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Lessons in leadership from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks zt”l

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Five years ago, on Shabbat Vayera, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of blessed memory taught me a critical lesson about leadership.

It was two days before my due date, and I was excited I hadn’t delivered yet so I could still hear Rabbi Sacks address the community I help lead, The Downtown Minyan. Rabbi Sacks did not disappoint. He gave an impassioned analysis of the most charged and complex event in the Torah portion for that day — the binding of Isaac. He cited explanation after explanation of God’s strange command to Abraham to sacrifice his son and described each as irreconcilable with our vision of God, our tradition, and parenting. Then he argued that Hashem sought to communicate that parents do not have ownership over their children. We might be seduced by the idea of controlling our children, we might seek to make them in our image, and we might even attempt to subsume them for the family’s benefit — but this is not God’s way. The message of the Akedah, this binding of Isaac, is about the ultimate independence of children as individuals, a proclamation that “parenthood is not ownership, but guardianship.

Just a year later, I introduced Rabbi Sacks to our community again and suggested (jokingly) that his words have the power of a segulah, a good luck charm of sorts. While he was speaking about parenting, I started having contractions. The next morning, I gave birth to our first child.

In the hospital, the year before, as I held my newborn baby, my husband Sion shocked me by telling me that Rabbi Sacks was on the line waiting to speak with me. He had heard I had given birth and called to offer his personal congratulations and blessings on our journey to parenthood.

Through the haze of exhausted joy, I turned to Sion and told him I couldn’t believe Rabbi Sacks had tracked down my number and called. With this, Rabbi Sacks modeled how a Jewish leader should behave: with a level of thoughtful kindness that makes others feel seen.

* * *

There hasn’t been a day in this last year since Rabbi Sacks’ passing that I haven’t thought about him or mourned him. I feel his absence keenly, as the person who represented the embodiment of the Jewish covenant that shapes my life.

Admittedly, when I first heard he was moving to my neighborhood in downtown Manhattan for his tenure as an NYU professor, I was apprehensive. I had idolized the elegance of his writings, the way he made his readers both think and........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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