Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis paid tribute to his predecessor Rabbi Lord Sacks, following his death on Saturday aged 72.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day segment – which Lord Sacks frequently contributed to – he reflected on the former chief rabbi’s contribution to the community, country and wider world.
Read his comments in full, or listen to them here.
Very sadly, yesterday afternoon, we laid to his eternal rest my illustrious predecessor, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, whom I had the privilege of working with for the past thirty years.
He had a distinctive, familiar voice. It was a voice of clarity and erudition; a voice of hope and promise; a voice of tolerance and love; a voice of warmth and wisdom, interlaced with sensitivity and humour; a voice that will be profoundly missed by Thought for the Day listeners, by Jewish communities around the world and by all those right across the globe who found in him an invaluable guide who inspired faithfulness, moderation and compassion.
The pain of his loss has been felt far and wide – the world will not be the same without the voice of Rabbi Sacks.
Every year, coinciding with the anniversary of the death of Moses, we read the portion of the Bible which describes how he oversaw the building of the sanctuary, a home for God. Yet, astonishingly, his name is entirely absent from the text. God goes out of His way not to address Moses by name, even whilst he embarked on a most sacred task.
There is a powerful message here about what constitutes a lasting legacy as opposed to fleeting fame. Legacy has nothing to do with one’s name and everything to do with one’s impact. Rabbi Sacks was widely acclaimed, but the measure of his greatness is in the countless lives he enriched as well as the timelessness of his wisdom.
One of Rabbi Lord Sacks’s brilliant original thoughts relates to history, for which there is no word in the Hebrew Bible. Rather, the word ‘Zachor’ is used, which means memory. He explained that history is ‘his story’ – an account by another person about events which happened to others. We recall it and study it, but we feel disconnected. Memory is quite different – we internalise it, carry it with us and make it a part of our future.
Rabbi Sacks is now not only a part of our shared history. He will also live on in our collective memory.
As ever, he himself put it perfectly:
“Mortality,” he said, “is written into the human condition, but so too is the possibility of immortality, in the good we do that continues long after we are here, to beget further good. There are lives that defeat death and redeem existence from tragedy.”
It is from Rabbi Sacks’ own words that we can be certain that his remarkable voice will continue to be with us always.
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