On motzei Shabbat this week we heard the extremely sad news that former UK Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks had passed away. He had only announced a couple of weeks before that he was suffering from cancer. To say that the world is in shock is an understatement.
Rabbi Sacks was not only the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community of the UK, there were many times when he seemed to be the Chief Rabbi of Britain in its entirety. He was a voice of morality, integrity, reason, and amazing erudition. Yet he never allowed his erudition to appear patronizing, or above the heads of the audience he was addressing. His astonishing ability to connect with his audience, whoever they were and wherever they were, was one of his very rare talents.
He was prolific in his output, writing 20 books, producing weekly shiurim and discussions on the parshat hashavua, (the weekly Torah portion), on the festivals and more. His early death has cut off any further publications but he has left a deep and lasting legacy which we will all continue to learn and benefit from for generations.
This beautiful obituary in the Times of Israel blogs describes how Rabbi Sacks could connect to non-Jewish audiences as well as to his Jewish community.
We have lost our greatest teacher
Judaism has just lost its greatest teacher and the world has just lost the most important Jewish voice, one of the few that was able to address the concerns of all of humanity. In the flood of sound-bytes appreciating and commemorating Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, especially those uttered by Jewish spokespersons, he is recognized as very valuable, but one of many. I see things differently. He was unique, in a class of his own. He is irreplaceable. There is not a single personality in all of Jewry’s leadership worldwide who can fill the gap created by his departure. This is why his loss is so painful.
His true greatness lies beyond these specific manifestations of greatness. It is rooted in a comprehensive vision of Judaism and the world, in expansive knowledge both religious and secular-scientific, and above all in the uncanny ability to formulate a message of relevance that addresses simultaneously multiple audiences and therefore gives Judaism a relevance on the global stage in a way that no one else in recent memory (or ever?) was able to.
He was Judaism’s foremost ambassador, representative, public voice, thinker. Beyond the thousands of thoughts and dozens of key ideas, he was a model for how a deeply rooted Jewish message can speak to the entire world.
In every video he produced, and thank G-d he produced hundreds if not more, his humanity and humility come shining through.
Here are just two clips which resonated deeply with me, which demonstrate his love of Israel, his love of fellow man, and his ability to discuss deep philosophical questions in layman’s terms without patronizing or simplification.
This first clip is about his love of Israel:
And this is the second clip, just 90 seconds, which left me in tears:
His levaya in England was unfortunately held under Covid rules of limited numbers instead of being attended by thousands. You can see the hespedim (eulogies) at the graveside at Rabbi Sacks’ website.
But he will be mourned throughout the world and his loss is going to be felt by an entire generation.
May the memory of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, HaRav Ya’akov Zvi ben David Arieh z”l , be for a blessing, may he be a melitz yosher for all of us up in Heaven.
And may his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
יהי זכרו ברוך.