3 years ago • Nov 10, 2020

Condolences: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

IKAR Clergy

There Is Yet Work For Us To Do

On Shabbat, we learned of the death of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Britain and an important teacher for all of us. Rabbi Sacks was respected and beloved across the Jewish world. In R’ Mel Gottlieb’s words: R’ Sacks’s blend of Torah scholarship and academic acumen allowed him to speak to broad audiences and interfaith circles relating to the moral issues of our time and the unique charge of the Jewish people…His unique voice, novel and insightful ideas, personal warmth and charm will be sorely missed. 

If you’ve spent any time at IKAR, you’ve heard R’ Sacks’s teachings cited many times. To honor his vast influence, we’re honored to share with you some of his teachings we’re holding close to our hearts today:

Rabbi Sharon Brous:

You’ve likely all heard me cite R’ Sack’s teaching from his 2004 book, the Dignity of Difference, that asked us to consider two different possible scenarios of the world in the year 2020—a new Dark Age or a new Golden Age. That visioning exercise fueled my moral imagination, and was top of mind for me as we launched IKAR only a few months after the book was published. Today, as I think of the many ways that my thinking has been challenged and advanced by R’ Sacks’s torah, I want to lift up a short piece from another book, To Heal a Fractured World, which is top of mind as we work to determine how to build, together, a more just and loving society:

As long as there is hunger, poverty and treatable disease in the world there is work for us to do. As long as nations fight, and men hate, and corruption stalks the corridors of power; as long as there is unemployment and homelessness, depression and despair, our task is not yet done, and we hear, if we listen carefully enough, the voice of God asking us, as God asked the first humans, ‘Where are you?’ (To Heal a Fractured World, 82)

I suspect that R’ Sacks would have been both honored by and a little uncomfortable with the ways in which his teachings helped form the theological and moral foundation of our community, which was so different from the British Orthodox world he inhabited. I hope that despite our differences, he would have felt affirmed that his teachings have inspired so many to open our hearts and minds to a vibrant, vital, morally courageous Jewish life.

Rabbi Keilah Lebell:

Early on in my studies I practically ate my way through each of Rabbi Sacks’s many books, leaving more sentences underlined than not. His Torah is as loving as it is rigorous, and it shaped so much of the way I understand the core values of Judaism – particularly our obligation to the stranger. During this era when we can see and feel so much division in our country, Rabbi Sacks’s Torah about the stranger is particularly resonant:

Why should you not hate the stranger? – asks the Torah. Because you once stood where he stands now. You know the heart of the stranger because you were once a stranger in the land of Egypt. If you are human, so is he. If he is less than human, so are you. You must fight the hatred in your heart as I once fought the greatest ruler and the strongest empire in the ancient world on your behalf. I made you into the world’s archetypal strangers so that you would fight for the rights of strangers – for your own and those of others, wherever they are, whoever they are, whatever the colour of their skin or the nature of their culture, because though they are not in your image – says G-d – they are nonetheless in Mine. There is only one reply strong enough to answer the question: Why should I not hate the stranger? Because the stranger is me. (Love the Stranger, Mishpatim 5768)

Rabbi David Kasher:

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was impressive in so many ways – one of which was an incredibly prolific body of published writing. He wrote, by my count, at least 30 books, and helped edit a few more. It seemed any text or topic was fair game for his fertile mind: ethics, politics, science, faith, war and peace – not to mention voluminous Torah commentary. But if I had to pick one work of his that has been most valuable to me, I would choose the Koren Sacks Siddur, his translation of and commentary on the daily prayerbook. It is truly a masterpiece of the genre. His English rendering of the original text is both poetic and precise, and his explanations throughout are – as he always was – clear, informative, and profound. I have come to use this siddur (and the subsequent holiday mahzorim) more than any other – both in my personal prayer life, and in preparing kavannot for IKAR. I only ever saw Rabbi Sacks speak twice, and I never met him personally, but I feel like I have been praying with him for years. With the passing of this mighty soul, the Jewish people have lost a giant, and the world has lost one of our greatest ambassadors. We are all in mourning this week. But I take some comfort in knowing that I will continue to daven with Rabbi Sacks for as long as I have breath in me to pray.

Rabbi Ronit Tsadok is on vacation and will share her thoughts when she returns.

Zikhrono livrakha— may Rabbi Sacks’s memory always be a blessing.