I read an interesting article at Chabad  recently explaining the term tzaddik. If you’re unfamiliar with the word, in essence it means a supremely good and righteous person— a man after God’s own heart.
The fullest definition of the term would be a spiritual superhero. Yet, the tzaddik remains a “human of humans,” i.e., a rare person, possessing both a comfortable relatability and an out-of-this-world spiritual sensibility, both of which make him an inspiration to the world.
They are rare. One does not often find men possessed of such godly character, intent on serving God, loving others as themselves, and dedicated to bringing peace to humanity. Thus, when we recognize a tzaddik, the world takes note. All the more, the loss of a true tzaddik is felt, and their passing creates a hole in society that can’t be filled.
We have lost one of the great ones as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (HaRav Ya’akov Zvi ben David Arieh z’’l) passed away on November 7, 2020.
First and foremost, he was a rabbi—a teacher, a shepherd, and a servant to the people. His rabbinic career began in 1978 and continued until his retirement in 2013 from his position as Chief Rabbi of England. His impact on Jewish thought was not diminished in the slightest by his retirement. If anything, his influence increased across the globe. He taught with tremendous insight, honesty, and practicality. He was a teacher, philosopher, theologian, author, and politician, and his influence, not just in Judaism but across all cultural and religious lines, was phenomenal. His accomplishments were recently recognized in his nomination for the 2021 Genesis Prize, a sort of Nobel Prize in Israel. He was and will continue to be one of the most influential Jewish leaders of our time.
His death makes me feel as if I have lost a beloved family member. I did not know Rabbi Sacks personally, but I felt that he knew me. Through his podcasts, books, and commentaries, he spoke to all of us. He helped the world to understand life, love of people, love of God, and much more. It’s strangely personal, and I know I’m not the only one feeling this, as I’ve observed the worldwide community response to his passing, and all felt this connection.
He was my mentor, though we never exchanged a word. As I prepared sermons, his teaching inspired me, and in turn, inspired others. Unbeknownst to him, his words guided me through personal struggles in life and leadership. He made Judaism more meaningful to me than any teacher I’ve ever had. When I read Rabbi Sacks’ writing, it was as if he was talking to me. Like I was sitting across the desk from him in his study, listening, learning, growing. I’ve had many conversations with FFOZ friends who shared a similar love for him.
This blog was initially written as a prayer request for Rabbi Sacks’ recovery, but before it could be published, he was gone. It is heartbreaking to consider that his light has dimmed, but I take comfort in the fact that the light of tzaddik never burns out. Rabbi Sacks is a true tzaddik. His service to God and dedication to loving humanity leaves a legacy that will serve the world for generations to come. For all of us whom he inspired, it is incumbent upon us to carry his light as a burning torch, illuminating the darkness of hatred, violence, and intolerance and speaking, as he has to all of us, shalom.
Rabbi Sacks leaves behind his loving wife of fifty years, Elaine, whom he referenced in so many stories of his life, and three children, Joshua, Dina, and Gila. Please join me in praying for them, and may his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.