UK Chief Rabbi Lord Dr. Jonathan Sacks told some 3,000 Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries Sunday night that they have been "touched by greatness" under the leadership and guidance of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.
Rabbi Sacks delivered the keynote address at the gala banquet that closed the five-day 28th annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries.
After nearly 100 workshops and lectures were held at the movement's headquarters in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, some 4,500 emissaries, lay leaders and scholars from the broader Jewish community gathered for the banquet at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook.
Referring to the Rebbe as his "satellite navigation system," Britain's Chief Rabbi told the emissaries, "You, the shluchim are among the most important people in the Jewish world today. You are transforming the Jewish world -- and why are you doing this? Because directly or indirectly, you have been touched, as I was touched, by one of the greatest Jewish leaders, not just of our time, but of all time."
Rabbi Sacks, a leading Jewish intellectual who has authored more than two dozen books, added that throughout Jewish history there have been great leaders -- but that knows of "no precedent for one who transformed visibly and substantively every single Jewish community in the world, including many parts of the world that never had a Jewish community before... You have been touched by greatness," he told the gathering.
The Chief Rabbi counts himself among those so touched, he noted, and described his close relationship with the Rebbe, which began in 1968, while he was in his second year at Cambridge University.
During the first of many meetings with the Rebbe, he found himself being closely questioned about the conditions of Jewish students at Cambridge, and also about what he personally was doing to bring Jews closer to Judaism. He began to respond to one question with the phrase, "I find myself in a situation," in order to find an excuse for not having done more, only to find himself immediately cornered.
"Nobody finds themselves in a situation," the Rebbe told him. "You put yourself in a situation, and if you put yourself in that situation, you can put yourself in another situation. "
Rabbi Sacks told the thousands gathered in the hall, "That moment changed my life. Here I was, a nobody from nowhere and here was one of the greatest leaders in the Jewish world, challenging me not to accept the situation, but to change it -- and that was when I realized what I have said many times since: that the world was wrong. That I thought that the most important fact about the Rebbe was here was a man with thousands of followers.
"They missed the most important fact -- that a good leader creates followers, but a great leader creates leaders. That's what the Rebbe did for me," Rabbi Sacks said, "and for thousands of others."
The budding rabbi studied a year later in Kfar Chabad, and a year after that, married, began teaching philosophy and studied for rabbinical ordination, he related.
A decade later, when the Lubavitcher Rebbe launched his campaign to reach out to the Gentiles about the Seven Noahide Laws, Rabbi Sacks immediately began speaking and writing about the subject.
"The more I wrote, the more they wanted to read," he discovered. "What that told me was.... non-Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism -- and non-Jews are embarrassed by Jews who are embarrassed by Judaism... Let all the world see we are never ashamed to stand tall as Jews!"
Rabbi Sacks' dvar Torah on the weekly Torah reading appears in Arutz Sheva's Judaism section on Fridays.