The following tribute to Rabbi Sacks was read by Rabbi Kamins on behalf of Rabbi Ninio as part of the communal tribute on 11th November, 2020.
Unlike some of the others speaking today, I did not have the privilege of meeting Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in person; instead I met him through his books, his articles, his speeches, his teachings. For years, before every Shabbat, my ritual is to open Rabbi Sacks “Covenant and Conversation” and read his words about the parasha. Through the many years of reading, so many of his teachings have been profound, his stories have remained long after I have finished reading the words, but there is one story he has told in many different forms and occasions. It is about his first encounter with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a man who changed the course of Rabbi Sacks’ life and to whom he turned on more than one occasion for guidance and support. He wrote of his meeting:
“One of the most humble people I ever met was the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. There was nothing self-abasing about him. He carried himself with quiet dignity. He was self-confident and had an almost regal bearing. But when you were alone with him, he made you feel you were the most important person in the room. It was an extraordinary gift. It was “royalty without a crown.” It was “greatness in plain clothes.” It taught me that humility is not thinking you are small. It is thinking that other people have greatness within them.”
And that was Rabbi Sacks’ gift to us; he found greatness in all of us, he made each of us feel we were the most important person in the room. When he wrote, you felt he was speaking to you, his stories were told for you, his guidance and teaching was to open worlds…for you. Whether you were a prince or a queen, a scholar or a lay person, a Jew, of another faith or no faith at all, whether you were a part of his community or a Progressive Rabbi in Sydney a world away, Rabbi Sacks had the remarkable gift to speak to each person, to help each one of us to feel as if we were the only one in the room, that his message was for us. He was able to uncover worlds, to engage us with difficult concepts and principles, to guide us to know and understand the deepest teachings of our tradition. He had such a love of Judaism, its texts and its wisdom and he enfolded us in that love, he wrapped us in the warmth and beauty of tradition and wove into the cloth, teachings from secular philosophy, popular culture and he inspired us. He saw the greatness in us. Rabbi Sacks said of the Rebbe that he could see others and see what they could become. Rabbi Sacks saw what we could all become. He constantly challenged us and all people to live the values we hold dear, to change the world, to heal what is broken, to be a force for good and hope, to change the world. His was a living Judaism, one which sought to bring to life the dreams of tomorrow.
Last year, in “Covenant and Conversation”, he wrote about this week’s parasha, Chayei Sarah, the life of Sarah. There he noted the paradox that a portion called “the life of Sarah” speaks about her death and also that of Abraham. Rabbi Sacks teaches that it is to help us see that “to understand a death we have to understand a life.” Today we gather at the time of his death to understand a life of great honour, the life of a person who was a luminary, a light in our world, a blessing – and whose life, writings and teachings will continue to be an inspiration, as he now lives through each one of us whose lives he has touched, as we learn and teach in the name of our teacher. Zichrono livracha, may his memory be a blessing
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Parashat Chayei Sarah
Shabbat, November 14, 2020
27th of Cheshvan, 5781
Friday, October 9 7:16PM
Motzei Shabbat 7:53PM
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