Showing posts from 2015

Nefesh Hatzimtzum

Nefesh Hatzimtzum Rabbi Avinoam Fraenkel Urim Publications
I am at a loss for words to describe how blown away I am by the magnitude of Avinoam Fraenkel’s Nefesh Hatzimtzum. Nefesh Hatzimtzum is a translation and study guide to R’ Chaim Volozhin’s Nefesh Hachaim. For those unfamiliar, Nefesh Hachaim is the “Shulchan Aruch” of hashkafa and philosophy. The concepts presented by R. Chaim are a basic platform to give us knowledge of the closest that is humanly achievable in relating to God and by extension, our ability to serve Him.
Nefesh Hatzimtzum is simply outstanding. It is a crisp and clear presentation of what has essentially been a closed book. Now Nefesh Hachaim is not only accessible, but in Fraenkel’s two volume set (over 1600 pages!), one also enjoys the benefits of a spoon fed education on the material. 
In addition to being the best translation of Nefesh Hachaim that I have yet to see, volume one of Nefesh Hatzimtzum includes the full facing page Hebrew text of Nefesh Hachaim, al…

The Weekly Mitzva

The Weekly Mitzva Rabbi Binyamin Tabory Maggid / 229 pages
In his “The Weekly Mitzva,” Rabbi Binyamin Tabory treats us to over fifty exciting topics in halacha. Each topic is somehow related to the weekly Torah portion, though in some cases it isn’t always obvious.
Some of these topics include the halachot of:
Inheritance Mutual Responsibility Living in the Land of Israel Chol Hamoed Jewish Language and Clothing Yibum Consuming Human Flesh Pru U’rvu

This book is great as a reference volume on halachic topics of interest and not simply a weekly reader.

Esther Unmasked

Esther Unmasked Mitchell First Kodesh Press / 241 pages
In his “Esther Unmasked”, Mitchell First presents eleven outstanding essays on common topics of contemporary relevance whose true origins are lesser-known, or otherwise full of misconceptions and dubious folklore.
The eleven topics are (in my words):
1. The Aleinu Prayer 2. The Origins of the Word Mechila 3. All about the Mysterious Source and Meaning of “Ani Vaho” 4. The Meaning and Origin of the word “Maccabee” 5. The Meaning and Origin of the word “Chashmonai” 6. Why Antiochus Hated the Jews 7. The Origins of Taanit Esther 8. Identifying Esther and Achashverosh in Secular Sources 9. The Orginal Mah Nishtana 10. All about “arami oved avi” 11. The Orginal Order of the Hebrew Alphabet.
In every essay, First unapologetically sets the record straight in an honest and balanced manner, supporting virtually every sentence with the relevant sources from both Torah and secular sources. To give you a taste of what you will discover: the …

A River Flowed from Eden

A River Flowed from Eden
Rabbi Ari D. Kahn Kodesh Press / 210 pages
In his "A River Flowed from Eden," Rabbi Ari Kahn presents a delightful and easy to read collection of short essays on the weekly Torah portion. Focusing on a specific central question or thought from the weekly reading, the essay expands to offer interesting food for thought and discussion on the matter, making it great “Torah for the Shabbat Table.”
Examples of such questions include:
What are we doing in this world? What is the goal of our hard work? (Bereishit) Why was the Tower of Babel built in a valley? (Noach) Why does Avraham seem to contradict his traditional trait of chessed in so many instances? (Lech Lecha) What events are being referred to in the “…after these events” of the Akeida? (Vayeira) Why is there seemingly no concern for Rivka’s religious beliefs? (Chayei Sara)
My only complaint with this worthwhile contribution to parsha discourse is that there is only one entry per parsha. I would ha…

Prophecy & Divine Inspiration

Prophecy & Divine Inspiration Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman Ohr Chadash / 495 pages

