Torah V’ Chochma: Judaism in the World (B’nei B’rith)
Read the transcript is of an address by Rabbi Sacks delivered to the 12th B’nei B’rith World Center “Jerusalem Address” in The Great Synagogue in Jerusalem on 17th June 2010.
In 1756, Voltaire, self-proclaimed defender of freedom and hero of the Enlightenment, published a virulently anti-Semitic essay about the Jews. They had, he said, contributed nothing original to human civilisation, no original art, no science, no philosophy. Even their religion was borrowed from others. They’ve done nothing original at all. That was in 1756.
Within the next 200 years there was an explosion from the Jewish people of brilliance and originality that you would find hard to find a parallel to in the whole of the intellectual history of humankind. Just to mention the obvious names; in physics, Einstein; in sociology, Durkheim; in Anthropology, Levi-Strauss; in philosophy, Bergmann and Wittgenstein; in music, Mahler and Schoenberg; in literature, Proust, Kafka, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Shai Agnon; in psychoanalysis, everyone. They gave the world everyone – from Isaiah Berlin to Irving Berlin; you name it, they did it. 28% of Nobel prizes in medicine, 26% of Nobel prizes in physics, 39% in economics, 47% of the world’s chess champions. You name it, the Jews contributed originally to civilisation. In fact, everywhere. You think about Apikorsim [heretics]; you want Apikorsim? We give the world’s best Apikorsim. Three of the four world’s greatest Apikorsim were Jews: Spinoza, Marx and Freud. The only one who wasn’t Jewish was Darwin. Why Darwin wasn’t Jewish, I have no idea, long beard, total Apikores – he had every qualification. Why he wasn’t Jewish, I don’t know. He must have been a random genetic mutation.
However, there is a “but”, and the “but” is this: the relationship between those thinkers and Judaism was at best total indifference and at worst, active hostility. Most of them abandoned Judaism. In the case of Marx and Wittgenstein, already their parents had abandoned Judaism. There were many like Marx and Freud – intensely opposed to religion as such.
And that is the unspoken tragedy of the modern Jewish mind. There is a Catholic historian called Paul Johnson who wrote a book some of you may have read called the History of the Jews. A brilliant book. In the History of the Jews Paul Johnson calls Rabbinic Judaism – and these were his words precisely – “an ancient and highly efficient social machine for the production of intellectuals”. That is how he described Rabbinic Judaism. And yet for the past 250 years Judaism has lost its intellectuals.
And I want to put the problem more sharply still. Correct me if I’m wrong; I think I’m not. Today there are more Jews studying at university than ever before in history. Today there are more Jews studying at Yeshiva than ever before in Jewish history. More than in the great days of Ponevitch and Volozhin, more even than in the great days of Sura and Pumbedita that produced the Talmud Bavli. And yet the connection between them, between the Yeshiva and the university, is less than ever before. There is a form of cerebral lesion in which the right and left hemispheres of the brain are both intact, but the connection between them is broken, and the result is dysfunction of the personality. Today I believe the Jewish people as a whole are suffering from a collective cerebral lesion.
To see how wrong this situation is, how at odds with fundamental Jewish values it is, I want to invite you for the next few minutes to come with me on an intellectual journey to trace what I see as the basic structure of the Jewish mind. It’s a very special structure, and it is shared by neither of the other Abrahamic monotheism – not Christianity, not Islam – nor is it shared by the mainstream of Western philosophical thought from Plato to Descartes to Kant and beyond. And I want you just to come with me on this journey to see what is the basic shape of the Jewish mind.
And let’s begin at the beginning. בראשית ברא אלוקים ]In the beginning God created[. No sooner do we step back and look at the first 11 chapters of Bereishit [Genesis], then we see something very odd indeed. What is the theme of the Chumash [Five Books of Moses] as a whole? What is the theme of Tanach [Old Testament] as a whole? The answer is absolutely clear. Rashi says so in his first comment to the word “Bereishit”. God created the world for the sake of “Reshit”, and what is “Reshit”? For the sake of Torah, which is called Reshit, and for the sake of Israel, which is called Reshit. The Chumash, the Tanach, is about the Jewish People – a particular people, a peculiar people, an “Am Segula”.
