A Tribute to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
We are blessed to be alive at one of the best times in Jewish history. I base this conclusion on many facts including the fact that the sovereign State of Israel has been re-established on its holy land and the fact that the Jewish people outside of Israel, especially in the United States, enjoy unprecedented freedom, opportunity and respect. Another fact which testifies to the greatness of this age is that there has never before been such widespread availability, in print and on the internet, of Jewish texts, prayer books or commentaries.
I write this at the beginning of a tribute, in memoriam, to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks because the only source of comfort I have found from the pain of his death and the realization that I will never again have the opportunity to hear him speak or enjoy the pleasure and profundity of his company is that he will live forever in the extraordinary words he wrote and the videos he recorded. Rabbi Sacks left us a great body of work, and it is very special work.
Rabbi Sacks took the Torah and its faith and values out into the world for Jews at all levels of religious observance and to non-Jews of all religions. In that, and so many other ways, he was a great exemplar of Modern Orthodox Judaism, and of the principles of Torah Umadda, the union of Torah and secular knowledge, which are the twin foundation stones of Yeshiva University.
A few years ago, Rabbi Sacks honored me by asking me to write a foreword to his book, “Essays on Ethics: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible.” In it, I wrote:
A central theme of this book and in Rabbi Sacks’ work is that ethical behavior is the essence of Jewish life and Jewish destiny...The Jewish people’s ultimate reason for being is to bring to the world the values that were codified and transmitted by God to humanity at Sinai (pg. xiv).
I ended my foreword with very timely words by Rabbi Sacks from his commentary in the book on Parashat Emor:
Long ago we were called on to show the world that religion and morality go hand in hand. Never was that more needed than in an age riven by religiously motivated violence in some countries, rampant secularity in others. To be a Jew is to be dedicated to the proposition that loving God means loving His image, humankind. There is no greater challenge, nor, in the twenty first century, is there a more urgent one (pg. xvi).
In millions of words like these which Rabbi Sacks spoke and wrote during his life, he will continue to guide and teach us, if we listen and read.
Joe Lieberman served as United States Senator for the State of Connecticut from 1989 until 2013 and was the Democratic nominee for Vice President in 2000.