Personal Reflections on Rabbi Sacks
Since Rabbi Sacks’ passing, we have invited personal reflections on the impact he made on people and the world. To date, we have received stories and memories from all over the world, from students, colleagues, friends, and strangers, all reflecting on how their lives were impacted by Rabbi Sacks. We offer a selection of these for you here, with only the first names and the location of the authors included. We encourage you to add your own story via the purple ‘Submit’ button.
I teach high school English at a Jewish day school in America. When Rabbi Sacks spent the day at our school, the administration hosted a special luncheon with some of the teachers and Rabbi Sacks.
During the luncheon, the teachers were given the opportunity to ask the Chief Rabbi their questions. One teacher asked Rabbi Sacks, “What would you say to a student who tells you that he does not believe in God because one of his parents had died?” Rabbi Sacks looked down at his shoes and paused for what felt like a long time. Then he looked up and said simply, “I would give him a hug.”
Rabbi Sacks was an intellectual force. That we all know. But he also cared about people. He loved people. And he understood that his role was to imbue the life of each person that he met with more kindness. That is now our job.David, Baltimore (US)
A few weeks ago, I had some business in a building in Tel Aviv. I was talking to the doorman and going through the details when he asked me where I was originally from. I told him I was from England.
He then asked me if I’d heard of Rabbi Sacks. I was surprised that a secular Israeli would have heard of him.
“Of course I’ve heard of him. The question is, how have you heard of him?” I asked.
He said that he had heard of his passing in the news and decided to find who Rabbi Sacks was. He read some articles online and watched a few videos. He was so inspired by what he had seen that he then bought his books. He told me he was now discussing them with his children. Rabbi Sacks continues to teach and inspire his beloved people, even from the grave.Moshe, Bet Shemesh (Israel)
Rabbi Sacks spoke of the role of the prophets who warned the people of what would happen if they were on the wrong path. I have always regarded Rabbi Sacks zt”l as a modern-day prophet whose teachings are our (Jew and non Jew alike) moral and spiritual GPS. We should always have his navigational guidance ‘on’ and use it – to check that we are on the correct path and to bring us back onto it when we stray from it.Ray, Melbourne (Australia)
Rabbi Sacks elevates commentary by intertwining history, ethics, and spirituality. His inspirational writings are available for all to view because of his generosity to share them. I’m a Jewish educator who has been blessed with his words.Judy, Los Angeles (US)
After reading his Covenant & Conversation for many years, I heard Rabbi Sacks speak in Mexico City in 2018 and bought one of his books. He signed it after the presentation.
He was already very famous among the community here and I was not surprised to see the amount of people that were at the event, included religious and lay persons. I felt that I was in the presence of greatness, and he was treated like a star, with a queue of people including myself wanting to shake his hand and meet him.
I believe he left a lasting impression on many of the people he met here in Mexico, including me.Philippe, Mexico City (Mexico)
In November 2015, Rabbi zt’l and Lady Sacks spent a Shabbos at our shul in Chicago. My wife and I were chairing the Friday night Shabbos dinner, and just prior to davening Friday evening, my sons and I went up to the bimah, where Rabbi Sacks was waiting for minchah to begin, to introduce ourselves and thank him for coming.
I had in my hand – absentmindedly – my battered, faded, taped-together personal-size Koren-Sacks Siddur. After years of use three times a day, it was showing its age, and since I hadn’t stopped at my seat in shul I was still holding it. After returning my greeting, and wishing my children good Shabbos, Rabbi Sacks looked down at the siddur in my hand and just said, and I quote, “OOYYY!”
I bought myself a new Koren-Sacks Siddur that weekend!Tzvi, Chicago (US)
I am having a unique experience and others may benefit from my sharing it with you. I hope they share their stories, too, because I am certain I am not alone in feeling closer to Rabbi Sacks now than when he was on this planet.
Rabbi Sacks’ body of work, which is monumental, is a legacy for us all. But I sense his spirit of encouragement and genuine love for Klal Yisrael even more now. When I see his photo or hear his voice online it is as though I knew him personally. The generosity of his incomparably vast spirit brings me peace in those times when I do not feel “enough.”
Wherever Rabbi Sacks is stationed in Shamayim [Heaven], he is accessible to us. Rabbi Sacks continues his work in spiritual ways for some of us. His spiritual legacy is vast. It eclipses his physical legacy and even the influence on his personal students. Rabbi Sacks is there for all of us, for all time.Mia, Hot Springs (US)
I began writing a weekly Torah sedra commentary to send out via email, about 15 years ago. At the time I had about 20 subscribers.
I had an opportunity to have a private meeting with Rabbi Sacks. I discussed this project with HaRav, and pondered if it was worthwhile because I wasn’t sure how many, if any, actually read it.
He asked a very simple question. “Do you think one person reads it”? Yes, I said, I believe that’s so. Then he replied, “If one person reads it, it’s worthwhile. Keep at it.”
15 years later, with some 300 subscribers, it’s still going strong thanks to Rabbi Sacks’ inspiring, encouraging comment.Martin, Los Angeles (US)
I never knew my father. A few days before my mother died, at the age 85, she told me he was a Jew, a man with strange habits. She learned something and transmitted it to me. That news fell upon me like a bomb. It explained my ever-present sense of non pertinence wherever I would be, and my inadequacy.
Immediately I began doing some research on my origins and about Judaism. Since I love philosophy, I found quickly the books of the Philosopher – Rabbi Sacks. Once I read the first chapters of ‘Future Tense’ I was captivated and what made me a deep admirer was the little video, “Why am I a Jew”.
I know, I am not really a Jew… but after dozens of books read, week after week parsha companions, dozens of messages listened to from his talented and brilliant mind, I dare to say… If I were a Jew I would like to be one as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
I am really another person, in mind and soul, since I met him, even it was not in person. May Hashem bless his family and his students with all the merits from the good deeds he accomplished in his productive life.Claudio, Coronel Freitas (Brazil)
I came to London in 2012, in truth to pursue Judaism. It was a rather harrowing journey. I am not halachically Jewish. I have always been an outsider but I would also say I am a pursuer of spiritual and secular “truth”.
I started to read in a lot more depth (for me) the shiurs and interviews of Rabbi Sacks during Shavuot of 2021. What really impacted me was, of course, his intelligence; but his complete humility, innate compassion and understanding of the human condition. I’ve never read anyone who can create a shiur from the words of Bob Dylan!
Rabbi Sacks gave me great personal comfort and hope that I can one day I can heal a fractured world in some small measure. If I do, I will attribute this entirely to the greatness of this one man who encouraged people to seek their own path but who through his own hard work and light of Torah made the way oh so much easier. Thank you, Lord Sacks.Esther, London (UK)
In 2015 Rabbi Sacks gave his first in-person public lecture to the members of our community. There was tremendous excitement all around, and there was much discussion in anticipation of the lecture.
Seeing as the lecture was taking place around the time of Purim, the organizers decided to gift the Rabbi with a brand new Megillah as a show of appreciation. I was just finishing up writing my third Megillah at the time and was asked if I would consider selling it to the organizers to present to Rabbi Sacks. Even though I already had several potential buyers, I immediately agreed, and was thrilled that Rabbi Sacks would have my Megillah. As a beginner Sofer, this was truly a tremendous honor.
The Megillah I wrote was unique in that it was written on Gevil and on leather which is not so common today. Rabbi Sacks had a gigantic smile on his face when he picked up the Megillah, and he gave me a huge warm hug. I felt like I was on top of the world.
After Purim, I was contacted by the Rabbi’s office who asked whether I might be willing to fix a small mistake that the Rabbi found while he was reading the Megillah. I was so embarrassed. I picked up the Megillah and meticulously fixed the mistake and checked for any other potential issues. When I saw Rabbi Sacks next, he recognized me and gave me a hug again, exclaiming “Hello my dear Sofer!” I profusely apologized about the mistake and he must have seen how ashamed I was. In his soft gentle manner, he proceeded to quote to me the relevant halachot pertaining to the kashrut of a Megillah, and reiterated that the mistake did not invalidate the Megillah in any way.
When he saw that I was still embarrassed, he grabbed me and said that I should be happy! Our job in this world is to constantly grow and improve, and if I had perfected my work then I would have no further purpose in life. He said insistently that the pursuit of perfection and the effort of correcting was certainly better than perfection itself.
Such a great man, yet still so sensitive and caring to the feelings of those around him. He empathized with me and said exactly what I needed to hear to feel better and to continue to grow in the future.
To this day I always think of Rabbi Sacks whenever I am correcting my work. For me, the memory of Rabbi Sacks will always be associated with the lesson he taught me that day. The thrill and joy we should have during the journey to success and the appreciation we should have for the opportunity to improve.Nathan, Brooklyn (US)
When I landed in England (from Israel) in the fall of 1987, I had the great good fortune of working with Rabbi Sacks, who was then Principal of Jews’ College. My role included organizing the first of the Traditional Alternatives Conferences. Rabbi Sacks had written a book setting out his vision for the future of modern Orthodox Judaism, to launch the event. I had been hired to work on the organizational details and administrative tasks involved in running an educational conference. Of course, I read the book.
And one day, when a few of us, including Rabbi Sacks, were returning from viewing the venue, I began asking the Rabbi questions about the book, posing challenges from a non-Orthodox but committed Jew. Rabbi Sacks was not put off, nor offended, by my presumptuousness. On the contrary, he welcomed the opportunity to hear a different view, to confront an alternative perspective. In fact, after the conference he hired me to help him with his publications.
I believe Rabbi Sacks spent a lifetime searching for connections to the other. He respected humanity. I was supremely lucky to have experienced his intellect and emotional intelligence firsthand.Natalie, Tel Aviv (Israel)
Lord Sacks, together with Elaine, attended my leaving party at Wembley Synagogue where I had been the Rabbi for 12 years. During that time we had established a very close relationship and they had stayed with us several times, as they did also when I was in Hong Kong. I also had the privilege to be a member of his Chief Rabbi’s Cabinet. His words to me at the party were very powerful, but what was more powerful was the hug he gave me. May his memory always be a blessing to us all.Martin, Beit Shemesh (Israel)
Unfortunately, my interactions with Rabbi Sacks were only in reading his lessons, particularly Covenant & Conversation. As someone who studies Torah every week, and who reads several sources, I always found his teachings to be insightful and, more importantly, I was able to apply them to modern day situations.
Torah is as relevant to today than when it was given by HaShem, and Rabbi Sacks brought this out with great clarity. I regret that the time is coming when I’ll have to find a new “go-to” teacher. Hopefully I’ll find someone, but it will be hard to find another who will measure up to his insights. BDE, may his memory be for a blessing, and may his family be comforted among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.Gary, Indialantic (US)
I never met Rabbi Sacks in person but I enjoyed learning from him, I found so much wisdom in his lectures and I miss him too much. He was a great Rabbi and was such a precious gift to the Jewish community. May he rest in peace. It was too soon to leave us. But he left a legacy that will stay forever.Nahid, New York (US)
I would like to speak of Rabbi Sacks from a personal perspective. I first met him at school, at Christ’s College, when it was located in the site that is now Pardes House. I was three years ahead of him, so we did not have a lot of contact. But he often told the tale of how, when he was thinking of applying to Cambridge University, the Headmaster told him he stood a chance of getting there – provided he worked as hard as me!
When he came to Cambridge we overlapped by a year. I often saw him at the Jewish Society, and remember visiting him in his rooms near Caius College where he was studying philosophy. During the time my wife and I lived in Pinner we often met him during his visits to our community.
I can particularly recall his visit to our former shul building for a Melava Malka in the late 1970s. The building, which was soon to be demolished, was so old that the roof leaked and every table was graced by a bucket. As the rain poured down and the buckets filled up, Rabbi Sacks was not in the least daunted and continued to give one of his remarkable talks.
Once I joined the Board of Deputies we had a lot more to do with one another. I started just a few months before Rabbi Sacks’ induction as Chief Rabbi, and I frequently attended events and receptions which he hosted at his home in Hamilton Terrace. In the early days there were regular meetings there involving representatives of the various synagogue groupings, both lay and rabbinic. These discussions formed the basis for the later Stanmore Accords, which brought together the leaders of the United Synagogue, Reform, Liberal and Masorti communities to discuss issues of mutual concern. At the meetings in his home I always felt that Rabbi Sacks spoke relatively little in discussions with the leaders of the non-orthodox groupings—though on a one-to-one basis he was very friendly towards them, especially Hugo Gryn. That made the great row which exploded over his absence from Hugo Gryn’s funeral all the more surprising, though it was undoubtedly inflamed by the media.
The Chief Rabbi was perfectly happy to be the keynote speaker at a memorial meeting arranged by the Board of Deputies, where he spoke very movingly of his friendship for Hugo Gryn. This affair, like the controversy that erupted over his book “The Dignity of Difference”, provided a classic illustration of the tightrope a Chief Rabbi has to tread between the rigid expectations of Orthodox circles and his need to participate in relations with non-orthodox and non-Jewish sections of society.
Rabbi Sacks had a great sense of humour, and often introduced his talks with an amusing anecdote. I can particularly recall an occasion at Belfast shul where Henry Grunwald, Jonathan Sacks and I were due to address the congregation. I went first, to be followed by the Chief Rabbi and then Henry, who had recently become a Queen’s Counsel. The Chief opened his talk by commenting that it was the first time he found himself in the position of having to speak “Between the Neville and the new QC”.
Rabbi Sacks was a modest man. When I wrote to congratulate him on his being awarded a knighthood, he replied saying: “Honours in themselves are not important: it is the honour we give, not the honour we receive, that matters most. What the award does represent is a renewed public recognition of the extraordinary contribution Jews have made to British life, and the fact that Jewish teachings really do speak to our contemporary situation, and not only to Jews but to the wider society.”
Jonathan Sacks undoubtedly proved to be one of the greatest religious leaders of our time, in part because of his willingness, indeed his enthusiasm, to engage with people of all kinds. He had little time for small talk – he was a man in a hurry, with an urgent need to accomplish as much as possible in a limited amount of time. But he was always keen to engage in discussion of ideas and actions which could benefit society. Such ideas permeate his writings.
Let me just refer briefly to his weekly “Covenant & Conversation” essays on the Sedra. The theme of leadership is a topic he frequently returned to, exploring the relevance of the Torah texts to our times. In Rabbi Sacks’ piece on Sedra Vayetse, he ended with the words: “To try, to fall, to fear, and yet to keep going: that is what it takes to be a leader. That was Jacob, the man who at the lowest ebbs of his life had his greatest visions of heaven.” And that too was Jonathan Sacks.