But the Torah does not begin with the Jewish People. It begins with something else completely; with a series of architypes of humanity as a whole: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, Babel and it’s builders. And it is not until those four episodes fail that the narrative narrows to focus on one man, one woman and their children – on Avraham and Sara, who become a family, who become a people. The Torah begins with the universal, and only then in chapter 12 לך לך מארצך [Go forth from your land] did it narrow in on the particular.
And I want to suggest that that structure – first universal then particular – is not just something about the shape of the Chumash, it is a basic form of the Jewish mind. So, for instance, take ברכת המזון [Grace after meals]. How does ברכת המזון begin? The first Bracha [blessing] is: הזן את העולם, הזן את הכל [Feed the world, feed all things]. We begin in paragraph one with God providing nourishment for everything, for the universe. It’s universal. Only then do we turn to /על הארץ ועל המזון to the land of Israel; that particular slice of the universe. And only then, even more particularly, to רחם על ירושלים [Have mercy on Jerusalem]. So you see how it moves from the universal to the particular.
In קריאת שמע [Hear O Israel, communal prayer]; What is the first blessing of all creation? Know what’s it about? יוצר המאורות [Creator of the heavens]. It’s about God: יוצר אור ובורא חושך עושה שלום ובורא את הכל [Maker of light and creator darkness, creator of peace and creator of all]. That first paragraph is still with the universe; only then with אהבה רבה/אהבת עולם [Great love/Eternal love] do we turn to the particularity of God’s love for one people, for our people.
And the reason that I say the movement from the universal to the particular is a basic feature of the Jewish mind is, not least, because it is not a feature of any other mind. Let me explain. Alfred North Whitehead once described Western philosophy as a series of footnotes to Plato. And as far as Plato is concerned, knowledge begins with the particular. You look at this person, this chair, this microphone, this tree – and as you begin to learn and understand, you begin to realise that what’s interesting is not this tree but tree-ness; not this chair, but chair-ness; not this person, but the universal things that make a person a person. So you begin with the particular but you grow by moving to the universal. And anything not universal didn’t interest Plato. And the whole of Western thought is like that. In the Enlightenment for instance, to be attached to your locality or your family was something regarded as parochial. If you wanted to be a good French revolutionary you had to be concerned with the universal: with equality, liberty, fraternity, with everyone. Enlightened thinkers weren’t interested in the particular or parochial. All they cared about was the universal. So, the whole of Western thought from Plato begins with the particular and ends in the universal.
The Jewish thought pattern is exactly opposite. The Torah begins with the universal and then we climb to the particular. We hold that the particular is higher than the universal. In other words, the Torah is the West’s greatest counter-Platonic narrative. Let’s move on.
Not only do we have the stories for universal and then followed by the particular, but look at the covenant of Bereishit [Genesis]. Bereishit is extraordinary because you would have thought, if God makes a covenant, that’s all you need. But in fact Bereishit tells us about two covenants. The first one, in Bereishit Chapter 9, with Noah and through him all humanity – a universal covenant. And in Bereishit 17, He makes a particular covenant with Avraham and his family. So we see there are two covenants, the first one is universal, the second one is particular. Now let’s move on.
Biblical scholars are all intrigued by the fact that in Bereishit and in Torah generally, there are two names of God. How come there are two names of God? There is only one God, how come he has two names? What are the names?
“Elokim” and “Hashem”. Now, you know that Chazal [the Sages] said אלוקים זה מידת הדין השם זה מידת הרחמים [Elokim is the attribute of justice, Hashem is the attribute of mercy]. However what I want you to reflect on is a much different, and to my mind much more profound, insight of Rabbi Yehudah Halevi in the Kuzari. Yehudah Halevi in the Kuzari says something so fundamental, it’s mind-blowing. He says Hashem and Elokim are not just two different words; they’re words of two different types. What is Elokim? Yehudah Halevi explains – and we know this historically – that the Canaanites in general, idolaters and polytheists in ancient times, took the forces of nature to be gods. There’s a god of the sun, there’s a god of the sea, or a goddess of the sea, Baal is the god of thunder and rain. Each natural force has a god. And the Canaanites called their god “El”.
