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The world lost a moral voice, but Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ wisdom lives on

In this Nov. 17, 2014, file photo, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks holds a press conference, at the Vatican. Sacks, the former chief rabbi in the U.K. who reached beyond the Jewish community with his regular broadcasts on radio, has died at 72. A statement on his Twitter page said he died early Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020.
Andrew Medichini, Associated Press

The words of inspired world leaders form a legacy that continues down through the ages. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi to Great Britain, was just such an inspired leader. He passed away last Saturday at the age of 72.

One of the great moral voices of our day has been silenced, but Rabbi Sacks’ words will reverberate and resound for generations yet to come.

Some of the final lessons he shared in his lifetime are as timely as they are timeless: Understanding and friendship are always possible to the willing. A maximum of choices doesn’t lead to a maximum of meaning in your life. Finding meaning is a different kind of pursuit.

In an KSL NewsRadio interview with Deseret News opinion editor Boyd Matheson, the rabbi described a most unlikely friendship that had blessed his life immensely. He was invited to visit with a staunch and vocal atheist, and despite the fact that the atheist detested everything Rabbi Sacks held sacred, he agreed to meet.

Some questioned his sanity for taking the meeting. A colleague questioned him saying, “Chief Rabbi, what are you going to do — convert him?” To which Rabbi Sacks replied, “No, I’m going to do something much better than that. I’m going to listen to him.”

Sacks described what followed. “We became really good friends. The friendship was a great blessing to my life. We had public conversations. … People reacted saying ‘He’s a chief rabbi, he is an atheist, and they’re sitting together and they’re talking and they are obviously friends.’”

Rabbi Sacks concluded: “I think all the divisions that currently exist in society have gone far, far too far. I’m not saying it’ll be easy to reverse any of them. It won’t be. But there is none of them that cannot be reversed. Because all it really needs is openness, respect and a willingness to honor people with views not like our own.”

Learning to listen across individual differences is vital to gaining understanding and fostering friendship.

Rabbi Sacks regularly made statements that caused his readers and listeners to embark on a journey of discovery. One such: “If there is one thing the great institutions of the modern world do not do, it is to provide meaning. Science tells us how but not why. Technology gives us power but cannot guide us as to how to use that power. The market gives us choices but leaves us uninstructed as to how to make those choices. The liberal democratic state gives us freedom to live as we choose but refuses, on principle, to guide us as to how to choose. ...

“The result is that the 21st century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.”

Some of the world’s greatest meaning is contained in friendship and understanding.

We honor Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks for his life and legacy, including his gift of making every individual he encountered feel that he was their personal mentor, trusted guide and faithful friend.