March 22, 2019
Jewish Media Review ● Dov Peretz Elkins
Have you ever questioned the
purpose of our earthly existence? Why am I here? What is my role in the overall
scheme? And what should I do to make that purpose meaningful and fulfilling?
The answer, explains Psychologist and Mindfulness Meditation teacher and
consultant Benjamin Epstein, is by “Living in the Presence.” Living in the
present has become a therapeutic cornerstone; living in the presence transforms
the technique into a life-changing experience. With exquisite simplicity,
straightforwardness, and heartfulness, “Dr. Benjy” presents an approach culled
from the teachings of the great Jewish spiritual masters that span thousands of
This approach demonstrates
how Jewish tradition is extraordinary in conjoining the Divine and the mundane,
essentially postulating that the present moment–each present moment– holds
the key to connecting to the Divine. Imbuing workaday life with transcendent
meaning, this book demonstrates that our awareness of the divinity manifest
within the present moment consecrates the present with presence, and makes it
both meaningful and holy. This book is designed to introduce you to who you
are, as God made you, and to the gift God has placed within you. Living
in the Presence – a Jewish Mindfulness Guide for Everyday Life provides
a practical and hands-on roadmap to discover purpose in your life, to capture
and experience some of the benefits of the world-to-come…right now, in this
Rabbi Benjamin Epstein,
Ph.D. is an experienced psychologist, author, and speaker who blends
traditional Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) with cognitive
behavioral, spiritual, and acceptance techniques. Dr. Benjy works effectively
across a broad spectrum of age groups to enhance well-being by teaching how to
live more mindfully and in the present. In addition to his private practice and
mindfulness seminars, he spends his summers as the Director of Staff
Development and Clinical Research in Camp HASC.
March 21, 2019
Rabbi Francis Nataf ● The Jewish Press
Redeeming Relevance: Vayikra Avoidance Syndrome and the Torah on One Foot
The Jewish people has a rather peculiar relationship with Vayikra. On the one hand, almost all serious Jews are aware that many of Judaism’s most important laws and ideas are to be found in the Torah’s middle book. On the other hand, Vayikra also contains an overwhelming amount of material that the average reader will find less stimulating. And largely because of that, Jewish culture has created a type of vicious cycle around this book. Because it is more difficult, we tend to look at it less. But because we look at it less, we also understand it less, which – in turn – keeps it difficult and less appealing. In a nutshell, that is what I call Vayikra Avoidance Syndrome.
I just referred to Vayikra as the Torah’s middle book. This was not a casual turn of the phrase – that is the middle book is not a trivial matter. While we often celebrate beginnings and ends, at least two major Jewish institutions show the spiritual weightiness of something’s middle:
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March 20, 2019
Hungarian-born scholar Eliezer Berkovits (1908-1992) was a highly respected Orthodox rabbi. He was educated in Berlin, Germany, where he received his PhD. He authored 19 books in several languages.
He held fast to traditional beliefs such as that the Israelites met God at Sinai where God gave them both the Written and the Oral Torahs. He felt that halakha, Jewish law, is necessary to control people from acting against their own and society’s best interest. He explained that during the Holocaust God “hid his face,” hester panim, because God wants humans to use their free will even if they do so in a harmful fashion. He stressed the importance of Zionism. Although he recognized that women are not treated well in matters of marriage and divorce, and believed that both sexes are equal, he did not encourage changes in Jewish law.
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March 19, 2019
Dr. Benjamin Epstein’s book “Living in the Presence: A Jewish Mindfulness Guide for Everyday Life” is an eye-opening, inspiring, sensible, and very helpful book.
Many people will profit by reading this book and following Dr. Epstein’s advice. This includes, among others, people who not only do not smell the roses, they do not even see them. This is like a husband spending six hours preparing a colorful and tasty French Onion soup and placing it before his wife; she fails to notice it and asks, “What are we having for supper?” It is easy to see that this couple will not have a happy life. God, according to the Bible, spent six days preparing a beautiful world for people but many people do not enjoy it. Lots of people ignore the beauty God set before them. To invent a parable, this is like the man who died, appeared before God, God asks him, “Did you enjoy the beauties of the world,” and the man replies, “I was very religious, I spent my life in prayer.” God responded by slapping him across his face.
Dr. Epstein’s book tells us about life. It gives us advice on how to find purpose and meaning in life. It stresses “mindfulness.” Seeing and understanding how we can enjoy today what we hope to obtain in the world to come. He speaks about many subjects during the four parts of his book. Among them are the value of the Sabbath, how to quiet the mind, reflections on various Jewish holidays, on the ways of God, hindrances, patience, joy, on one’s essential nature, and much more.
March 13, 2019
Sharona Margolin Halickman ● Times of Israel
Redeeming Relevance in the book of Leviticus by Rabbi Francis Nataf (Urim 2019) takes an honest approach to the book of Vayikra. Most scholars and teachers of Tanach would agree that Vayikra is the book of Torah which is most avoided. If a teacher or professor is given the choice of which book to teach, most would not choose Vayikra. As Rabbi Nataf points out, if a spiritual leader can speak about another topic such as an upcoming holiday thereby avoiding the book of Vayikra, they will do so.
Despite Rabbi Nataf himself only writing this book after publishing volumes on the other four books of the Torah, he brings many interesting points which are relevant to us today. One focus is looking at the origins of the korban, sacrifice while comparing it to the giving of a present. He analyzes Chava’s gift of the fruit to Adam as well as Kayin’s, Hevel’s and Noach’s sacrifices to God. He also speaks about offerings that may never be brought on the altar, chametz and child sacrifice.
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March 7, 2019
Rabbi Ari Enkin ● Torah Book Reviews
The title says it all. If you are interested in the commentary of philosopher/theologian/rabbi Eliezer Berkovits this Haggada is for you. Commentary culled from all over his writings are cited at the relevant haggadic passages. Passages in which there is a commentary are written in bold font in order to alert the reader that there is a commentary on that specific passage…. Some nice thoughts on history, halacha, Jewish/Christian comparisons, and of course, human philosophy.