Now, since we believe that every natural force was created by Hashem and there is only one creator, we put all those forces together in a box and call them collectively Elokim, meaning the totality of all forces operative in the universe. And that is what Elokim means: it’s a generic noun. However Hashem isn’t a noun at all. What is Hashem? According to Yehudah Halevi, Hashem is a proper name. I’m called Jonathan. Fred is called Fred. Hashem is called Hashem. It’s his name. You meet Hashem privately at a reception, you say “Hi, Hashem”. It’s a proper name. Now, you know that we only give personal names to persons. Is that right? No, the Brits give them to dogs. The Brits respect dogs much more than persons. Maybe if you love your old crank car you give it a name. But when you give something a name, you are relating to that personally, and that is what Hashem is. Hashem is not an abstraction: Hashem is the personal God who has a personal name, and the use of a personal name implies a personal relationship, a friendship and even intimacy. I know I am far from home. I’m still, I hope, Her Majesty’s Chief Rabbi. And I want to tell you this, that if you meet Her Majesty, don’t call her Liz. You have to have known her a little while before you can do that. So, when you call a queen, a king by a personal name, that implies real intimacy, and if you don’t have that intimacy, you’ll end up in the tower of London, or you won’t get invited back to Buckingham Palace.
So, we have now two names for God. One, Elokim, is an abstract noun, and number two is a proper name. Number one, the abstract noun, implies distance, detachment, it’s impersonal. The forces of nature are impersonal. The other one is personal and it implies closeness and attachment. And that difference between those two are what Yehudah Halevi called the “God of Aristotle” and the “God of Abraham”. You can get to Elokim by being a philosopher; you can only get to Hashem by being a prophet or part of the people of prophets.
Now, we make the next discovery that in Bereishit – in fact, generally in the Tanach – God appears to non-Jews. You think you have to be Jewish for God to appear to you? He appears to non-Jews. For instance he appears to Avimelech. When Avimelech complains to God, how come you ill-treated me because I took this man’s wife and I didn’t know she was actually his wife, etcetera. What does Yosef say to Potiphar’s wife? This steamy Hollywood seduction that doesn’t quite happen. He says, “If I say yes to you and I betray your husband וחטאתי לאלוקים [and I would sin to God]. Joseph takes it for granted that an Egyptian woman will understand the word Elokim. Pharaoh himself, when he speaks about Yosef who has interpreted his dreams, he says הנמצא כזה איש שרוח אלוקים בו [Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom the spirit of God is]? Egyptians understood the word Elokim, at least the concept. But Hashem? Absolutely not. What does Pharaoh say when Moshe Rabbeinu comes along and says in the name of Hashem, מי ה’? לא ידעתי את ה’ [Who is God? I know him not]. So, Elokim turns out to be universal; you don’t have to be Jewish to have a relationship with Elokim. But Hashem is a particular; only Jews can relate to Hashem. But now let’s take a further step.
What is the primary way in which we encounter Elokim? What’s the most obvious way people encounter Elokim?בראשית ברא אלוקים [In the beginning God created]. In creation. That’s what Elokim means. God is the creator of everything in nature, he is the force of forces, the cause of causes, the prime mover, the source of being, God is the god of creation. The Greeks could understand that. Aristotle could understand that. However, once we start dealing with personal relationships – Bereishit 2 – already human beings have names, and He begins to relate to them and they begin to relate to Him and already for the first time the word Hashem appears. God is called in Bereishit 2 and Bereishit 3, ה’ אלוקים [Hashem Elokim]) and in Bereishit 4 Hashem. So, when God enters a personal relationship, he becomes Hashem.
So, you are beginning to see a whole picture built up? You have the universal, you have the particular, you have the covenant with Noah and all humanity, the covenant with Abraham and one particular people. You have Elokim and you have Hashem, you have the God of creation everyone can relate to, and then you have the God of revelation that only the people of revelation – Abrahams’ children – can relate to. As Elokim, God appears to Jew and non-Jew alike, but only to Jews, only to זרע אברהם [the seed of Avraham] does he appear as Hashem. Now, that’s a massive structure beginning to build up, and no sooner have we said this that we discover – and here is a lovely long word for you – that Judaism has a dual epistemology as well. I can see Rabbi Cardozo nodding his head. You studied philosophy Rabbi Cardozo. I wouldn’t inflict it on you in this heat, so let me explain; epistemology is a very posh way of saying “knowledge”.
