Review: Living in the Presence

Harvey Sukenic, Hebrew College Library, Newton Centre, MA ● AJL News and Reviews

Benjamin Epstein, a Jerusalem-based psychologist and rabbi, argues that Jewish mindfulness is both a traditional Jewish practice and essential to our spiritual life and growth. He sees mindfulness, termed yishuv hada’at, as not mere tranquility or peace of mind, but rather “settling into (unifying with) present moment awareness.” For Epstein, yishuv hada’at is a fundamental way of looking at life, indispensable for our basic spiritual life and growth. This state of mindfulness, he posits, can be achieved by anyone with practice and work. Living in the present moment is key to connecting to the Divine. We can be aware of the Divine in everyday life, and in our religious life, but to achieve this, we need a change of attitude; we need to let things be as they are, to slow down, be in the moment, to explore and control our thoughts.

Epstein uses the first part of the book to define yishuv hada’at, in part two, he identifies the attitudes and intentions necessary to obtain yishuv hada’at, and in part three, he shows how to work towards this state of being in one’s everyday activities. In the final section, Epstein illustrates how the observance of the Sabbath embodies the principles he has laid out.

This work is not a mindfulness handbook. Epstein presents a theology of living Judaism in the moment by bringing in prooftexts from a wide range of classical Jewish sources – rabbinic, philosophical, Kabbalistic, mussar, and Hassidic. Through his stories and topics, he weaves in psychological advice with mindfulness practices, while promoting the idea that his approach can be life changing. This is a work to study and a path to explore.

Living in the Presence is recommended for academic libraries and collections with Jewish spirituality for an Orthodox audience.

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