Inside Sources: Rabbi discusses healing a bitterly divided society

Sep 16, 2020, 6:47 PM | Updated: 7:32 pm

rabbi healing...

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks holds a press conference, at the Vatican, Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks holds a press conference, at the Vatican, Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Andrew Medichini AP

(AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

SALT LAKE CITY —  Divisions in society have gone too far, but with some mutual self-respect the healing can begin, a rabbi and spiritual leader says.

Distinguished religious leader, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, joined Boyd Matheson, opinion editor at the Deseret News, on Inside Sources to discuss the need for a cultural climate change, limitations to self-help and respecting people you disagree with.

Sacks is a British Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, theologian, author and politician. He served as the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013.

Rabbi on healing cultural climate change

Boyd noted the United States is experiencing evidence of climate change as fires rage along the West Coast.

Observing culture, Rabbi Sacks said he began to notice many things turning south with society.

“Isolation, loneliness, depression. Social media and their impact on people’s moods. The whole ‘woke’ concept. The cancel culture. . . Whichever direction you look, it looks as if things are going wrong,” he said. 

Climate change can bring extreme heat or cold, drought or flooding, which are all symptoms of the same things, Sacks said.

Disconnection and disconnect in society today, he said, are all symptoms of a cultural climate change happening in Western liberal democracies.

“When you live alone, the chances of depression are enormously raised,” Sacks said, adding that isolated living is the equivalent of obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Self-help limitations

“So many people are just weary. Cultural climate change has created a weariness,” Boyd said. “A lot of people talk about the answer being in self-help. And you say there is a limit to self-help, and that there’s a better approach to overcoming that weariness.”

In his book, Rabbi Sacks relates one of the scariest moments of his life. Fifty years ago, he and his new wife were honeymooning off the coast of Italy. He was struck by the beauty of the scene.

“I must go into the sea,” he told his wife, Elaine. 

One problem, though: He had never learned how to swim.

Sacks looked out 100 yards and saw people standing knee-deep in the sea. He told Elaine that he would be fine wading out 100 yards as long as the water was knee-deep.

After walking out 100 yards, he turned around and started to walk back. 

“Within less than a minute, I found myself out of my depth,” he said. “I absolutely could not swim. There was no one near me. There were a few people bathing, but they were a long way away. I remember going under for the fifth time. I remember saying to myself ‘What a way to begin a honeymoon.'”

He said someone saw him flailing in the sea and dragged him unconscious to shore and deposited him at Elaine’s feet.

“What would self-help do in a situation like that?” he asked.

Sacks added that the most difficult problems people face can’t be solved alone.

“The Talmud says a prisoner cannot release himself from prison,” he said. “Someone who is depressed can’t release themselves from depression.”

He stressed that the most transformative moments of a person’s life are when someone enters that person’s life.

Covenant vs. contract

A contract is something two or more people engage in for self-interest.

For example, Sacks said, a customer exchanges money with a mechanic for repairs to the customer’s vehicle. Both parties’ self-interests have been met.

But a covenant, he said, is exactly like a marriage.

“In other words, it’s two individual I’s saying let’s become a collective we,” Sacks said. “That is not about self-interest, that is about a new identity.”

Respecting the other person

“We live in this time that is very divided,” Boyd said. “But we know it is against the laws of nature and nature’s God that the storm blows forever. It comes and then it passes. What is the path to move that storm out and get to better days and that new identity that you talk of?”

Sacks said the first thing is to respect the people who disagree with us.

“We may completely differ on almost everything, but you’re a human being and I respect that,” he said. “And I hope you respect the fact that I am a human being.”

“There’s too much arguing going on,” he said.

“You can’t have a conversation — let alone a relationship or a friendship — with someone who disagrees with you politically, and as citizens, we just have to get past that,” Boyd said.

Rabbi Sacks said one of the most beautiful relationships he has had in his life was with atheist Amos Oz — Israeli writer, novelist, journalist and intellectual.

“All of the divisions that currently exist in society have gone far, far too far,” Sacks said.

“I’m not saying it’ll be easy to reverse any of them. It won’t be. But there is none of them that cannot be reversed because all it really needs his openness, respect and a willingness to honor views of people not like your own.”


Rabbi Sacks will join Wheatley Institute at BYU for a free online conversation Thursday and discuss his award-winning and newly released book, “Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times.”

Visit the Inside Sources Facebook page for more information.


Memorable quotes from the conversation with Rabbi Sacks

“If there is one thing that the great institutions of the modern world do not do, it is to provide meaning.” 

“Science tells us how but not why. Technology gives us power, but cannot guide us on how to use that power.”

“The market gives us choices but leaves us uninstructed as to how to make those choices.”

“The liberal democratic state gives us freedom to live as we choose, but refuses to guide us on how to choose. The result is the 21st century has left us with a maximum of choice but a minimum of meaning.”

Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson can be heard weekdays from 11:00 a.m to 12:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Inside Sources

a person holds a smartphone, is the us moving away from organized religion?...

Isabella Sandston

LISTEN: Why we’re turning to politics for our lost worship

Is a shift away from organized religion feeding into the loss of community amongst Americans?

17 days ago

A green and brown sign hangs on a brick wall. It reads "The future of the world is in this classroo...

Mariah Maynes

Study looks into Utah voters’ opinions on curriculum transparency in schools

A Sutherland Institute study found that a majority of Utah voters support curriculum transparency. However, fewer of them support mandating it with legislation. 

26 days ago

Mitt Romney shown...

Sam Herrera

LISTEN: Romney talks budget, wildfires and TikTok

Sen. Mitt Romney says Democrats and Republicans needed to work together to budget and build legislation that will actually pass.

1 month ago

Utah Rep. John Curtis discusses how a “stunt” by TikTok to influence House lawmakers just anger...

KSL NewsRadio

TikTok ‘stunt’ backfires as House lawmakers push to change company ownership

Utah Rep. John Curtis discusses how a “stunt” by TikTok to influence House lawmakers just angered them.

1 month ago


Curt Gresseth

Dow closes down more than 500 points

The Dow dropped more than 750 points before closing down 525 points as inflation numbers rose higher than economists were anticipating.

2 months ago

cellphone schools...

Curt Gresseth

Governor’s message to students: ‘hang up and learn’

Gov. Spencer Cox wants cellphones to be banned in Utah schools during instruction time.

3 months ago

Sponsored Articles

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.


Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Inside Sources: Rabbi discusses healing a bitterly divided society