We came out of Shabbat last night to big news from around the world. After learning updates about the US Elections, came the surprising and terribly sad news that the former Chief Rabbi of England, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks had passed away on Shabbat morning after losing a battle with cancer. There is a surprising connection between these two news items. One of the fascinating idiosyncrasies of Rabbi Sacks’ many interests was a deep love of American Presidential Inaugural Addresses. I’m sure it is because he was a brilliant orator himself, but Rabbi Sacks was a veritable expert on these addresses and loved to write about them. I was immediately curious to hear his insights into the divisive election, and his response to the speeches in the coming days and certainly in January.
Rabbi Sacks has been a beacon of light, tolerance, hope and optimism during his entire career, and his voice will be sorely missed at this critical juncture. No one embodied with such grace the balance between critical thinking and deep faith better than Rabbi Sacks.
Every time I had the privilege of hearing Rabbi Sacks, and with every book of his that I quickly tried to get my hands on, his brilliant insight, calm reflection and humble sharing of stories continued to provide me with inspiration. As an educator, I always knew that I could rely on him to provide rich material for a classroom discussion or further exploration for a curious student. Just this past week I brought a quote from him into a session I led about the elections and the complexity of Truth and different perspectives:
Truth on earth is not, nor can be, the whole truth. It is limited, not comprehensive; particular, not universal. When two propositions conflict it is not necessarily because one is true the other false. It may be, and often is, that each represents a different perspective on reality, an alternative way of structuring order, no more and no less commensurable than a Shakespeare sonnet, a Michelangelo painting or a Schubert sonata. In heaven there is truth; on earth there are truths. Therefore, each culture has something to contribute. Each person knows something no one else does. The sages said: ‘Who is wise? One who learns from all men- ‘The wisest is not one who knows himself wiser than others: he is one who knows all men have some share of the truth, and is willing to learn from them, for none of us knows all the truth and each of us knows some of it. (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, p. 64-65 )
During these divisive times in the US and around the globe, it is Rabbi Sacks’ voice that I want to hear more than anything to help us find our bearings and understand more deeply the profound shifts that our world is going through. Just as he tells of his first meeting with the Lubavitcher Rebbe as a young man who challenged him to become leader and to put himself into situations where he will have an impact, I feel that it is upon us to do the same. In the merit of Rabbi Sacks, may we take up the mantle of leadership and bring his message of wisdom, humility, patience and hope wherever we go.
Baruch Dayan Emet. May his memory be for a blessing.