So, there are two forms of knowledge in Judaism. Most other systems have one form of knowledge – either you know or you don’t know – there’s only one thought. In Judaism there are two, and nowhere do we see this more clearly than in a famous statement of the Midrash which says:
אם אומרים לך יש חוכמה בגויים, תאמין, אם אומרים לך יש תורה בגויים, אל תאמין/
If they say to you there is wisdom among non-Jews, believe it, if they say to you there is Torah among non-Jews, don’t believe it. So, we have two forms of knowledge: one called “Chochma” [wisdom], one called “Torah” [Bible]. Chochma is a biblical category; there are things called Sifrey Chochma. Which books of the bible are Sifrey Chochma? Mishlei, Kohelet, Job, Shir HaShirim [Song of Songs] to some degree. Overwhelmingly, the source of Chochma, the root of Chochma, appears in those three books far more than any other book of the Torah. The word Chochma appears in Mishlei 103 times, in Kohelet 53 times, in Job 31 times. And that is why they are known as the “wisdom literature”. And it’s very interesting, the wisdom is universal. Do you know where the word Chochma or the root Chacham appears in Bereishit? Specifically in connection with Egypt. Pharaoh says about Joseph or to Joseph, אין נבון וחכם כמוך [There is no one wise and smart like you]. There are חכמי מצרים[wisemen of Egypt] Pharaoh says, הבה נתחכמה לו [Let’s outsmart them].
So Chochma is universal. Egyptians have it no less than we have it. However, which aspect of God does Chochma most appear in Psalms and in Proverbs and in Job? The answer is “creation”. מה רבו מעשיך ה’, כולם בחכמה עשית [O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all]
So, what Chochma yields is science. God exists in Creation. The Torah of course is not universal תורה היא מורשה קהילת יעקב [Torah is the Patrimony of the community of Jacob]. God gave it to us. Moshe Rabbeinu says at the end of life מי גוי גדול אשר לו חוקים ומשפטים צדיקים ככל התורה הזאת, [And what great nation is there, that hath statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law ]. Who else has a Torah like our Torah? Tehilim, that we say every single day, מגיד דבריו ליעקב חוקיו ומשפטיו לישראל לא עשה כן לכל גוי[He declareth His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation]. He didn’t give Torah to anyone else, but he gave Chochma to everyone else, potentially. So, we see another duality between Chochma on one hand and Torah on the other. What is Chochma? The truth we discover. What is Torah? The truth we inherent, מורשה קהילת יעקב [The Patrimony of the community of Jacob]. What is Chochma? Chochma – wisdom – is the universal heritage of humankind. Torah is the specific heritage of Israel. Chochma – wisdom – we attain by being in the image of God. Rashi says, להבין ולהשכיל [To understand and become educated]. But Torah we acquire by being the Children of God, the People of God. Chochma is achieved by listening and by seeing and reasoning, Torah is achieved by listening and responding. Chochma tells what is, Torah tells us what we ought to be. Chochma is about creation, Torah is about revelation.
And I want us to easily resolve what appears to be a flat contradiction. You remember what the Rambam said? קבל האמת ממי שאמרה/Accept the truth, who ever said it. Did Chazal believe this? They said something exactly the opposite. What did they say? כל האומר דבר בשם אומרו מביא גאולה לעולם /Whoever says something in the name of he who said it brings redemption to the world. Here’s a flat contradiction: the Rambam says, who said it is irrelevant, the only thing that matters is, is it true. According to Chazal, who said it is essential. Are they in contradiction? The answer is quite clear, there is no contradiction. The Rambam is talking about Chochma, Chazal are talking about Torah. When it comes to Chochma – wisdom, science – who said it is irrelevant. If Einstein had not discovered relativity, somebody else would have discovered it. Obviously, somebody Jewish, because we all have relatives, more than any other people on the earth, but if he hadn’t discovered it, someone else would have. Who discovered Chochma is irrelevant. What matters is, is it true. But Torah, which is the truth, we inherit. It makes all the difference who we inherited it from. What is its provenance? What was the chain of transmission? So, now if you take everything we’ve said so far, we have traced through a whole series of iterations in Judaism. A duality at the very heart of the Jewish mind, between the universal and the particular. That is translated into biblical narrative, it is translated into the idea of covenant, it is translated into the idea of the different names of God. It’s there in the different ways we know things. It is a duality that is fundamental to Judaism. And now let us locate it on the map of Jewish faith.