In what may very well be his best work yet (but they’re all good! really!), the ever prolific Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman presents “Prophecy & Divine Inspiration.” This work is essentially an encyclopedia on everything to do with prophecy, making it a valuable reference book in addition to its content as a “commentary on the prophets.”
On the encyclopedic side, (which interests me most), the book thoroughly discusses many of the mysterious and lesser-known topics in the world of prophecy such as: ruach hakodesh, bat kol, prophecy throughout Tanach, prophecy and music, the realities of being a prophet, false prophets, the end of prophecy, divine inspiration and contemporary sages said to have such powers, how to achieve prophecy today, and much more. Rabbi Trugman enlightens us on what these concepts are all about, pushing aside the common misconceptions surrounding them.
In addition to these topi…

The Ethics of Genesis

The Ethics of Genesis Rabbi Dr. Abba Engelberg Kodesh Press / 313 pages
In his The Ethics of Genesis, Rabbi Dr. Abba Engelberg takes a look at the ethical issues that arise in the fundamental stories in the book of Genesis.

Some of these interesting topics include: Was God a little too rough on Adam and Eve? Did innocent people drown in the flood? How could the brothers be so mean to Joseph? Can a blessing bestowed on the wrong person be effective? Why are only two women mentioned among those who entered Egypt? What is the role of beauty in Judaism? And much much more.
The entry on Chayei Sara (this week’s Torah portion) is especially interesting. It discusses the “signs” that Eliezer had asked of God in order to determine whether Rebecca was Isaac’s predestined bride, and the significance of the order in which they played out. There is also a discussion on the propriety of Eliezer, Rebecca, and/or the camels all sharing the same drinking vessels.
Rabbi Engelberg does not hesitat…

Unlocking the Torah Text

Unlocking the Torah Text (Bereishit) Rabbi Shmuel Goldin
OU Press/ Gefen Publishing 312 Pages
Let’s face it. The market is flooded with “Parsha Books”, and as such, it is very difficult for a parsha book to really make an impact or to even prove its distinction. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.
I found the needle.
I’ve commented on Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s “Unlocking the Torah Text” series of parsha books before (see here: and his work on Bereishit, volume one in the series, is no different.
In this volume one will tackle Genesis-related topics such as:

Why didn’t Joseph phone home? (My favorite) How could Rivka instruct Yaakov to lie to his father? Why does God test man? Differences between Jews and Non-Jews
...and several dozen more
As usual, Rabbi Goldin does not hesitate to tackle the controversial, and this volume contains an extra dose of issues related to outlook and philosophy along with plenty of te…

At Home with Torah

At Home with Torah
Rabbi Avrohom Leitner Mosaica Press / 385 pages

Rabbi Avrohom Leitner, has done a beautiful job in his At Home with Torah, compiling inspirational messages based on the weekly parsha.

Every entry contains a short, but inspiring and thought provoking message that is suitable for readers of all backgrounds. Launching off a specific passuk in the parsha, the author delivers a meaningful message through stories and anecdotes, along with from exceprts from traditional “divrei Torah sources.” The material is very “Shabbat table” friendly, making for a springboard for further discussion around the table.
The primary theme in the sefer is on connecting with Hashem and with what is spiritually important in life. There are one to four different entries per parsha. There is also a section containing divrei Torah on the holidays. Although distinctively yeshivish in style and content, it is written in a manner that will be enjoyed by everyone.
Here is a sample from Parshat Noac…

Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew

Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew (2nd Edition) Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein Mosaica Press / 320 pages
Rabbi Reuven Klein’s Lashon Hakodesh is an outstanding work that traces the history of the Hebrew language, and by extension, the many languages that Jews have used over the centuries. In addition to Hebrew, much attention is given to Aramaic, including discussions on the many prayers that are recited in Aramaic. The book is replete with reference to the entire body of Torah literature, such as Tanach, Talmud, rishonim, achronim, midrashim, along with halachic material where relevant. History, archaeology, and other sciences also make an appearance where relevant. At the end of every chapter is a summary of that chapter.
The book opens with a discussion on the earliest languages. We learn that Adam and Eve spoke Hebrew and Aramaic, followed by additional languages in the time of Noach and the Tower of Babel. Many important issues in the history of language and the Jewish peopl…

