Rabbi Sacks on Torah and the Real World

JInsider (March 2010)

The needs of the world are vast. There are a billion people living in poverty. 30,000 children die every day from preventable disease. The inequalities between nations, as well as within nations, are growing. Even in Britain, with all its affluence, and with all the billions of pounds that have been directed to poverty relief, still, 3.4 million children live in poverty. We have to do something. We cannot stand idly by and say, “This isn’t happening to us.”

To me, one of the great stories concerns the Alter Rebbe, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe. His son, known as the Mitteler Rebbe, had himself recently become a father and the young baby was eventually in Chabad to be known as the Tzemach Tzedek was just a baby. He was crying in the middle of the night. The Mitteler Rebbe was so intent on his studies of Hasidus, of Jewish mysticism, that he simply didn’t hear the baby crying. His father, the Alter Rebbe, heard the baby, went up, held the baby in his arms, lulled him until he went back to sleep, put him back in the cot, and then came down and said to his son, “My son, I don’t know what you’re studying, but it isn’t Torah if it makes you deaf to the cry of a child.” That to me is the Jewish message. The children of the world are crying and whatever we live it isn’t Torah if we are deaf to that cry.