This coming Sunday marks the Shloshim of Rabbi Lord Sacks, Moreh Morenu HaRav, R. Ya’akov Zvi ben R. David Arieh, zecher tzaddik livracha. A major tribute is being broadcast on Sunday at 7.00 pm, (www.RabbiSacks.org/shloshim) which include contributions from leading figures in the Jewish and non-Jewish world (including HRH the Prince of Wales). The event will end with a Hadran – a Conclusion to the study of the Six Orders of the Mishna, learned across the Jewish world in Rabbi Sacks’ name. The message I have recorded for the Hadran is an edited version of what appears below.
RETURN AND RADIANCE
I have the honour to be able to participate in this tribute for Rabbi Lord Sacks and to be invited to say the Hadran
I am recording this message in the Beth Hamidrash in St John’s Wood Synagogue, in which Rabbi Lord Sacks used to daven during the week when he was Chief Rabbi. I am looking, now, at the seat in which he used to sit.
After Rabbi Sacks retired, he maintained an office in this building. There were many occasions when he recorded messages from this very spot, below this Tree of Life window.
The Hadran we are performing celebrates learning from across the UK, Israel and the USA. I am very grateful to my colleague, Rabbi Nicki Liss, Chairman of Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue, for having spearheaded this initiative.
What does Hadran mean?
The usual explanation of the words we will say, Hadran Aloch Vehadroch Alon is that it means, “We will return to you, and you will return to us” Our learning is not goodbye. It is lehitra’ot. Au revoir. We will see you again. We will return to you.
There is another meaning, suggested by R Chayim b Betzalel, the brother of Maharal of Prague, in Sefer HaChayim, that links Hadran to Hadar – glory, majesty, or even beauty. In completing a unit of learning, we see the beauty and majesty of learning G-d’s Torah, and we become beautiful and majestic, thereby, in the eyes of G-d.
Hadran Aloch Vehadroch Alon – “Our glory is through you and your glory is upon us.”
There is a parallel passage in the Anim Zemirot prayer: Pe’eiro Alai Uf’eri Alav – “His glory is on me and my glory is on Him”
Two meanings, then, of Hadran. Return and Beauty
I would like to suggest that these two meaning of Hadran are not independent. They are interdependent. Through Hadar returning, one comes to Hadar, beauty or glory.
It is through re-examining, re-experiencing, re-learning the Mishna or the Talmud that the beauty and the glory of the material is uncovered.
If this applies to learning, it applies, no less, to those who learn, and in particular to Rabbi Lord Sacks.
The world is familiar with Rabbi Lord Sacks the outstanding speaker, the electrifying orator.
However, there was a process
He returned to ideas. He reworked. He refined. He redeveloped. From the Hadar came the Hadar, a greater elegance of presentation, a more persuasive mode of expression. Beautifully crafted phrases that are gems of English prose, such as: “Cultural climate change,” or “Thank before you think.”
Many of his books are expansions of themes he first addressed a number of years ago. His last book, Morality, builds on ideas he spoke about in his Templeton Lecture and goes back to notions he first touched upon, nearly twenty years ago, in The Dignity of Difference.
From the Hadar came the Hadar. From Revision came Radiance.
At St John’s Wood shul, we were often privileged to hear the very first drafts. He sometimes left his sermon notes behind in the pulpit. They were written in pencil, down the middle of a page of A4. A few key phrases. A quotation. Sometimes a passage written out in full.
After he retired as Chief Rabbi, we had the pleasure of welcoming him back a several times a year at St John’s Wood. He kept a Tallit here. There was a poignant moment during the shiva week when Joanna Benarroch, his CEO, collected his Tallit and found a clutch of sermons inside the Tallit bag
However, it was not just at a level of literary expression that Rabbi Lord Sacks demonstrated the two sides of Hadran
He expressed it, no less, in his personal life. I saw at first hand over the years, the refinement of a personality, an increasing sensitivity and empathy.
As Chief Rabbi, his primary responsibility was, of course, to the British Jewish community. Since his retirement he had been a worldwide voice, and the past month has brought in a flood of examples of his support to individuals across the globe; instances not just of his intellectual engagement but of his humanity; sharing ideas but also sharing words of comfort.
Some years ago, I was standing with him at a chupa. In addressing the young couple, he offered a strikingly original interpretation of a well-known verse in the Torah that I have repeated, in his name, many times since.
Avram and Sarai approach Egypt and Avram turns to Sarai and says: Hinei Na Yodati Ki Isha Yefat Mar’eh At – “Behold now I know that you are a beautiful woman!”
The question is obvious. He hadn’t known before then?
Rabbi Sacks explained:
As Avram approached Egypt, he was apprehensive. How would they manage in a place of such impurity and depravity? He turned to Sarai – and saw something he hadn’t seen before. A dimension of personality of Sarai that he hadn’t appreciated had ever existed. He saw a resolve that made him realize, we can handle this! With you by my side, we can overcome this challenge! Now I know what a beautiful woman you are! And Rabbi Sacks went on to bless the couple that throughout their lives they would engage and re-engage, and discover newer and more beautiful facets of each other throughout their married life.
I believe Jonathan Sacks was able to say these words first, because he knew their truth in his own marriage with Elaine, and second, this was something he undertook on himself. He reviewed his life constantly, improving his ability to speak, to communicate, to write, to care, to relate, to radiate.
And now, as in the opening words of last week’s sidra, Vayeitzei Ya’akov (“And Ya’akov departed”) – that Ya’akov Zvi ben David Arieh has departed and, in Rashi’s words: Pana Hoda, Pana Ziva, Pana Hadara – “the beauty has gone, the splendour has gone, the radiance has gone.”
May he be a Melitz Yosher (“a righteous interceder”) on behalf of his family, the Jewish world, and all mankind. Amen