The death of Rabbi Lord Sacks is the most profound loss to the Jewish community, to this nation and to the world. Those who knew him through his writings, sermons and broadcasts will have lost a source of unfailing wisdom, sanity and moral conviction in often bewildering and confusing times.
Those who, like myself, had the privilege of knowing him personally, have lost a trusted guide and an inspired teacher. I, for one, have lost a true and steadfast friend.
His family, most of all, have lost a great man whose devotion to them knew no bounds, and my heart goes out to them in their grief.
Over many years, I had come to value Rabbi Sacks’s counsel immensely. With his seemingly inexhaustible store of learning, his never-failing wisdom and his instinct for the power of the story in our lives, he could be relied upon to identify clearly the moral issues in question, and to define fearlessly the choices being faced.
He could be relied upon to identify clearly the moral issues in question, and to define fearlessly the choices being faced.
The apparent ease with which he could cut through the confusion and clamour of our current concerns was grounded in his deep scholarship in both secular and religious disciplines, making him uniquely able to speak with conviction across boundaries of religion, culture and generations.
His life was distinguished by three commitments: commitment to listening to, and learning from, others without fear of compromising either his or their deeply held convictions; commitment to the institutions of the Nation which he nurtured through his own advocacy and participation; commitment to the integrity and harmony of God’s Creation, to Shalom.
An essay he wrote for me made a profound impression, as he showed that in Judaism the harmony of the Universe flows from the unity of its Creator, a unity in which we can participate by silencing the demands of the self and respecting the dignity of others and the integrity of Nature, recognising in both a fragment of the divine.
As I remarked in 2013 when I spoke at the event to mark Rabbi Sacks’s retirement as Chief Rabbi after 22 distinguished years, he and I were exact contemporaries, born in the year of the State of Israel’s birth. At that time, I said, deliberately misquoting Isaiah, that he was a ‘light unto this nation’ and said I hoped he would keep that light burning for many years to come.
That was only seven years ago. But, in the years that he was given to us, how brightly that light burned, how many lives were brightened, how many dark places were illuminated.
In contemplating a life so tragically and unexpectedly cut short, we can only look to the divine Providence in which Rabbi Sacks placed his own trust, and have faith that, as the Psalmist says, our times are in his hands.
In his seventy two years, Rabbi Sacks, it seems to me, studied, wrote and shared wisdom enough for many lifetimes. Listen to his sermons, read his books, and you cannot fail to be struck by the urgency with which he spoke: rich with learning, rooted in humility, charged with passion. It is unmistakably a voice in the tradition of the greatest teachers among the Jewish people.
Even as we mourn, we must thank God that he was given to us for so long, and we must honour the values for which he stood: for a society where all are valued, where all share a moral bond and a divine purpose.
In his seventy two years, Rabbi Sacks, it seems to me, studied, wrote and shared wisdom enough for many lifetimes.
Speaking of the passing of his own revered teacher, Rav Nachum Rabinovitch, earlier this year, Rabbi Sacks said: “Teachers give us more than knowledge. They give us life. Having a great teacher is as close as we get to heaven.”
Those words could rightly be said of Rabbi Sacks. May his light continue to shine and his memory live on as a blessing. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.”