For all his intellectual prowess, Rabbi Sacks was not a bookish don, who wanted to hide away in an ivory tower. He engaged with people, and was interested in meeting them, and learning from them. He developed a worldwide following. It included princes, Prime Ministers and other leaders but also multitudes of people without titles, people of all faiths and none. One of his many catchy sayings was “good leaders create followers, great leaders create leaders.” He was not talking about himself, but he could have been. He had millions of followers but at the same time also acted as a spur to inspire a generation of rabbis, teachers and community leaders.
One of the notable things in the last few days have been the many, many stories of the way so many people were touched by him, on a personal not just an intellectual level. When someone had a bereavement or another personal crisis, he was there for them. When they got engaged or a baby was born, again he was there for them. He understood human joy and pain and found the right words to augment the former and assuage the latter. He was a man of compassion and kindness, described by the Jewish Chronicle in a tribute editorial as “a mensch.” He was steadfast in Orthodox Judaism, but incredibly non–judgemental about Jews who were not as religious. At his core, he was a family man, who was devoted to his wife of over 50 years, Elaine, who sustained and supported him, as well as his three children and many grandchildren.
Rabbi Sacks was a one–off. His death leaves a huge unfillable hole. Jews, he once said, have not been so much interested in “the idea of power, but the power of ideas.” Through his incredible legacy, we will continue to learn from him and be inspired by his ideas, as future generations of disciples, of Sacks–ites. Whilst his death is painful, we must celebrate the majesty of his achievement and life.
Read it all.