According to the Rambam, there are 13 principles of Jewish faith, but according to the Tashbetz, (and I’m not going to spend time on this because I’ve written about it in my introduction to the Sidur) all of Jewish faith can be grouped into three headings: creation, revelation and redemption. I show in the Sidur how this works in the Sidur. The relationship between God and the world, is what? Creation. The relationship between God and us, is what? Revelation. And once you apply revelation to creation the result is redemption.
And now we come to the issue that I’ve been driving towards all along. If the whole purpose of Judaism is to apply revelation to creation, to apply Torah to the world, how can we apply Torah to the world if we don’t understand the world? Let me give you an example. It’s a really sad example. There was a time when Elaine and I and our kids, a long time ago – in another lifetime – just before I took up the Chief rabbinate, we came, we said, you know? You remember what Augustin said about virtue, he said dear god, give me virtue, but not yet. So, we said to Anglo Jewry, OK, if you have to give us the Chief Rabbinate so do so, but not yet; we want to take a year and just sit and inhale the air of ירושלים עיר הקודש [The holy city of Jerusalem].
So we came to ירושלים עיר הקודש [the holy city of Jerusalem] to find peace, and with our Mazal [luck] we found ourselves in the middle of the First Golf War. Do you remember that time? 39 times we had to dash into the safe room with the gas masks. And you remember, you got me the gas mask, because we were neither tourists nor citizens. We were in a mess, the honorable Yehudah Avner – he writes great books, but he’s really good if you need a gas mask. And do you know what? You remember what happened, Yehudah? Just before the war begins an announcement is made on the radio, on the television: Good news, gas masks. Bad news is if you’ve got a beard it doesn’t work. So, came the first siren. Elaine and kids dived into the gas masks. I take off my beard. The all-clear is sounded. The kids shriek, “who is that strange man?” Elaine goes, “Oh, here’s the man I got engaged to” and the next morning I went out to see a sight that I thought had never been seen ever in history, a sight of Yerushalayim without beards. Forget it!. It turned out that in the whole of Yerushalayim I was the only shlemiel who followed instructions.
As you know, throughout all those 39 scud missile attacks, Baruch Hashem, only one person was directly killed by a scud missile. Miracle after miracle. But there was one casualty – I don’t know if your mind goes back almost 19 years ago – there was one casualty. It was family stress. Families were not used to spending that much time in a sealed room together, and the mayor of Yerushalayim set up a working group. And I received a phone call asking whether I would be the Rabbi on the working group on family stress. And I collapsed again laughing: “You have no Rabbis in Jerusalem?” They said: “Well, nobody who understands family stress and nobody who is trained in family psychodynamics”. And I thought to myself: God of the Universe, if religious Jews, believing Jews, Bnai Torah, don’t understand science or literature or economics or political philosophy or the dynamics of family therapies, then תורה מונחת בקרן זווית [Torah is placed in a corner], the Torah is marginalised, must be sidelined, because it becomes irrelevant to the real life problems that we live through and that society is going through today.
If you do not understand the world, then you cannot apply Torah to the world. Your whole Torah will be only capable of surviving in an artificially protected environment. What will happen is what Chazal said happened, בכל יום ויום בת קול יוצאת מהר חורב ומכרזת ואומרת: אוי להם לבריות מעלבונה של תורה [Every day a voice comes out of Mount Chorev and declares and says: Oy to the creatures from the Torah’s insult]. Torah is humiliated because it doesn’t relate to any real issue that society is facing today. When Torah ceases to be the foundation of the society and becomes instead the possession of a sect which has to defend itself by erecting high walls against the world outside, then Torah is not doing what it’s supposed to do. Religion becomes one thing, life becomes another, and that’s not how it’s supposed to be. Torah, Mitzvahs are supposed to be חיינו ואורך ימינו, Our lives and the lengths of our days. And if Torah ceases to have anything to say about the structure of the economy or, for heaven sakes, the ethics of business, or the ethics of public life, or the breakdown of family, or the way of political structure should be conducted, then Judaism is going to appear to the world in Israel, in America, in Europe as on the one hand, a group of religious sects, and on the other a Jewish majority which is secular, deracinated, has no living connection with our heritage. Is that possible? Is that what Judaism is supposed to be? Whatever happened to the idea that חוכמתכם ובינתכם לעיניי העמים, This is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the people. What was supposed to happen is that ויראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם השם נקרא עליך, Everyone in the world will see that God’s name is written on you, that you are the visible embodiments of God’s will on Earth.