His memory will live on amongst everyone who was privileged to know him or was in any way touched by him, whether in his writings, his talks and sermons or his personal contact. He has been taken from us so prematurely when he still had so much to offer. May his dear memory be for an eternal blessing.Neville, London (UK)
I never met Rabbi Sacks. Yet he became my Rabbi. I looked forward to receiving his emails with his robust commentaries and profound wisdoms. His sense of humor shone through as well as his sense of humility. If I had lived in the UK, I would have attended the sermons at his synagogue. He was a true biblical scholar but one who made Jewish teachings accessible to the common woman/man. He made my life spiritually richer. My father’s family were direct descendants of Rabbi Jonatan Eibeshutz, at one time the Rabbi of northern Europe. I know a little bit about Rabbis, and Rabbi Sacks was the real thing.Renee, Greensboro (US)
While a guest lecturer at Fifth Avenue Synagogue, when the Synagogue was then interviewing candidates for Principal Rabbi, I asked Rabbi Sacks what prerequisites should we focus on. His answer was sagacious and so to the point. He said to look for a Rabbi that “loves your community.” In response you will almost certainly love him.
I and everyone I know feels a significant void in our spiritual existence since Rabbi Jonathan Sacks zt”l’s passing.Oskar, New York (US)
When I saw Rabbi Sacks’s TED Talk, I was struck not only by the uplifting message but also the calm and gentlemanly tone with which he conveyed it. Rabbi Sacks always said that most religions are about acceptance but Judaism is about protest. And yet, his tone for that talk (and many others like it) did not sound to me like the tone of protest as it was not loud, forceful, or jarring. Even though I did not know him, I sent Rabbi Sacks an email to ask him about it, and to my great surprise, he responded quickly and incredibly thoughtfully.
Rabbi Sacks said: “I don’t think the tone of protest needs to be loud, forceful, or jarring. Look at the Hebrew Bible, and where the protesters were the Prophets. Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah spoke with passion, but also with love, and reason, and hope.” He then used a famous Biblical story to explain that: “Elijah has to learn that God is not in the whirlwind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the still small voice. Failing to learn this, God tells him to appoint a successor. The protest that works best is delivered gently, positively, reasonably and always with hope.”
I think the phrase “gently, positively, reasonably and always with hope” is the best short summary of the wonderfully inviting tone that Rabbi Sacks always evoked even when he was protesting against the world that is and advocating for the world that ought to be. I consider myself very fortunate to have had this brief personal email encounter with Rabbi Sacks and I often think about the important life lesson that he imparted with this profound wisdom.Paul, Brookline (US)
I met Rabbi Sacks zt”l just once, at a United Synagogue event for Children’s Service leaders some years back. The memory I would like to share is not of that meeting, but rather of a single phrase that had a profound impact on me. I had just started a new job, and Chanukah was coming up. I was reading ‘Radical Then, Radical Now‘ which I had borrowed from my in-laws: This line struck me: “Non-Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism, but they are embarrassed by Jews who are embarrassed by Judaism”.
I used to work as a teacher in a Jewish school. In the subsequent years that I had worked outside the Jewish community, I kept quiet about being Jewish – not to the point of secrecy, but embarrassment probably comes closest to describing how I felt. After reading that one sentence, I decided to take sufganiot (doughnuts) into the office as a way of sharing Chanukah with my non-Jewish colleagues. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive (well, who doesn’t like doughnuts?) to the point that a colleague ‘came out’ to me as Jewish – we had both been embarrassed, it turned out.
I found that Rabbi Sacks was exactly right – my Judaism was respected by others. I also found so many points of commonality with colleagues of other faiths who similarly found that the same is true of other religions. He was, and continues to be, a peerless ambassador for Anglo-Jewry, teaching me not just how to be a Jew but how to be a Jew in the world, in the UK, in the twenty-first century. May his memory be an everlasting blessing.Richard, Borehamwood (UK)
Approximately 20 years ago my wife and I, along with another couple, went to hear R’ Sacks AH” at the Y on the upper east side of Manhattan. It was the first time they had heard him speak. We came away with an “aha moment”! This is what Judaism is all about! His words were not just inspiring about a topic but inspiring about our religion as a whole. The essence of who we are as a people. Quite different. From there, I can tell you my family has continued to read the Rabbi’s works and move along in his ways of thinking. Life-changing!Joe, New York (US)
I saw him at Y.U. [Yeshiva University] on stage with Senator Joe Lieberman (I – CT). In Joe’s part of the discussion he mentioned that he thinks there may have been only one time where a President was sworn into office and did not mention God in his swearing in. And he continued on. When it was R’ Sacks turn to speak, he said “just to clarify your comment on use of God, it was President George Washington in his swearing-in of his 2nd term of office when he said…” and he continued to quote the speech! Now, R’ Sacks is from England and Joe from the U.S., yet R’ Sacks knew this little tidbit of information! All these years later, I still remember that day and quote the scene often.George, Boynton Beach (US)
When my wife and I were traveling in London in the late-80’s, we were not able to speak with the Marble Arch beadle before Shabbat to ask about meal hospitality. I approached Rabbi Sacks after Kabbalat Shabbat, and he immediately arranged for us to eat with the chazzan for dinner, and with his own family for lunch. It turns out I was distantly related to the chazzan, and the graciousness, hospitality and wide-ranging conversation with the entire family at lunch was phenomenal. In addition to everything else, it helped contextualize the extent of the challenges (some different and some the same) confronting the US, UK and Israel.Carl, New York (US)
I got to know Rabbi Sacks when he came to Golders Green Synagogue at the time when I was starting to become more observant. A friend took me along to the Gemara shiur he gave between Minchah and Maariv on Shabbat afternoon – we were learning Gittin – the shiurim were inspirational.Simon, London (UK)
I had been a fan of the late Rabbi Sacks for many years but when I heard he was speaking at Sephardic school where I teach, I was so excited. This event took in Los Angeles on Jan 21 2020. Little did I know it would be last time I would be able to hear him speak live.
He was like a king who entered the room and with his warm voice spoke to us about his journey and patiently answered everyone’s questions. I will forever cherish that night. Since he passed on, I’ve made it a point to mention his name to all my students (who are primarily under the age of 13). I teach them about the lessons he taught me. What touched me most was his encounter with the Rebbe and how that changed his life.
One word from a wise teacher can make all the difference. I hope to be able to spread his teachings.Shiva, Los Angeles (US)
In 2007, Rabbi Sacks organised a small conference for city Rabbis, in London at St. John’s Wood synagogue, to study and debate from an inner-Jewish, rabbinic perspective – issues surrounding interfaith work. At that conference, he shared the following story. At some interfaith meeting, Rabbi Sacks had waxed poetic about the presence of common values diverse faith communities can band together to advance, and about the fact that we can all learn from one another. The speech had been beautiful, inspiring, but vague. Later that day, some of the faith leaders assembled at his house for dinner, and a Bahai woman confronted her, saying “Chief Rabbi Sacks, what can you, as a Rabbi, learn from me, as a Bahai woman?” The woman had artfully cornered Rabbi Sacks. Halchically, though we are all for advancing common values, we are very reluctant to take content in from other faith communities; how was Rabbi Sacks going to skilfully and truthfully respond?
He proceeded to say the following: “There is something that is extremely important for spiritual life, and yet, in Judaism, we have far too little of it, and you, the Bahai community, properly value.” The Bahai representative was astounded and inquired what it was Rabbi Sacks was talking about. “Silence,” he responded. “To lead a religiously contemplated life, one needs to take the time and make the effort to achieve silence, but we Jews are always loud. In our loudness, we do a lot of good, but we also miss out on a crucial path.”
Rabbi Sacks had given his response in most profound earnestness. Had he not been earnest, had he not been Jonathan Sacks, it would have sounded insincere, a cop out. Instead, it was a profound insight that did not deviate an iota from our halachic and hashkafic commitments, and yet made those present feel valued and honoured despite their differences.Arie, Vienna (Austria)
In the 1980s, I would travel to London every four months or so to confer with a colleague. My hotel was very close to Marble Arch, and I enjoyed the Shabbat services, and particularly Rabbi Sacks’ speeches. Once, my wife came with me. He worked his way over to us during the kiddush and invited us for tea that afternoon. Of course, he made it clear that he remembered me from my prior visits even though there was nothing more than a handshake.
I’ve always tried to read everything that he has ever written, but a Passover holiday at the Dead Sea, where he was the guest speaker, showed me a very different side of his personality – even more wonderful than I knew. A true raconteur, he cited his flight to Tel Aviv from London for the funeral of Prime Minister Rabin. He described sitting on the plane studying Talmud, and Prince Charles came over and asked him what exactly he was doing. He explained in detail, and the Prince and Tony Blair leaned in to hear more. (There was nothing negative at all in anything he said.) He could have given a scholarly representation to Prince Charles or an informative one that was appropriate. That he chose the last option one says so much about him. As for many, for me his passing was genuinely sorrowful. A fantastic scholar and a wonderful mensch.Stephen, Raanana (Israel)
His weekly reflections taught me so much about Jewish faith and the Jewish way of life, it will always stay with me and make me want to learn more. (I am of Catholic Faith myself.)Elizabeth, Mitchelstown (Ireland)
I was blessed to play a role in bringing Rabbi Sacks z”l to YU as Richard Joel’s Chief of Staff. While many memories from that time period stand out, it is a memory from a few years before that, in March 2010, that I wanted to share.
My wife and I got married on March 15, 2010 and Rabbi Sacks received the Lamm Prize from YU on March 16, 2010. On March 17, Rabbi Sacks was at YU for some events around the prize and was crossing Amsterdam Ave with a staffer from YU when my wife and I were getting out of a taxi. The staffer introduced us to Rabbi Sacks and told him that we got married two nights before. Rabbi Sacks, in his beautiful British accent (which I can still hear ringing in my head to this day), said “Oh Mazel Tov, Mazel Tov. You should only have gila, rina, ditzvah, v’chedva, ahava, v’achva, v’shalom, v’reyus.” This is a bracha we cherish to this day and have shared with our 3 children.Daniel, New Rochelle (US)
Early in my journey back to modern orthodoxy I was privileged to be part of a small group of young professionals that were invited to the home of the then Chief Rabbi Sacks. Rabbi Sacks was inspiring, warm and funny – he really took the time to consider anything we wanted to ask him and we left feeling really listened to and empowered to make a difference in the world. Although I can’t remember what was said in too much detail I remember leaving feeling so privileged to have had this time with someone whose books have had such a profound effect on me.
He was, and continues to be, an enormous source of inspiration and comfort. And when Lockdown struck, his was the voice that offered me the most reassurance and inspiration.Karen, London (UK)
Rabbi Sacks received the Irving Kristol Award from the American Enterprise Institute, where I was a Fellow. He spoke of the US Declaration of Independence as a shared covenant between God and the American people where all have responsibilities to preserve the Republic and each other. I have used his example many times in opinion pieces for publication as the United States has suffered from identity politics, trying to get each faction to listen to one another and craft a mutually beneficial outcome.
I participated in his book launch of “Morality” at the American Enterprise Institute, and have shared the book and its wisdom with my family and colleagues. His book on leadership inspires me daily with techniques and lessons that go back to Moses. My son has a copy too. I read his inspirational messages daily and still have them.
His scholarship and outreach have saved many lives and must be shared forever. They are timeless. May his memory be blessed and his widow and family be gladdened and strengthened by his blessed memory and how much we treasure him.John, Annapolis (US)
My husband, Howard, and I met Rabbi Sacks in the winter of 2011, when we were visiting our daughter in London. I was saying Kaddish for my father and we went to Minchah services at St. John’s Wood synagogue. It was a small crowd – maybe twelve men plus me. And there were two people saying Kaddish – Rabbi Sacks, and me. After davenning, Rabbi Sacks came over to us and welcomed us. He was so kind, asking who I was saying Kaddish for and really listening to what we had to say. He went on to ask us where we were from and sent regards to our Rabbi in Brooklyn. The kindness he bestowed on us travellers was so warm, sincere and unique – we will never forget that encounter.Freda, Jerusalem (Israel)
Growing up in the Former Soviet Union, I didn’t have much knowledge about my Jewish identity and traditions. Since 1989, after my family’s immigration to the United States, I have been actively seeking to find meaning and purpose in Jewish philosophy, traditions and values. I read hundreds of books in attempt to understand my eternal heritage, searching for any relevance of the ancient wisdom in my own life. I felt torn between the familiar Russian customs and my newly-found Jewish faith.
When my husband and I were faced with decisions on how to raise our children, it was clear that we wanted to build a home with Jewish values and traditions. But my Soviet childhood made it challenging to navigate and feel competent in the world of observant Jews. After all, I still remember the day my best friend called me a dirty Jew.
One day I came across the essay, “Letters to the Next Generations”, written by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. I held my breath as the words spoke directly to me: “Truth is that virtually every Jew alive today has a history more remarkable than the greatest novel or family saga. It tells of how they were expelled from one country after another, how they lost everything and had to begin again…” I couldn’t believe how relevant this statement was to me. This was exactly my story. I was astonished that somewhere in the world lived a Rabbi who understood my personal ordeal and the depth of my struggles.
As my family was rebuilding a new life in the United States, we were hoping that our Jewish identity would no longer be our biggest obstacle but rather a sign of pride and integrity. Yet in reality, immigration brought with it many challenges and for years I felt so lost to my newfound Jewish identity. For over 70 years of Soviet propaganda, most Jews of the Former Soviet Union were unable to practice their religion. Traditions were lost, as the new generations had no one to learn from. For years, I was angry at the Communist regime that separated me and so many others from the basic connection to our heritage.
I realized that perhaps the most powerful answer to our captors was not to wallow in self-pity but to expose our own child to the insight of Jewish ideas and values. Reading Rabbi Sacks’ words reassured me of this truth: “If something is wrong, don’t blame others. Ask, how can I help to put it right?”
It was intimidating for a Soviet-bred young mother to walk into a yeshiva for the first time. Rabbi Sacks’ words inspired me again, speaking directly to me: “For Jews, education is not just what we know. It’s who we are…. the first duty of a Jewish parent is to ensure that their children have a Jewish education.” These profound words encouraged me to make the ultimate leap of faith and allow my children to enter the world of ancient Hebrew texts and Torah wisdom. The most powerful answer to our captors was not to wallow in self-pity but to expose our own child to the insight of Jewish ideas and values.
A decade after the life-changing decision to enrol our children into a Jewish school, my husband and I were sitting in the audience at Kohelet Yeshiva High School the suburbs of Philadelphia, listening to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks talk about his vision for the young generation. And, without even realizing it at first, I found I was seated right next to Lady Elaine Sacks. After her husband’s presentation, I was lucky enough to strike a meaningful conversation with her about her hopes for her own children and grandchildren. I was mesmerized to realize that we had the same dreams for the next generations to come. I never imagined that one day I would meet the author of the essay who gave me the courage to become the mother of two yeshiva students.
