We are deeply, deeply saddened by the passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, זכר צדיק לברכה. He was a brilliant and eloquent voice of the true and noble Torah, the true and noble human spirit. Sometimes, when a tzaddik passes on, it really feels like a light has gone out in the world. We feel this with the passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, זכרו ברוך.
Rabbi Sacks’ many writings and recorded talks speak for themselves of his penetrating intellect, his deep heart and his high spirit. I had the privilege to spend a little time with him some years back at a conference in India sponsored by the Elijah Interfaith Institute — he was on the Board of World Religious Leaders and I was a member of the scholars think tank — and I had the opportunity to experience how truly impressive he was in person. Brilliant, supremely articulate, warm, funny, real, compassionate and humane, he was a joyful presence. Whenever he spoke, he brought reason, clarity and insight. In the Talmud, a true Torah scholar is praised as someone who is תוכו כברו — “his inside is like his outside” — a person of complete integrity. Rabbi Sacks ztz”l was inside and outside the same — and his inside and outside were impressive.
One little vignette. At one point during the India trip, in Amritsar, main city of the Sikh community, the conference participants all gathered on the rooftop patio of the visitor’s center with a beautiful view overlooking the city, for a twilight tea and coffee before dinner. I was standing speaking with a Christian theologian I knew from the States, a distinguished professor at an Ivy League university, author of sophisticated and deeply thoughtful theological works. Rabbi Sacks saw me and came over, and I introduced him to the theologian. He exclaimed “Oh! Wonderful! I have read many of your works.” He went on to list the titles of several books. Then he mentioned a book he particularly liked, and a point that he appreciated made on a particular page of that book, which he cited by number, and then added — “and I thought your footnote,” which he also designated by number, “was very important and could have been included in the main text.” The theologian agreed. This was not rehearsed. He had perfect recall. But more than that, he used his perfect recall of particulars to give full attention to every particular person he met, and to engage them with genuine warmth and enthusiasm.
Rabbi Sacks’ vision of Torah was rational, ethical, real and true, embracing and expressing broad knowledge, deep wisdom and heartfelt righteousness, a vision that Am Yisrael and the whole world needs more and more today, a vision he articulated and embodied. He will be deeply, deeply missed. His memory is an endless blessing for us all.