Nahum Eliezer Rabinovitch, a revered Canadian-born Israeli rabbi, died on May 6 at the age of ninety-two. A halakhic authority and an expert on the writings of Moses Maimonides, Rabinovitch also held doctorates in both statistics and philosophy. Herewith, a eulogy by one of his most prominent disciples, the former British chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks:
Only when I became his student did I learn the true meaning of intellectual rigor. . . . I remember writing an essay for him in which I quoted one of the most famous of 19th-century talmudic scholars. He read what I had written, then turned to me and said, “But you didn’t criticize what he wrote!” He thought that in this case the scholar had not given the correct interpretation, and I should have seen and said this. For him, intellectual honesty and independence of mind were inseparable from the quest for truth which is what Torah study must always be.
He himself, in his early thirties, had been offered the job of chief rabbi of Johannesburg, but turned it down on the grounds that he refused to live in an apartheid state.
I believe that Judaism made an extraordinarily wise decision when it made teachers its heroes, and lifelong education its passion. We don’t worship power or wealth. These things have their place, but not at the top of the hierarchy of values. Power forces us. Wealth induces us. But teachers develop us. They open us to the wisdom of the ages, helping us to see the world more clearly, think more deeply, argue more cogently, and decide more wisely.
“Let the reverence for your teacher be like the reverence for Heaven,” said the Sages. In other words: if you want to come close to Heaven, don’t search for kings, priests, saints, or even prophets. They may be great, but a fine teacher helps you to become great, and that is a different thing altogether.