By Rabbi Alex Freedman
Very sadly, this week Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks passed away. However, his voice will never be muted, not with his copious writings and global audience.
I read his weekly Parsha essays for years, the contents of which now form several of his 25 books. So many times I finished reading them with the word “Wow” on my lips. How could he read the same words of Torah I had – words I had read many times – and discover such greater depths? Week after week I felt this way. One of his greatest strengths as a teacher was to educate every audience without watering anything down. He really expected the reader to follow complex ideas, but he used the right language so everyone could follow along. Fortunately, his books are widely available, and his essays can be found at rabbisacks.org.
I was lucky to hear him speak in person three times in New York City. These Torah lectures were tremendously exciting, and he had the whole room of one thousand people listening on every word for the whole hour. As skilled a writer as he was, he might have been an even better public speaker. Many interviews and lectures are still available at rabbisacks.org.
Seven years ago, Rabbi Sacks wrote about Parashat Tetzaveh, and he described the unique nature of Judaism’s dual modes of religious leadership: the priest and the prophet. I quote his words that I have kept in mind ever since, which guide me in how I approach writing sermons: “The priest speaks the word of G-d for all time, the prophet, the word of G-d for this time.” I believe that sermons – and really Jewish education – should be both timeless and timely. Rabbi Sacks was both for me.
Yehi Zichro Baruch. May his memory be a blessing.