Anyone who heard Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks speak or who has read any of his books knows that he was an intellectual giant.
He inspired a generation.
Faced with the threat to Jewish continuity, it was he [picking up the baton from his predecessor, Chief Rabbi Harav Lord Jakobovits z-t-l] who roused and mobilised the whole community, to focus on Jewish education, with the challenge; ‘will we have Jewish grandchildren?’
With his Siddur and Machzorim, he re-animated ancient texts and elevated so many people’s teffilot by making them so much more meaningful.
He was one of the greatest thinkers and one of the greatest communicators with an extraordinary ability to make profound concepts accessible to everyone and that is how he brought the voice of faith to so many.
His ability to synthesise modernity and tradition has no equal. He reached people of faith and of none and in this sense he was a light unto the nations [ohr la’goyim]. His was a moral voice in an age of ambivalence and through that, he enriched the lives of so many. Chief Rabbi Mirvis described him so aptly as a ‘Prince’ amongst Jews and non-Jews alike.
His interpretation of the Torah and a vast range of Jewish Halachic and Midrashic concepts, opened our eyes to the brilliance, depth, wisdom and treasure of the Torah – demonstrating that its enduring values are as relevant today as they ever were.
G-d endowed him with such exceptional gifts and he used them all in such a special way.
As he often said; the traditional role of the priest was to teach the Halacha and that of the prophet was to be the voice of faith and morality. In that sense, he was a prophet in our time.
And then there is an aspect which is perhaps less well known and it relates to his very special and rare personal qualities and beautiful Middot. He was always so kind and considerate to everyone and always generous to opponents. Even when criticised by extreme elements and even when hurt, he never ever responded in an impolite way nor did he ever speak badly of his critics. In fact, in all the years I knew him [and because when in Manchester he stayed at our home, I knew him quite well], I never heard him say a bad word [Lashon Harah] about anyone.
So, on a personal note, I can add with words dampened by tears, that it was a privilege to walk and talk with a person who was both great [a Gadol] and genuinely righteous [a Tzaddik].
When Rav Chanina ben Tradyon perished [at the hands of the Romans circa 134] he exclaimed gvillin nisrafin v’otiot porchot – ‘…the parchment is burning but the words last for ever….’
And so it will be with our beloved Rabbi Lord Sacks z-t-l. His body may have returned to its maker but his teaching will live on for eternity and he will forever remain our great Rebbi – our great teacher.
As the former Chief Rabbi of Israel – Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau says, to be called a ‘Rebbi’ is the greatest tribute one can bestow on anyone. It was the tribute given to Moshe Rabeinu – Moshe our teacher and this is the tribute which will forever attach to the name and memory of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z-t-l.
We will miss him
Yehi zichro baruch – may his memory be a source of blessing
Photo by Lawrence Purcell