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.