Showing posts from November, 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…