After the lecture I spoke with Rabbi Sacks about my experiences of learning blessings, Hebrew letters and basic Jewish concepts together with my children. My husband and I attended our first Chumash parties, Chanukah celebrations, Purim carnivals and Torah classes at Politz Hebrew Academy. Rabbi Sacks reassured us that no milestone is too small to celebrate and we should be proud of what our family has accomplished. I felt grateful and overwhelmed by the joy of making so many difficult decisions that brought me to this moment, heightened by the awareness that so many young people never get the chance to learn about their Jewish heritage and appreciate their rich culture.
As parents, we often encounter unexpected and unpredictable detours, yet we can find reassurance by the words of Rabbi Sacks that “faith does not mean certainty. It means the courage to live with uncertainty.” Therefore, “more than we have faith in God, God has faith in us.” We all eventually leave this world, yet the legacy and the impact we create will last for generations to come. My life and the lives of my children were forever impacted by the wisdom of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.
When I feel overwhelmed by all the challenges of raising children, living a Torah committed life and growing in authentic and meaningful way, I think back to the teaching of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks: “Yes, life can be hard and full of the possibility of loss, pain, disappointment and grief. But the solution is not to avoid taking risks. It is to cultivate the things that give us strength: the love of family and friends, the support of a community, the habit of prayer that allows us to lean on God, and the faith that God believes in us, forgiving our faults and giving us the strength to begin again after every failure.”Sofya, Philadelphia (US)
Rabbi Sacks and Lady Sacks were very gracious when we hosted them at our home in DC; he came to speak at our synagogue, Kesher Israel. This graciousness extended to the good-hearted manner with which he handled our cat giving Lady Sacks a dead mouse (we debated whether the cat was showing esteem or trying to sabotage our efforts to host him).
He also shocked me when he asked me a pretty serious question about terrorism (he was here during the Paris night club attack); I wasn’t used to people seeking my opinion, and it showed great people skills. He spoke wonderfully at the synagogue, twice, it was a memorable event. It was during a hard time for our synagogue, and it made his reaching out to us even more precious.Judah, Washington DC (US)
The memory I would like to share is of the time I rushed from work to go hear Rabbi Sacks speak at Northwestern University. He was on a book tour for Not in God’s Name, and I couldn’t wait to hear him speak about it. I arrived at the University approximately one hour prior to the start of his talk and was informed that the auditorium was filled and the fire marshal was not keen on going over the occupancy numbers. I was devastated and pleaded with the staff to let me stand at the back but they said it was not possible. After a significant amount of further pleading (that may have included some very real tears), I was finally allowed to stand on the stage, behind Rabbi Sacks, where I remained for the entire talk. It was electrifying and unforgettable, and the best use of my tears in recent memory.Fay, Chicago (US)
On December 28th, 2010, we were at St. John’s Wood Synagogue to attend and celebrate the Brit Milah of our grandson, Binyamin Richards. Our son-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Richards was a junior Rabbi at the synagogue, and since the senior Rabbi, Dayan Ivan Binstock, was present, he was to have the honour of being the Sandek. At the start of Shacharit, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks zt”l and his security detail arrived, unexpectedly, to join the davening. Since Dayan Binstock was no longer the senior Rabbi present, it fell to Rabbi Lord Sacks to perform the role of Sandek, which he graciously agreed to do. Our daughter, Temima Richards, has told us many times since then how many compliments, Baruch HaShem, she has received, from Binyamin’s Rabbeim, teachers, and parents of his friends, about his good, kind nature, demeanour, derech eretz, love of learning, and conscientiousness. She always adds that her response to these compliments invariably includes something along the lines of “Rabbi Sacks was his Sandek!”
We will never forget that experience at St. John’s Wood Synagogue and since then have looked forward, every week, to reading Covenant & Conversation and to listening to whatever’s new at “Celebrating Life” on his WhatsApp group, any other new material we can find from The Office of Rabbi Sacks, and the wonderful speakers on Rabbi Sacks and his Torah, at LSJS.
Like so many others, the world over, we feel a grave sense of personal loss on account of the passing, far too soon, of Rabbi Lord Sacks. With the passing of Rabbi Sacks, the world has lost a great source of light, inspiration, brilliance, integrity and love for all mankind. His memory will always be a source of blessing, comfort and inspiration to us, notwithstanding the ache in our hearts for the future body of outstanding work and guidance that we have foregone. We are, however, so grateful for, and will always treasure, the legacy of inspirational leadership and menschlichkeit he has bequeathed to us.Ian, Toronto (Canada)
When Rabbi Sacks heard that my young sister was unwell in Israel, he called me to offer some words of chizzuk and comfort. I didn’t want to take up too much of his time as I knew it was a busy week for him, although I appreciated his call very much. But during our conversation he went a step further, and asked if my sister might also like a call from him. Even though they had never spoken before, I knew this would mean the world to her. So he arranged to speak to her as she lay in her hospital bed in Israel, as soon as she felt able. I was so touched that he did this for her, and even more so when he put it in his planner to ensure he spoke to her again one week later, to follow up after her operation and check she was feeling okay.
I once asked my sister about her conversation with Rabbi Sacks. She said that he was warm, kind, sensitive, and very very comforting at the scariest time in her life. I don’t believe either my sister or myself will ever forget this act of kindness.Debby, London (UK)
It was June 2013 in Trafalgar Square in London and British Jews had filled the square to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day. As a dual national British/Israeli I of course went along. As a photographer, I wanted to catch the event. I had worked my way to the front of the crowd so I could get as close as possible to capture what was happening on the stage.
After a few minutes, I was half aware of space being made to my direct left and someone moving into it. I just looked round to see Rabbi Sacks standing next to me. With my camera still in position, he allowed me to take a couple of images with him smiling. No words. No objections. These images I will always treasure, as having heard him speak a few times in Marble Arch I was already in awe of his wisdom. I was delighted to have had the chance of getting such an image of him. A man of such stature and yet not being afraid or aloof to be in the thick of the crowd and always charming. Making time for people collectively and individually – even if it is just for a fleeting moment, was very considerate.
I am currently reading his book ‘Judaism’s Life-Changing Ideas‘ and I again find myself hugely respecting him for his ability to get the message across while not speaking over our heads. And this is the man who (as I said) made and gave time for others, even allowing and smiling for a couple of impromptu, unplanned photos. I will always be grateful to him for his talks, books and a good lesson in being human.Michael, London (UK)
We have lost a true giant of the spirit. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks passed away last Shabbos, aged 72. He was one of the most eloquent and profound thinkers of our times, whose sphere of influence reached far beyond the Jewish world. He had the unique ability to bridge what seem like opposing ideas: faith and reason, morality and modernity, the Torah’s message to the Jewish people and its universal message to all peoples. His passionate voice will be missed.
I was fortunate to meet him on a few occasions. I’d like to share one exchange I had with him, unremarkable in many ways and yet so powerful. It was on the side of a rabbinical conference he was addressing, during his visit to Australia in 2006. I caught him alone in the hallway, and grabbed the opportunity to ask a few questions. In the 22 years he served as Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, he authored some 25 books, wrote countless articles and essays and speeches, all while keeping up with the never-ending communal demands of his role.
Being myself a young Rabbi of a small community doing a little bit of writing, I was astounded at his prolific output. I wanted to know his secret. So I asked him: How do you find the time to write so much and yet maintain your many other duties?
He stopped for a moment and looked down to floor, tightening his eyebrows and scrunching his mouth up in a pondering pose. Only after thinking for what seemed like quite a while, Rabbi Sacks answered: “Discipline. It takes discipline to write. Figure out which time of day you are most productive. Some find they work best first thing in the morning, others are night-people. But whatever time it is, set it aside to write with focus. Inspiration comes with disciplined work.”
I liked his answer. Too often we wait idly for inspiration to just hit us. That’s a huge waste of time. Consistent and focused effort will invite inspiration. Don’t wait until you are in the mood. Get to work.
I’d be better off if I listened to that advice more often. But quite apart from Rabbi Sacks’ words, I was taken by something else: the way he stopped to think before he spoke. I could almost hear his brain ticking. My question was not such a tough one. But he was preparing a considered response. I felt privileged to stand silently in the presence of this giant of a mind at work. I had read the writings of Rabbi Sacks the author. I had heard the lectures of Rabbi Sacks the orator. But now I was witnessing with my own eyes Rabbi Sacks the thinker. Those moments impacted me as much as the words that followed.
In our superficial and frenetic world, the ability to concentrate our thoughts is almost a lost art. I have learned much from Rabbi Sacks. But I will forever be grateful for what I learned from him first-hand – that inspiration comes on the back of discipline, and that you are never too smart to think.Aron, Sydney (Australia)
I first met the distinguished Rabbi when he was at the London School of Jewish Studies and I was scheduled to go there to meet him to talk about American Jewish World Service. When I arrived he greeted me, said he had done his homework on me and on the organization, was impressed and did not want to “waste my time” by just meeting with him so he had arranged for some 40 faculty and students to assemble in a formal room so I could address them. And without ever having talked with me privately, he told them that I was an important piece of the story of what Jews should be doing in the world, so he would interview me about my work and then they could ask questions.
It was a truly wonderful experience, as it was every time I saw him or met with him or heard him speak on his regular visits to America, particularly when he was collaborating with NYU.Ruth, New York (US)
Once upon a time, the king’s son went crazy at the royal dinner table. He acted like a chicken, sat naked under the table and nibbled crumbs and bones. The court physicians and advisors didn’t know what to do and the king and queen were distraught. After many had tried and failed to cure the child, one wise old man proclaimed, “I will heal the prince.” He removed his clothes and crawled under the table. He sat next to the prince and began nibbling the crumbs and the scraps. The prince asked him [presumably using foul language], “Who are you? What are you doing here?” To which the man retorted: “And what are you doing here?” “I’m a chicken,” said the prince. “So am I,” said the man. And the two of them, man and boy, sat there under the table, clucking and pecking at crumbs. After a while, the wise man winked at the servants, who brought them a couple of cloaks. “Do you think a chicken can’t wear a cloak?” He said to the boy, and put on the cloak. “Look! I can wear the cloak and still be a chicken!” The prince also donned his cloak and they continued to sit under the table. Minutes passed and the man gestured again. This time the servant brought them trousers. “Do you think you can’t be a chicken in trousers? Of course you can!” and promptly slipped on the legwear. The prince put on his trousers too. And gradually, the wise man managed to get himself and his charge fully dressed. But still under the table. At the man’s sign, the servants brought them proper food and the man said to the prince, “Do you think you can’t be a chicken if you eat good food? Nonsense!” And indeed, the two of them ate a sumptuous meal. Under the table. When they had finished, the man said to the prince: “Do you think chickens must live under the table? You can sit at the table and still be a chicken.” And step by step, with love and patience, the man restored the king’s son to health.
I first heard this story from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, when we shared a stage together at my high school graduation ceremony at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool, England, in 1983. Rabbi Sacks – this was long before Chief Rabbi, Lord or anything else – was the guest speaker and I was speaking after him on behalf of the pupils. He told this story and continued however he continued (I don’t remember a word he said) and when I got up to speak, I began my remarks with the very formal, traditional English opening “Rabbi Sacks, Headmaster, honorary guests, teachers, fellow pupils, ladies and gentlemen, and… chickens…” Which of course drew tremendous applause and gave my parents plenty of nachas for years to come.
But my wit and spontaneity are not the point here. Especially as I then spent many years languishing under the table while Rabbi Sacks was becoming Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. What is the point is that the next time I bumped into Rabbi Sacks, many years later when he was already Chief Rabbi, he remembered me and my chutzpah that evening. Our paths crossed a few times over the years and he always expressed interest in what I was doing, but that one sentence, reminding me of a time I felt good and made others – including him – smile, speaks volumes about who he was. A man who touched hundreds of thousands, yet never forgot the one. Because in his eyes, all the ones were created in the image of the One.
Like all those others, I too have been enthralled, influenced and inspired by Rabbi Sacks’ thoughts, teachings and ideas. However, he wouldn’t want us to sing his praises without striving to change ourselves as a result of his efforts. So as I said, I have no memory of Rabbi Sacks’ message on that night in Liverpool, but now, almost 40 years later, and with the hindsight of knowing what he became, perhaps I can suggest what his messages – and maybe Rabbi Nachman’s too – would be today. Firstly, he was a persistent advocate for respecting differences and engaging the chickens of this world in conversation, at their level, while instilling in them the belief they can rise to a higher level. For most of us, I would imagine, thinking we’re chickens is not something that keeps us up at night (or wakes us up in the morning…) But could we be limiting our own potential because of how we perceive ourselves, or how we think others perceive us? Are we chickening out of our greatness? Rabbi Sacks of course argued that our very Jewishness endows us with greatness and we should rise up to be worthy of that gift. He harboured hope for each and every one of us. He was always ready with the garments to clothe us, if only we believed in ourselves enough – or even wanted – to discard the crumbs and show up for the banquet. And even if we simply treat chicken-like behaviour as a mental health issue, Rabbi Sacks taught us to love and care. He was an indomitable voice for the power of the caring community, social justice and mutual responsibility for the injustices in life and for those less fortunate than us.
That’s on a one-on-one level. Yet Rabbi Sacks also urged us to come out from under the table to face national issues. The chicken prince can represent the Jewish people in exile, “under the table,” where it wanders here and there, pecking on the charity and mercy of foreign rulers. Rabbi Sacks worked passionately to encourage us to stop hiding and apologising – chickens embarrassed and afraid to cross the road – and to restore us to being sons and daughters of the King – proud, independent-thinking Jews with our own Land, back at the King’s table.
But that was still not enough for Rabbi Sacks. On a universal level, the son of the king is all of mankind, banished from the Garden of Eden. Who will lead humanity back to its ideal pristine state? Who will heal a fractured world? The nations of the world, represented by the king’s physicians and advisors, all try and fail. Only the Jewish sage succeeds in reuniting the chicken prince with his father. Rabbi Sacks was that sage. Now that he is no longer, it’s time for us to emerge from under the table…Danny, Maale Mlchmass (Israel)
I can’t even remember where I first got the link to read the Covenant & Conversation. It hit me and I thought: Here is a man knowing his God. I want to learn from him. When Rabbi Sacks passed away, I was crying feeling like having lost a grandfather. I am not even Jewish but I felt that a Tsaddik has left the world. I am so thankful for all I can still learn from his writings, views that bring order, understanding, empathy and peace.Gabriela, Lake of Constance (Switzerland)
For me personally, our honourable Rabbi J. Sacks is the Torchbearer of honesty, moderation, goodness of heart. He is the Pathfinder restoring friendly relationships among opposites, and the Peacemaker resolving differences with wisdom of his heart, understanding humanity with kindness, and the towering mind of our epoch. Lord Rabbi is very much alive and will never die.Aviva, Neve Michael (Israel)
I was assistant director of the Chief Rabbi’s Office during the early 90’s. One day the staff gathered for a drink to celebrate the launch of his latest book ‘Faith in the Future‘. He spoke about how, whilst on his honeymoon, he nearly drowned.
