The personal reflections of a student: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks זצ"ל

Daniel Rose

The personal reflections of a student: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks זצ"ל

Daniel Rose

My teacher, my rabbi, my inspiration, has left this world, and the pain and sense of loss is unprecedented for me, and I know there are many many others who feel the same way.
Words have not come easy to me these past few days since his passing. So many hundreds, perhaps thousands, are sharing stories and their thoughts on the impact he made on their lives, but word are failing me. I would so often in the past turn to his words, so often poetic and powerful, to express my innermost ideas on Judaism and the world. But living in a world without him, I am bereft and will have to find my own words.
Rabbi Sacks became Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth in 1991, and with it he became elevated to the status of a religious leader and thinker of international renown. Growing up in London in the eighties and nineties, my generation embarked on our Jewish journeys parallel to his development as a Jewish leader of international prominence. We were blessed to have access and exposure to him during this exciting time of exploration and religious identity formation. He was our Chief Rabbi, and has and will always be known to us simply as “the Chief”.
I first fell in love with his thought when I was the same age as the Machon students. In his books, he demonstrated an ability to express the core ideas of Judaism in a poetic and eloquent, simple and yet sophisticated way. The Judaism he taught was one engaged with the modern world, a Judaism that had an eternal and relevant message for wider society. He had a deep influence on many world leaders, both religious and political, as well as multitudes of ordinary Jews and non-Jews alike, who were inspired by his writings and magnificent oratory presentations.
I have been privileged and honoured to have worked with him and for him, helping spread his teachings to a new younger demographic, but I have no more legitimate claim on calling him my rabbi and teacher than the thousands and thousands of people around the world who have engaged in his ideas in meaningful way.
I once wrote a piece on him and the place of Jewish education in his thought, and I mentioned that I didn’t have any signed books (despite having every single published book of his of course) and that that was ok because when I read his books I felt as if they were written directly for me, expressing what I felt in my soul. He responded with a handwritten note apologising for never having signed any books (and promising to do so in the future) and thanking me for the piece and for the work I was doing for him. Although I am certain he understood the point I was making, and he wrote this tongue in cheek, the point I was trying to make was that the biggest impact he has made on me, and will continue to make on me for the rest of my life, is his thought. He presented a Judaism to the world that I was proud of. That burned inside me. That I longed to be part of and to live up to. I know of no other thinker that has managed to eloquently express this, to speak to all Jews, and so many non-Jews around the world, in the same way.
But there was of course more to him than that, and the hundreds of stories being shared since his death about the man himself, the access he gave to people, the conversations and letters and gestures that changed lives, are proof that he was not a scholar who cut himself off from the outside world in an ivory tower of scholarship. He was a man of the people, a leader par excellence, and a mensch of the highest order. He was a man of immense humanity and warmth, expressed in his humour, and in his drive to always do and say the right thing to those he met and interacted with. I believe this didn’t always come naturally to him, and it was something he worked hard on, including relying on the wonderful people around him, such as Elaine his wife of fifty years, and his team. But that is what a brilliant person does. Surround themselves with people they know will help them be the person they want to be.
His weekly parsha commentary essays, Covenant & Conversation, were read every week by thousands of people around the world. In last week’s edition for Parshat Chayei Sarah, which fell on the shabbat of his week of shiva, he explored Avraham’s faith in the covenant and the promises that he had received from God, despite only experiencing the very beginning of their fulfillment in his lifetime. Rabbi Sacks concludes the essay with these words:
Leaders see the destination, begin the journey, and leave behind them those who will continue it. That is enough to endow a life with immortality.
Rabbi Sacks deeply influenced me as a Jew, as an educator, and as a human being. I not only feel deep loss, but I also feel lost, missing my anchor and compass. But I also feel driven to continue his work. I hear these words as a call to us all to continue his work, to ensure his legacy, and to “endow his life with immortality” by building a world in the image of his ideas and values.
יהי זכרו ברוך

Dr. Daniel Rose grew up in Bnei Akiva in the United Kingdom, and has been an educator ever since. He made aliya in 1999, and first taught at the Machon soon after. He has taught and consulted for schools and educational institutions in the UK, US, Australia, and Israel, including developing and writing educational materials, curriculum and books. Several years ago he was blessed to be given a “dream job” to create educational materials based on the thought of his teacher and mentor, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. He hopes to continue to bring the ideas of Rabbi Sacks to future generations for many years to come.

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