When I ran a library, I often had the experience of pulling a book from the shelf, out of idle curiosity, only to discover that no one had looked at that book for many years. Sometimes, as I began to leaf through it, I discovered treasures. In the spirit of the marvelous site neglectedbooks.com, things that seemed moribund sprung to life and made a difference.
Such experiences remind me of the mania for preservation that drives the Jewish people. Why do we continually tend vast gardens of old learning? In part because one never knows when a comment, an insight or interpretation, will spring to life in someone’s soul, and give the guidance that makes a difference.
Joseph Brodsky was a Russian-Jewish Nobel Prize-winning poet. He proposed a vast poetry publishing project: “Books find their readers. And if they will not sell, well, let them lie around, absorb dust, rot, and disintegrate. There is always going to be a child who will fish a book out of the garbage heap. I was such a child, for what it’s worth; so, perhaps, were some of you.” So, I hope, are all of us.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).