Nefesh HaTzimtzum (two volumes) provides a general yet comprehensive gateway to the teachings and world view of Rabbi Chaim Volozhin (“Volozhiner”), a leading disciple of Rabbi Elijah b. Solomon Zalman, the Gaon of Vilna, as presented in his magnum opus, Nefesh HaChaim (Vilna and Grodno, 5584 ), arranged and published posthumously by his son and successor, Rabbi Yitzchak. The title’s double entendre (“soul of Chaim” and “soul of life”) speaks to the ideology of these volumes: fear of God brings life and intense love of Torah purports its sacred destiny at the highest attainable spiritual level. Following an introduction by Rabbi Yitzchak, the volume is parsed into Four Gateways, containing multiple chapters and additional notes by Rabbi Chaim: (1) God, Soul, and Man created in the image of God can change/repair the world; (2) Prayer, turning upward and inward to the Source of Life; (3) Presence (Makom/Place) of God in, from, about Creation; yetser ha-tov and yester ha-ra’ (good and bad inclinations) in Man; doing Torah lishmah (for its own sake) diminishes evil inclination; (4) Torah study, the ultimate refinement of self-purpose and identity. Avinoam Fraenkel’s research, translation, and commentary are essential components to making this classic of Mitnaged (non-Hasidic) Ashkenazi Orthodoxy accessible to the English reading audience.
This review appeared in American Reference Books Annual, volume 47