They lived in parallel universes, each with its own function: Rav Feinstein deepened the knowledge of Torah, while Rabbi Sacks broadened the knowledge of Torah
Eich naflu gibborim, lamented King David in Shmuel II 1:19 upon learning of the death of his good friend Jonathan, and King Saul: “How the mighty have fallen!” This verse came to mind when I learned that we Jews had lost our own David and Jonathan within a 24-hour period: Rav Dovid Feinstein and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
These two would be the first to decry any comparison between them and the Biblical David and Jonathan, but the confluence of their names and their almost simultaneous departure from This World cannot go unnoticed.
Each of these two giants of modern Jewish life spoke to his own unique constituency. If one needed a Torah spokesman to address a secular Jewish or non-Jewish audience, one would call on former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who would invariably deliver a brilliant and eloquent insight into the relevance of Torah for our day. And if one needed an answer to a complex halachic issue, a sense of direction as how to behave halachically in a non-halachic world, one would call on Rav Feinstein. Rav Feinstein was schooled by his world-renowned father, Rav Moshe Feinstein, and was himself a profound student of the intricacies and subtleties of the entire Talmud and its application to contemporary living. Rabbi Sacks was a university educated and erudite commentator of modern life, and could as easily cite Shakespeare as he could, l’havdil, Rambam. Rav Feinstein spoke to the committed and learned Jew, bringing him ever closer to the thinking of the Sages as to how to negotiate life in today’s world. Rabbi Sacks spoke both to the committed and non-committed, Jewish and non-Jewish, who lived in and were influenced by the secular world around them, and was able to help such individuals appreciate the message of classical Judaism. They lived in parallel universes, each with its own function: Rav Feinstein deepened the knowledge of Torah, while Rabbi Sacks broadened the knowledge of Torah.
In their personal lives, each of them embodied the finest in Jewish tradition. Rav Feinstein was the very model of wisdom and self- effacing humility, constantly ready to lend a helping hand to those in need of material or spiritual assistance. Rabbi Sacks, always available to those who needed his counsel, was the very model of an intellectual leader: morally courageous yet understanding, visionary yet practical, idealistic yet familiar with the nuts and bolts of daily life.
Their personal lives were a study in contrasts. Rav Feinstein rarely left his beis medrash and yeshivah in Manhattan, and was constantly immersed in teaching, studying, and responding to the myriad halachic issues that came before him every day. By contrast, Rabbi Sacks was like a circuit-riding world traveler, bringing his message of a dynamic Torah to every corner of the world — and somehow managing along the way to publish many books and essays.
Though in life they had very little interaction with one another, their almost simultaneous farewell to This World beckons us to take note. In King David’s classic lament, he cries out three separate times in the space of a few verses “How the mighty have fallen” (Shmuel II 1:19, 25, 27). His sense of loss is palpable. No less palpable is the sense of loss for contemporary Jewry.
To say Kaddish for two such mighty warriors with such significant names within one day is a wake-up call for all of us. Firstly, not to take for granted our spiritual teachers and religious scholars and poskim. Without them we have no future as a people. And secondly, to do all in our power to maintain institutions of classical Jewish learning such as yeshivos, Beis Yaakovs, kollelim, and intensive day schools.
We lament these losses, but if these losses can galvanize us into acting even more resolutely for the continued survival of all institutional and personal bearers of Torah learning, their lives and teachings will not have been in vain. Although the mighty ones have fallen, other mighty ones are standing in the wings and, with Gd’s help and ours, will soon be ready to take their places. —
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 836)
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