Jew­ish Text

I Believe: A Week­ly Read­ing of the Jew­ish Bible

  • Review
By – December 12, 2022

Fans of Rab­bi Sacks will know that he was a pro­lif­ic writer, pub­lish­ing week­ly divrei Torah that he sent out to a mas­sive list­serv. Every so often, he col­lect­ed these essays into a book, such as Jew­ish Ethics (2016) and Lessons in Lead­er­ship (2015). The tenth book in this series, I Believe, is an impor­tant addi­tion to the oeu­vre. The top­ics cov­ered by fifty-four essays in the book are more wide-reach­ing than in his pre­vi­ous works.

In his final year of writ­ing his week­ly col­umn, Covenant and Con­ver­sa­tion,” Sacks includ­ed a bold­ed sec­tion at the end of each essay, which began with the words I believe” and pro­vid­ed read­ers with a pithy sum­ma­ry. These post­scripts read like final lessons from Sacks’s life and career. Although Sacks didn’t intend them to be read as a sin­gle book, it is clear that the essays belong togeth­er (as is stat­ed in the editor’s note), offer­ing a final gift to the author’s com­mu­ni­ty of learn­ers fol­low­ing his pass­ing in 2020.

As with the rest of his books, I Believe has all the hall­marks of Sacks’s eru­di­tion, thought­ful­ness, and cul­tur­al sen­si­tiv­i­ty. Rab­bi Sacks has the abil­i­ty to make ancient texts speak to mod­ern phi­los­o­phy, psy­chol­o­gy, sci­ence, and arts. To him, every­thing is Torah. Life bol­sters Jew­ish learn­ing just as Jew­ish learn­ing ele­vates life. Sacks daz­zles his read­ers; he has so many texts, both old and new, at his fingertips. 

More than his pre­vi­ous works, I Believe engages with clas­si­cal Jew­ish teach­ings. There are few­er anec­dotes giv­en, con­tem­po­rary ideas cit­ed, and his­tor­i­cal moments explored than in his afore­men­tioned books on lead­er­ship or ethics — which is not to say that these ele­ments don’t pack a punch when they are invoked. The book cov­ers a diver­si­ty of top­ics, from why edu­ca­tion is cen­tral to Judaism, to the need to speak out in the name of jus­tice, to why giv­ing to oth­ers shapes our sense of self. There is some­thing in I Believe for everyone.

Read­ing this book can feel sur­re­al now that he has passed on. It’s unclear whether he knew these essays would be his last when he began writ­ing them. In any case, one can’t help but inter­pret the book as a final tes­ta­ment to the val­ues of this intel­lec­tu­al giant, a swan song of his sto­ried career. The fact that each essay ends with the words I Believe” adds to this impres­sion. Like­wise, since Rab­bis Sacks makes gen­er­ous ref­er­ence to his pre­vi­ous writ­ten works, a first-time read­er of Sacks will leave I Believe with a gen­er­al under­stand­ing of some of these oth­er books’ major themes and will cer­tain­ly be inspired to pick them up and delve fur­ther into them.

There are few in the Jew­ish world who are as intel­li­gent, engaged, acces­si­ble, and cre­ative as Rab­bi Sacks. Every essay he wrote was a gift. Thank­ful­ly, I Believe gives us fifty-four more.

Rab­bi Marc Katz is the Rab­bi at Tem­ple Ner Tamid in Bloom­field, NJ. He is author of the book The Heart of Lone­li­ness: How Jew­ish Wis­dom Can Help You Cope and Find Com­fort (Turn­er Pub­lish­ing), which was cho­sen as a final­ist for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award.

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