“Instead”, he said “of seeing my life flash before me as they say it does when you are dying, all I could think of was that I hadn’t yet published a book.” He then went on to say that each of us has his own path to follow, his own goals to achieve in life.
“Chief Rabbi” I asked, “How do you identify what your own goals should be?” He replied “Just imagine what you would want to see written on your gravestone.”Rhoda, Ashkelon (Israel)
I never had the privilege of meeting R. Sacks, living in the US. But I own some of his books, which continue to inspire me. To this day I cannot look at a picture of that beautiful man without getting tears in my eyes. He gave us so much and he still had so much that he could have given us. He’s gone too soon.Laurie, Lee County (US)
Rabbi Sacks visited our community in Ramot-Jerusalem a few years. It was an unforgettable Shabbat and the Rabbi touched the neshamot of so many. The Rav of our shul still speaks about it. During Shabbat I asked Rabbi Sacks a question and his answer so unique and insightful helps guide my life.
I asked about the nature of hashgacha pratit– to what extent is God involved in our daily lives? If my alarm clock didn’t ring, or the cholent burnt, was God involved? Rabbi Sacks explained to me that the best way to view hashgacha is not about the past. He explained never to view events as to why did such and such happen. He told me that Hashem’s message to us must always be viewed going forward. “Now that this has happened what must I do? Never focus,” he explained, “on the past event but instead on what action must we take to make things better going forward.” I shall miss the Rabbi always.Robert, Jerusalem (Israel)
Unfortunately I’ve never met Rabbi Sacks. I have never touched his life, but he sure touched mine. It can be hard to keep your faith and keep rules that make your life harder. The way I see it, you can only keep on track by learning and finding inspiration again and again. Looking for new insights that will keep the flame burning. Rabbi Sacks helped a lot with that.Aliza, Amstelveen (The Netherlands)
Sadly I never met Rabbi Sacks in person, though I always felt I knew him through his books. I have read many of them over the years, including his Thought For the Day talks published in book form. When I read them, it always seemed as if he were speaking to me directly. This is not a common occurrence for me, but in his case the style and content of his communication had an authority and power about it which made it seem as if he knew my spiritual state and sought to address it.
I never finished one of his books without feeling the better for it. This was no mere academic theology but a force for spiritual good from which I and countless others have benefitted. I consider him to be one of the most outstanding biblical scholars of our time and a trustworthy guide to the moral and spiritual life.
Though I am an Anglican clergyman, I believe that Rabbi Sacks has taught me more about God than most others. His legacy will live on.Michael, London (UK)
He came to talk in St John’s Wood Shul on Shabbat. It happened to be my birthday. He didn’t know me, but my kids approached him asking if he could wish me happy birthday and he did it right before his speech, publicly.Rivka, London (UK)
I was introduced to Rabbi Sacks zt”l after his passing. The first thing I saw was his video on youtube of “Why I am a Jew”. The video struck a chord with me that is at what I gather to be at the heart of one of Rabbi Sacks zt”l’s central messages. That message is that being a Jew does not make me better or worse than anyone else. Being a Jew is what allows me to see the 2 main ways God interacts with me. As a father where He gives me a love particular to me and as a judge that holds me to account in a universal way.
Many times the jewish faith can fall into a negative cycle where we see ourselves as superior to others. Where we act as we are right and they are wrong. Rabbi Sacks zt”l taught me that the Torah in itself shows us to never accept duality for God is only One. Good and evil come from the same and only God. As beings created in His image we have both good and evil inside all of us no matter race, color, religion, or anything. In a world where we are constantly shown information either black or white (narrowcasting), Rabbi Sacks taught me that there is only gray.
Though I never met you personally nor heard about you until after your passing Rabbi Sacks,zt”l, your message is so strong and enduring it has had great influence over me as a husband, father, son, brother, family member, community member, citizen, and human.Alan, Miami Beach (US)
Rabbi Sacks was of course known for his tremendous intellectual and scholarly talents. I remember him as a very warm and engaging individual who interacted with everyone in a special manner. Rabbi Sacks had been a scholar in residence in our shul for a shabbos. My wife and I had the special pleasure of driving the Rabbi and Lady Elaine back to New York City where he was staying while he was a visiting professor. Rabbi Sacks told us many fascinating stories, including some off-the-record which he preferred not to share in public. After this ride I said to my wife that even more impressive than the stories was the personality of Rabbi Sacks in a private venue. His warmth, sincerity, and general demeanor made us feel as if we were long-lost friends. It was less than an hour’s drive but it provided us a lifelong memory that we cherish.Stanley, New Rochelle (US)
I am a Brazilian lawyer, who was brought up in a family of Evangelical Christians. For some reason, I always had interest in Judaism. My father always used to ingrain in us a high consideration for Jewish objects, as menorahs, Magen David, etc. When I was at University in 2004, I came across a road coaster from the Jewish community in the surroundings of the law faculty, with a portrayal of the Rebbe and a message about the messianic era. That drew my attention and I ended up finding the Chabad’s website.
It was through that website that I got first acquainted to Rabbi Sacks’ writings. I quickly became an eager reader of his words. They were always very touching to me. I can say that some of the Rabbi Sacks’ insights changed completely the way I read scriptures. One particularly touching text to me is his remarkable commentary on the akeidah scene, where he teaches us that parenthood is about giving space for your kids to be themselves. It was a particularly worthy lesson now that I am a parent.
Rabbi Sacks is the sort of leader that transcends the boundaries of any religion. He is not only a thinker but a prophet of our generation, a man of God. A peacemaker. The world urges for his views on the need for dialogue and cooperation between the opposites.
The moment I learned about his passing I sobbed as I had lost a very close friend, even a relative. Then I realized how much his works, his wisdom, his humanity, crossed so many boundaries, to become meaningful for so many different people from so many different walks of life.
Four months after Rabbi Sacks passing, I was certified by the Israelite Community in Lisbon as a descendant from Jews that were converted during the Inquisiton. It might seem very little, but it was very meaningful to me, and it makes the remembrance of Rabbi Sacks’ words even more dear to me.Jorge, Sao Paulo (Brazil)
When I finished my IDF service, I was searching what values were important to me, what lifestyle I wanted to pursue. My father handed me ‘The Great Partnership‘ by Rabbi Sacks and this book made a huge impact on my life. It really struck a personal chord to internalise that science answers the ‘how’ but religion answers the ‘why’.
Rabbi Sack’s book gave me direction and guidance when I needed it, shaping who I am today. It helped me define myself an an Orthodox Jew, understanding the values, lifestyle and ideals I treasure the most. In addition, it also helped me define myself as a Jewish and Israel educator.
I currently have the opportunity to do that as a Shlicha (Israeli emissary) of the Jewish Agency in Maryland. I also had the opportunity to lead a limmud for my community in honour of Rabbi Sacks’ shloshim. I still read his commentary on the parsha every week and to this day, his words and lessons have shaped me as an educator and are a big part of the person I am today.
It is unfortunate for me that I never got to meet him in person, but as you can see, Rabbi Sacks had an influence not only with his presence and interactions but with his words and writings as well. I am thankful to have been exposed to it and thankful to still benefit and learn from him to this day.Netta, Jerusalem (Israel)
We are told: “Make for yourself a teacher”. This was oftentimes a point of personal distress. I have many close relationships with Rabbis, but none that I would consider “My Rabbi”. Perhaps it was when I purchased yet another publication by Rabbi Sacks, or when I linked into yet another of Rabbi Sacks’ podcasts, or maybe even when reading Rabbi Sacks’ weekly D’var Torah became a happy habit, but at some point, it occurred to me that I did in fact have a Rabbi, and I was awash in a a sense of peace.
Rabbi Sacks spoke to a Judaism that I could believe in. He gave me my spiritual direction. On April 24, 2017, I turned 50 years old. I wanted this celebration to be profoundly meaningful; something with more gravity than a hundred friends and several martinis could provide. Months earlier, in anticipation of this milestone, I decided to travel to any location where Rabbi Sacks was speaking. A gift to myself. My intention was not to meet him, but just to see him, to hear him deliver his words of wisdom, to feel his energy and the energy generated by his audience.
Unfortunately, Rabbi Sacks had no public speaking engagements booked that Spring. I was disappointed. And then – a few short weeks before my big day – a community announcement: Rabbi Sacks was speaking at my Shul, Schara Tzedeck Synagogue, in my city, Vancouver, Canada (of all places!) on the Shabbat following my birthday, Friday April 28, 2017. When I asked, Hashem gifted me with exactly the teacher that was best suited to seed my growth. And when I asked again, Hashem provided me with the birthday gift that I wanted most, to be in the presence of my Rabbi.
I miss my Rabbi profoundly. His absence still causes pain. But I strive to conduct my life according to his teachings, and in this way, my Rabbi lives.Jody, Vancouver (Canada)
A few years ago I happened to be a guest at an engagement party. Rabbi Sacks and his wife were also there. They left early, as did I, and I saw them walking to their car, looking very fondly towards each each. She drove. They looked like a young couple in love.Janine, London (UK)
My older brother introduced me to Rabbi Sacks about two year ago. I enjoyed receiving the Covenant & Conversation weekly, and discussing it with my husband and two young kids. After a year or so, I realized how eagerly I wait every Wednesday to receive the new Covenant & Conversation, and either to listen it on the WhatsApp group or to read it.
As my week went by I usually had a couple of things to work on, or a couple of decisions to make, and Rabbi Sacks usually wrote just the right thing to help guide me to make the right decisions through his discussion.
As an example I would like to share an occasion when I heard him speak to me when I was unsure of how to help my coworker. My close coworker had a miscarriage, and she was absolutely devastated. It was hard to see her, and I was not even sure how to support her. When Wednesday came, and I received the weekly Covenant & Conversation, Rabbi Sacks was telling us that faith is not certainty. It is courage to live with uncertainty. Faith helps us to find the “why” that allows us to bear almost any “how”. I shared this with my coworker that she should move on with her life and believe and have faith that she will have a healthy child soon. She appreciated the quote, and soon enough she got pregnant again. Now she is a mother of healthy baby boy named Zion.
Rabbi Sacks became an important member of my family for the past couple of years. Thank you for creating The Rabbi Sacks Legacy Trust.Anna, Stamford (US)
While I never actually met Rabbi Sacks zt”l, I was once in the same room with him. I’m not sure how many years ago but he came to speak at the Illinois Holocaust Museum where he spoke about of the day he became part of the House of Lords. He spoke about eating the packed lunch he and his wife brought with them that day in the garden, surrounded by statues of animals dressed up as Lords. He also spoke about how he manoeuvred the bowing necessary before the Queen to become a Lord.
Over the years I can remember so much of what I’ve read or heard from Rabbi Sacks zt”l, because everything always came with a wonderful story. I loved this particular story because he spoke, as he so often did, of being an Orthodox man in a secular world.Paula, Deerfield (US)
The very first time I came across Rabbi Sacks was when I watched his interview by Danis Prager. I was rooted to my seat by his astonishing gift to interweave the treasures of Jewish thought with modern life. I began reading Covenant & Conversation weekly, often daily, I never tired of learning his amazing insights. Rabbi Sacks zt”l’s incredible originality of thought truly mesmerized me. The library of his books on my bookshelves grew to include everything he published – and I read them voraciously. In our community I became known as a person who would have Rabbi Sacks zt”l’s new book on the day of its publication.
My Jewish observance, my understanding of the wisdom of my people and the depth of tradition – most of it is my unpaid debt to Rabbi Sacks zt”l. I humbly consider myself his student. In his boundless generosity and courage he left the treasures for all of us to cherish and study endlessly. He has created an unparalleled legacy. Rabbi Sacks zt”l’s passing left us with a profound sense of loss – he was a giant of a man. May his memory be of a blessing for eternity.Regina, Binghamton (US)
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks did not know me or interact with me. Although if he ever read the long list of the names subscribing to his weekly parsha, he might have seen me there. No matter, for what he did for me each week was give me the heart of Judaism and wisdom through his discussion and extrapolate that to embrace humankind.
His erudition (drawing as he did on philosophy and literature outside Judaism, as well as within it) provided insight and beauty of thought that resounded in such a way as to have profound effect. His way of being religious was humane, realistic and true to the core of Judaism. To pass all of that on every week, perhaps reaching Jews who are more isolated within their lives, created an inspiration and warmth that was all encompassing.
In fact, at times I have found myself passing on his writings to non-Jewish friends or acquaintances, for the wealth of knowledge and understanding he made possible. I shall miss him greatly, but always have his works to turn to.Liat, Inala (Australia)
As a graduate student at NYU, I participated in a lunchtime seminar with Rabbi Sacks. I had read his The Dignity of Difference during my undergraduate studies and was thrilled to spend time with him in a small group discussion. I will always remember his warmth, how he welcomed me as the only person who was not Jewish, and his encyclopaedic mind.Michael, New York (US)
I did not know R. Sacks personally. My wife Debbie and I met him in person only once. It was after his conversation with Jonathan Haidt at New York University. We wanted to meet R. Sacks so much that we waited long after the talk ended and even followed him into a reception, to which we were not invited. Even though he had been answering questions for almost an hour, he received us with a joyous smile and a friendly demeanour. We were certainly not the most important people in the room, but he made us feel as if we were. There were many people waiting to speak with him, but he took the time to sign our copy of Ceremony & Celebration. It was a wonderful moment for Debbie and me.Brandon, Englewood (US)
It was after a lunch for the leadership in Montreal and after the meeting, since it was just before Shabbat Zakhor I asked Rabbi Sacks “Who is Amalek today?” and with a deep and solemn voice the Rabbi told me warmly: “My friend, I cannot answer your question because if I answer I will be saying bad things about people.” What a teaching, no lashon hara, even against Amalek!!!!Joseph, Montreal (Canada)
During a Jewish Federations of North America mission to Israel, I had an impromptu introduction to Rabbi Sacks in a hotel lobby in Jerusalem. In my hand was a copy of his latest book at that time, Future Tense, which I was in the middle of reading. I humbly introduced myself and expressed how much I was learning from his teachings. He gladly signed my book with a personalized message. May his memory always be for a blessing.Seth, Wilmington (US)
My personal interaction with Rabbi Sacks zt”l lasted only a minute in time, but an eternity in memory. I went to see Rabbi Sacks speak at our local Orthodox synagogue. The event was attended by hundreds from our community, representing all denominations of Judaism and many non-Jewish representatives as well. His public address, along with his mere presence, helped unify a diverse crowd through recognition of our common dignity.
