Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, made a special appearance at the Atlanta Semicha Program this past week, as part of his visit to Atlanta.
The Rabbi was accompanied by Rabbi Michael Broyde, member of the Beth Din of America, and professor of law and academic director of law and religion at Emory University. Rabbi Broyde himself delivers a series of Shiurim to the Atlanta Semicha Bochurim each year on contemporary Halachic issues.
The Atlanta Semicha Program, in its sixth year of operation, was very fortunate to be honored by Chief Rabbi Sack’s visit. The Semicha Program prides itself on the eight choice and excellent Bochurim each year, who not only excel in their learning skills, but also in learning with others in the community. While the Bochurim study Semicha all day, the Program provides opportunities for dozens of businessmen, families and kids, to benefit from the Bochurim in the evenings. The Bochurim are also offered courses in skills necessary for practical Rabbinics: professionals in the fields of public speaking, counseling, management, as well as a Sofer, a Shochet and a Mohel, who are all commissioned to offer their expertise in their respective fields. Life cycle courses are also offered.
Having Rabbi Sacks address the Bochurim was not just an honor for the Bochurim, but also an important step in their future rabbinic lives.
Rabbi Sacks requested that this unique and special get-together begin with a Niggun. Rabbi Sacks favors a special Niggun composed by the Alter Rebbe, and which Avraham Fried recently publicized to the words of Friday night’s Sholom Aleichem.
All present sang this special Niggun with fervor. As the sweet strains of this beautiful and moving Niggun moved along, Rabbi Sacks had his eyes closed, as he animatedly joined the singing of this Niggun, at times lightly banging his fist on the table with the song. The Rabbi was obviously being transported to a more spiritual and sublime place.
Rabbi Sacks then expressed how much he “needed” this particular Niggun. He elaborated on how the Niggun moved him to a place long ago, when he was the same age as the present Bochurim in the Semicha program.
“The only difference between you and me,” said Rabbi Sacks, “is that I had no desire to be a Rabbi… I thought I would be an economist, a barrister, a philosopher, or something like that. But two visits with the Rebbe changed that around.”
Rabbi Sacks mentioned his famous first encounter with the Rebbe, who empowered him to become a leader among the Jewish students at Cambridge University – something a young Jonathan Sacks had no prior inclination to do. “The Rebbe,” said Rabbi Sacks in one of his famous quotes, “was a great leader. Good leaders create followers; great leaders create leaders. And even more, he excelled at creating leaders out of those with no intention of ever becoming leaders.”
After spending a few months at the Chabad Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad, Israel, Rabbi Sacks returned to the Rebbe for his second, and less famous, encounter. In this encounter, Rabbi Sacks was seeking the Rebbe’s advice and direction for his future. On the note he handed to the Rebbe, young Jonathan had written three possibilities: He would like to be an academic, a barrister, or a philosopher. The Rebbe negated all three possibilities. Instead, the Rebbe began discussing the background of the Rabbis of the day, and how crucial it was to have Rabbis with proper backgrounds.
“Therefore,” advised the Rebbe, “Your main task and involvement should be with training other Rabbis. Your doctorate should also be changed to the topic of how every Jew is responsible for everyone else. In addition, you should also become a Rabbi of a congregation, so your Rabbinic students can learn how it’s done, how to deliver a sermon, and so forth.”
Rabbi Sacks revealed that the Rebbe’s request was, at that time, impossible. The United Synagogue system had a rule whereby full-time pulpit Rabbis were forbidden to engage in anything other than a full commitment to their congregations. How was Rabbi Sacks to be a Rabbi of a congregation and train other Rabbis? When discussing this problem with the then Chief Rabbi, Lord Jacobowitz, obm, and with Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, may he live and be well, they both agreed: If the Lubavitcher Rebbe said you must do this, you must do it. Amazingly, in order to accommodate the Rebbe’s request, the bylaws of the United Synagogue were changed to allow Rabbis to focus on areas other than their immediate congregations!
“It was the Rebbe who led me and directed me to where I am today,” said the Chief Rabbi. “And the truth is, in my present capacity, Hashem has provided me with all three of those aspirations I had: I have become an honorary barrister at the “Inner Temple” court in London; received an honorary doctorate in philosophy; and have also been recognized in the academic world.”
“The Rebbe,” said Rabbi Sacks, “was one of the greatest leaders in the history of the Jewish people. The Rebbe changed this “system” of Rabbis, and really, every system. The Rebbe was the only one to do this.”
Rabbi Sacks turned to the Bochurim of the Atlanta Semicha Program, and said: “As future Rabbis, you will never regret this decision to become Rabbis. With all the challenges of this position, Hashem told Moshe to convey to his successor, Yehoshua, “Ashrechoh,” fortunate are you that you will be leading G-d’s children.
“All other professions,” said the Chief Rabbi, “are restricted to specific experts: architects, doctors, lawyers, and the like. Rabbis, though, change total lives if they do their job correctly by using their influence in the right way. In my nineteen years as Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, I have seen the most successful Rabbis be not the most learned, articulate, or educated. Rather, the way the Rabbi relates to his community, the community relates back to him. If you love them, they will love what you love – which is, of course, Hashem, the Torah and Eretz Yisroel.”
This inspirational talk – more like a Farbrengen – was warmly received by the young Bochurim. Rabbi Yossi Lew, dean of the Atlanta Semicha Program, commented that “The way Rabbi Sacks talked about the Rebbe indicates how much the Rebbe saw in Rabbi Sacks and the incredible impact and influence he has since had in this capacity over the years.”
The Bochurim of the Atlanta Semicha Program study all day at the Chabad headquarters of the state of Georgia, at Congregation Beth Tefillah in Sandy Springs, Atlanta, Georgia. Rabbi Yossi New, head Shliach to the state of Georgia, and senior lay officers of the Shul and Chabad, also attended this Shiur-Farbrengen.