Rabbi Sacks on Being Jewish
JInsider (March 2010)
I have a little dream, it goes like this. You are wandering through an enormous library. [Like the] Library of Congress, yeah? We’ve got a big one in England, the British Library, it has millions of books. And you’re wandering through, and you’re looking at all the titles of the books and then suddenly you stop dead. There’s a book and on the title, it’s got your name. You take it out and see, what is this book that has your name written on it. And you open it up and you see that there are several hundred pages of that book written by many different hands in different languages. And you try to work out what this book is. And with a shock, you realise that this book has been written by your ancestors. Every single one of them has written a chapter in this book telling their story and handing it on to their children. And as you get to the end of the book, with a shock you see that that empty page has your name on it. And you realise that is the chapter that you have to write.
Now, you’re in the middle of this library. Can you just put that book on the shelf and walk away and forget it? I don’t think you can really, because if you did all those 200 generations of your ancestors would have kept that book going in vain because it would have stopped with you. I kind of think I couldn’t do that. If they put their faith in their children to keep the book going, then they have all put their faith in me. And I have to write my chapter in that book and when the time comes, give that book on to my children and grandchildren.
That is what it is to be a Jew. To be a Jew is to be part of the most remarkable story ever lived, by any people, covering more countries, more adverse circumstances, more triumphs and tragedies than any other story. And then the sudden realisation that every one of us has a chapter to write in that story and hand the book on. That is what it is to be a Jew.
And the second I realised that, I knew I couldn’t walk away. I had to write my chapter and then give the book to my children and grandchildren.