That, alone, would have left a deeply lasting impact on me. However, I was fortunate enough to have one more encounter with Rabbi Sacks, this time just he and I. Noticing him at a table on my way out of the synagogue, I went over to thank him. He immediately stood up, approached me, put both of his hands on my shoulders and gave me words of blessing and kindness, expressing his appreciation for those in attendance from my non-Orthodox shul. His words and gesture were filled with love and powerfully communicated his deeply-seated belief that we are all created in the image of God and worthy of love, and dignity.Jeffrey, Vancouver (Canada)
I only met him twice, when he spoke at various organizations, and yet through his presentations, books and other writings, he changed my life. I never studied Torah until I “met” Rabbi Sacks. The blessing that he gave to me was not only to clearly and succinctly discuss key insights of the parsha – but (and so important to me) do it in a way that I could understand, that I could relate to, that I could remember and use and that made my life better. Never before had anyone even tried to reach me and certainly not in the way he did. To borrow the a phrase from a movie “he made me a better man and a better Jew” and I am so grateful.
He left us too early but my solace is that his legacy and writings will continue and that he will not be forgotten.Joel, Manalapan Township (US)
Libraires always seem to fascinate us. Whether it is a fictional library as in Matt Haig’s recent book The Midnight Library or Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Cemetery of Lost Books, or in The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – or whether – in real life.
It was in such a “real life” library that I found myself in spring 2009. I was visiting Rabbi Sacks in Hamilton Terrace and as I entered, I heard “STEPHEN”! I looked up and there was Rabbi Sacks at the top of the stairs in his shirt sleeves. He called “Come up; have I ever shown you my “upstairs” library”? I proceeded upstairs and he took me into a room which he described as his “little sanctuary” and there in front of me was a room full of books.
He said, “let me show you this book”. He then took a thin paperback book from the shelf. The book was called “How Can We Keep from Singing”. Rabbi Sacks told me that he had read the book and now, he wanted me to have it. He told me to read it carefully and take in all of what the author – Joan Oliver Goldsmith – had to say. He inscribed the book “To Stephen, who taught Anglo Jewry to sing! With blessings and best wishes Jonathan Sacks – 8th Adar 5769”.
When I arrived home later that day, I found that Rabbi Sacks had carefully annotated the book in his familiar pencil underlining’s. I devoured the book. But one particular paragraph still resonates with me, which had been underlined by Rabbi Sacks: “Always, always, they ask you to give more – more concentration, more purity of sound, better line, finer adagio. They will ask and you will ask it yourself. You will especially ask yourself what you are doing here after a hard day’s work at your day job, when you don’t feel that good anyway and your spouse is mad at you and your kids say you never get anything right, and there isn’t enough money to pay the bills. Then suddenly it flows – a bar, a phrase, perhaps even a movement – and you are the physical instrument something higher. Then, you know again of Creation’s assignment: to learn the notes, to find your music. The invisible instrument is the one instrument we must learn to play”.
Some years earlier I found myself in another library, this time in Windsor Castle. The Shabbaton Choir and Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld had been invited to an ecumenical evening where clerics from many different religions had gathered to discuss amongst other things, the state of religion in the UK and how they could work together for the common good. Rabbi Sacks thought it would be a good idea to present a concert to this distinguished crowd and how could we refuse him or indeed, miss an opportunity to sing in the hallowed halls of Windsor Castle. Rabbi Sacks would often repeat the story of how the whole room was singing “Am Yisrael Chai”. “How could there be a greater show of unanimity than this?” he would say. However, he would go on to say that within only a few days, fire had ripped through a major part of the castle causing irreparable damage!
I first met Rabbi Sacks at Jewish Youth Study Group Summer School at Carmel College in the 1970s. Little did I think that I would be invited to conduct the Shabbaton Choir together with Chazan Simon Hass and (then) Chazan Lionel Rosenfeld at his Service of Induction on 1st September 1991. This service started a period of nearly 30 years where I would have the privilege of being the Musical Director of the Shabbaton Choir and working alongside Rabbi Sacks.
Rabbi Sacks and Elaine accompanied Rabbi Lionel, Chazanim, Shimon Craimer and Jonny Turgel and the Shabbaton Choir on 8 of our 11 ‘Solidarity through Song’ missions to Israel. We travelled with Rabbi Sacks on two occasions to Los Angeles and we participated in many moving Yom Hashoah commemorations which were his brainchild. We were privileged to sing at his retirement event at The Barbican where a choir of 300 school children alongside Lionel, Shimon and Jonny sang my new composition Anim Z’mirot in honour of Rabbi Sacks.
We also sang at the Gala Dinner to celebrate Rabbi Sacks in front of Prince Charles and more recently, at the prestigious Templeton Prize award ceremony. It was always a huge thrill to invite Rabbi Sacks onto the stage to sing with us and he would never shy away from singing Oseh Shalom. It never fails to amaze me how Rabbi Sacks could adapt himself to any audience. On our ‘Solidarity through Song’ missions, he could be speaking at a hospital and then a children’s facility; to those wounded in terrorist action and to those in an old age home. To the young and to the old, Rabbis Sacks always had the perfect words.
I remember the JFS students (studying in Israel at Yemin Orde) who came to spend shabbat with us and seeing how they were mesmerised by Rabbi Sacks during a kumsitz seuda shlishit; no one wanted shabbat to go out.
But of all the things we did together it would be the annual Choral Selichot services that stick out most in my mind. How we waited each year, in anticipation for what he was about to say and how we clung onto every word so wanting to be inspired and never being disappointed. How fortunate we were and how I will miss those very personal moments.
In what would turn out to be his last Choral Selichot Service at The Hampstead Synagogue in 2019, he came (as he would always do) to talk to the choir beforehand. At this final selichot, he told us the following story: The story is about Itzhak Perlman, the famous virtuoso violinist. Itzhak plays his violin sitting in a wheelchair having suffered from polio as a child thereby depriving him of his mobility. At one particular concert he was playing as a soloist in a certain violin concerto and early on in the performance, a string snapped on his violin. Everyone expected him to send for a new violin but with an extraordinary feat of virtuosity, he completed the concerto on three strings; an unbelievably difficult thing to do. At the end of the concert the audience gave him a standing ovation, but they wanted to know why he had done this. Why had he simply not just changed the violin? Itzhak reluctantly wheeled his chair into the middle of the stage and this is what he said. “It is our task to make music with what remains”.
Rabbi Sacks then went on to give me a message for life. He said it doesn’t matter how hard things get, it is our duty to make music whatever the circumstances. The message can resonate in many different ways but for me, it is something which is central to my own raison d’être on life. From the early days he would encourage me to compose music. On our first mission to Israel in 2003 after the suicide bombing on seder night in the Park Hotel, Netanya, I composed V’hi She’am’da and later Bilvavi following the death of Yoni Jesner. Rabbi Sacks said that this is what Itzhak Perlman meant “to make music out of what remains”.
After we recorded Oseh Shalom in 2008, Rabbi Sacks would always try to include reference to it in what he was talking about and of course, give the latest tally of hits on YouTube. He was not shy to offer advice on what I had composed, and neither was he shy in his commendation. I treasure all those conversations with him and feel privileged to be the recipient of his wisdom. Even the conversation one breakfast in Israel when my wife and I were treated to a whistle stop talk on the philosophy of Plato! Everyone knows Rabbi Sacks’ famous saying: “Words are the language of the mind, but Music is the language of the soul”. We saw no better example of this than when we were in Israel on our Solidarity through Song missions where we experienced how music broke down all barriers.
But it is another quote from Rabbi Sacks that I would like to end with. “Faith is more like music than science. Science analyses and music integrates. And as music connects note to note, so faith connects episode to episode, life to life, age to age in a timeless melody that breaks into time. God is the composer and librettist. We are each called on to be voices in the choir, singers of God’s song. Faith teaches us to hear the music beneath the noise.”Stephen, London (UK)
I first began reading Rabbi Sacks writings several years ago. Since that time I have read about 20 of his works. I have really been blessed by his beautiful thoughts on the Bible and his comments on living in this world today. Of particular meaning for me was his book “Celebrating Life” which I have shared with others who have had the same reaction I have. Other works which inspired me were “Not in God’s Name“, “Dignity in Difference“, and “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning”.
These books have been a great inspiration for me. I am a Christian, but have use some of articles in “Celebrating Life” as devotionals in our men’s group. His kind words have really been a blessing for me.Bob, Anniston (US)
A product of being born and raised in Canada during the later half of the 20th century, I grew up in a society that enjoyed the fruit of our forefathers efforts, a Judeo-Christian ethic, but lived largely without religion in my home or school. Years later, and long after becoming a Christian, I began making a real effort to understand the scriptures. And I came to an understanding that I had to start following Torah. Soon I found others that believed as I did and today we have a small fellowship. Rabbi Sacks illuminated the scriptures and spoke life into our understanding in his weekly Covenant & Conversation blog. At a time when we sensed that we were not Christian enough for Christians, nor Jewish enough for Jews, he made us feel apart of the family of Abraham. His passing has been a tremendous loss, but we will treasure the teachings and the recordings of his voice always.Warren, Creston (Canada)
Rabbi Sacks is to 21st century Judaism what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was to 20th century Judaism. While I never met him I find great inspiration in listening to his lectures, and his parsha commentaries have become a regular part of our Shabbat practice. I look forward to watching his wisdom bless my children as they grow. I am so grateful to have encountered Rabbi Sacks. In our home his memory will continually be for a blessing.Susan, Princeton (US)
I had the Zechut while working as the Director of the Jewish World at Yad Vashem to meet with Rabbi Sacks zl’ at his home. We discussed the future of what Yom Hashoah would look like. The privilege to listen to such erudition, was one of my highlights working at Yad Vashem.Avi, Jerusalem (Israel)
Six of us in Toronto have come together weekly, on Zoom, after Rabbi Sacks death, to continue to be inspired by Rabbi Sacks life changing ideas on Judaism. It has been an inspirational experience for some of us and life changing for others. Two of the group have recently lost a husband and a sister respectively and our weekly studies have assisted them to perpetuate the lives lost but as importantly enabled themselves to move forward. As one of them said “I couldn’t have got to where I am without our Rabbi Sacks group- its made me realise “its not the end of life but a new life beginning.” Each week one of us prepares a dvar based on Rabbi Sacks book-Judaisms Life- Changing Ideas. And then we question and debate and listen with all the civility Rabbi Sacks has taught us. His writings inspire us to live a certain way, to live as he wrote, giving back and wanting to do what he wanted us to do. He gives each of us hope in that search for meaning and identity. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks will always live on in our weekly studies and reflections.Isabel, Mendl, Andy, Margie, Julia and Peter, Toronto (Canada)
Somehow I happened upon Rabbi Sacks as he was an incredibly open person in the dialogue with Christians. I am Catholic myself, and the relationship between Jews and Christians, especially the Catholic Church, is for me an urgent problem. We are still very very far away from whatever may the “solution” some day. Pope em. Benedict XVI stated that the Church today is in her 40 years of wandering through the desert. Rabbi Sacks gave a lecture in Rome (invited by Cardinal Koch) in 2011, I think, entitled “Has Europe Lost Its Soul?” Seen from today, it is obvious that this speech was prophetic. There is a thrilling passage in it which is most important for my faith and for my look on this relationship between – in this case I would like to say “Israel” and the Catholic Church. This passage is: “For half a century Jews and Christians have focused on the way of dialogue that I call face-to-face. The time has come to move on to a new phase, the way of partnership that I call side-by-side. For the task ahead of us is not between Jews and Catholics, or even Jews and Christians in general, but between Jews and Christians on the one hand, and the increasingly, even aggressively secularising forces at work in Europe today on the other, challenging and even ridiculing our faith.” It was only after the death of Rabbi Sacks that I came across this homepage, and since then I have access to this very special treasure chest. His written legacy is an invaluable help if we as Christians are to understand how to look at the world and to understand Jewish thinking better. And even if it will take a long time before this “side-by-side” of Jews and Christians for the sake of the world becomes a reality on a larger scale: Everything always starts with the first step. And: “For a thousand years are in Your eyes like yesterday, which passed, and a watch in the night.”Angelika, Vienna (Austria)
To honour the memory of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (Zal), I have taken the initiative to translate his thoughts in French and include them in each of my Shabbat commentaries. This is the best way to keep the light of his great wisdom accessible to mainkind. May his teaching enlighten our life!Haim, Ashkelon (Israel)
In the winter of 2019 I had the honor and privilege to meet Rabbi Sacks. When he visited New Zealand for a vacation with a all kosher tour group my dad Rabbi Friedler had the honor to be a part of. On his last day in the country. He has always been a mentor to me, so I took as an opportunity to ask him to sign my Koren siddur. I now use it every Shabbat. Then on my Bar Mitzvah I was surprised by getting a message from him. As he was sitting in his hospital bed. This was the last public message he would send.Hillel, Auckland (New Zealand)
I heard Rabbi Sacks speak in person to a small group of NCSY staff in my hometown of Stamford Connecticut. He spoke of the importance of these young leaders in the lives of the kids, and how impactful their work is to the next generation. He was so kind, real, brilliant, approachable, passionate about everything he said. But beyond that visit, I have learned so much from his written words in his weekly parsha sheets, his powerful Haggadah, his many books and stories. His incredible love for his dear wife and children, his devotion to medinat yisrael and am yisrael while being such a kiddushat HaShem in his interactions with royalty, stardom and academia. He is sorely missed in our household, and in my world. Yehi Zichro Baruch.Shana, Stamford (US)
Despite being a progressive Jew no one has connected me more to my Judaism than Rav Sacks. He demonstrated unflinching commitment to tradition Torah Judaism with such force of intellect that I was drawn in and reconnected as never before. His parashiyot were unique in their drawing of the line between faith and reason without compromising either and his absence is felt each Shabbat. His memory is a blessing with each rereading.David, London (UK)
Although I never met Rabbi Sacks personally, I have learned more about Judaism, philosophy (and Shakespeare) and how to be a mensch from his writings and YouTube presentations than all my previous regretful, fruitless, wasteful and dreary years spent in yeshivah and Shuls. Every Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, I reread one of his books with purposeful reflection and careful attention to his thoughts, biblical, mythological and historical references and social observations. The weekly Covenant & Conversation newsletter is eagerly awaited and first priority reading!! Discovering him through media, articles and his extensive publications have permanently enriched my life. The only Rabbi I ever encountered who lived up to the precept that the Rabbi’s paramount purpose is to teach in a manner so that we can all learn, regardless of our background. His legacy, reach and impact are timeless. Recalling Shakespeare’s Sonnet 56, other luminaries in religious guidance should follow Rabbi Sack’s lead and remember “and do not kill The spirit of love with a perpetual dullness.”Bruce, Tampa (US)
I can still see in my mind the copies of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ commentary on the weekly Torah portion that my mother in law, Miriam, used to print from his website each week. She would leave pairs or threes of them around her house, pulled out from inside a pair of pants and left on top of the washing machine, the corners turned up from her handling them, lines left in them from the folds she made so she could carry them in her pocket.
