Urim Publications, 2016
In many ways, a Torah teacher functions as a doctor for the Jewish heart, mind and soul, with responsibility for sharing Torah lessons and values that bring spiritual and intellectual clarity to those who seek their guidance.
On occasion, such teachers may encourage their students to reflect upon a particular idea, and at other times they may suggest that their students explore a particular Jewish text. However, all too often the Torah teacher feels limited by the Torah texts that they ‘prescribe’, because the texts that they think will enrich and inspire their students are only available in Hebrew, and often their students are not sufficiently proficient Hebrew learners. This then leads to one of three outcomes: a) The teacher chooses to explain a limited number of ideas from the hebrew text, knowing full well that in their absence the student is unlikely to be able to review the ideas themselves (LIKELY); b) The teacher chooses to invest sufficient time to teach their student Hebrew to a high level (UNLIKELY), or c) The teacher decides that since option a) does an injustice to the contents in the text, and option b) is not possible for time constraints, they’ll avoid ‘prescribing’ such texts (VERY LIKELY). Simply put, there are thousands of texts that Torah teachers know will resonate with their students, but until these texts are translated or until their students improve their Hebrew skills, these remain closed books containing powerful Torah medicine for the heart, mind and soul.
A perfect example of such texts are those penned by Rabbi Yehuda Loew (1512-1609), otherwise known by the acronym ‘MaHaRaL’, whose incredibly broad and deep literary contribution includes many profound ideas relating to the meaning of life, the purpose of the mitzvot, and the splendor of Torah.
While there have been those who have summarized some short ideas of the Maharal, the ‘Tiferet Yisrael: Translation and Commentary (Vol. 1)’ by Rabbi Ramon Widmonte is the first attempt to offer an authentic translation and commentary of the works of the Maharal, and having spent the past few months learning through this work I can say with absolute confidence that it is magnificent!
Though the MaHaRaL often writes at length and often without always referring to the sources underpinning his thinking, Rabbi Widmonte has done an outstanding job in structuring his translation while also providing English summaries and accompanying diagrams – with the latter itself having been suggested by the MaHaRaL elsewhere when writing that ‘one must demonstrate to one’s students using the visual sense so that he will become an expert in the subject matter’ (Gur Aryeh, Vayikra 11:3).
In Tiferet Yisrael: Translation and Commentary (Vol. 1), learners are able to appreciate how this great and profound Jewish thinker understood the function of Torah and the purpose of the mitzvot, while also considering how other great Jewish thinkers like the Rambam approached these same topics.
Though I have previously learnt numerous works of the MaHaRaL, the notes and diagrams provided by Rabbi Widmonte transformed my learning experience, but most significantly, this work now enables the English reading public to access some of the most profound ideas of one of the greatest Jewish thinkers.
So if you or anyone else you know are looking for a Jewish book that is for learning and not just reading, one that is deep and intellectually challenging, one that will transform the way you think about Torah and mitzvot, and a work that touches the heart, mind and soul, then this is most certainly for you!
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