“Jewish time is both cyclical and linear,” Rabbi Sacks writes in the introduction, and it is an idea he pursues throughout the 51 individual essays that comprise this book. Cyclical time accounts for the recurring themes in Genesis, such as the relationships among parents, siblings, spouses, and children. Linear time, on the other hand, accounts for those parts of the book that focus our attention on a “non-repeating sequence” of historical events. There is even a nexus between the two time zones, in an essay on Vayehi entitled “The Future of the Past.”
The challenge in reading Rabbi Sacks is his sublime fusion of form and substance. One can be so enraptured by the enchanting prose of his essays that one neglects to plumb their intellectual depths, lending them the misleading appearance of possessing only superficial literary beauty. “We live life forward,” he writes in that essay on Vayehi, “but we understand it backwards.” Try that on for size. Covenant & Conversation is the 2009 National Jewish Book Award winner in Modern Jewish Thought and Experience.