20 Rules for a Good Life by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

20 Rules for a Good Life by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

A few months back I told you about Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ beautiful E-book, Letters to the Next Generation, a collection of letters from a father to his children on the purpose of life. Here is yet another chapter I loved, in which the father lists his 20 guidelines for a good and moral life. I loved all 20, but highlighted the ideas that really touched my heart.

DEAR SARA AND DAVID, wisdom is free, yet it is also
the most expensive thing there is, for we tend to acquire
it through failure or disappointment or grief. That is why we
try to share our wisdom, so that others will not have to pay
the price for it that we paid. These are some of the things
Judaism has taught me about life, and I share them with you:
1. Never try to be clever. Always try to be wise.
2. Respect others even if they disrespect you.
3. Never seek publicity for what you do. If you deserve it, you
will receive it. If you don’t, you will be attacked. In any
case, goodness never needs to draw attention to itself.
4.When you do good to others, it is yourself, your conscience
and your self-respect, that will be the beneficiary. The
greatest gift of giving is the opportunity to give.

5. In life, never take shortcuts. There is no success without
effort, no achievement without hard work.
6. Keep your distance from those who seek honour. Be
respectful, but none of us is called on to be a looking glass
for those in love with themselves.
7. In everything you do, be mindful that God sees all we do.
There is no cheating God. When we try to deceive others,
usually the only person we succeed in deceiving is ourself.
8. Be very slow indeed to judge others. If they are wrong, God
will judge them. If we are wrong, God will judge us.

9. Greater by far than the love we receive is the love we give.
10. It was once said of a great religious leader, that he was a
man who took God so seriously that he never felt the need
to take himself seriously at all. That is worth aspiring to.

11. Use your time well. Life is short, too short to waste on
television, computer games and unnecessary emails; too
short to waste on idle gossip, or envying others for what
they have, too short for anger and indignation; too short to
waste on criticising others. “Teach us to number our days”,
says the Psalm, “that we may get a heart of wisdom.” But
any day on which you have done some good to someone
has not been wasted.

12. You will find much in life to distress you. People can be
careless, cruel, thoughtless, offensive, arrogant, harsh,
destructive, insensitive, and rude. That is their problem,
not yours. Your problem is how to respond. “No one”, a
wise lady once said, “can make you feel inferior without
your permission”. The same applies to other negative
emotions. Don’t react. Don’t respond. Don’t feel angry, or
if you do, pause for as long as it takes for the anger to
dissipate, and then carry on with the rest of life. Don’t hand
others a victory over your own emotional state. Forgive, or
if you can’t forgive, ignore.

13. If you tried and failed, don’t feel bad. God forgives our
failures as soon as we acknowledge them as failures – and
that spares us from the self-deception of trying to see them
as success. No one worth admiring ever succeeded without
many failures on the way. The great poets wrote bad
poems; the great artists painted undistinguished canvases;
not every symphony by Mozart is a masterpiece. If you lack
the courage to fail, then you lack the courage to succeed.

14. Always seek out the friendship of those who are strong
where you are weak. None of us has all the virtues. Even a
Moses needed an Aaron. The work of a team, a
partnership, a collaboration with others who have different
gifts or different ways of looking at things, is always greater
than any one individual can achieve alone.

15. Create moments of silence in your soul if you want to hear
the voice of God.
16. If something is wrong, don’t blame others. Ask, how can I
help to put it right?

17. Always remember that you create the atmosphere that
surrounds you. If you want others to smile, you must smile.
If you want others to give, you must give. If you want others
to respect you, you must show your respect for them. How
the world treats us is a mirror of how we treat the world.

18. Be patient. Sometimes the world is slower than you are.
Wait for it to catch up with you, for if you are on the right
path, eventually it will…
19. Never worry when people say that you are being too
idealistic. It is only idealistic people who change the world,
and do you really want, in the course of your life, to leave
the world unchanged?
20. Be straight, be honest, and always do what you say you are
going to do. There really is no other way to live.


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Read Rabbi Sacks’ amazing letter On Being a Jewish Parent
View Rabbi Sack’s newly-released Ebook “Letters to the Next Generation”


  1. Thanks for sharing those with us. I think they are all great advice. I probably need to read and reread them often and even post some of them around my house as constant reminders.

    (Funny, when I first read the letter, I thought that it had been personalized for my husband and I, as we are Sara and David!)

    Now I have another book to add to my list of must have books!

  2. “The same applies to other negative
    emotions. Don’t react. Don’t respond. Don’t feel angry, or
    if you do, pause for as long as it takes for the anger to
    dissipate, and then carry on with the rest of life.”

    PAH! If I listen to this man’s advice, I will be on permanent pause! LOL Very good advice! Thank you! I needed this!

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