Stud­ies in Spirituality

  • Review
By – December 20, 2021

The first posthu­mous vol­ume by Rab­bi Jonathan Sacks, z”l, is part of his Covenant and Con­ver­sa­tion series. Stud­ies in Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty con­tains five-page essays par­al­lel­ing the week­ly syn­a­gogue Torah read­ing: Gen­e­sis (2009), Exo­dus (2010), Leviti­cus (2015), Num­bers (2017) and Deuteron­o­my (2019), Lessons in Lead­er­ship (2015), and Essays on Ethics (2016).

In this book, Sacks states that he intends to be more per­son­al than before for a num­ber of rea­sons: ultra-ratio­nal” Jews appear to be search­ing for spir­i­tu­al­i­ty; in the eyes of some, Judaism has become far from spir­i­tu­al, and we are spir­i­tu­al beings seek­ing mean­ing in our lives, beyond wealth, pow­er, suc­cess, or fame.”

Sacks suc­ceeds in cus­tomiz­ing the essays’ var­i­ous mes­sages to relate to read­ers seek­ing an enhanced sense of holi­ness. He presents old­er themes from new per­spec­tives in this vol­ume, includ­ing: sham­ing via the inter­net and social media; the pow­er of focused lis­ten­ing to both God and one’s fel­low human being; the sig­nif­i­cance of Shab­bat for get­ting in touch with one’s holy essence; and how the notion of sac­ri­fice can pos­i­tive­ly influ­ence atti­tudes regard­ing mar­riage, par­ent­hood, and the vital­i­ty of a society.

Sacks, as he has done in ear­li­er vol­umes, inte­grates Torah ideas with thoughts artic­u­lat­ed by sec­u­lar authors, once again dis­play­ing con­sid­er­able eru­di­tion in both Juda­ic and gen­er­al stud­ies cur­ric­u­la. He views non-Jews and non-obser­vant Jews con­struc­tive­ly. Con­se­quent­ly, he views non-reli­gious indi­vid­u­als with empa­thy and respect, a refresh­ing per­spec­tive, par­tic­u­lar­ly when advanced by an Ortho­dox Rabbi.

In addi­tion to the many inspir­ing essays in Stud­ies in Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, a read­er is made aware that the author has sud­den­ly passed away, when the edi­tors, at the end of the vol­ume con­tain­ing thoughts for every Torah read­ing but the last, note:

…We are great­ly sad­dened that he did not have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­plete the essay on Vezot Haber­akha, but are com­fort­ed by the knowl­edge that his teach­ings will live on for generations.

Sivan Rahav-Meir puts an inher­ent­ly pos­i­tive spin on this omis­sion at the con­clu­sion of her For­ward to R. Sacks’ mean­ing­ful book:

… The fact that this book lacks a com­men­tary on the final por­tion says to us: Do not be fol­low­ers. Be lead­ers. Do not be fans or spec­ta­tors, be play­ers. The Torah awaits our com­men­tary as well.

Yaakov (Jack) Biel­er was the found­ing Rab­bi of the Kemp Mill Syn­a­gogue in Sil­ver Spring, MD until his retire­ment in 2015. He has been asso­ci­at­ed with Jew­ish day school edu­ca­tion for over thir­ty years. R. Biel­er served as a men­tor for the Bar Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty Look­stein Cen­ter Prin­ci­pals’ Sem­i­nar and he has pub­lished and lec­tured exten­sive­ly on the phi­los­o­phy of Mod­ern Ortho­dox education.

Discussion Questions