I have to tell you, whatever happened to the religion that 2000 years ago instituted a Bracha [blessing] on seeing Chachmey Akum – a wise person, let’s say a great scientist, even though he or she may be an idolater, you still make a Bracha over that person. Why? Because that person has Chochma. Fred, you mentioned getting an honorary doctorate. They are a lot easier than the real thing, I have to tell you. I made that Bracha. I received, way back, an honorary doctorate at the same time as James Watson. He discovered DNA. I made a Bracha. A couple of years ago, I was with the Nobel prize winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney. I said, “Seamus, would you mind – I want to make a Bracha over you. This is a very ancient blessing”. And he had been taking part in our national Holocaust memorial day. And we had a number of Jews there, so I gathered together a Minyan of Jews and I made the Bracha over Seamus. And I have to tell you this: this Christian Irish poet, when you get a Nobel prize, they give you a little lapel pin, and he pointed to his lapel pin – and this is not a schmoozer, you understand? This is one of the world’s greatest poets – he said: “Receiving that blessing from you means as much to me as this”. We were a religion so open minded, so capable of admiring wisdom wherever it came from, that we coined a special blessing for this. Where do you see this today? Where do our children, learned in Torah, overloaded with Torah, beautiful children, open to the beauty of Chochma, which is universal. Where do we see them connecting with real life when Torah and Chochma are utterly divorced? When there is that cerebral lesion Torah losses its connection with the world. Revelation ceases to engage with creation, and we lose the sense of our supreme principle of faith with which we culminate our prayers at the very climax of Ne’ilah – seven times we say ה’ הוא האלוקים, the God of revelation is the God of creation, the God of the word is also the God of the world.
Friends, now I know that not all Chochma is permitted. The Sages were very clear in making a distinction between Chochma as such and what they call חוכמה יוונית [Greek wisdom] which they didn’t like at all, and quiet reasonably so. By that they meant the culture of the Stoics, the Cynics and the Epicureans. Today we’d say the science, the culture of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and these guys, the angry atheists I call them, the intellectual equivalence of Road Rage . So, that’s חוכמה יוונית. You don’t need to read Richard Dawkins. That’s not science as science; that is science as myth. But I have to tell you, without a compelling defense of faith, without a literate, informed articulation of faith, we will continue to lose our best minds the way have lost them for 250 years. And we will fail in God’s mandate to the Jewish People to be a transformative presence in the midst of humanity by applying revelation to creation and thereby hastening redemption. All we have to do without compromising one single syllable of Halacha, without muting one syllable of Emunah, is to understand the world so that we can speak to the world. And then we will discover, as I have discovered, that when you are willing to speak to the world – and the world I speak to is often another world of non-Jews – when you speak to non-Jews without comprising your faith one little bit – you discover the Torah תורה אמת ומשה אמת [Torah is truth and Moshe is truth] that non-Jews really do appreciate כי חכמתכם ובינתכם לעיניי העמים [For this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples].
And friends, if I say this about גלות כפולה ומכופלת [exile twice over, which is called England], if you can speak to the world in England, how much more so is this message necessary here, in the State of Israel, the only place in all of the 4,000 years of Jewish history during which time Jews have lived virtually every place on earth and under virtually every kind of regime on earth, but in all those years there only ever was one place, here, where Jews could actually construct a society in accordance with our ideals, where they could actually build an economy, a polis, a culture, based on the principle of justice and compassion as set out in the Torah. As Rambam says, and he is right, ‘כי העיקר כל המצוות ליושבים בארץ ה’, All the commandments, not just the commandments that apply only to the Land of Israel, are truly lived only in Israel because here they are lived in a land which is Jewish, in a language which is Jewish, in a calendar which is Jewish. If I can make this case in Britain how much more does it mean to be made here in Israel.
