Rabbi Sacks on Torah in Today’s World
JInsider (March 2010)
One of the things that’s so extraordinary about Torah is that it is so ancient, but it is so contemporary. So for instance, the major programme of international debt relief was actually called Jubilee 2000, because it’s based on the biblical concept of Yovel which is in the 25th chapter of the book of Vayikra, which is all debts are cancelled in the year of release and all property that you’ve had to sell returns to its original owners. And of course in America, you remember that, because one verse of that chapter is engraved on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. So there is an ancient, ancient biblical law, which has been governing international finance for the last ten years.
When the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Britain launched his Child Poverty Action programme, he asked me to help launch it. And of course, [in Judaism we prioritise alleviating] child poverty – our insistence on tzedakah as relieving poverty, and children are the most vulnerable – [so] he asked a Rabbi to help him launch that government programme of action, because he himself got his social conscience from reading the Bible. I think if you’re talking about economic policy, poverty release and so on, then you’re going back to Biblical wisdom.
We sent a biblical message to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. And of course, the most appropriate words were the words spoken 2000 years ago by the Rabbis in a Midrash in which God says to Adam, “Look at the beauty of this universe. All I have created I have made for you. Be careful, therefore, that you do not destroy what I made, because if you do, there will be no one left to repair the damage.”
Now that was said 2,000 years ago. Environmental ethics didn’t come on the agenda of the world until Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring back in 1947. So this ancient wisdom is so immediate and relevant. And that makes me think, don’t seriously doubt that you can hear God’s voice through this Torah because somehow or another, the eternal wisdom must come from the eternal Himself. So there’s hardly a day goes by, when politicians or social activists don’t ask me for my thoughts on such and such, and to find an answer, you open the book of books. It speaks to us in every age.