Rabbi Sacks on the Dignity of Difference – Part 1
JInsider (March 2010)
I started asking myself – antisemitism, the world’s oldest hatred – how come so many different people at different ages hated Jews? And I suddenly realised the answer is there in the Bible, with the world’s first great antisemite – Haman (in the Book of Esther) – who says “there is one people scattered throughout all the peoples whose laws and customs are different from everyone else’s.” And then I suddenly realised, that is antisemitism. Dislike of the unlike, a fear of people who are different from us.
And then I suddenly realised that’s what Jews were. They were different. “Ah,” you’ll say, “Everyone is different.” Well, they are. It’s just, the Jews insisted on the right to be different. The duty to be different. So they became in history, the only nation not to assimilate to the dominant culture or convert to the dominant faith. They stayed different.
And now we ask, why did God choose us for this fate? And the short answer is, God took one nation and said, “Be different in order to teach the world the dignity of difference.”
God does not want us all to be the same. He loves the multiplicity of languages, cultures, colours, creeds. That’s where God is to be found. The miracle of monotheism is that unity up there creates diversity down here. And we who took it as the historic challenge to be different are the people chosen to bring that truth to all humankind.