Why ‘Ten Paths to God’?
‘Seek God where He is to be found, call Him when He is close.’ The sages were puzzled by this verse. When is God not close? Surely God is everywhere. Their answer was profound. God is always close to us, but we are not always close to God.
At some point in life, every reflective human being will ask three fundamental questions: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?
Whether we believe, or don’t believe, these are religious questions. Science can tell us how life began, but it can never tell us what life is for. Anthropology can tell us the many ways in which people have lived, but it can never tell us how we should live. Economics and business studies can tell us how to generate wealth, but they cannot tell us what to do with the wealth we have made.
The various sciences, natural, social or human, can tell us how, but not why. The ‘why’ questions ask us to lift up our eyes beyond the immediate, in search of the ultimate. The name we give to the ultimate ultimate is God. The search for meaning at its heart is a religious quest.
God is always close to us, but we are not always close to God. How then do we come close to Him? By living Jewishly. ‘We will do, then we will understand’, said our ancestors at Mount Sinai. So it is in all matters of the soul. We learn to love music by listening to music. We learn to be generous by performing acts of generosity. ‘The heart follows the deed’. Don’t expect to have faith or find God by waiting for Him to find us. We have to begin the journey. Then God meets us halfway.
There are many ways of finding God, many paths to the Divine presence. For this series of videos and accompanying curriculum, I have chosen ten of the most important. The first is identity. We are born into a family that has a history. Who are we? To which story do we belong?
The second is prayer, the most focused way in which we reach out to God. Third is study, the highest of all Jewish acts, which the sages said was more holy even than prayer. Fourth is mitzvot, the way of the commands. In prayer we find God by speaking; in study we find God in listening; in mitzvot we find God by doing.
Then come the three great attributes of the Jewish personality: tzedakah, love as justice; chessed, love as compassion; and faith, love as loyalty. Judaism is a religion of love, not the mystical, otherworldly love that hovers above the world, leaving its imperfections intact, but the love that engages with the world, trying – one act at a time, one day at a time, one life at a time – to make it a little less cruel, a little more human and humane.
Then, lastly, come the three great expressions of Jewish life: Israel, the one place on earth where Jews have the chance to do what every other nation takes for granted, namely the right to rule ourselves and create a society in accordance with our beliefs; Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God’s name in the world by acting as God’s ambassadors; and lastly responsibility, the idea that we are God’s partners in the work of creation, and there is work for each of us to do in this tense and troubled age.
Any of these units may be the starting point of a personal meditation, framed by such questions as: How does this apply to me? How can I act on it to become a better person? How can this help me to lead a more meaningful and fulfilled life? Some may not speak to you, others will. For there are as many ways to the Divine presence as there are Jews, said Rav Nachman of Bratslav. Or as I put it: Where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be.
There are many ways to God. Where we begin doesn’t matter, so long as we begin. Jewish life is the circumference of a circle at whose centre is God. That is where we meet, whatever our starting point.
However long we live, life is short, too short. Every day matters. Every day in which we do not do some good deed, take some step toward God, make some difference to the world, is a day lost – and our days on earth are too few to waste even one.
An Introduction for Educators
Welcome to ‘Ten Paths to God’, a new 10-unit curriculum on Judaism and Jewish identity based on a combination of traditional sources and the teachings of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.
‘Ten Days, Ten Ways’
In 2007, as Chief Rabbi of the UK and the Commonwealth, Rabbi Sacks produced a booklet called Ten Days, Ten Ways designed to inspire and engage Jews, whatever their previous educational or religious background, during the High Holy Day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
This booklet was divided into ten sections, each one a classic Jewish path to God. Each section included an opening piece written by Rabbi Sacks, followed by a range of diverse passages from ancient, medieval and modern sources, including further extracts from many texts written by Rabbi Sacks.
The booklet was well-received as a timely focus around Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but the feeling was that there were ways it could have even greater impact.
‘Why I am a Jew’
Rabbi Sacks stepped down from the Chief Rabbinate in September 2013, and since then has continued to be a significant and growing presence across the Jewish world and beyond.
Part of this is due to a commitment to experimenting and utilizing the various online and social media platforms to help broadcast his teachings to a global audience.
