Rabbi Sacks on Indifference

JInsider (March 2010)

I once said to somebody, “You know, the biggest problems in life are ignorance and indifference.” And he replied, “Well, I don’t know, and even if I did, I couldn’t care.” So you take the point that, somehow or other, indifference is a kind of deadness of the soul. You’re all muffled in layers and wrappings of self-absorption and that kind of inability to be moved by events and people. That really is a kind of deadness of the soul.

I think of that moment when Moses, as a young man, goes out and sees his people. The Bible describes it very, very simply in just a few words. Vayigdal Moshe vayeitse el echav vehaya besivlotam. He grew up, he went out to his brothers, and he saw their suffering. And you know that that is the decisive moment in his life, because he sees people’s suffering and he understands these are my people. I cannot walk away.

And I think anyone with any kind of soul feels that moment at a certain point of time. Just think of Moses, the life in front of him, prince of Egypt, life in a palace, power, wealth, whatever you want. How would you put it today? The little summer house in Cap d’Antibes, the Lamborghini to do the shopping and this kind of stuff, wardrobe full of Armani suits, everything you ever wanted. That’s what Moses had stretching in front of him on the one hand. On the other, a life of adversity, leading a people, who are pretty difficult to lead, through 40 years of a desert. How did he choose to do that rather than that? Had he chosen that way, he would have lived a life of luxury and he would be forgotten two days after he died. Here was a life of adversity and we still haven’t forgotten him 33 centuries later. Why did he make that choice? Because when we see our brothers and sisters suffering, if there is the tiniest spark of Moses in us, we cannot walk away.