By Lord Rabbi Jonathon Sacks
Reviewed by Ch, Capt Mordechai Z. Hecht, USAFR, JB Langley-Eustis
When a book contains chapters with titles like, “Violence in the Name of G-d,” “Challenging G-d,” “The White Lie,” and “Does My Father Love Me?” to name a few, you know that this book is going to be good. How does one explain that G-d regretted creating man (Genesis 6:5), what would Freud say, how postmodernists would approach this topic, and most importantly, what the Torah’s view is. Rabbi Sacks, with his brilliant and succinct tone, lays it all out. In one line he answers the question on what is the purpose of life: “Respect for the integrity of creation, reverence for human life—that which bears the image of G-d.”
It is a worthwhile endeavor to indulge in this book as the author grapples with the takeaways of neo-Darwinism, survival of the fittest, and game theory. It only took Rabbi Sacks a few hundred words to lay out all these ideas and come away with a priceless life hack and stellar advice, doing so in two words generosity and cooperation—the world cannot survive without them. And where does he learn this from?Not Darwin, Anatol Rapoport, or Polish mathematician Martin Nowak, but from the pages of an ancient work—the Bible—with the story of Noah and the Flood (Genesis 9:6). It is simply brilliant!
Who said, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Genesis 18:23-25), and to whom did he say it? Some of us know that it was Abraham who said this to G-d. Initially this sounds like chutzpah (audacity) toward G-d, does it not? However, as Rabbi Sacks so beautifully shows, G-d actually wants our input and feedback (Genesis 18:17-19). G-d taught Abraham from a young age about tzedek (righteousness) and mishpat (justice), which is akin to the military code of justice or the Geneva Conventions if you will, and when Abraham saw something awry he spoke up wisely, compassionately, and rightfully so. As in the words of Stuart Hampshire, audi alteram partem – “hear the other side” (also known these days as a “hearing”).
As the saying goes, “Truth is in the eye of the beholder.” But doesn’t the Torah remind us to “keep away from falsehoods” (Exodus 23:7)? Rabbi Sacks explain how Joseph’s brothers, in their process of repenting for their sins toward him, and fearing his revenge, in fact tell him of a non-existent request that his father made of him in order to push him to forgive them (Genesis 50:16-17). Sometimes it’s not what we say but why we say it. With peace and harmony in mind, sometimes we bend the truth (with sensitivity) for the sake of peace.
The author uniquely and eloquently draws you back into the scenes of ancient history, shows you the less known dynamics, creatively puts the pieces together, and returns alongside you back to the present, with the understanding and values of our great heritage practically in hand.
This book is priceless. It’s written perfectly and has some priceless lessons for everyday life as well as military leadership and resilience. Its ideas are a novel mosaic of ancient and medieval as well as contemporary, leaving the reader with more answers than questions. Quite simply—a must read.
Originally published in the Tishrei 5783 Jewish-American Warrior