Rabbi Sacks on Interfaith Relations

JInsider (March 2010)

It’s one of the really extraordinary facts that the most influential human being whoever lived was somebody who commanded no armies, performed no miracles, had no massive disciples it was just an ordinary simple human being. His name was Abraham, his wife was Sarah. And today, more than half of the world’s population claim their descent, literal or metaphorical, from Abraham and Sarah 2.2 billion Christians 1.3 billion Muslims, and a few Jews, 13 million. And that is why the historic tensions, wars, conflicts between the three Abrahamic monotheisms are so tragic.

We have one father, we have one mother, we are descended from the same parents, which means we are all brothers and sisters. And it’s a very interesting story. If you look at the book of Genesis, which is about sibling rivalry, human and Western history has been about the sibling rivalry, mainly between Christianity and Islam with Jews getting caught in the middle. And if you look at Genesis, you will find it’s all about brothers, and the animosity between Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers.

They look just like four stories, but actually, there’s a logic to them. And you can see that if you look at the last scene in each relationship, the last scene of Cain and Abel, Abel is lying dead. Fratricide, murder. Isaac and Ishmael? The last scene? They are standing together at Abraham’s grave. Death, grief, has brought them together. Jacob and Esau? Well Jacob fears that Esau is going to take revenge, but actually when they meet for the last time, they kiss they embrace, and they go their separate ways. The last scene of Joseph and his brothers is a scene of forgiveness and reconciliation. Joseph tells them I know you tried to kill me, I know you’ve sold me as a slave. But for heaven’s sake, v’atem chashavtem alai ra’ah, “You plotted evil against me,” v’elokhim chashavah le’tovah, “But God turned it into good.” He forgives them, and they live together in harmony.

Now, if that is the story of Genesis, should that not become the story of the 21st century. We are Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. Forget about which is which. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are brothers and sisters. And the time has come to forgive one another and to find reconciliation.