Friends, we know that not everyone will choose this route, of Torah V’ Chochma, of the universal as well as the particular. I admit it’s hard. I admit it’s intellectually demanding. But let me assure you; there is not one challenge in the world today – not one moral challenge, not one philosophical challenge, not one spiritual challenge, not one societal challenge – that Torah does not have the answer to. I believe this with perfect faith. I have never yet come across a problem that cannot be enlightened and inspired by Torah and many of my books are read more by non-Jews than by Jews and all I’m doing is taking God’s word and applying it to God’s world.
Friends, Torah V’ Chochma – our particular and unique heritage as applied to the universe as a whole – this is the spiritual challenge of Judaism and this alone will reunite the divided twin hemispheres of the Jewish brain. It really matters. And friends, I say this because too few people are saying this in the Orthodox world today.
And therefore, let me just finish with an obvious proposition, but I say it because I mean it with all my heart. A couple of weeks ago we read the extraordinary, extraordinary story of how the Meraglim [spies] got things completely wrong. They went and they said: “You know? The people are giants, we are grasshoppers. Their cities are impregnable”. They were terrified. And we know from the Haftarah of Parashat Shlach, from the lady in Jericho, they were 100 percent wrong. The inhabitants of the land were terrified of the Israelites. What’s more, the Israelites knew this because only a little while earlier they themselves had said אז נבהלו אלופי אדום אילי מואב יאחזמו רעד [Then were the chiefs of Edom affrighted; the mighty men of Moab, trembling taketh hold upon them]. Did they not remember what they said at the sea? They were terrified of us, it’s not that we were terrified of them. They made crazy mistakes. What went wrong?
And Rashi gives us the clue that unlocks the whole episode: Moshe Rabbeinu tells them to see מה הערים אשר הוא יושב בהנה, אם במחנים אם במבצרים. Go see the land, what it’s like in the cities in which they dwell. Are they open or are they walled with defensive walls? And the spies come back and they say the cities are betzurut [fortified], surrounded by very high walls. In Devarim, when Moshe retells the story, he even says they said the walls reached to heaven. And the spies concluded that if the cities are strong the people are strong. And that was the mistake. As Rashi says in his comment, אם במבצרים הם יושבים סימן שחלשים הם, If they live in fortified cities, this proves that they’re weak. אם במחנים הם יושבים, סימן הוא שחזקים הם שסומכים על גבורתם, If they live in unwalled cities, that is when they’re strong, because they don’t need walls to defend them, they rely on their own strength.
Whoever said it is a sign of the strength of Judaism that it has to lived behind high walls. That’s not a sign of strength, that is a sign of weakness. Strength means you don’t need walls to separate you from the world, because your faith is strong and you believe that God’s word is right for God’s world and you fear nobody, לדוד השם אורי וישעי [Of David. The Lord is my light and my salvation].
Who said I went to Oxford? Fred was right. I went to Cambridge and I went to Oxford. I decided to hedge my bets. In evel [mourning] and during Asseret Yemey Hatshuvah [Ten Days of Repentance] and a little while afterwards we say לדוד השם אורי וישעי [Of David: The Lord is my light and my salvation]. You know that is the motto of Oxford University. If you look at the Oxford University shield it says: “Dominus illuminatio mea”, God is my light and my salvation. ממי אירא? Whom then should I fear from?
Friends, don’t look at the Judaism that lives behind high walls of separation between itself and society and say that is Jewish strength. Forgive me. That is Jewish weakness. Strength is the courage to face the world without fear, because you know God is with you, because you know God’s Torah will guide you through every challenge conceivable. Friends, let us join Torah V’ Chochma, let us join the yeshiva and the university. Let us reconnect the twin hemispheres into a brain. Let us have a Judaism of Torah V’ Chochma, unafraid to face the world, unafraid to be symbols and exemplars of God’s Torah to all humanity.
Thank you very much.