A message from Father Nick 36

Jonathan Sacks (II) Hands

Michaelangelo, Eve looks out apprehensively from the crook of God’s arm!

            Perhaps former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ greatest gift lay in the combination of his qualities. He was blessed with a penetrating intellect, rare spiritual insight, and a remarkable ability to communicate deep thoughts to other people. All of this together made him a powerful commentator on the kind of society he believed we should be working together to achieve.

He wrote about the “ethics of responsibility”, the “dignity of difference”, and the importance of “celebrating life”, and he did so in an entirely positive way.  In his book “To Heal a Fractured World” he stated an important principle: “There is divine justice, and sometimes, looking back at the past from a different time, we can see it. But we do not live by looking back at the past. More than other faiths, the religion of the Hebrew Bible is written in the future tense. Ancient Israel was the only civilization to set its golden age in not-yet-realized time, because a free human being lives toward the future.”

            The expression “Future Tense” would become the title of another of his books, and in this he reflects on the Bible’s account of creation:

“Having created man, God sees him isolated, without an other and says, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18) – the first occurrence of the words ‘not good’ in the Bible… God then, while the man is sleeping, makes the first woman. Waking and seeing her, the man utters the first poem in the Bible:

Now I have found 

bone of my bone,

flesh of my flesh.

She shall be called ‘woman’ [Ishah]

for she was taken from man [Ish]. (Gen.2:23)

            At the first reading, this sounds as if man is claiming…priority. First there was man, only afterwards was there woman. Man comes from God and woman comes from man. This is how classic Christian theologians read the text. But the Hebrew contains a nuance missed in translation. Biblical Hebrew contains two words for ‘man’, adam and ish. Adam is the species. It means, roughly, Homo sapiens. Ish is the individual, the person. Until this point, the Bible has consistently used the word adam. This is the first occurrence of the word ish, and it comes after the word ishah, woman.

            The Bible is here signalling a momentous proposition. Adam has to pronounce his wife’s name before he can pronounce his own. I have to say ‘you’ before I can say ‘I’. I have to acknowledge the other, before I can truly understand myself. Not only can I not live alone, I cannot think, know, understand alone.”

Often called “The Jewish Bride”, possibly Isaac and Rebecca.