Rabbi Sacks on Daily Life

JInsider (March 2010)

Here are some Jewish things: Get up in the morning, and before you have even opened the newspaper or switched on the television to know what terrible news is going to happen, you say, “Modeh ani lefanecha, thank You, God, for giving me another day of life.” And I’ve got to tell you, whether it’s a great day or it’s a terrible day, it’s better than no day at all. So the very first words you say, as a Jew, make you feel life a little more vividly.

You come and you have your first cup of coffee. Look, I love a first cup coffee. That’s great. But you say, “shehakol nihiyeh bidvaro,” and the second you say that, you suddenly realise, “Hey guys, think of how many people in how many different lands work together to bring that to me. Thank You, God, for making me part of a world in which we’re all doing different things to help one another.” And there’s hardly a thing we use, or do, which didn’t involve an awful lot of people working together.

If I am able to give one little smile to somebody on the bus or the train to work, you know, [they might think] “Why did that guy smile at me? Hey, maybe the world isn’t that bad after all. Because somebody gave me a smile, it must mean he likes me.” Now, when I finish davening, I get the feeling that the Almighty likes us. So I try and smile after I come out of shul, because if God loves us, can we do less than – what do they call it? – pay it forward. Love somebody else. And my goodness me, you come home at the end of the day of work and you meet your eshet chayil mi’imtza, you suddenly see your wife, and you suddenly realise, “Hey, in the whole of human civilisation, no religion ever saw faith as a marriage, as love.” That’s the way Judaism is. So in the relationship between husband and wife is captured the whole beauty and glory of the relationship between God and us. And I think Jews work at their marriages and make them very holy.

Our kids are grown up already, but when I listen to our grandchildren then I remember a wonderful argument between the Babylonian Talmud in the Jerusalem Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud says, “The greatest pleasure in life is to be able to teach Torah to your grandchildren.” The Jerusalem Talmud says, “The greatest pleasure in your life is to have your grandchildren teach Torah to you.” And when this first happened with our grandchildren, “Ah!” I said. “I didn’t know life got that good!”

Judaism is a sustained discipline and seeing the beauty of every day life and the thousands of blessings by which we are surrounded, if only we would open our eyes. Judaism is a way of opening our eyes to the wonder of the world.