Rabbi Lord Sacks rose to the challenges. He cared more about the honor of the Torah than his own. And his optimism and humor have always shone.
It has been almost a year since his death and like so many others, his loss is still very deep. When Aaron died, says the midrash, the Israelites could not believe that such an imposing figure was gone and did not accept him until his grave was shown to them. Standing by Rabbi Sacks’ final resting place and reading the majestic and moving gravestone, the first you come across at Bushey New Cemetery, made me realize the purpose of his death.
And yet, as a famous Jedi Master once said to his sister, âNo one is ever really gone. Rabbi Sacks’ books adorn our shelves, his words are spoken at our Shabbat tables, and his ideas are conveyed by leaders, Jewish or not, across the world. And in the internet age, we can still watch it as it teaches us on our phones and computer screens.
For me, it’s more than a heartwarming and nostalgic experience, it’s a call to action. When I think of my teacher, I don’t look back, I look forward. I don’t sigh, I dream. I can feel the dynamism in his voice: âSo what? he asks. As a leader, he taught me to look beyond the petty quarrels of the moment and always keep an eye on the destination. The unprecedented outpouring of community love and global honor in the weeks and months following his burial is a testament to man’s vision. He reminded us of the greatness of our history and the privilege of transmitting to the world the gift of God, our holy Torah.
This is why we, at LSJS, his alma mater and first university center, have been organizing a regular course on his thought since January, in partnership with the Jewish News. What made it so special was that it was taught by some of Rabbi Sacks’ most talented students, all accomplished teachers and thinkers in their own right. Dr Erica Brown, Rabbi Joe Wolfson and Professor Daniel Rynhold of the United States, Rabbi Alex Israel, Tanya White, Dr Sam Lebens, Rabbi Johnny Solomon, Dr Daniel Rose and Rabbi Gideon Sylvester of Israel, and Joanne Greenaway and Rabbi Dr Michael Harris from Our Own Shores. Each explained and analyzed another aspect of the teachings of Rabbi Sacks and their continuing importance to Jewish life today.
To mark the first yahrzeit, the anniversary of his death, LSJS is partnering with the Rabbi Sacks Legacy Trust to host the flagship event of the ‘Communities in conversation ” initiative, a world day of learning in his memory. On Monday evening, October 25, we will hear from S&P Senior Sephardic Rabbi Joseph Dweck and Rabbi Daniel Epstein from the Marble Arch Synagogue, which is hosting the event. Both rabbis are students of Rabbi Sacks, both personally encouraged by him. This event, which you can attend in person or online, begins the last term of the LSJS course. This will continue until December 6, when I will be in conversation with Gila Sacks, the youngest daughter of Rabbi Sacks, a very accomplished public servant who spoke so eloquently at his funeral.
Rabbi Sacks wrote with confidence on the future of the Jewish people. We have been here for millennia, and the alliance forged with our Creator continues to challenge us to live a life of righteousness and justice. He taught Mordecai’s message to Esther in response to Haman’s plot to annihilate our people 2,500 years ago. âIf you remain silent, relief and rescue will come elsewhere for the Jewsâ¦ but who knows if, for a time like this, you have achieved kingship? (Esther 4:14).
We don’t need to embrace our Judaism out of guilt or fear of letting our ancestors down, but as an opportunity to be part of the greatest story of all time, one that has inspired all of humanity. This is our time, our time in the sun, our chance to share the Torah vision.
In To Heal a Fractured World, Rabbi Sacks wrote: âWe are the ambassadors of God on earth. The way we live affects the way others see it. God needs us. The idea seems paradoxical, but it is true. Consciously or not, the way we live tells a story. If we live well, becoming a blessing to others, we become witnesses to the transforming power of the divine presence. God lives in the human situation to the extent that we live his will. As a radio converts airwaves into sound, a holy life translates the word of God into action. We become issuers.
Rabbi Sacks lived as he taught, with a deep commitment to human dignity, an unwavering faith in the value of the common good, and a deep love for our people. He was unique, but he reminded us that we are all too. âFor each of us, God may have a task. Discerning this task, hearing the call of God, is what gives meaning and purpose to life.
If we share their vision and live their values, no one is ever really gone.
Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum is Dean of the London School of Jewish Studies (LSJS).