By Alan Jay GerberOne of the most charismatic young rabbis in education today is Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, the Mashgiach Ruchani at the DRS High School in Woodmere. Recently Rabbi Cohen assembled in book form (“From The Heart of a Lion,” Penina Press) a series of eloquent and timely essays themed to each parasha in Bereshis, the book of Genesis. The content of each chapter fully lives up to the rabbi’s reputation of combining his analytic learning style with anecdotes relating to life’s experiences.
In this week’s parasha, Noach, we find Rabbi Cohen’s gift of relating a personal relationship as a tool to demonstrate respect for authority especially in terms of religious reverence and mentorship.
The rabbinical authority in this essay was HaRav Nosson Finkel, zt”l, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, who was in Rabbi Cohen’s words the “foundation of my life as a Jew.” This relationship as described by Rabbi Cohen in the most heartfelt manner will serve as the bulk of this essay demonstrating the author’s style and the greatness of his subject.
“From the time I began to attend his weekly Erev Shabbos shmooze in his house while I was still learning in Keren B’Yavneh, I immediately needed to stay close to the Rosh Yeshiva whenever possible,” writes Rabbi Cohen. “Eventually, I had the zechus to learn in the Mir for a zeman and further strengthen my kesher. I was constantly asking for advice and learning from the Rosh Yeshiva. It was a relationship that continued after leaving the Yeshiva. … The final time I was zoche to be in the Rosh Yeshiva’s presence was exactly one month before his Petirah [passing] on the 11th of Tishre, 5772, the day after Yom Kippur., and the parting kiss is still felt. So much of who I am today is owed to the Rosh Yeshiva.”
This experience with Rav Finkel, of blessed memory, is reflected in the passion of love that permeates throughout the teachings of Rabbi Cohen. Consider the following:
“Upon leaving the ark, Noach was seemingly not only overwhelmed by needing to rebuild the world from scratch, but was also doubtful as to how the new generation that would arise would reverse course from the previous and behave in a more dignified way. After living with a generation of wicked individuals which he was unable to influence over many years and attempts, his hope for the next generation of mankind was dimmed.” G-d was to see this otherwise and guided Noach to serve as a partner with G-d in the spiritual reconstruction of the world.
Rabbi Cohen goes on to connect this divine relationship with the numerous changes in culinary and dietetic habits and mandates that were to serve to better reinforce a divinely guided society in the years ahead. Rabbi Cohen’s take in this matter is unique and deserves your further perusal.
Throughout this work, the human element is demonstrated as a major factor in the destiny of those Biblical personalities who were to serve as role models in service to G-d’s rule. This is the main contribution that Rabbi Cohen makes to Torah learning and teaching, in a way that places him as a role model, a teacher who through example demonstrates the reality of historical experience to today’s world. Rabbi Cohen surely demonstrates to this world, so full of death and tears, fear and dread, how to smile and learn to be confident in the coming of a better day, with G-d’s help.
In Rabbi Cohen’s words to this writer he expands further on his life’s work:
“The book is a unique combination of an in-depth analytical essay on the weekly parasha coupled with an inspiring personal story. The book is written in a way that all readers could comprehend, but is meant to be appreciated by the most well-versed of learners as well.
“The hope is that the sefer will not merely be used to learn from, but to be greatly inspired by. My personal mission in life is to try to inspire others to build a deeper relationship with Judaism and G-d. I deeply hope and believe this sefer will be a great tool in bringing inspiration to the masses. The synthesis of textual analysis with inspirational ideas based on books of machshava and mussar are enlightening, and the crowning personal story connected to each essay should leave a reader awakened. The truth, I believe, teaches that the heart and emotion of the Torah can be felt in every place and climb.
“D’varim hayotzim min halev nichnasim el halev, as the book’s title says it all: ‘Lev Aryeh — From The Heart of a Lion’.”
Thus is the name of this work, and such is its goal.
This review originally appeared on The Jewish Star