Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Quote of the Day: Forward and Back


“This is how the moral life is. We learn by making mistakes. We live life forwards, but we understand it only looking back. Only then do we see the wrong turns we inadvertently made. This discovery is sometimes our greatest moment of moral truth.” — Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Essays on Ethics: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible (Jerusalem: Koren-Maggid Books, 2016)

This statement came in Rabbi Sacks’s summation of the story in Genesis in which Jacob deceives his father Isaac and takes the blessing intended for his brother Esau. Neither Jacob, nor his mother Rebecca, come off very well in this episode. Jacob is forced to depart to live many years among his mother’s family, where he is in turn deceived.

In all the times I read this complicated tale, I never once picked up on something pointed out by Rabbi Sacks — that the deception was entirely unnecessary. Jacob, in fact, received two blessings, one regarding his inheritance as Isaac’s son; and, just before he departs, the “covenant blessing” given by God to Abraham: that he will produce heirs and inherit the land of Israel. In the end, Jacob returned Esau’s blessing to him (see Gen. 33:11) and the brothers reconciled.

Think of the many times in life we think something is one way, yet it turns out to be another, leading to sorrow or joy, repentence or relief. It is only with experience that we can take a larger perspective, or learn patience.

Thus the human condition, and the wisdom to be found in the Bible in its acute observation of human foibles.

There are 8 comments.

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  1. Songwriter Member
    Songwriter Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A wonderful quote & post for us to read at this time of the year. Thanks!

    • #1
    • December 13, 2017, at 7:04 AM PST
    • Like
  2. J Climacus Member

    Sounds like the Rabbi read Kierkegaard. From SK’s Journals (1844):

    “It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.”

    • #2
    • December 13, 2017, at 7:14 AM PST
  3. Little My Member
    Little My

    J. Climacus: I would not be at all surprised to find Rabbi Sacks is familiar with Kierkegaard; from his footnotes (and not only in this particular book) it is clear that he is extraordinarily well-read.

    • #3
    • December 13, 2017, at 7:36 AM PST
  4. Old Bathos Moderator

    The backward look is only useful where there is sufficient humility and openness to learn. Insanity is to keep making the mistakes knowing the outcome. Making the same mistakes, blaming others, pawning off the costs of harm from those mistakes while figuring out how to look mistake-free while doing it is a political career.

    • #4
    • December 13, 2017, at 7:55 AM PST
  5. Arahant Member

    This conversation is part of our Quote of the Day Series, and a very true quotation it is.

    If it reminds you of another good quotation that might start a good conversation on Ricochet, our schedule and sign-up sheet is waiting for you with four openings still in December. The Quote of the Day is the easiest way to start a conversation on Ricochet. If you are a member, but have never started a conversation here before, this is a great way to get your feet wet. If you aren’t a member, it’s a great reason to join us and become part of our community.

    • #5
    • December 13, 2017, at 9:47 AM PST
    • 1 like
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor

    I read the same post from Rabbi Sacks, Little My, and had the same reaction as you did. It’s only in looking back that we can understand what has occurred, its impact and meaning in our lives. Meantime, we do the best we can!

    • #6
    • December 13, 2017, at 4:26 PM PST
  7. Nanda Panjandrum Inactive

    Wonderful, @littlemy; hindsight is often 20/20…Appreciate the reminder! (Btw, I recently sent you a PM re: the Card Exchange; when you can, please take a look at it…Thank you!)

    • #7
    • December 14, 2017, at 6:50 PM PST
    • 1 like
  8. Little My Member
    Little My

    Nanda, I idiotically hit delete instead of “read” for your message. Could you send it again? Then I couldn’t figure out how to send you a message… Thanks. I am really enjoying the Christmas card exchange.

    • #8
    • December 15, 2017, at 5:42 AM PST
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