I can see her again, sitting at the head of her table on a Friday night, a finger raised in the air, the printed commentary ready in her other hand as she tried to gain the attention of some or all of her five grown daughters and their husbands and children. ‘Listen to this.’ And she would read a paragraph, a sentence, as much as we would let her get through.
Then she would put the paper down and say, ‘So what do you think of that.’ And shake her head in wonder over it. The difficulty in this week’s portion of the teaching settled by Rabbi Sacks’ interpretation. The truth of the correct way to live revealed once again this Shabbat.
Rabbi Sacks was the scholar in residence for Shabbat at her large shul in Englewood, New Jersey seven years ago, which meant that he spoke three times: on Friday night, and for both the morning and afternoon services. I remember that some who came to listen were forced to sit on the steps beneath the lectern from which he spoke, so great was the interest to hear him that even the cavernous space of the main minyan did not have enough seats for all comers.
Miriam, of course, attended each of his talks, exuding a satisfied but not overwhelmed interest, for she was not a woman to be taken over by girlish fandom. For us, the members of her family, it had simply been a relief to see her walk. A year before she had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, but, due to an experimental gene-targeting drug, had seemed with each passing month to grow stronger. That Shabbat in particular she had cooked for the first time since she had begun to feel sick, and the prospect of her death seemed nearly as remote as it had before her diagnosis. She died a week later. Her disease or her treatment had, by the Monday after that Shabbat, begun to attack her in a way that no doctor could find a solution for, putting her quickly into intensive care and then beyond any care. It was for me – as for nearly everyone in her family – a crushing blow. Strong and fit in her early seventies, indomitable mentally, Miriam had seemed destined to outlive us all. Certainly a death before even her oldest grandson had become a bar mitzvah seemed beyond possibility. And yet it came to pass.
More pressing, Miriam was the foundation stone of our collective. The organizer, preparer, and host of nearly every meal. The voice of comfort, tranquility, and counsel for us all while she offered another of her fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. The sun of our little solar system, sending us out of orbit when her light went out.
Soon after her death I lost a job that had felt like the culmination of a career. After our third son was born a month later and our difficulties mounted, I decided the cause was our adherence to the Orthodox Judaism Miriam had raised her daughters in. For it had been one of her daughters who had pulled me both into her family and Judaism. Even after I married her my Jewish commitment remained conditional. While I agreed to certain guidelines (we would observe Shabbat and keep kosher in our house) I nevertheless subjected each rule or custom to which I was introduced to rational investigation, deciding I would only follow those that ‘made sense.’ Any kosher food restrictions outside of the house were out, as was putting on tefillin, wearing tzitzit, or any of the other multitude of obligations that I could ignore or transgress without putting our family outside of the vague boundaries of the liberal Orthodox community in which we lived. Now I decided that even those commitments were too much. Didn’t they obligate us to find a way to pay the mortgage on a too expensive house in a too expensive town? To pay tuition bills, synagogue dues, and kosher grocery bills? The choice that had seemed obvious when Miriam was alive and I knew I could lean into her support now felt – now that things had gotten hard – like more than I could bear.
So I found a way to move myself, my wife, and my children to Charleston, South Carolina. A business I would start with an old friend. A small and growing Jewish community I told my wife we could be a part of. All with the hope that a few years would be enough time to put even the idea of minimal Jewish commitment for our family in doubt, allowing me to dream again of freedom from everything Jewish while eating shrimp and grits and fresh oysters in a large and inexpensive house in the lightly taxed and easy living city of Charleston. Instead I found there more of the loneliness I thought I had left behind. Worse, after a year or more had passed it became clear that it was a loneliness I had now also introduced my wife and my sons to, as I witnessed them draw into themselves, becoming sad and quiet where they had been loud and happy. As people must, when hundreds of miles are put between them and the many comforting relationships of a large and engaged family. Then, I had taken to listening to podcasts when I drove around Charleston on my way to a spot to admire the sun set over sea grass leading out to the Ashley River as it widened toward the Atlantic Ocean. How I Built This and Philosophize This and the daily word from Webster. Often, when I sat in the car Miriam’s memory materialized and I’d sit and feel sad and sorry for myself for a while.
Then, one day, a flash of insight as I was queuing up the latest Joe Rogan. I searched instead for Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and there of course was his own podcast reading his weekly commentary on the Torah portion. I stared at the purple play button next to the latest episode while rolling again in my head the times I had tried and failed to commit to Jewish learning, back when I believed I might turn myself into a kind of serious Jew. Each commitment I made though had proven short-lived, as a few weeks or a few days were eclipsed by other pursuits both worthwhile and not until I did not remember the commitment again until enough time had passed to make the commitment itself seem foolish. I looked at that purple play button and I thought about Miriam. That day in that car in Charleston must now have been four years ago. In that time I don’t think I missed a week listening to Rabbi Sacks. Not that the listening should be counted as a great accomplishment, as each recording is only about ten minutes long and comes with his singular mixture of deep understanding of secular and Jewish learning, both ancient and modern, all delivered by an expert speaker in a British accent that carries, to American ears, an immediate gravitas. To say nothing of the quality of the content itself, which could range in any week from an argument for why the Sages who outlined the structure of a living society were greater than the prophets who exulted its highest ideals, or (a recurring theme) why the critical change in any life was the move from ‘I’ to ‘we.’
I keep a collection of personal favorites in a Spotify playlist, perhaps the most meaningful of which to me is his commentary on Nitzavim last year, when three times he repeated the line from Deuteronomy 30:14 ‘The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it’ as part of an admonition to Jews who were distant from their faith to take up its study and to Rabbis to not ‘retreat behind a high wall’ out of fear of an ‘aggressively secular culture.’
Listening to those lessons gave me the strength I needed to reset my life in a way that put the needs of my wife and children before my own. That is, until last November, when (aside from a few commentaries read by a substitute) for the first time since I began listening there was no new recording from Rabbi Sacks, who had died the week before.
Like Miriam, in his early seventies, though he had seemed (from the outside at least) to be filled with strength and destined to live to one hundred and twenty. I never met Rabbi Sacks so it would be too much to claim I felt true grief over his death, or anything approaching the sadness I imagine that his family and close friends must feel. But through the Thursday morning after his death a memory was rekindled in me of that feeling that followed me for years following Miriam’s death, as that light of connection I felt to her through his commentaries was now also extinguished. I felt it as I woke up that morning, put on my tefillin and worked through the morning prayers, and was reminded that there would be no new commentary to listen to from Rabbi Sacks this week, or ever again. Then, a ding on my phone: a chat from the WhatsApp group ‘Celebrating Life’ that is dedicated to distributing Rabbi Sacks’ teaching. The unexpected message: Rabbi Sacks had prepared a full year of commentaries on the weekly portion, which would continue to be released in writing each week. I clicked the link, printed the pages out, folded them together, and put them in my pocket, thinking I would hold them to read over Shabbat. Maybe I might even try to read a line or two to my own Shabbat table, set with food made by my wife, Miriam’s daughter.
It made me think of and listen again to Rabbi Sacks’ commentary on Chayei Sarah from a year ago when he puzzled over Rashi’s explanation of the years of Sarah’s life as ‘equally good.’ Hadn’t they been filled with ‘uncertainty and decades of unmet hope?’ How then could they be good? Working efficiently and eloquently through a web of complex thought and thinkers, he concluded by saying that ‘what makes a life satisfying is not external but internal, a sense of purpose, mission, being called, summoned.’ So I was reminded, again, that we are each links in a chain of being that stretches backwards and forwards without end. That to be Jewish is to be a part of a chain of unparalleled depth, with endless sources of inspiration to meet any challenge.
And so I was strengthened again with resolve to do what I can and what I must to live up to my responsibilities within the particular challenges of the time in which I live, with faith in the possibility of a better future and trust in the examples of those who have gone before.Matthew, Tenafly (US)
Although I had never met Rabbi Sacks in person, I felt deeply saddened when I heard that he was no longer with us. He was the Rabbi I could relate to and understand 100% on many levels. He was so unashamedly proud of his Jewishness, his ideas and teachings were in sync with the world of today and his depth of knowledge was inspiring. The world seems incomplete without his wisdom that guided and protected us all.Irith, Milan (Italy)
I am the Rabbi of the Jewish community in Newcastle and the story I would like to share relates to my interfaith work in the city. There is an elderly Indian Hindu gentleman called Hari Shukla, very active in the interfaith community, who met Rabbi Sacks on a few occasions. Whenever Hari and I had a conversation, he would proudly tell me how he considered Rabbi Sacks to be his friend. I was his Rabbi, Rabbi Sacks was his Chief Rabbi!
In October 2019 a controversy errupted in the Newcastle interfaith community and Hari was right at the centre of it. He was being wrongly but viciously maligned and it was clearly getting to him. I emailed the Office of Rabbi Sacks explaining something of the situation and providing contact details for Hari. I asked Rabbi Sacks if he thought it would be appropriate to give Hari a call. Within a day or two I had an excited call from Hari. “You’ll never guess who I just spoke to!” Of course, I didn’t. “My dear friend, Chief Rabbi Sacks just called me. He made my day!”
To be honest, it’s not much of a story really. I wasn’t surprised at the generosity of Rabbi Sacks, neither was I surprised at the impact it had on Hari, lifting him out of a gloomy depression. But while others may have more dramatic stories than mine, this was an act of pure chessed, illustrating Rabbi Sacks’s love of humanity.Aaron, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (UK)
I met Rabbi Sacks twice at Claremont Shul in Cape Town and loved hearing him speak. Then afterwards we’d talk about sports.Jessica, Cape Town (South Africa)
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg’s tweet described my feelings this week: “Reeling from the deep and profound loss of Rabbi Sacks zt”l.” The impact was in part the suddenness: two months ago he was giving interviews about his recent book Morality; a month ago, his illness was announced; on Shabbos, he left this world. But beyond the speed of the decline, the shock this week was that I had not realised how deeply Rabbi Sacks had impacted me.
In his eulogy, Rabbi Harvey Belovski of the Golders Green Synagogue observed, “All modern Jews are students of Rabbi Sacks, whether they know it or not, whether they acknowledge it or not, or whether they like it or not.” So true. It was over twenty years ago — in the old Bnei Akiva shul in Melbourne (since spruced up, now the Beit Midrash) — that I heard Rabbi Sacks share the following thought about Chayei Sarah.
Abraham returns from the binding of Isaac and begins to negotiate with the Hittites, specifically Ephron, to buy a burial plot for his wife Sarah. When their exchange begins Abraham describes himself as גר ותושב אנכי עמכם: “I am a stranger and a resident among you,” to which the local population respond: שמענו אדני, נשיא אלקים אתה בתוכנו: “Listen to us, Sir. You are a prince of God in our midst.” (Genesis 23:4 and 6) Rabbi Sacks contrasted this with last week’s parsha, when Lot pleaded with his neighbours in Sodom to leave his guests unmolested. The Sodom locals dismiss Lot: “This one man came here as an immigrant, and now all of a sudden, he has set himself up as a judge! We’ll give it to you worse than to them!” (Gen 19:9)
Jews seek to become part of their host societies in two ways, said Rabbi Sacks. Some try Lot’s way: assimilation. Like Lot tried to set himself up as a judge, these Jews seek to ingratiate themselves and assimilate; this always fails. Abraham, by contrast, has no illusions. He considers himself a stranger and a resident. But being conscious of the difference between him and the Hittites is precisely what brings them to acknowledge Abraham’s uniqueness: “You are a prince of God in our midst!” Likewise, it is when Jews retain their distinctiveness, that Gentiles value Jews and their distinctiveness.David, Jerusalem (Israel)
Rabbi Sacks ztz”l embodied the epitome of the modern Jewish statesman. He was able to illuminate Judaism enabling thousands to discover pride in their heritage and at the same time show true respect for other religions. This, to me, was liberating. It was a legitimate path to synthesise the different parts of my world. I ‘discovered’ Rabbi Sacks years ago and devoured his books, his Divrei Torah inspiring our Shabbat table every week. I had the honour to hear Rabbi Sacks zt”l speak in Beit Shemesh a few years ago. This was the only time I met him but consider him my mentor and guide in many things. He informed, and will continue to inform, my life B”H until 120.Sharon, Beit Shemesh (Israel)
I loved his classes and lectures! His passion for the Am Israel and the land. His great influence on Jewish life and more!Genia, Thornhill (Canada)
No specific memory to share, just the comfort of having a Gadol who spoke to me, it felt like it was directly to me, and someone who always spoke in a way that felt truly relevant to my life.David, Philadelphia (US)
I can only say that it was Rabbi Sacks who brought my family to Yiddishkeit. My mother was raised in communist Russia in a completely secular environment. She is now an observant Jew and has almost all Rabbi Sacks’ books. Every Shabbat she says D’var Torah from Rabbi Sacks’s Covenant & Conversations. It’s beyond words to describe how we are grateful to him.Elena, Toronto (Canada)
I was at a shul in Long Island where Rabbi Sacks zt”l was the scholar in residence. After he received an Aliyah, I was called up next. I felt a bit like the step sisters in Cinderella who thought about what they could say to the prince during their 5 seconds of interaction. When I got up to the bimah, I pointed to my head and told him that this is going onto my hard drive. With his soft radiant smile, he patted my hand.Seymour, Fair Lawn (US)
I have the privilege to meet him in Mexico. It was my best week ever. I miss him.Emilio, Mexico City (Mexico)
Rabbi Lord Sacks taught Evangelical Christians and all religions to love God and obey God’s laws, that a loving and just King ruled the Cosmos. His teachings live in Christians and all who seek closeness to God. Thank you Rabbi Sacks, for the gift that you are not only to the global Jewish community but also to us Christians.
I literally almost fell to the ground the day I read of Rabbi Sacks passing. Truly a great man and teacher who did indeed make one think deep and inspire many of the Jewish faith but countless non-Jews as well! May your memory and great teachings forever live on.Michael, Colorado (USA)
I remember listening to Chief Rabbi Sacks’ CD for Israel and one of the things he mentions is how as Jews we always choose life. In various contexts I often think about how we hold life, and about how the sustaining and saving of a life is always the Jewish way.David, Johannesburg (South Africa)
As I discovered my father’s family is Jewish, Sefardi from Portugal, Rabbi Sacks’ texts were crucial to reveal to me a new faith path.Mauro, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
I found out about Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in 2011. Since then, Rabbi Sacks has become the source of inspiration, enlightenment, and hope to our family. Listening to Rabbi Sacks presentation on the importance of Jewish education, we decided to send our children to Hebrew schools. During Kabbalat Shabbat services, we started discussing Rabbi Sacks’ Torah portions. We have always used Rabbi Sacks’ ideas, preparing Jewish holiday celebrations.
