Honoring Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l
Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This week we read parashat Chayei Sarah, which literally means “the life of Sarah.” However, the first verses of this parasha actually tells us about Sarah’s death. Something similar happens with the last parasha of the Book of Genesis, which is called Vayechi, “he lived,” although it tells us about Jacob’s death.
Our sages learn an important principle from these apparent contradictions. They stated that, צַדִּיקִים שֶׁבְּמִיתָתָן נִקְרְאוּ חַיִּים, “Righteous people are referred to as living even after their death” (Brachot 18:b). This means that righteous people live on through their teaching and living example, even after passing away.
I would like to take advantage of this wonderful teaching to offer my humble tribute to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l, who passed away suddenly last Shabbat.
Rabbi Sacks was a giant influence in Great Britain and the World in general. His scholarship and oratory skills were without parallel, and he was an inspiration to an entire generation, no matter their faith. He was a proud Jewish and Zionist leader. A thinker who knew how to connect wisely and sensitively between the Torah and people around the world and touched each and every one personally.
Rabbi Sacks possessed and shared profound learning, moral depth, and sheer eloquence, expressed in his many published works. These made him a leading religious figure not only within contemporary Judaism but throughout the world.
Rabbi Sacks served as the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013, succeeding Immanuel Jakobovits. He was succeeded by the current chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis.
Before being appointed as chief rabbi of the UK in 1993, Sacks served as principal of Jews’ College, now the London School of Jewish Studies, and rabbi of the prestigious Marble Arch Synagogue in Central London.
During his time as chief rabbi, Sacks became an ambassador for the Jewish community in the UK and was respected by many in UK Jewry and in the non-Jewish world as well. He was widely seen as a voice of morality and ethical integrity, and his positions and opinions were frequently sought by the British media on crucial issues of the day, including writing in a regular column in The Times newspaper, and as a guest on current affairs TV and radio shows. He wrote numerous books on Jewish thought, tolerance, extremism, a commentary on the weekly Torah portion, commentaries on Jewish liturgy, and more, as well as producing a documentary series. He will be deeply missed.
As we read parashat Chayei Sarah and reflect on how righteous people’s memories survive their physical death with their teachings and life examples, I invite you to honor and remember Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who was a significant teacher and leader of the Jewish people. May his memory be a blessing.