The Jewish Press
Friday, August 2, 2019
The Book Shelf Title: Positivity Bias: Practical Wisdom for Positive Living Author: Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson Publisher: Ezra Press Reviewed by Yaakov Ort In his 2015 book, A Time to Heal, Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson – executive director of Chabad of Belgravia, London – focused on the comfort and guidance the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, gave individuals facing tragedy and loss. Now, in his just-published Positivity Bias: Practical Wisdom for Positive Living, Rabbi Kalmenson provides deep insight into the positivity that permeated the actions and teachings of the Rebbe, whose influence continues to transform the lives of men, women, and children around the world. Rabbi Kalmenson argues that the Rebbe’s stress on the never-ceasing opportunities for goodness and G‑dliness transformed the “negativity bias” that permeated Jewish life in the wake of the Holocaust, the virtual destruction of Jewish life in the Soviet Union, and the cynical materialism that emerged in the 20th century.
Title: The Legends of Rabbah Bar Bar Hannah with the Commentary of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook Editor: Bezalel Naor Publisher: Orot/Kodesh Reviewed by Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer The first thing we have to clarify about The Legends of Rabbah Bar Bar Hannah is its intended audience. The book has a colorful cover, a portrait of a seashore in England painted in the early nineteenth century. One might get the impression from the cover that this is a book of stories for young children. This impression might be reinforced by the inclusion of 15 drawings, one for each of the legends included in the volume. However, this sefer is a very advanced work, with a strong emphasis on kabbalah and the kabbalistic interpretations of the aggadata in the fifth chapter of Meseches Bava Batra, which relates wondrous scenes and episodes in the lives of various Amoraim (sages of the Talmud), many of them involving the Amora Rabbah bar Bar Hannah. There are stories of colossal waves, of drawing near stars, of demons and of huge marine creatures. There are stories of the seas and stories of the Sinai desert, including the place where the generation that died in the desert repose, the fissure in which Korach and his followers were swallowed up, and the place where Heaven and Earth meet. Over the centuries, these amazing passages and their possible interpretations have drawn the attention of great scholars. Indeed, this reviewer proposed
The author makes an interesting remark in his preface. “It is important to note,” he writes, “that the redemptive perspectives presented in this book are not those of a man who lived a life of peace and privilege. They are the insights of a man who lived through waves of pogroms, the killing fields of World War I, a typhus epidemic, a refugee crisis, the persecution and forced exile of his father, whom he never saw again, the Bolshevik Revolution, the rise of Communism, World War II, the brutal murder of his brother, grandmother, and numerous other relatives at the hands of the Nazis, and a life of childlessness.” Rabbi Kalmenson notes that the Rebbe introduced the essential root of positive thinking in the very first chassidic discourse he delivered upon accepting the mantle of leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch in 1950: “We must know,” the Rebbe said, “that the world… is a garden! Not just a [utilitarian] field that yields grain [which is necessary in order to subsist], but a
luxuriant garden that yields precious fruits [that provide color, aroma, flavor, beauty, and pleasure]. “Moreover, this world is not just anyone’s garden; it is G‑d’s garden. As the verse states, ‘I have come to My garden.’ [Its goodness is therefore measured according to His infinite terms.] “With this perspective, we [are able to] view the world differently; we begin to notice things that we may have missed upon first glance. When we realize that it is our responsibility to constantly search [for G‑d and for the good], we endeavor to look around us and perceive what is beneath the shell, the fruit that is under the peel.” While providing an abundance of Torah insight, Positivity Bias, more than anything else, is a remarkable instrument for personal transformation and growth. By absorbing and making personal the lessons the Rebbe exemplified and suggested to others, the reader naturally and easily develops an appreciation of how the Rebbe’s wisdom can be applied to his or her potential for a rooted, meaningful life.
