Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’ eulogy and tribute to Rabbi Sacks

'Mere words cannot do justice to Rabbi Sacks’s extraordinary contribution'


I feel inadequate delivering these words of tribute to my illustrious predecessor, Rabbi Lord Sacks, zichrono livracha.

Mere words cannot do justice to Rabbi Sacks’s extraordinary contribution to our world, nor to the monumental legacy he has left behind.

To him we declare: Nesi Elokim ata betocheinu! – You have been a prince of G-d in our midst. These words in Bereishit were originally addressed to Abraham our Patriarch by the Benei Chet, the Canaanite dwellers of the Holy Land. In a similar way, Rabbi Lord Sacks was a respected Prince of G-d for the Jewish world and well beyond. 

He was a remarkable spiritual leader, educator, orator, author, philosopher, intellectual, broadcaster and mentor. He was an outstanding ambassador for Judaism and our Torah, helping many to appreciate and be deeply proud of their heritage.

It is difficult, if not impossible, for us to think of Rabbi Sacks in the past tense. He has been an integral part of our lives and an ongoing source of direction, motivation and inspiration. In reality, though, he will never exist in the past, such was his legacy, which will provide insight and inspiration for many years to come; a legacy which will highlight the relevance of our Torah tradition in modern times; a legacy that will enshrine the respectful place of religion within our ever-changing world.  

Amongst the numerous adjectives that describe his remarkable impact on countless individuals, for me the most significant is ‘inspirational’.

I had the privilege of being his successor twice. First, as Rabbi of the Marble Arch community, and then as Chief Rabbi. In occupying his pulpit at Marble Arch, I came to appreciate the deep, inspirational impact he had on the community, which was then followed by his inspirational national and global impact.  

Rabbi Sacks’s Biblical namesake, Yaakov Avinu, is remembered for his voice. Yitzchak, his father, declared: Hakol kol Yaakov – the voice is the voice of Jacob! Rabbi Lord Sacks had a distinctive, powerful voice. His was the encouraging voice of hope and promise, the voice of faith, of morality, tolerance, moderation, humour and love. 

Yaakov Avinu, is introduced to us by the Torah as ‘yoshev ohalim’ – a dweller of tents. Our Sages provide two different ways to understand this term. According to the Midrash, Yaakov was a student of Shem and Aver, dwelling in tents to study as much as he could. In this regard, Rabbi Lord Sacks was a ‘yoshev ohalim’ of the highest pedigree – a world-renowned scholar and educator.

Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, Chizkuni and others give a different peirush. They explain that shepherds construct tents to protect themselves from the heat of the sun. As a ‘yoshev ohalim’, Yaakov was a devoted shepherd. This, too, was the hallmark of Rabbi Lord Sacks. He was a ro’eh ne’eman le’adato – a faithful shepherd to his flock – a Rabbi of Rabbis and leader of leaders, who tended with love and devotion to the needs of his people and our fragile world. 

Yaakov Avinu was also called Yisrael. In many places, Yaakov represents our Patriarch as a family man, while Yisrael symbolises his leadership of our people, and thus we are called Bnei Yisrael. In this spirit, Rabbi Lord Sacks often spoke to Rabbis about our dual responsibility – as family members and community leaders. He, himself, lived up admirably to this aspiration. And that’s why, right now, our thoughts are very much with his dear wife, Lady Elaine, their children, Joshua, Dina, Gila, Rabbi Lord Sacks’s brothers, Brian, Alan and Eliot and the entire family. May they be comforted by the knowledge that Rabbi Lord Sacks’s remarkable legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of the countless people he inspired.

Yehi zichro baruch – may the memory of this most remarkable man be for an eternal blessing, Amen.

'A voice of hope and promise': Rabbi Mirvis pays tribute to predecessor on BBC Radio 4

Very sadly, yesterday afternoon, we laid to his eternal rest my illustrious predecessor, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, whom I had the privilege of working with for the past thirty years.

He had a distinctive, familiar voice. It was a voice of clarity and erudition; a voice of hope and promise; a voice of tolerance and love; a voice of warmth and wisdom, interlaced with sensitivity and humour; a voice that will be profoundly missed by Thought for the Day listeners, by Jewish communities around the world and by all those right across the globe who found in him an invaluable guide who inspired faithfulness, moderation and compassion.

The pain of his loss has been felt far and wide – the world will not be the same without the voice of Rabbi Sacks.

Every year, coinciding with the anniversary of the death of Moses, we read the portion of the Bible which describes how he oversaw the building of the sanctuary, a home for God. Yet, astonishingly, his name is entirely absent from the text. God goes out of His way not to address Moses by name, even whilst he embarked on a most sacred task. 

There is a powerful message here about what constitutes a lasting legacy as opposed to fleeting fame. Legacy has nothing to do with one’s name and everything to do with one’s impact. Rabbi Sacks was widely acclaimed, but the measure of his greatness is in the countless lives he enriched as well as the timelessness of his wisdom.

One of Rabbi Lord Sacks’s brilliant original thoughts relates to history, for which there is no word in the Hebrew Bible. Rather, the word ‘Zachor’ is used, which means memory. He explained that history is ‘his story’ – an account by another person about events which happened to others. We recall it and study it, but we feel disconnected. Memory is quite different – we internalise it, carry it with us and make it a part of our future.

Rabbi Sacks is now not only a part of our shared history. He will also live on in our collective memory.

As ever, he himself put it perfectly: 

“Mortality,” he said, “is written into the human condition, but so too is the possibility of immortality, in the good we do that continues long after we are here, to beget further good. There are lives that defeat death and redeem existence from tragedy.” 

It is from Rabbi Sacks’ own words that we can be certain that his remarkable voice will continue to be with us always.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive