic, the unique, the different that makes us feel enriched when we encounter it. And it's this bland, plastic, synthetic, universal can't-tell-one-brand-of-coffee-from-another-brand-of-coffee that makes life flat, uninteresting, and essentially uncreative.

--Excerpts from ..."Jonathan Sacks--The Dignity Of Difference" transcript at with Krista Tippett

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