his own interpretations in his sefer on Bava Batra. As an example, Rabbah bar Bar Hannah speaks about a ship that could travel 60 parsangs at a speed exceeding that of an arrow shot by a horseman. Rav Kook’s interpretation of the metaphor is that the ship is sailing on the Sea of Wisdom. The wisdom symbolized by the 60 parsangs is “specialized knowledge of the ‘six extremities’ (chesed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, hod, yesod)...” A perfect grasp of each of these kabbalistic concepts is represented by the number 10, hence a total of 60 parsangs. The number of parsangs represents the quantity of knowledge, while the speed of the arrow represents the quality of the knowledge. “The horseman is a wise man who shoots the arrows of reason guided by human intellect, yet Rabbah bar Bar Hannah’s crew was superior to the fastest intellect.” In the opinion of this reviewer, even more valuable than the commentary itself is the material added by the translator and editor, Rabbi Bezalel Naor. Rabbi Naor is well known for the vast breadth and extraordinary depth of his knowledge. In his introduction, Rabbi Naor highlights a change in the printed Hebrew edition that was evidently made to downplay a controversial passage in the manuscript that states that “there are halahot that change on their rulings from one generation to the next, depending on
its leaders and what seems appropriate to the ‘judge who is in your days.’” The printed text reads that there are halakhot “that change in the hora’at sha’ah (ad hoc rulings) of the hakhmei ha-Torah (Torah sages), the leaders of the generation, ‘the judge who is in your days.’” Given the kabbalistic nature of the commentary, Rabbi Naor’s notes are indispensable. They range across the length and breadth of Jewish thought and history. But we must pay special attention to the appendices. They are fascinating and enlightening. In the first appendix, Rabbi Naor brings us the detailed account of Rav Kook’s exorcism of a dybbuk (“a disembodied spirit – usually of a malevolent nature – that inhabited a living person”) in Jaffa in 1912. In the sixth appendix Rabbi Naor considers Rav Kook’s critique of the Mussar movement and, inter alia, his critique of Chabad chassidism. When Rav Kook “then an eighteen-year-old Talmudic student in Smargon (today Smarhon, Belarus) heard of the passing of Rabbi Israel Salanter, founder of the Lithuanian Mussar movement, he rent his garment, removed his shoes and sat on the ground in ritual mourning.” Nevertheless, he was of the opinion that the Mussar movement was “arrested at the stage of ‘yir’at ha’onesh’ (fear of punishment) and that the individual would never graduate to the higher levels of ‘yir’at ha-romemut’ (awe of the sublime) and ‘ahavah’ (love), to employ the classic medieval hierarchy.” Accordingly, the yeshivot he founded were not based on mussar, but on “the cerebral study of the classic works of Jewish philosophy.” In a note to that appendix Rabbi Naor explains that, while one would therefore expect Rav Kook to be closer to Chabad, which does focus on yir’at haromemut and ahavah, he had a critique of Chabad as well. Some one hundred years ago, Rav Kook wrote against Chabad’s insularity, since Chabad is “but a specific style and specific way, while other ways are closed to them (or at least not opened sufficiently), they cannot arrive at an exalted, universal level; to a whole, all encompassing knowledge...” This sefer is full of such insights and information. It is a worthy addition to the library of anyone seeking to understand Rav Kook’s thought, approach and sanctity. It will enhance one’s appreciation of an entire great generation, one of whose greatest thinkers was Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook.
Simply Gourmet Summers!
Ahh, summer. Time of pools and bungalows and road trips t s and a d hiking and cooking. Cooking? That’s right, cooking. Because even if we’re all in vacation mode, everybody is hungry. We’ve got guests dropping in for an hour, a weekend, or half the summer. We’ve got teens back from yeshivah, bringing their laundry and their endless appetites home with them. We’ve got the little ones’ “Mommy I’m hungry” mantras every hour, on the hour (and in between!). We want to feed our families and guests well, with food that is nutritious, delicious, and a delight to the eye. And we don’t want to spend lots of time preparing it. So does that mean pizza and hot dogs every night? Not quite, according to Rivky Kleiman, author of the bestselling new cookbook, Simply Gourmet. There are so many fabulous, creative, and, yes, gourmet dishes you can prepare without spending hours in the kitchen. Summer, says Rivky, is the perfect time to try the many recipes in Simply Gourmet that are marked with a “Simple Supper” icon.” To
be dubb dubbed d a “simple supper,” a recipe had to meet very strict criteria: Prep time could be no longer than 10 minutes total, and the food had to be ready, prep to table, in less than an hour. How does General Tso’s Chicken and Broccoli Bake sound for dinner? Fifty minutes, from prep to plate. Your Garlic Mayo Skirt Steak Dinner can be ready in (no kidding!) 25 minutes, including cooking time. Poached Mediterranean Flounder and Quinoa Crusted Branzino are two fabulous Nine Days’ “simple suppers.” And there are so many more, quick to prepare, delicious to eat, perfect for your summer schedule. There’s one kind of cooking that everyone loves in the summer — barbecues! Simply Gourmet is a fabulous resource for unforgettable barbecues. Try the Simple Savory Lamb Chops or Sweet Chili-Glazed Chicken Wings with a side of Grilled Vegetable and Kale Salad — the memory of that barbecue meal will keep you warm when the winter winds blow in! Wishing all of our readers a great — and delicious — summer vacation.
Quick to prepare, delicious to eat, perfect for your summer schedule.