Mourning Rabbi Sacks, one of God's greatest defenders – opinion

"You made religion – all religions – speak once again to modern minds and modern hearts."

RABBI JONATHAN SACKS laughs during a news conference in London after being awarded the 2016 Templeton Prize, on March 2, 2016. (photo credit: PAUL HACKETT/REUTERS)
RABBI JONATHAN SACKS laughs during a news conference in London after being awarded the 2016 Templeton Prize, on March 2, 2016.
(photo credit: PAUL HACKETT/REUTERS)
I almost imagine the conversation at the Gates of Heaven, where God welcomes one of His greatest defenders of the last century.
Turning to him, He says, “Dearest Jonathan, thank you. You stood up to the test I set. You defended Me against atheists who denied My existence. You challenged the scientists who believed only in matter and essence and empirical verification. You fought the relativists who ridiculed truth and debunked value.
“You gave Me back My place on the stage of human history. You made religion – all religions – speak once again to modern minds and modern hearts. You renewed My word that had become stultified, archaic and demystified, transforming it once more into Torat Chaim, a living, breathing Torah whose beauty engendered awe and reverence. When many were writing My eulogy, you were composing My biography.
"You dignified religion with your ethics of responsibility and compassion. You drew in My estranged children who had lost faith, not only in Me and religion, but in humanity and the world. You brought back the greatest gift I had bequeathed to the world: belief in something larger than themselves.
“You reminded My creatures that they were created in My image – with wisdom and intellect, with knowledge and creativity – raised above animals and nature, but equally, to treat them with dignity and care. You reminded the world of one of the first messages I ever gave to them – that to be human is to ‘name’ the other – bestowing them with dignity and majesty, celebrating their differences rather than aiming for homogeneity. You bought back to the modern lexicon a word that had become neglected, if not totally depreciated: responsibility.
“It is Me, dear Jonathan, Who is in debt to you, for not giving up in a world that beckoned despair, in a world in which My creatures have turned inward, looking only at themselves. You took on the challenge I set for mankind – to turn outward – to see the other, to know that redemption comes through the We and not the I. You used My gift that I endowed to you – intense living, extraordinary intellect and compelling oratory skills to elevate My standing in the world – to give back to My creatures belief not only in ME but also in THEM – in their abilities, their agency, their choices.
“My son Abraham, whom I anointed to be a prince among the nations, fought against kings but never took advantage of his position. He went against the crowd, against the accepted beliefs of the age, and even in the face of radical evil, found compassion. Who never stopped protesting injustice but also recognized he was but the dust of earth.
“You too, Jonathan, did these things. Sitting in the British Parliament, you too, fought against indifference, if not outright prejudice and hatred of the other, speaking truth to power – to prime ministers, and presidents, leaders and royalty – a prince among the nations. You too, fought against the kings of the age – philosophers, scientists and thinkers, but never once spoke with indignity or disrespect.
“You fought injustice where you saw it, elevated ignorance with wisdom and brought back a love and respect for monotheism and religion in general. Like Abraham, you brought God back into a pagan world, smashing the idols of the age and becoming the father of humanity. Your students, from the greatest intellects the generation has known to the simplest layperson, mourn your loss because you awakened them to new hope, inspiration, love of tradition and the renewal of ancient wisdom.
“When I stopped sending prophets to the people, My words had to be communicated through the sages. It was through the wisdom and compassion, creativity, and thoughtfulness of the ordinary man that My teachings became immortalized. You, Jonathan, were a prince, a sage and a father.
"It is true, you had far more to give to the world, many more messages to impart, and I took you too soon. Now it is up to those who live on to take those messages, those teachings and continue on the path you founded; to continue to welcome Me back into their hearts and souls; to hear My word, My Torah once more, and transform ancient wisdom, ancient law, into a living, breathing teaching. Let us pray that they will rise to the challenge.
"But for you, welcome to the place where you can finally rest in peace."
The author lectures at Matan: the Sadie Rennert Women’s Institute for Torah Studies.