Spark United

Spark United Michaela Lawson
With Ashira Yosefah
Menorah Books / 172 pages
Spark United is the heartfelt and personal presentation of a journey from fundamentalist Christian to orthodox Jew. The author tells it as it is, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Whether the topic is phony rabbis and batei din, or the evil schemes of fundamentalist Christian groups trying to penetrate into the Jewish community, there are “no holds barred” in this very moving diary type reader.
From social ostracisation to phony batei din, and doubts whether the decision to convert is the right one, Spark United shares with use the Ruthian process that those who leave the fundamental Christian world are forced to face. Nevertheless, the book is distinct from most others of this genre as it is written by a Christian insider who became Jewish; it is not the story of a ba’al teshuva who became frum. Make no mistake, there are tremendous differences between the two, they are two very different journeys. For example,…

It’s Okay to Laugh

It’s Okay to Laugh Gitty Stolik Mosaica / 242 Pages

It’s Okay to Laugh is a book that explores the importance of humor and laughter in Judaism. Reading like an inspirational self-help guide (likely by an author with a positive dose of well-channeled hyperactivity) we are treated to sources on joy, smiling, humor, and laughter from throughout the corpus of Torah literature.  There are also excerpts from medical professionals and others on the importance of humor. It is well spiced with real life stores and events where laughter can and should be infused.
Some of the topics covered are how to use humor, the benefits of humor, humor in the workplace, and humor in the classroom. There is also material on when jokes are not appropriate, and an especially interesting section on how our mind responds to various types of humor in various situations. A number of modern day frum comedians and merrymakers make an appearance in the book, as well.
The author successfully drives home her point tha…
Succos Inspired
Rabbi Moshe Gersht Mosaica / 225 pages
Succos Inspired, as its name implies, is full of inspirational divrei Torah relating to Sukkot. It contains fifteen chapters that are divided into four units. Each unit focuses on a particular theme of the holiday. For example, the first unit is an extensive discussion on the meaning of the Clouds of Glory and their connection to Sukkot. One of my favorite pieces in this unit was the fascinating connection between the famous dispute on whether one should engage in full time study, or rather, work in order to make a living (the dispute between Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and Rabbi Ishmael) and the different interpretations of the symbolism of the Sukka (the dispute between Rabba and Rava).
The second unit focuses on the mitzva of dwelling in the Sukka. The third unit is on the arba minim, with some especially neat teachings on the arba minim that I am seeing for the first time. And, finally, the fourth unit “The Soul of Succos” is a …

The First Ten Days

The First Ten Days Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Mosaica / 88 pages
For those unfamiliar, Rabbi Yaacov Haber (of TorahLab fame), has published an inspirational reader for the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The First Ten Days, as its names implies, has an entry for each of the aseret yemei teshuva with inspirational material based on the sefirot. Indeed, Rabbi Haber, one of the few who is able to dance between the worlds of nigleh and nistar, has adapted each of the ten sefirot to each of the Ten Days of Repentance by delivering an easy to read and easy to internalize lesson based on each of the sefirot. It is one of the few pieces of kabbala that even a dry halachist like me has benefited from.
Now in its third printing, each of the ten short chapters opens with an explanation of that day’s ‘sefira’, its relationship to the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and finally, some food for thought and questions to ask yourself in order to maximize this special time of year and ensur…
Hayom Harat Olam Rabbi Mordechai Fachler z”l
Renana Publishers / 274 pages
Just in time for Yom Tov!
Hayom Harat Olam is a very beautiful collection of the late[1] Rabbi Mordechai Fachler’s sermons, complied primarily by his son, David Fachler. It contains dozens of easy to read essays covering all the holidays of Tishrei. The book is divided into eight different themes such as, “The Rainbow Covenant”, “Love and Fear”, “Beauty”, “Consolidation, Preservation & Growth”, and more. The entries are short (as a sermon compilation should be!), generally two to four pages long. The material is personable, inspiring, and to the point. It may very well be the clearest sermon compilation I have ever seen. Plenty of divrei Torah and vertlach that you can say over at the table.
Here’s a sample: First Night Sukkot Ahavah – Abraham
As the month of Tishrei moves from the serious first ten days into the pure joy of the Festival of Sukkot, so too does the theme of ahavah veyirah – love and fear – t…

Making of a Gadol

Making of a Gadol
Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky

I'm excited to announce that I finally got my own signed copy of the Making of a Gadol ("Improved Edition").

