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Home » Chayei Sara, Education, Events in the News, Rabbi's Desk

The Passing of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Submitted by on November 12, 2020 – 6:18 pmNo Comment | 24,516 views

It has been around a year since the world has lost a great leader with the passing of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Who will be his successor?

There will be millions beginning with me and you.

Rabbi Sacks was a unique and leading voice among rabbis in our generation. His keen intellect and powerful prose served as a guiding light to a society desperate for guidance. At a time of social and emotional turbulence, Rabbi Sacks brought the compelling message of the Torah to the masses. He spoke in soft and patient tones, but his message was unbending.


He preached and practiced personal responsibility. The challenge of healing the world, is indeed enormous, he would say, but that doesn’t absolve us from accepting it. We begin by healing ourselves, by lifting ourselves from the morass of pettiness and short-sightedness, but it doesn’t end with us. We each carry personal responsibility for the whole of the world. If you save even one person from moral chaos, you have saved the world. Imagine, if you saved more than one. Indeed, one by one, the world will come together.


We see this message reflected in the theme of our Parshah this week. The Parshah tells the story of Sarah’s funeral and her son Isaac’s marriage. In the course of burying his mother and marrying his intended, Isaac not only kept his own faith alive, he not only nurtured the flame of his own candle, he also shared his message with the world. When he buried his mother, he taught the Hittites, from whom Abraham purchased the burial plot in Hebron, the me’arat hamachpelach, the virtue of honest negotiation. He also taught them in no uncertain terms that Israel is a Jewish land, allocated by G-d to the Jewish people.  Nevertheless, because it had not been given to the Jewish people yet, they would purchase the burial plot at a full price. (Jews who actually bought retail!) G-d made man upright and upright is how we must walk.


This left an indelible impression upon the Hittites, but the Mesopotamians were no less impressed by their interaction with Abraham and Isaac’s servant Eliezer. Eliezer told them that when he was thirsty, Rebecca gave him water. Eliezer taught them that this was provided by G-d above and that it was a direct sign that Rebecca was a perfect bride for Isaac. From Eliezer they learned that the world is not a jungle where life is governed by whim. The world is carefully created by G-d and the events of life are carefully orchestrated. When circumstances conspire for something to occur, it is driven by G-d and it is wise to comply. If we are tempted to refuse for personal gain, we must overcome our vanity and folly and rise to the occasion.


These are wise and timeless lessons. They originate in the Torah, but they apply to the globe. As Abraham and Isaac did in this Parshah, so did Rabbi Sacks. He never tired of trumpeting the Torah’s message to the world at large. But he has passed on and is no longer with us, what are we to do?


The answer is also found in our Parshah. Our Parshah celebrates the continuity of life and the unbroken chain from generation to generation. It is the parshah of passing the torch and taking responsibility. It would have been easy for Isaac to wallow in self-pity now that his mother was gone. But he didn’t. Instead, he found himself a bride, who filled his mother’s shoes. Together, they picked up where his mother left off.


We too lost a great exponent of moral values and spiritual perspective. Rabbi Sacks was not only a leader of Jews but a powerful voice of guidance and inspiration for the whole of society. He leaves a legacy behind, more than thirty books, countless lectures, and articles. But his greatest legacy is the people that he touched and inspired. We—his legions of students—must pick up where he left off.