Rabbi Sacks on his Personal Rebbe, Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch
JInsider (March 2010)
The two great initial inspirations for me were the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rabbi Soloveitchik, both of blessed memory. But my own personal teacher was a giant and still is, Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch, who was then head of Jews College. I became his successor and today he is head of the Yeshivat in Ma’ale Adumim.
He was and is an intellectual giant. [He had] a huge command of the entire rabbinic literature, author of a vast and extraordinary commentary on the whole of Maimonides’ Mishnah Torah. And at the same time proficient in virtually all the sciences; who was a professor of mathematics and probability theory at the University of Toronto. There was almost nothing he didn’t know. And he was my personal teacher for 12 years. For those 12 years, we studied together virtually every day. Now he was and is a man of enormous moral courage and intellectual clarity.
And from him, I learned what is the life of Torah. So he would constantly challenge me to learn more and learn more. I once complained to him that I had enormous difficulty getting to sleep at night. I’m an insomniac. And he said to me, “Oh, really? Teach me how to be an insomniac. That’s great. I’d love that. Lo nitnah laiyla ella legirsah.” He quoted the Gemara that God only created nights so that we could have time to study. He envied my inability to sleep.
There was one occasion when his car went into the garage to be serviced. And he asked me to give him a lift home. And it was a hot summer’s day and we were in one of the most busy junctions in London, at a traffic lights. And when the traffic lights changed from red to green, my car stalled. And this was a very busy junction and I was causing an enormous tailback. And my teacher turned to me with absolute equanimity and said, “Well, since we’re here, we have to learn Torah together.” And he then proceeded to give me a most beautiful shiur on Maimonides Hilchot shmita v’yovel, laws of the sabbatical year. And in the meanwhile cars were piling up, piling up and they’re hooting their horns. And he very calmly reached the end of his exposition. And he said, “And now try the key again.” I turned the key, the car and started, and off we went.
Here was a man who used every single thing that happened to him in is his life, as an occasion to learn and live Torah. And that is the kind of person you should take as your personal teacher in Judaism.