Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ First Yahrzeit

President of the State of Israel Isaac Herzog, and Rabbi Sacks’ daughter Gila Sacks, add their voices

Isaac Herzog

President of the State of Israel

Few figures in our history have shaped our global Jewish conversation, dear friends, as much as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks zt”l. His call for a Judaism engaged with the world, his appeal to respect the dignity of difference, his cry to heal the fractured world, all these have inspired me personally and so many Jews all around the world.

Rabbi Sacks was a giant of a man, a rabbi whose prose reads like poetry, whose words in the magically soft and wise voice touched our hearts and souls and our minds, whose humility, whose kindness, whose brilliance of mind enriched the Jewish world, and indeed, the entire world. His untimely passing one year ago has left an enormous void in our collective Jewish life.

This Shabbat, dear friends, Jews from all around the world will read the Torah portion of Chayei Sarah, and it is striking that Rabbi Sacks’ yahrzeit coincides with this parsha. We read that Abraham mourned the death of his wife, Sarah, and found two ways to honour her legacy. First, he acquired a burial plot, a piece of land that would forever hold her memory. But more importantly, Abraham found a wife for Isaac. He made sure not just to honour Sarah’s past, but to give her a future. He made sure that there would be hearts and minds in which to hold her memory, that the great project that he had begun with Sarah would live on. This was Abraham’s greatness. Even in grief, he was invested in the future. When he found a void, he filled it with love. Rabbi Sacks inspired and continues to inspire us to invest in Jewish future, to understand that we are all part of one great Jewish story, and we are each called upon to add our own chapter to this story.

I’m so moved, therefore, to see Jews from all around the world participating in this wonderful Communities in Conversation initiative honoring Rabbi Sacks’ impact on our world by talking and learning. Just like Abraham, everyone engaged in this great project is honoring the past by investing in our future together. We are filling the void with love, and through love we heal our fractured world and build a home together.

I sorely miss Rabbi Sacks very much, and I’m comforted by the outpouring of love for him one year after his tragically passing away, as well as his enormous writing, his enormous legacy and his wonderful ideas. May his memory be an eternal blessing for all of us and for humanity at large.

Gila Sacks

Daughter of Rabbi Sacks and Lady Sacks

Perhaps the most defining feature of my father’s life, one that I don’t think I fully appreciated until after he died, was that he learned and learned, and continued to learn every single day, until his last. He learned from books, from text, from laws. He learned from history and from world events. But, mainly, he learned from people. He would seek out people to learn from, from every possible path of life. And he would seek out what he could learn from everyone he met.

And he would do this through conversation, through talking and listening. So for him, conversation was a defining and spiritual act, a way of opening ourselves up to something beyond ourselves, of being challenged, the only way we could really become more than we were before. A training, perhaps, for opening ourselves up to God.

In this coming week’s parsha Chayei Sarah, we read that before meeting his future wife for the first time, vayeitse Yizhak lsuach basader lifnot arev, “Yitzhak had gone out in the field before evening to meditate.”

The Talmud in Berakhot commenting on the choice of the word lasuach, usually meaning ‘to talk’ or ‘to converse’, states ein sicha ela tefilah, “There is no conversation without prayer” or, as my father explains it, conversation is a form of prayer.

He writes on this parsha, “Conversation is a prayer, for in true conversation I open myself up to the reality of another person. I enter his or her world. I begin to see things from a perspective, not my own. A genuine human conversation is a preparation for and a microcosmic version of the act of prayer.”

Prayer, the prayer model by Yitzhak specifically, is not monologue, but dialogue. Prayer as sicha, conversation. So it is fitting that through this initiative, Communities in Conversation, all over the world, individuals, communities, and organizations will mark my father’s yahrzeit, not simply from learning from what he wrote, but through conversation, coming together, asking, challenging, listening, and learning from each other.

It means more than I can say to us, his family, that you are helping to carry forward his teaching in this beautiful way. He wrote of Moshe’s death at the end of the Torah, “We will not complete the journey. Therefore, we each must inspire others to continue what we began.” Thank you for continuing the work my father began, and may the work he began be a blessing for all of us.