Rabbi Sacks ultimately became an important spiritual leader, the most talked about, in our whole family. We followed Rabbi Sacks in every social media possible: emails, WhatsApp, website. When we heard that Rabbi Sacks was coming to Toronto, my children and myself went to listen to this great leader. Six months have already passed since he left us, but his legacy will live for many years to come. Thank you for your effort to perpetuate and promote his teachings and wisdom.Alexander, Toronto (Canada)
I did not have the privilege of meeting Rabbi Sacks personally, but I feel as if I study with him every week. I lead a parsha class for my community in Mozambique, and Rabbi Sacks’ compiled parsha analyses are our primary source of inspiration and instruction.
My fellow students all know and appreciate his special combination of clarity, originality and humanity. His elegance of style makes his message all the more effective. (We also regularly used his teaching material for our Hebrew School before the pandemic.) As an intellectually roving ambassador for God and God’s Torah in this world, he was, in this generation, without equal. We will keep his memory alive by continuing to share his teaching.Samuel, Maputo (Mozambique)
Rabbi Sacks was my role model. He was more than just a philosopher, a moral voice, academic, scholar, public intellectual, and author. He was much more than just Lord Jonathan Sacks. He was Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. He was first a Rabbi. A teacher. He spoke and wrote about Judaism and Israel with unparalleled eloquence and elegance. He made ancient core Jewish values and wisdom accessible to the modern day Jew. He exuded happiness. He modelled humility. He brimmed with charisma. He not only exemplified Judaism thought, but Judaism lived.
I now daven daily with tefillin, wear a kippah and tzitzit proudly in public, and I’m an active participant and leader in my Jewish community because of him.
With Sacks’ teachings, I have come to better understand and appreciate my Jewish identity, of those who came before me, and of the Jewish story of which I am a part. As Sacks explains, “Memory is my story – something that happened to me and is part of who I am. History is information. Memory, by contrast, is part of identity. I can study the history of other peoples, cultures and civilizations. They deepen my knowledge and broaden my horizons. But they do not make a claim on me. They are the past as part. Memory is the past as present, as it lives on in me. Without memory there can be no identity.”
In Judaism, Creation is God’s relationship with the universe. That is history. But another creation, the birth of the Jewish people, in which the traditions we have preserved, the pain we have suffered, the individual and collective responsibility to which we are called – that forms my identity.Ethan (US)
In July 2019 l finished writing my book ‘I believe’. The book was meant only for my children, grandchildren, family, and friends’ consumption. I wanted to follow the teaching of Rabbi Sacks z”tl when he emphasised in his book ‘Essay on Ethics’ the important of passing on ‘the history of story telling’ as it is a vital part of the moral education of future generations.
Rabbi Ginsbury, our Rabbi from Hendon United Synagogue, read read my book and was kind enough to give me a very warm and welcoming introduction and Bracha to my book. I then thought that it will be nice if I could get Rabbi Sacks to read it too as so much of my thoughts and ideas were backed on his teaching. It was not an easy task to meet Rabbi Sacks but finally it was in Simchat Torah 2019 that l met him in Dunstan Road synagogue when a friend who sits next to his wife introduced me to her and she introduced me to her husband. The few moments l spent in his company, his kindness, warmth, the genuine willingness he showed when I gave him my book to look at and asked him whether he would give me the pleasure of reading it – those moments were some of the greatest moments in my life and treasured for ever.
Less than two months later l received his reply, handwritten by him, praised and blessed by him, and signed by him. Of course l framed it for all to see. To me Rabbi Sacks was and always will be the greatest of all. The world has lost one of the greatest Rabbis of our generation thinker and philosopher. To me the kindness and attention he showed to me and my book will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in peace among the Zadikim.Sarah, London (UK)
My Sabbath has consisted of listening, reading, or watching the Torah portion commentaries of Rabbi Sacks. Since Rabbi Sacks’ passing that tradition carries on like his wisdom will always carry on.Ivan, Corona (US)
In the eighties of the 20th century, a Conference of European Rabbis was convened in Paris. I was then the CEO of the Consistoire Central, the French Organization of Orthodox Synagogues. Rabbi Sacks landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport, so I drove to the airport to welcome him and go together to the Conference.
So, I was privileged to share with him about an hour of chat about our respective Communities and the situation of world Jewry. I was extremely impressed both by his interesting the fate of Jews in France and elsewhere. But what impressed me most was the attention he paid for every single word I was saying. And when we spoke about Torah studies, he spoke with such enthusiasm that was really fascinating.
But it wasn’t just his Torah teaching for Jews that had impact. I knew a lady in London that was an observant Catholic. She admired very much what Rabbi Sacks was saying on his BBC addresses and the articles he gave regularly on The Times. She cut them and sent them to me. And last but not she offered me The Dignity of Difference, a blatant testimony of her appreciation of what he thought and taught.Leon, Paris (France)
For any student of the Torah, his commentaries are essential reading. They bring the word to life with helpful examples and illumination. I have shared and recommended his work to several folk through our ministry.Stuart, Glasgow (UK)
I was receiving chemo just before Rosh Hashanah the year before last and knew I would be unable to go to shul. I then began to listen to the Ellul lectures .. WOW .. they just blew me away, took me out of my ‘ oh I’m so sorry for me ‘ mode, I gave me something beautiful to share with my family! I had important things to learn and think about. It is difficult to explain what a difference Rabbi Sacks made to me, to my humility, learning, explaining, sharing, and yet it felt not at all like being ‘lectured at’. I will never be able to thank him enough. We need his wise words now too. So missed.Elizabeth, Manchester (UK)
I often spoke to Rabbi Sacks zt”l in Golders Green shul and he always listened carefully to what everyone had to say and greeted everyone in a cheerful, friendly manner. He gave answers to questions that reflected his deep insight, wisdom and knowledge. I remember his outstanding speeches. He was always a great orator that captured the attention of the audience and kept their attention for the duration of his speeches.Ronnie, London (UK)
Rabbi Sacks was a raconteur extraordinaire. He could tell a story and have the audience hang on every word; whether that audience was composed of 3 or 300 people. I remember, once, his regaling us around the Shabbat table with the time that he was invited to 10 Downing Street, the home of the Prime Minister, for a state dinner. When the Prime Minister’s people invited him, he explained that he only ate kosher food and would therefore require a special meal. He fully expected that this would be some sort of pre-packaged dinner that he himself would be required to open to assure that the contents had remained untouched. Well, the staff at 10 Downing Street went all out, and in order to assure that the Chief Rabbi did not feel singled out, they ordered kosher food for all of the heads of government, the members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
To paraphrase Rabbi Sacks, “You have never seen anything quite as comical as stiff-lipped British aristocracy and nobility attempting to open a double shrink-wrapped meal with grace and aplomb.” The mental image he created in my mind still brings a smile to my face.Sharon, Silver Spring (US)
I met my dear Rabbi years ago in an international meeting in London as he was the Chief Rabbi and I was the Executive Director of the Turkish Jewish Community, which I am still. I was amazed by his speech. Later on he became my spiritual leader who contributed enormously the way I looked at Torah and increased my love for Judaism and Torah. I really miss his voice as I loved to listen his drashas every week from his voice. As for my Community, he had a very positive impact on our young generations who found Torah old-fashioned, through his very up-to-date interpretations. Everyone always found a piece of something that connected to their own daily life in his speeches. May he rest in peace.Deniz, Istanbul (Turkey)
I will be eternally grateful to Jonathan Sacks for setting my philosophical investigations on the right path. Working with a concept of ‘rational freedom,’ I studied the great philosophers in depth, earning a PhD in the process. But I always felt that there was a missing dimension from the idea of freedom as human self-determination, a longing for meaning and belonging that could not be satisfied by a self-legislating human reason. I couldn’t locate it. Then I read Jonathan Sacks’ ‘The Great Partnership’ and the door to the world I had been seeking opened wide.
His arguments made it clear that I had been looking at things the wrong way round, engulfing me in a world that was purely human self-creation. Jonathan Sacks led me back to the transcendent source and end of reason and freedom I had been seeking, the Love that is the root of all things. Jonathan lit the way for me and brought me home, the mark of a true leader and scholar.
It was these words in particular that moved me: “Theodicy, the attempt to vindicate God’s justice in a world of evil, is compelling evidence that in the translation of Abrahamic spirituality into the language of Plato and Aristotle, something is lost. What is lost is the cry. You can solve a contradiction by sitting quietly in a room, thinking, using conceptual ingenuity, reframing. Philosophy, said Wittgenstein, leaves the world unchanged. But faith does not leave the world unchanged. You cannot solve a cry by thinking. Moses, weeping for his people, is not consoled by Leibniz’s admittedly brilliant proof that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Abrahamic monotheism is not a religion of acceptance. It is a religion of protest. It does not try to vindicate the suffering of the world. That is the way of Job’s comforters, not Job.” (Jonathan Sacks, The Great Partnership 2011: p. 141).
I loved his words on religion as a cry and a protest, a sacred discontent, his insistence that we are God’s partners in Creation, the need we have for the God of Love and personal relationships, the need for both love and justice and so many more lessons besides. He kept the Divine vision alive and passed on a treasure trove of eternal, transcendent, and practical wisdom.Peter, St Helens (UK)
I distinctly remember the first time Rabbi Sacks visited the Syrian Community for a Shabbat. He spoke numerous times to our community through the SCA prior but this was the first time he was staying for an entire a Shabbat.
On Friday, April 8th, 2016 the Rabbi prayed at Bnei Yitzhak. There were so many people in attendance that I had to sit upstairs in the ladies section. The next morning, I knew that he was speaking at Congregation Beth Torah so I arrived extra early to ensure I had a good seat (in the men’s section!) With Rabbi Sacks in town it was perhaps one of the largest crowds in the synagogues 50+ year history. Of course there many celebrations in the main minyan as well- multiple announcements of weddings, bar mitvahs, births and the 95th birthday of Congregation Beth Torah’s founder, Mr. Abdo Sultan A”H.
Understandably, with such a sizeable crowd to see Rabbi Sacks and the so many Semahot- there was an unusual amount of chatter during the Sefer Torah. After the Torah was returned, Rabbi Sacks got up to speak and he opened with the following: “Ladies and gentlemen, with the rise of social media and technology so many people often come to me and tell me how worried they are that the next generation won’t know how to hold an old fashioned face-to-face conversation. Difficult and serious conversations will be done via email, texting and messaging on social media. Rabotay, after praying here this morning I can confidently tell them that conversation is alive and well!”
The crowd bursted into laughter. He could have chose to ignore the elephant in the room, but instead he addressed it in such a humorous way. That was Rabbi Sacks A”H.Victor, Brooklyn (US
My memory is of the time I attempted to hear my late cousin, Rabbi Sacks, OBM’s talk but tickets were immediately sold out, However, as I continue to listen to his videos even now, more than ever, I am inspired to want to follow in his footsteps and become a Maharat (Rabbanit/female-Rabbi).Hana-Liora, Los Angeles (US)
I did not have the honor and privilege to meet Rabbi Sacks zt’l in person. Still, his knowledge and wisdom propelled me to dive deeper and love Judaism even more. Listening to his weekly drash on the parsha was an integral part of my preparation for Shabbat. While I continue to read his works, I miss hearing his voice. I pray to have the strength and courage to walk his talk.Sue, Toledo (US)
I was serving as librarian in a Jewish high school in Toronto when Rabbi Sacks a”h came to address the students. We had prepared a display of the Rabbi’s books in our collection. After the Rabbi addressed the students I asked him if we would like to see the display and perhaps he could inscribe one of the books for us. With a big smile he said “absolutely“ and immediately reached into his pocket, pulled out a pen, and followed me to the display where he, without hesitation, proceeded to inscribe each volume with a different message suitable for the age of the students. (He even suggested another volume we did not have, and explained that how it would be appropriate for the students.) It was a loving and very personal display of regard for our students and friendship which left an indelible impression.Ira, Giva’at Ze’ev (Israel)
I was present at the EFI Conference for Educators in Warsaw, 2019. The main attraction of the event was the presentation by Rabbi Sacks. The energy in the room was palpable, but it was my own inner excitement that seemed to give me wings that night. Here was the man whom I had met twenty five years ago in his home on a visit of Rabbis to London, and whose books had become my go-to for deeper insight and understanding on the Holidays and Tanach. And now, I would get to hear him live!
He was ready to make this effort to inspire Jewish Educators, and to answer our questions. I recorded his speech, not wanting to wait for recordings before listening again to his words.
I think the most powerful message that evening was when he told of his own personal story, how he came to join the ranks of Educators and his choice of life work. He made us laugh and he made me cry that night. Mainly, to be in the presence of a person whose thought and scholarship has reached the masses, and what an effect one person can have on the world in the kindest, most humane way possible.Dara, Moscow (Russia)
I never had the honor of having met or experienced Rabbi Sacks in person. I only “discovered” him upon the recommendation of someone I had met at the seder table. Rabbi Sacks became for me a philosopher to whom I enjoyed listening, a weekly inspirational speaker who brought sanity and perspective to my life. His weekly “Covenant & Conversation” often spoke directly to me, and his wisdom always inspired me.
Rabbi Sacks showed me that Orthodox Judaism and modern thought are not just compatible, but they are mutually supportive of one another. One can be a great Torah scholar and a towering mind of Western thought. Though Rabbi Sacks was the former Chief Rabbi of the UK, I always felt like he was not talking down to me but talking to me, starting a conversation that I perhaps could join. I felt he had not lost his connection to the common man. In fact, had COVID not happened, I had imagined reaching out to him and traveling to the UK much as he had done and traveled to meet the Rebbe here.
So much of what he said and believed put into words many of my thoughts, feelings, fears, and hopes. His passing was a devastating personal loss to me. I felt that the world had lost a great moral leader, a family had lost a pillar of strength and love, the Jewish community had lost a powerful and positive representative and intellect, and I had lost an opportunity and my Rabbi.
In the scheme of things, I do not at all measure up to the many people whom he knew and the great minds who eulogized him. Despite that insignificance and knowing that I was nothing in his life, I know that he would not agree with or accept my saying as such. He was a man who knew how to make words matter, thoughts matter, and people matter. May his memory continue to be a blessing, as his life was.Steven, New Jersey (US)
I teach high school English at a Jewish day school in America. When Rabbi Sacks spent the day at our school, the administration hosted a special luncheon with some of the teachers and Rabbi Sacks. During the luncheon teachers were given the opportunity to ask the Chief Rabbi their questions. One teacher asked Rabbi Sacks, “What would you say to a student who tells you that he does not believe in God because one of his parents had died?”
