What does one say about the passing of a sage in our time? A man who earnt the respect and admiration of millions. A life that was full of prayer, belief, understanding and compassion. And a legacy that will live on through the ages.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was that very man. As Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, he provided leadership and direction to the Jewish community, while building a bridge to those in the non-Jewish community.
His message was universal. Love not hate. Tolerance not ignorance. Hope not despair.
It was a message that he carried through his many speeches and writings from the beginning to the end. ‘Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times’ was the title of his most recent book, in which he argued the need to urgently move away from the “hyper-individualistic society” that we live in today, to one where we “build into our culture a greater concern for the welfare of others.”
Our focus as a society, on the twin institutions of the market and the state, needed, Rabbi Sacks said, to be complemented with a shared sense of moral commitment, built on cooperation not competition, common good not self-interest, and a shared sense of collective responsibility.
This, Rabbi Sacks believed, was essential to a good society.
Such conviction and clarity of thought is all too rare in public life, which helps explain why the wisdom of Rabbi Sacks was so important and will be so deeply missed.
As Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, said: “I express my sorrow to the worldwide Jewish community on the loss of this great figure. I have lost a friend; the Jewish community a great leader; humanity an eloquent spokesman.”
And, as our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison said, Rabbi Sacks’ “inspirational teachings and wisdom have long transcended the faith divide and been an important voice for peace, hope and understanding.”
Indeed, Prime Minister Morrison wrote to Rabbi Sacks only days before his death, saying how he relied on the words of the Rabbi in many of his speeches, on topics ranging “from tribalism and terrorism, to the Middle East and pandemic”.
As he said, Rabbi Sacks “grasped the wisdom that liberal democracies need.”
To the family of Rabbi Sacks, Lady Elaine and children, Joshua, Dina and Gila, I join with so many others from around the world in wishing you a long life and thanking, through you, your late husband and father for his service to the Jewish community and society at large.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was a giant, a truly special person.