We are devastated by the passing of one of our generation’s great leaders, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Many are the eulogies and deserving tributes that have already been offered. Many more are sure to come. I humbly share but a brief reflection on three lessons I learned from the Chief Rabbi.
The first lesson I learned from Rabbi Sacks is that there is no venue in which one cannot create a kiddush Hashem. Of course he brought dazzling Torah insights to our shuls and yeshivot. Naturally, his texts lined the shelves of Jewish homes and batei midrash. But he also penetrated precincts not typically receptive to calls for sanctity. As a statesman, he brought holiness into the halls of government. As a public intellectual, he elevated the discourse of academics and philosophers. As a best-selling author who had won world-renown, he infused kedushah into the public discourse of the media and the marketplace.
Second, Rabbi Sacks expanded our communal lexicon. By translating biblical and rabbinic wisdom into a language accessible to the common man, Rabbi Sacks created a Jewish vocabulary and grammar that is at once deeply rooted in traditional sources and at the same time contemporary, fresh and sensitive to our moment. His facility with the written word was matched only by the eloquence of his spoken word. Those words were not only ambitious; they aspired to a higher purpose.
Finally, Rabbi Sacks preached a lifelong, if implicit, message that virtually any discipline may be studied and channeled into the service of Hashem. Theology, literature, philosophy, science, economics, history, psychology and music all played vital roles in the formation and articulation of the poetics Rabbi Sacks brought to light. Like a master craftsman, he transformed each field into an instrument ready to be deployed in the service of a divine choreography.
At a time when the world was contracting, Rabbi Sacks reminded us just how expansive it could be. He reminded us mortals here on earth that we too could reach for the heavens.