True, the United States, or any State therein, does not have the position of chief rabbinate. For better or worse, the position of the most influential rabbi on this side of the pond has to be earned.
For thousands of American Jews, this unofficial but distinct position was held by HaRav Ya’akov Zvi ben David Arieh z’l – Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory.
For me, having grown up in the UK, his loss is personal, as it is to our Chabad and general Anglo Jewish communities. He was a princely figure with a dignified and deeply honorable personality. His life was ultimately dedicated to the good of the Jewish community. In Britain, the love and reverence for him was palpable. He will be missed as a beloved leader and spiritual father to many.
But speaking as a rabbi in today’s America, the loss is of a rare and towering Jewish figure to whom we owe an incredible debt of gratitude. It was his combination of breathtaking genius and majestic eloquence, his vast breadth and depth of thinking, and his trailblazing original thoughts that enabled countless American Jews to articulate and be deeply proud of the eternal truths of Torah in the modern age – or whatever age we might be in at present.
It was these truths presented in a radically and unignorably relevant manner that set him “head and shoulders” above the rest.
It is in these teachings that he lives on. His material is as fresh and relevant as ever. Tens of books and numerous articles, podcasts, and videos. They are nothing short of a treasure trove readily available to endlessly enrich the life of any serious Jew and human being.
Finally, and most importantly, the Rabbi’s passing is a time for Jewish parents and educators to reflect on what may not be known to many:
This rabbi of rabbi’s was not meant to be a rabbi. His plan as a youth was to be a barrister. But far sighted Jews of the generation, particularly the Lubavitcher Rebbe, challenged him at various stages in his life to lead. To his credit and to our good fortune, he did.
In answer to his many questions as a young boy, it was the Rabbi’s father who would repeat to his son over and again: “Jonathan, I don’t know, I didn’t get an education. But you will, and one day, you will teach me“.
That, would say Rabbi Sacks, is how you get a Chief Rabbi.
As Jewish parents and teachers, we can do with conveying something like this to our children and students: Barristers are not in short supply, but there was only one Rabbi Sacks. And that could be you.
May his soul be bound in the bond of life, and may we be reunited with him and all our loved ones at the time when death and tears will be erased forever. Speedily in our days. Amen.