In September 2015, Rabbi Sacks and his small team released a whiteboard animation video called ‘Why I am a Jew’. Based on an extract from his powerful book A Letter in the Scroll (published as Radical Then Radical Now in Britain), this video went viral, being shown in schools, synagogues, campuses, Jewish organizations and even some churches!
The video presented an inspiring and accessible approach to Judaism and Jewish identity in a creative and engaging way. Following the overwhelmingly positive response to the video, Rabbi Sacks’ team heard the desire for more detailed and sophisticated educational material to delve deeper into some of the concepts and issues raised in the whiteboard animation.
‘Ten Paths to God’
As a result, Rabbi Sacks and his team have now embarked on this ambitious and exciting project to adapt the original booklet into a full educational curriculum and bring the thought of Rabbi Sacks to new, younger audiences across the world.
The curriculum has been designed with the utmost flexibility, allowing you, the educator, to use it and tailor it to your specific needs. This curriculum has been designed with all educational contexts in mind, from schools to youth movements, university campus learning initiatives, outreach organizations, adult education synagogue programs, and beyond. It can even be used by parents as a resource for structured learning with their children.
Each educator must decide which version is best for their audience. For example, middle schools students (7th and 8th grade, ages 12-14) may find the Entry Level more appropriate, but there may be some stronger students who could cope with the Advanced Level. Conversely, some high school educators (grades 9-12, ages 15-18) whose students who have less experience of this type of learning, may wish to use the Entry Level versions, but in general it is our belief that high school students will find the Advanced Level versions appropriate.
The curriculum does not need to be employed in sequence, in fact each unit stands alone. The educator may choose to use one unit, three units, or the entire curriculum in sequence. The curriculum could be implemented over a short period (e.g. one semester), or over a longer period of time (e.g. an academic year). The choice is always with the educator.
The structure of each of the units is as follows:
(1) Trigger Video: Each unit begins with a short opening video. In the video, Rabbi Sacks presents an overview of the unit subject. These videos last for around 3 minutes each and provide the foundation and starting point for the rest of the unit.
(2) Opening Discussion: The first section of each unit uses the transcript of the opening video as the basis for the unit. Following on from that, specific phrases are highlighted within the text and questions provided to facilitate a further discussion on the topic. The Educator’s guides include specific pedagogical comments relating to how to run a class or guide a discussion.
(3) The Core Concepts Further Explored: In the sections that follow, supplementary sources, including some from Rabbi Sacks’ writings, are used to take a deeper look at the core concepts in the thought of Rabbi Sacks. Again, the video transcript forms the starting point for further analysis of the perspectives Rabbi Sacks has given in his many books.
(4) Optional Assignment: The final section of each unit offers an optional assignment for students to undertake. In addition, there is a call for students to submit any questions they have, via the Educator, to Rabbi Sacks. Unfortunately, he will not be able to answer every question received, but the aim is to take some of the most insightful or most common ones from each unit and provide video answers which will then be uploaded onto the website.
It is our hope that this curriculum will prove to be a valuable resource for the furthering of Jewish study in general, and a means to bring the unique and inspiring thoughts and ideas of Rabbi Sacks to a wider and new audience. It has been an honor to play a part in achieving this goal.
Together with Rabbi Sacks and his team, we are always looking for feedback – positive or constructive! If successful, we hope to do similar projects in the future on other topics. We would love to know about the context you used this material in, what worked, what didn’t work, how your experience of implementing the curriculum has been, and how it might be enhanced in the future.
Rabbi Sacks will continue to be personally involved with the educators and students by posting recorded answers to the most insightful questions he receives from students studying each of the units. These, together with any feedback, can be sent to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daniel Rose (Educational Consultant for ‘Ten Paths to God’, Modi’in)
Dan Sacker (‘Ten Paths to God’ Co-ordinator, Office of Rabbi Sacks, London)
Nissan 5778 / April 2018
- Return to Curriculum Overview and Unit Contents
The ‘Ten Paths to God’ curriculum project has been generously sponsored in honour of Chaim (Harry) and Anna Schimmel.