Meanderings

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks talks with Krista Tippett on not letting go of the struggle until one finds the blessing (via On Being)

Ms. Tippett: … I wonder — and I pose this to you, Rabbi Sacks, it seems to me that the Hebrew Bible, let’s say the Psalms, really wallow in sadness and suffering and anger as a way through those human experiences. So I wonder how do you respond to this idea [pursuing happiness] and how might you see it differently or what might you add to that approach to sadness? And, Rabbi Sacks, I know that you have just finished sitting shiva at the death of your mother. So you’ve been in a period of grief and mourning, which is very much lived and embodied.

Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks: Yeah. It is true that if you read the Jewish literature and you read Jewish history, happiness is not the first word that comes to mind [laugh]. We do degrees in misery, post-graduate angst, and advanced guilt, and we do all this stuff, you know. And yet somehow or other when all of that is at an end, we get together and we celebrate. And where I love what His Holiness has just said, how he himself has lived a story that I resonate with, the story of suffering and exile, and yet he has come through it still smiling. And that to me is how I have always defined my faith as a Jew. The definition of a Jew, Israel is at it says in Genesis 34, one who struggles, wrestles, with God and with humanity and prevails. And Jacob says something very profound to the angel. He says, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” And that I feel about suffering. When something bad happens, I will not let go of that bad thing until I have discovered the blessing that lies within it.

When my late father died — now I’m in mourning for my late mother — that sense of grief and bereavement suddenly taught me that so many things that I thought were important, externals, etc., all of that is irrelevant. You lose a parent, you suddenly realize what a slender thing life is, how easily you can lose those you love. Then out of that comes a new simplicity and that is why sometimes all the pain and the tears lift you to a much higher and deeper joy when you say to the bad times, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”