One of the reasons I very rarely read books by English-speaking rabbis these days is because I usually find them woefully superficial, and not so satisfying intellectually or spiritually.
Within Israel, and within chassidut generally, you tend to find a much deeper grasp of the real, underlying spiritual mechanisms going on in the world, but much of that is based on having a much deeper knowledge of the Zohar and the kabbalah from the original Hebrew sources – and most English-speaking rabbis today simply don’t have that.
I know, it’s hard enough trying to deal with assimilation, other militant ‘brands’ of pseudo-Judaism and anti-semitism, to name but a few of the main challenges facing orthodox rabbonim outside of Israel. But I can’t help thinking that a lack of a familiarity with the writings of the Zohar and the Arizal, etc, is maybe one of the biggest handicaps of all.
Because the people who can read that stuff, and who can understand it and teach it, are the ones who have a much better grasp of why Jews are really in the world, and what God sent us down here to try to accomplish.
So, I was thrilled when one of my readers sent me a very enthusiastic recommendation of Spiritual Technology, by Rav Avraham Sutton, and then followed that up by sending me the book to read. I finished it in one go over Shabbat – and it really is a very, very good book for the English-speaking public.
I’d come across most of the concepts and sources that Rav Sutton brings before, but what is wonderful about this book is that Rav Sutton manages to marshal a lot of the kabbalah sources into solid ideas about how and why the world is operating the way it is at this point in time, and he does it in a way that is easily-grasped by the English-speaking public.
He talks about who the ‘snake’ really was in the Garden of Eden; the real test of Adam and Eve; how that test was replayed again over 2,000 years’ later when the Jews received the Torah and then failed the test posed by the Erev Rav; and also what that means for us who are living in this generation, the last one before Moshiach.
As I mentioned, much of the material Rav Sutton covered was not new to me, but I still learned so much from the book, some of which I hope to cover in more detail over on Emunaroma. It was definitely one of the best ‘Jewish’ book in English I’ve read in ages, Breslov books not withstanding.
So, if you’d like to know what the spiritual test is of our generation, and how it’s all related to things like the internet, the Erev Rav and fixing the world, please do go and pick up a copy of Rav Sutton’s book. You can order it via Amazon, or within Israel, from the Pomerantz Bookstore in central Jerusalem.
The book came out in 2013, but the information it teaches – and the message and insights it contains – are probably even more relevant now than when it was first published.
Click HERE to order the book on Amazon.
In our superficial world, it’s so easy to hype a book up as being ‘life-changing’. But how often do the tomes in question actually live up to their hyperbole? So it’s with some hesitation that I tell you that From the Depths, the new book from Rav Ofer Erez in English is just that.
I first got hold of a copy of this book, in the original Hebrew, around three years ago, when I was in the middle of a huge mid-life crisis. This was just after our business in the Old City of Jerusalem had closed, leaving us skint, depressed and homeless.
It was quite a test.
And what made that test even harder is that all these challenges had occurred despite many six hour hitbodedut sessions asking God to show us what direction to take, and many sincere attempts to work on our bad middot and to try to up our religious game.
So when everything collapsed on top of me, it also took my emuna and belief in prayer out with it. I couldn’t say thank you for all the trials we were going through. I couldn’t do any more marathon prayer sessions. I couldn’t visit any more kivrei tzaddikim. I felt like I was just barely holding on to the cliff by my fingertips, with the last of my strength, and there was no energy left for any big shows of pious fervor.
Which is when God sent me this book, in the original Hebrew.
I found it in the Breslov bookstore in Meah Shearim, and took it home to read – and it was like balm for the soul. There, for the first time, I started to learn that there is a spiritual concept called ‘night’, where all you can do is just hang on for dear life and wait for the dawn to rise.
NIGHT AND DAY
‘Night’ wasn’t the time to try and maintain any super-strict religious observances, or to try and push yourself back to the practices and spiritual heights you’d tried to scale in better times. It was a time just to hold on to God, and to know that you weren’t being punished, you were just being tested.
I learnt other things too, like the fact that we all have big tikkunim or spiritual rectifications to go through that we simply can’t duck or avoid no matter how well-behaved we might be. There is unfinished business, debts to pay down from previous lifetimes, and sometimes we have to pay those bills even though in this life we’re actually trying to give God what He wants.
I can’t tell you how much hope this piece of information gave me, because I suddenly started to see that it wasn’t my actions, necessarily, that had triggered off the disaster, which meant that it wasn’t my actions, necessarily, that would end it.
God would take us out of the mess as soon as it had fulfilled its purpose in our lives.
When you’re down on the floor spiritually, when you’ve run out of energy, when you’ve had one hard shock to deal with after another, it’s almost impossible at that point to get your act together, spiritually, and to maintain your emuna.
It does happen, I know, that certain individuals can do that, but I discovered that I wasn’t one of them. When the tribulations started pounding like steady waves on the shore, they knocked me over and almost dissolved my emuna.
I really, nearly gave up, because the paradigm I was operating in at that stage was that my prayers and my behavior was what was deciding the outcome of my life – and clearly, despite my best efforts, they simply weren’t good enough to score me even some steady parnassa and ok shalom bayit.
So what more could I do to change things around?!
A RAY OF HOPE
But then From the Depths showed up, and suddenly there was a ray of hope again. That book taught me to stop being so arrogant as to think my prayers and behavior were really the last word, and to accept that God had a plan and a design for my life that was far grander than I could imagine.
The book literally got me through the darkest days of three years’ back, when I just wanted to give up, crawl under a stone, and let someone else live an ‘emuna’ lifestyle.
If you’re going through a hard time, the book can help you develop a really healthy perspective about what’s going on. If you’re struggling with negative feelings, or with sadness and depression, the book can teach you how to stop blaming yourself, and to turn that cycle of negativity around.
It covers so many deep concepts in such deceptively simple language, that it’s really hard to do it justice in one short book review. But when I heard it’s coming out in English, I was so pleased, because I know it’s going to help so many people to get through their struggles in one piece, to find God in the midst of their challenges, and to finally kick up and out from the depths.
I know it’s a big claim to say that a book changed your life. But when it comes to Rav Ofer Erez’s From the Depths, for once I think it’s an accurate statement.
You can buy From the Depths direct from Rav Ofer Erez's website, HERE.
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