Rabbi Sacks looked down at his shoes and paused for what felt like a long time. Then he looked up and said simply, “I would give him a hug.”
Rabbi Sacks was an intellectual force. That we all know. But he also cared about people. He loved people. And he understood that his role was to imbue the life of each person that he met with more kindness. That is now our job.David, Baltimore
My father a”h passed away in 2014, from Leukemia. Not long before that, during a period when my father was constantly moving between hospital and home, he was confined in my parents’ flat and not allowed to mix with people because he was on chemotherapy drugs and had no resistance to infection.
The induction of my parents’ new Rabbi, for the shul in Hove in which I had grown up, was going to be on a particular Sunday morning. My parents lived just across the road from the shul but would not be able to attend the induction because of my father’s delicate condition. Rabbi Sacks was Chief Rabbi at the time, and was going to be officiating at the induction. On the Motzei Shabbos I decided I had to try to do something to somehow enable my parents to be involved in the event. Our son suggested I try to make contact with Rabbi Sacks – perhaps he would be able to find a moment to give my father a quick phone call to wish him well. That would be wonderful.
I managed to get a message to Rabbi Sacks through his wonderful Chief of Staff, Joanna Benarroch, who kindly told the Chief Rabbi the situation on Sunday morning. He was already in his car half way to Brighton, and I was told he said to his driver, “we have a Bikkur Cholim [visit to the sick] to do.” Rabbi Sacks arrived in Hove half an hour or so before the induction, and went directly to my parents’ home to sit with them and give them words of comfort and support. I had managed to give my parents only a few minutes’ warning of this, enough time for my mother a”h to frantically prepare a fresh tablecloth! Despite the shock, Rabbi Sacks’ visit was a great boost to both my parents, and enormously appreciated.
Shortly afterwards I received a phone call on my mobile and the number was withheld – I nervously answered and I heard Rabbi Sacks say, “Hello Jeremy, it’s Rabbi Sacks.” He told me he had enjoyed meeting my parents and that my father was a fighter, and he wished him a Refuah Sheleimah – a full recovery. My parents subsequently wrote to the Chief Rabbi to thank him.
Some weeks later, Rabbi Sacks was presenting the Yoni Jesner awards at a big ceremony in London, and when our son went up to the stage to receive his award, Rabbi Sacks gave him his certificate and then whispered to him, “Are you Jeremy’s son?” Eli nodded, and then Rabbi Sacks turned round and picked up an envelope he had ready with a letter of response he had prepared for my parents. He had noticed our son was one of the recipients of the award and had written a letter to give him at the ceremony.
I have always believed that a mark of greatness is the ability to operate at a communal or even global level while also devoting focused time and sincere attention to individuals. This was a special gesture by Rabbi Sacks, and a story that will remain in our family. Yehi Zichro Baruch – may his memory continue to bring us all much blessing.Jeremy, London (UK)
He once opened his sermon at St John’s Wood shul with the following joke, [paraphrased]; “How many Jews does it take to change a light bulb? None, it has to want to change.” This was a funny and inspired moment that has stuck with me over the years. When I’m asked to tell a Jewish joke I tell this one and credit Lord Sacks.Ella, London (UK)
I never had the pleasure of meeting Rabbi Sacks in person and that is something that I wish I could somehow rectify but in saying that, I feel that I have met him in a personal way through his writings and his talks.
Rabbi Sacks was the kind of man who once you heard his calming and intelligent voice, or read one of his many brilliant books, or watched him on video, that you felt that you had found someone extraordinary and that you actually had met him and knew him personally.
There are few people that one could say that about them. Rabbi Sacks was unique without a doubt and I for one will miss hearing his voice and his timeless wisdom across the airways. We have his videos we can still watch and his many books that can be read and re-read many times over and one will always find something new in them, no matter how many times one has read them.
I am Jewish and proud to be a Jew and Rabbi Sacks was one who helped me to not be ashamed of being Jewish but to embrace being Jewish and hold my head high. ‘Why I Am A Jew‘ (the whiteboard animation that Rabbi Sacks did) was a turning-point in my life, and I decided from that moment that I will never shy away from being a Jew or be in any way embarrassed about being a Jew ever again. I will always read Rabbi Sacks for the rest of my life and pass his work and wisdom down to my son. May Rabbi Sacks memory be always for a blessing.Derek, Stirling (UK)
Back in the days before he was Chief Rabbi I was a bit of a groupie and would go to hear Rabbi Sacks speak wherever in London he was appearing. We would hear him pretty regularly and it soon became clear that there was something common in every shiur I ever heard him give. At some point in the shiur he would mention his wife Elaine. I felt there was a massive message to both us, the listeners, and also to his wife Elaine who was undoubtedly his rock and source of inspiration and support.Jonathan, Ra’anana (Israel)
I have attended many of Rabbi Sacks zt”l’s memorable lectures, but two particularly stand out in my memory. After Rabbi Sacks announced his intention to retire his position as Chief Rabbi, he was interviewed, I believe it was at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. The moderator asked the Rabbi why he wanted to retire as Chief Rabbi. The Rabbi in turn asked the moderator what was the driving speed limit in New York. When he was told the city speed limit, the Rabbi responded that he wanted to drive faster than the speed limit, he did not want to be limited by that speed limit.
In late 2019, about 6 years later, I was privileged to participate in a tour of Australia and New Zealand where Rabbi Sacks was the Scholar-in-Residence. At the end of the tour, Rabbi Sacks gave a lecture at the end of which he opened the floor for any questions we had. I took the opportunity to ask him if he regretted leaving his position as Chief Rabbi. His responded that he had no regrets; that he was able to accomplish much more without the title than he could if he were to remain Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom. I feel that more than United Kingdom Jewry, World Jewry benefitted from Rabbi Sacks as its Chief Rabbi, in fact, if not in title.Moshe, New Rochelle (US)
We have been blessed to establish and operate a charity kitchen in Sydney, Australia. among the many programs we run, we have a program that brings inmates to do work during the day returning to Jail in the evening – in this way we can get them ready for life on ‘the outside’.
I was most surprised when one of the inmates told me he was a big fan of Rabbi Sacks, who he came across in the prison library, I was very surprised, as this inmate is a Greek Australian with no Jewish family connection. After long discussion it became very clear to us that Rabbi Sacks had a very profound impact on the life of this inmate – and helped guide him during some very dark times in prison, and played a big role in showing his another way to think and see the world around him.
Fast forward a few years this very talented, repented man is now the manager of ‘Our Big Kitchen.’ Rabbi Sacks was very kind to autograph a book for him that Laya and I presented to him on his birthday, and his joy was boundless to own a book dedicated to him personally by his Hero. We witnessed the effect when we saw ‘A grown man cry’.
The incredible reach of Rabbi Sacks should not be underestimated. May the teaching of Rabbi Sacks continue to show the way to all who turn to his legacy for guidance.Dovid, Sydney (Australia)
The only time I saw Rabbi Sacks in person was when he visited Chicago and I went to hear him at a local Synagogue. His words, spoken so clearly and carefully, displayed his profound knowledge and great humility. I left feeling so proud to be a (Scottish) Jew and so honored to have heard him speak.Billy, Chicago (US)
As one of millions who have been touched by Rabbi Sacks, his voice and his pen, I simply want to express my deepest sympathies and condolences to his family and all who are part of his personal and professional team.Stephen, Philadelphia, (USA)
I met Rabbi Sacks perhaps ten years ago in New York at a talk he gave on literacy and language, and I was on a FB presentation he did with David Brooks about “Morality” a few months ago. I am fortunate to have a number of his books including his two most recent ones.
There are no words sufficient to describe his impact, and all the eulogies have well set forth his contribution not only to Judaism and the Jewish world but to the world at large, as the testimonies of Prince Charles, PM Johnson, Former PM Blair and others have made clear.
I hope you will continue to keep his voice and his writings part of our daily and weekly life as so many are enriched and uplifted by his insights. For many of us, especially considering his vigor until so recently, losing him at this time of such uncertainty is particularly difficult.
May his memory be for a blessing. He will always be a giant of Judaism and a towering figure of the world for goodness and righteousness.
Many of us have been deeply saddened by the sudden and untimely passing of Rabbi Lord Sacks zt’’l. Now that we have had a chance to absorb the immediate shock of the news, I want to share some thoughts about the immense and unique contribution that he made to Jewish life across the world.
Rabbi Sacks was the author of many outstanding books. And whilst his philosophical and political treatises are highly regarded and have made an enormous impact even well beyond the confines of the Jewish community, I believe that it is his commentaries on traditional Jewish texts – Tanach, the Siddur and the Machzor – that will have the most enduring impact on people for years to come. His translation of the siddur, alongside his observations on the meaning and structure of prayer, greatly enhance the davening experience of anyone who uses his Siddur. Those who use his Machzorim on the Chaggim find that the Machzor becomes more than just a prayerbook, but a manual about the very essence of the festival that is being celebrated. His soul was finely tuned to the nuances of Jewish prayer, and whilst modern political and philosophical writings often become quickly outdated, his insights to the liturgy, as well as his chiddushim on the Torah, will remain relevant and readable to future generations as well.
In recent days Rabbi Sacks has been described as the Chief Rabbi of the English speaking world. That is a fair description of him, but he fulfilled another equally significant and important role as well – that of an Israeli Ambassador to the world. He was a dedicated supporter of Medinat Yisrael and always spoke up eloquently and passionately to defend and promote the interests of the State of Israel. Both as Chief Rabbi and also afterwards, he was one of Israel’s finest spokesmen and he never allowed the warm relationship that he had with the British Establishment rein-in his commitment to Medinat Yisrael in any way. The value of his contribution to the State of Israel should not be underestimated.
Rabbi Sacks was a master-communicator in all mediums of communication and was as inspirational on the printed page as he was on the computer screen or in real life. But his greatest skill was his ability to communicate equally meaningfully with Jewish scholars on the one hand and gentile atheists on the other hand, and with everyone in between. Rabbis learnt Torah from him and self-confessed disbelievers discovered that religion can talk to them. Masses of people who would have thought that they had nothing to learn from a Rabbi discovered that there was much that they could learn from this Rabbi and the Torah values that he taught.
Rabbi Sacks’ impact far exceeded the Anglo-Jewish community and by retiring from the Chief Rabbinate earlier than any of his predecessors, he gave himself time whilst still vigorous to communicate his messages as widely as possible. In doing so it wasn’t only his own image that was admired, but primarily the image of his People, his Torah and his God that became admired. He raised the banner of Judaism high and was a unique advocate for Am Yisrael. He was a “Melitz Yosher” for the Jewish people whilst he was in this world, and we hope that he should also be a “Melitz Yosher” in the World of Truth.
Yehi Zichro Baruch – May his memory be for a blessing.Daniel, London (UK)
It was late December of last year, and I remember walking through a shopping mall plaza. All of a sudden, I felt a small, light object bounce off the back of my shoe, hitting the ground with a clinking sound. I looked around and saw a penny on the ground. I thought I must’ve dropped it. I looked around and saw to my right a group of three high-school teenagers, one of them looking over at me and snickering with his friends.
They were simply young teenagers, ignorant of the age-old hatred toward Jews, trying to get a rise out of me.
I wanted to talk to them and explain how what they did offended and disrespected me. Nonetheless, I was willing to forgive them, but they walked away before I could.
Despite our people being subject to hatred and discrimination of all kinds for thousands of years, and although I had never been personally targeted before because of my Jewish identity, Rabbi Sacks taught me that the Jewish response to discrimination is not to define ourselves as the victim, asking “Who did this to me?,” but rather by becoming a responsible agent for good, asking “How can I help to put this situation right?”
As Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
So in response, I took the negative, the penny hurled at me, and elevated it to a higher purpose: toward supporting and donating to my local Jewish community, because therein lies our people’s strength. A covenantal faith community grounded with the knowledge, wisdom, and love of God, Torah, and Israel has sustained us for millenia. The concept of “Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bah Zeh” is a testament to our mutual, collective responsibility for one another.
The Jewish response is to reject victimhood altogether and instead create an opportunity to take responsibility in helping others. Through acts of Chessed (loving-kindness), and Tzedakah (love as justice) we can empower ourselves to serve Hashem with even greater joy and, as Sacks would remark, elevate the world that is closer to the world that ought to be.
Because that’s Judaism done joyfully.Eitan (US)
We will close with a personal reflection given by Rabbi Johnny Solomon, and the words he shared during the April 2021 LSJS Tribute to Rabbi Sacks. Rabbi Solomon also spend much time collating 1600 beautiful quotes from Rabbi Sacks, and turning them into a downloadable book, which you can find on our Quotes page.
I want to give thanks to Rabbi Sacks, from the deepest recesses of my heart and soul, for all that he has taught me, for all he has taught my dear friends and teachers… and for all that he has empowered us to do both within the Jewish world and beyond. Given this, I would like to offer a personal prayer of thanks, although in this case, while deeply personal, I suspect that this prayer of thanks will be shared by many others as well.
ריבונו של עולם
Master of the Universe,
The pain is great!
You sent us a prince,
כמו משה רבינו של זמננו
like a Moshe Rabbeinu for our time,
מורנו הרב זקס זצ”ל
Our Teacher, Rabbi Sacks zt”l.
הוא לימד אותנו
He taught us,
הוא חיזק אותנו
He strengthened us,
והוא האמין בנו
and he believed in us.
תורתו היתה כמטר וכטל
His Torah was like sweet rain and dew,
ומדבריו צמחנו וגדלנו
And from his great words we grew and we became great.
אבל אפילו יותר מהאהבה שלו כלפינו
But even more than the love he had for us,
הוא אהב אותך
He loved you – God
והוא לימד אותנו
and he taught us,
את דברי תורתך
the words of Your Torah
כִ י ה’ אֱֹלהֶ יָך
That the Lord your God
הּוא הַ הֹלְֵך עִ מָ ְך
Is He who walks with you
הרב זקס זצ”ל
Rabbi Sacks zt’l,
שר את דברי השירה הזאת
Sang the words of this song
Into our ears,
והוא שם אותם בלבבנו
and he also placed them into our hearts.
לקחת אותו מאיתנו
You took him from us,
And we are all orphans,
אבל עם כל זה
Yet notwithstanding this,
מודים אנחנו לך
We thank you – God
For our teacher,
For his inspirational Torah
for the abundant wisdom that he taught us
and for his legacy – which we, as his students and followers, will strive to continue to love, to
teach, and to share.