Torah of the Mind, Torah of the Heart

Michael A. Shmidman, Editor EmeritusTradition

Rabbi Dr. Yitzhak (Isadore) Twersky zt”l, was justly renowned for his brilliantly insightful, meticulously researched and felicitously formulated scholarly oeuvre, concentrating generally upon medieval Jewish intellectual history and with special attention to the Maimonidean corpus. But the Nathan Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy at Harvard University also was the Talner Rebbe of Boston, as comfortable delivering divrei Torah at Shalosh Seudos in the Talner Beis Midrash as he was conducting doctoral seminars on medieval Jewish rabbinic literature in Room G of Widener Library in Harvard Yard.

Professor Twersky would admonish students not to bifurcate Maimonides into Rambam the halakhist and Maimonides the philosopher, but rather to view his work as an essentially unified whole—for all its striking tensions—thereby opening their eyes to the integral nexus, the often overlooked or ignored fusion between law and philosophy, that permeates and welds together the monumental works of Rambam. So too, the teachings of the preeminent interpreter of the Rambam, HaRav Professor Twersky, Hasidic rebbe and Ivy League academician, are most perceptively appreciated and accurately assessed when viewed in their breathtakingly sweeping totality.

Torah of the Mind, Torah of the Heart: Divrei Torah of the Talner Rebbe, expertly and lovingly edited by Rabbi David Shapiro, superbly illustrates the unity of the Talner Rebbe’s teaching. In this initial volume, R. Shapiro has reconstructed the key elements of selected divrei Torah delivered by R. Twersky at the Talner Beis Midrash during the years 1984-1997 on the books of Bereshit and Shemot (as well as the Arba Parashiyot and Purim) based on his own notes, penned each Saturday night. The edited divrei Torah are accompanied by careful English translations of cited Hebrew sources, highly useful supplementary notes, internal cross-references, bibliographic suggestions, and an insightful editor’s introduction. The Twersky family has added an eloquent and percipient foreword.

The recurring themes of the divrei Torah—the proper, sometimes elusive, balance between law and spirituality, intellectual love of God, the dialectical elements in the human-Divine relationship, reason in service of faith, religious sensitivity, imitatio Dei, the power and uses of the gift of speech, dimensions of kedusha in human beings and sacred objects, study and action, natural law and theology, and related motifs, are central to Professor Twersky’s illuminating academic examination of the works of Rishonim and Aharonim as well. The fact that, on one occasion, Rabbi Shapiro includes an excerpt from Prof. Twersky’s academic magnum opus, Introduction to the Mishneh Torah, to fill in a gap in the notes to one of the entries, underscores the unity of the author’s writings and concerns.

Although the individual divrei Torah are often relatively brief and at times deceptively simple at first blush, a more rigorously reflective reading elicits the pithy, characteristic and repercussive ideas that emerge from the concise formulations and judicious, wide-ranging textual selections. Indeed, those readers familiar with the academic work of the Talner Rebbe will immediately link the brief discussion, for example, of Rambam’s novel definition of Temimut (in Lekh Lekha) with the author’s more extensive treatment of the same concept in his scholarly works. (Rabbi Shapiro astutely notes a number of such instances of direct correlation throughout the book.) But the correlation that is perhaps ultimately most important is that between the spiritual directives emphasized throughout this volume and the author’s exemplary personal piety. In the elegant wording of the editor: “To read his [the Talner Rebbe’s] divrei Torah is thus to encounter him personally.”


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