For those in Israel who do not yet have their own copy -- a visit to Rav Nathan Kamenetsky in Jerusalem to personally pick up a copy at a reduced price is certainly worth the trip!

In the unlikely event that you are unfamiliar with this eternal piece of history, see here:

Rav Nathan's email address is available upon request.

Journey Through Nach

Journey Through Nach Rabbi Daniel Fine / Chaim Golker Adir Press
Let’s face it. We graduates of Chareidi yeshivot have little command of Nach, to say the least. And for various reasons, even fewer of us make the effort to really learn Nach like we make the effort to learn a daf. We give ourselves all kinds of excuses and justifications why we don’t know Nach nearly as well as we should.

Well, those days are over.
Rabbi Daniel Fine and Chaim Golker have done us all a tremendous service with the publication of their Journey Through Nach. Journey Through Nach is a two-volume work that provides a chapter by chapter summary of every book of Nach. Each of these summaries are written in a way that includes and weaves together the interpretations of all the major commentators. There are also all kinds of divrei Torah and mussar that make an appearance every few chapters, and are featured in a distinct grey box. There are maps, charts, and other study aids, as well. Included in the appendix ar…

A Bit of Wit, A World of Wisdom

A Bit of Wit, A World of Wisdom (Volume 2) Rabbi Yehushua Kurland Gefen Publishing / 159 pages
Our sages teach us that a shiur should begin with a joke. Doing so will get the students into a good mood, and the message will be better received. And so it is with A Bit of Wit, A World of Wisdom (Volume 2). 
The book is a delightful compilation of mussar and self-help messages that all begin with a joke or funny story. Most of the jokes will make you chuckle, though some are so corny that one might be required to make a “borei pri ha’adama” before reading them. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)
The book focuses on about twelve different themes including: Man and God, Man and His Fellow Man, Internal Struggles, Change, Education, Prayer, and my favorite unit, Marriage, among others. Every entry is 2-3 pages and often contains an additional joke or story. Here’s an excerpt:
Sam walked into a bar in New York City, ordered three drinks in three separate glasses, and downed them all. He returned th…

A Book About You

A Book About You
Rabbi David Green
Mosaica Press / 224 Pages

I was really excited to see the release of my friend David Green’s new “A Book  About You”.  Rabbi David Green, a laid back veteran kiruv worker with a spiritual twist and a cool life story, has taken his success in helping people discover who they are by now making "the journey" available to all. A bit about David's beginnings:

When I started to become my true Jewish self, one of the things that really bothered me was what seemed to be the lack of personality and individuality in the religious world. So many people dressed the same and talked and walked to the same boring melody. I was not ready to abandon my true inner uniqueness for the sake of becoming a Jewish soldier dressed in uniform. As I started learning some of the deeper Torah sources, I saw how being a robot in my observance was the last thing God wanted of me. My unique qualities were supposed to blossom within the framework of a life of Torah and m…

The Secret of Chabad

The Secret of Chabad
Rabbi David Eliezrie
Toby (Maggid) / 432 pages
The Secret of Chabad is the riveting story of the world wide Lubavitch movement, and more specifically, the shluchim of Chabad who have set up oasis's of Judaism in every part of the world.
Let me cut to the chase: The book is absolutely riveting.

The book both opens and concludes with the story of Rabbi Gabi and Rivki Holtzberg. From the very first chapter to the end, you will be captivated and mesmerized by the stories of the shluchim around the world. The book is inundated with details on important people, places, and events. Sadly there is no index, which is a tremendous loss for the continued use of the book. Sources tell me, however, that the second edition, due out soon, will have one. Every chapter is essentially an independent account of the life and experiences of shluchim all over the world.
The first chapter, the life story and murder of Gabi and Rivki, is absolutely jaw dropping and full of suspense. …