Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis delivered a ‘hesped’ (eulogy) for his predecessor rabbi Lord Sacks, following his death on Saturday aged 72.
Due to self-isolation, Chief Rabbi Mirvis was unable to attend in person. The eulogy for Rabbi Lord Sacks was read on his behalf by Rabbi Mordechai Ginsbury.
Read and watch the hesped in full, below:
I feel inadequate delivering these words of tribute to my illustrious predecessor, Rabbi Lord Sacks, zichrono livracha [may his memory be a blessing].
Mere words cannot do justice to Rabbi Sacks’s extraordinary contribution to our world, nor to the monumental legacy he has left behind.
To him we declare: Nesi Elokim ata betocheinu! – You have been a prince of G-d in our midst. These words in Bereishit were originally addressed to Abraham our Patriarch by the Benei Chet, the Canaanite dwellers of the Holy Land. In a similar way, Rabbi Lord Sacks was a respected Prince of G-d for the Jewish world and well beyond.
He was a remarkable spiritual leader, educator, orator, author, philosopher, intellectual, broadcaster and mentor. He was an outstanding ambassador for Judaism and our Torah, helping many to appreciate and be deeply proud of their heritage.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for us to think of Rabbi Sacks in the past tense. He has been an integral part of our lives and an ongoing source of direction, motivation and inspiration. In reality, though, he will never exist in the past, such was his legacy, which will provide insight and inspiration for many years to come; a legacy which will highlight the relevance of our Torah tradition in modern times; a legacy that will enshrine the respectful place of religion within our ever-changing world.
Amongst the numerous adjectives that describe his remarkable impact on countless individuals, for me the most significant is ‘inspirational’.
I had the privilege of being his successor twice. First, as Rabbi of the Marble Arch community, and then as Chief Rabbi. In occupying his pulpit at Marble Arch, I came to appreciate the deep, inspirational impact he had on the community, which was then followed by his inspirational national and global impact.
Rabbi Sacks’s Biblical namesake, Yaakov Avinu, is remembered for his voice. Yitzchak, his father, declared: Hakol kol Yaakov – the voice is the voice of Jacob! Rabbi Lord Sacks had a distinctive, powerful voice. His was the encouraging voice of hope and promise, the voice of faith, of morality, tolerance, moderation, humour and love.
Yaakov Avinu, is introduced to us by the Torah as ‘yoshev ohalim’ – a dweller of tents. Our Sages provide two different ways to understand this term. According to the Midrash, Yaakov was a student of Shem and Aver, dwelling in tents to study as much as he could. In this regard, Rabbi Lord Sacks was a ‘yoshev ohalim’ of the highest pedigree – a world-renowned scholar and educator.
Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, Chizkuni and others give a different peirush. They explain that shepherds construct tents to protect themselves from the heat of the sun. As a ‘yoshev ohalim’, Yaakov was a devoted shepherd. This, too, was the hallmark of Rabbi Lord Sacks. He was a ro’eh ne’eman le’adato – a faithful shepherd to his flock – a Rabbi of Rabbis and leader of leaders, who tended with love and devotion to the needs of his people and our fragile world.
Yaakov Avinu was also called Yisrael. In many places, Yaakov represents our Patriarch as a family man, while Yisrael symbolises his leadership of our people, and thus we are called Bnei Yisrael. In this spirit, Rabbi Lord Sacks often spoke to Rabbis about our dual responsibility – as family members and community leaders. He, himself, lived up admirably to this aspiration. And that’s why, right now, our thoughts are very much with his dear wife, Lady Elaine, their children, Joshua, Dina, Gila, Rabbi Lord Sacks’s brothers, Brian, Alan and Eliot and the entire family. May they be comforted by the knowledge that Rabbi Lord Sacks’s remarkable legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of the countless people he inspired.
Yehi zichro baruch – may the memory of this most remarkable man be for an eternal blessing, Amen.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis