Having recently written Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Movies, I gravitate to reading books authored by writers who marry ancient tradition with modernity. This is why I was interested in Rabbi Shomo Einhorn’s new book, Judaism Alive, published by Gefen Publishing House. The volume captures the essence of Rabbi Einhorn’s teaching approach, which is to relate classic Judaic learning to issues facing us in the modern world. His goal: to make Judaism relevant and vibrant to people seeking spiritual meaning in life.
His Biblical archetypes are Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. He relates the background of these Biblical giants to our contemporary world, demonstrating how the strategies they used to manage challenges are similar to the challenges we face in modern times.
Each chapter begins with both a sacred and secular quotation. The passages, referred to in the ensuing chapter, encourage the reader to connect with a secular as well as a Judaic source to amplify the message in each section.
In the introductory section on Abraham, Einhorn considers the challenges and benefits of moving to an unknown place. For example, when God tells Abraham to leave his birthplace, He is really informing him that for Abraham to fulfill his destiny, he has to move. He cannot stay in the same place. The Torah commands us to “walk in His ways.” Living a Jewish life means you are not stationary; rather you are constantly moving. The physical journey serves as a metaphor for the spiritual journey.
In the section on Joseph, Einhorn discusses the uses of adversity to catapult us towards new understandings and new achievements in life. Although thrown into a pit and later into prison based on a false accusation by Potiphar’s wife, he uses his incarceration to carve out a new identity and becomes a savior of the Jewish people. Joseph also teaches us that we can overcome temptations. We can say no in the face of great enticements.
In the section on Moses, Einhorn develops the notion of seeing the big picture, of viewing things from the aspect of eternity. For example, God tells Moses that he can only view the Divinity from the back; he cannot see Him face to face. The corollary: as human beings, we can only see part of the picture. However, we should understand that there is a bigger picture even if we cannot see it.
To support his point, he cites a law related to the holiday of Purim and how we read the Megillah, the Scroll of Esther. Jewish law mandates that when we read the Megillah, we first have to completely open the scroll. Why? Because we have to see the big picture. God’s name does not even appear in the Megillah because He is operating behind the scenes. Nevertheless, His presence is manifest when you look at the entire story from beginning to end.
Peppered throughout the book are comments from a wide variety of self-help gurus, including Tony Robbins, Malcolm Gladwell, Harold Kushner, and Deepak Chopra, all of whom share perspectives that resonate with Torah sources. Einhorn is familiar with pop culture and does not hesitate quoting Bruce Springsteen or Alfred, Batman’s butler in the movie The Dark Knight. He also has practical suggestions at the end of each chapter to help the reader actualize the ideas he presents in each chapter.
At the end of book is a collection of essays by Rabbi Einhorn that appear to be revisions of sermons given at various holiday times of the year. Thematically, they are unconnected to the main theme of the book, but they do offer interesting insights into the Jewish festival cycle.
One question emerges after reading Judaism Alive. Exactly who is its intended audience? All of the Hebrew phrases are translated. Moreover, Rabbi Einhorn, a seasoned rabbi and Jewish educator, at the outset suggests that the book can be better understood if one is familiar with the Bible and its commentaries. However, some of the sources quoted may still be confusing for a person new to Torah learning. Overall, it is a worthwhile and thought provoking read, and Rabbi Einhorn has successfully bridged the gap between modernity and classic Jewish learning.