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The rabbi on the art of 'staying young'

Updated: Nov 12



Among the numerous well-deserved tributes to the former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks was one on BBC Radio Four's Today programme today (9 November 2020). It included a Thought for the Day reflection (the final item on the show coming up to 9 am), which he had recorded in June 2019, identifying what makes some people seem forever young. Jonathan Sacks died from cancer on 7 November. Many will remember his thoughtful and well-judged reflections as a regular contributor to Thought for the Day.


Today's classic began: 'There was a fascinating diary piece in the press this week, about Sir David Attenborough and his fellow naturalist Desmond Morris, both of whom are in their 90s and still going strong. They were comparing notes about health. Morris asked Sir David, have you ever done any exercise? To which the answer was, no. Ever gone to a gym? No. Ever been on a diet? No again. Neither have I, said Morris. Maybe that’s the secret.'

'It probably isn’t,' he went on, 'but it’s interesting to ask why. The reason, I think, is that we are not only physical beings but intellectual, spiritual and moral ones as well. We have not only bodies but also minds and what we used to call souls. They too have their own form of diet and exercise: researching, exploring, investigating, thinking and communicating. That’s what keeps those who do these things young...'


Do read the entire transcript or listen again, if you can. All Jonathan Sacks' past reflections are archived on the website of The Office of Rabbi Sacks.

Sacks was a master of the short, pithy, encapsulation of whatever might be THE issue of the day, as well as surprising his audience with a sideways glance at what was making the news. Lord Finkelstein, paying his own personal tribute this morning, praised Lord Sacks' great sense of humour and 'well-stocked mind'.


How sad that Sacks didn't live to enjoy a longer old age himself, because the edition of Thought for the Day which the programme selected to stand as something of an epitaph, concluded: 'The book of Psalms speaks of those who love life. I think that’s the common factor between great religious leaders, great artists and scientists, and the great communicators like Desmond Morris and Sir David Attenborough. They love life and enhance the lives of others. And sometimes that can be as good as a diet or a workout as a way of staying young.'


Here's giving thanks for Jonathan Sacks' full life, for the skilful way in which he communicated, and for his advice for soul-feeding and flexing: 'researching, exploring, investigating, thinking and communicating'.


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