Marking the Yahrzeit of Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
The passing of former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was a shock that occurs rarely in one’s life. It was like seeing a picture of a nuclear test on a screen: irreversible and quiet. Only it was not a test.
Of course, we knew about Jonathan’s illness. We asked our friends for prayers for him literally three weeks before that devastating news appeared on our screens on November 7th, 2020. And we knew that it was not the first attack of that merciless illness on him. We just were not prepared for such an abrupt end.
My husband Michael spent the Jewish year 5781-5782 reading all five books of Rabbi Sacks’ elegant commentaries to the Torah, with increasing love and attachment. And we salute all the noble and loving efforts made by his family, friends, colleagues, pupils, and followers to keep his legacy alive.
During this year, I have thought about Jonathan very often. What was the factor, the substance, the actions that made him so universally beloved? In another Jewish miracle, I finally found the answer. It was not a factor, not a substance, and not an action.
It was a quality: grace.
One cannot be trained to be graceful. One cannot pretend to be graceful, nor can one mimic grace. Grace is a gift, and we know from Whom. It was this grace that made Rabbi Sacks’ speeches touch peoples’ hearts directly. It was this grace that stayed in his eyes, in his smile, and in his genuine attentiveness towards the people he met.
A special volume of his writings and speeches, “The Power of Ideas,” was recently published, thanks to the devoted efforts of his colleagues at The Rabbi Sacks Legacy Trust.
Reading Jonathan’s thoughts during the last 20 years, from 2000 onward, seemed to me to be the most appropriate thing to do during these reflective days.
Reading one of Rabbi Sacks’ short reminiscences from his very well-known “Thought for the Day” two and half-minute appearances on BBC radio, I was sent to another dimension.
The name of that reminiscence is Love. And in the summer of 2020, Rabbi Sacks and his wife, Elaine, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, just a couple of months before his passing. That kind of love can really make miracles, and can keep a person alive beyond the bounds of the medically possible.
A year after that celebration, on August 31st of this year, Lady Elaine was speaking — bravely, elegantly, and graciously — at her husband’s stone-setting ceremony. In her speech, she mentioned that special wedding anniversary, which they managed to celebrate with their family. And she also pointed to the mercy of the quickness of Rabbi Sacks’ departure, which relieved him of the prolonged torment of his illness.
And then, Lady Elaine shared a very private thing in anybody’s life. Mentioning that Rabbi Jonathan had left our world in the early hours of Shabbat (which always is a mark of a special bond between a person and the Creator), she said: “Jonathan’s last words were ‘Good Shabbos!’ to a very kind doctor. Who can ask for more?”
Such was the grace, mercy, love, and compassion of Jonathan Sacks. It made his presence magnetic and benevolent during his lifetime, and also keeps thoughts about him enlightened — and memories of him tangible — after his passing.
Such is the legacy of graceful Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.
Inna Rogatchi is an author, artist , scholar and film-maker. She is co-founder and president of The Rogatchi Foundation, and the co-founder of Culture for Humanity Global Initiative.