Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Book Review: Chanukah and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

I've been on a bit of a Chanukah (c)hiatus this week while ironing out some new work that I'm really excited to be taking on and trying to have some time with the hubsters before the wee one shows up. The truth is that nothing I've planned has gone according to, which is just proof that planning is for the foolish!

The upside of a bit of downtime has been that I've been sleeping a lot and devouring books at a rate for which I'm quite proud.

For Chanukah my literature of choice has been The Soul of Chanukah: Teachings of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (published by Mosaica Press) as compiled by Rabbi Shlomo Katz. Now that's two big names in one small chunk of sentence, and I have to say that this is one of the nicest looking books I've gotten for review in a while.

There are countless reasons why this book rocks, chief among them (according to Mr. T) being that it's in English. In Israel it's easy to land a lot of Rav Carlebach's work, but in Hebrew, which is awkward because most (if not all) of his morsels of wisdom were shared with the world in English. On that note, when it comes to morsels of wisdom in the form of divrei Torah or conversations, you want a concise book that is inspirational, powerful, and thought-provoking. This book is a mere 114 pages split into -- you guessed it -- eight chapters for eight nights, meaning that it's the perfect sit-and-learn option for Chanukah (so buy it for next year, why don't you?).

Unfortunately, the book only hit my post box midway through Chanukah, so I haven't completely devoured it yet, but what I've read will have me reading it well into the post-chag. But I want to give you an idea of the brilliance and inspired ideas that make Rav Carlebach such a prolific and unique individual.

Now, I refer to Rav Carlebach as "hippie dippie," which drives Mr. T nuts, but with my background and philosophy on Judaism, I often find it hard to relate to the "deeper" side of Judaism found in Hasidic teachings. Yes, I sit down every Friday night and read from a collection of Hasidic stories and found some of my greatest inspiration and peace in Judaism through Chabad and other Hasidic teachings, but I still don't get into the sit-in-a-circle and sing style of Judaism. It's just not in my fabric.

Lucky for me, I married a lover of Hasidic philosophy and understanding, so we find a lot of the same "aha" moments really powerful, just in different ways.

So after reading through Chapter 1, Shining Eyes, I had to share some of the tidbits with the husband because it screamed "Mr. T." This first chapter was all about how we're meant to perceive the world uniquely on Chanukah, especially because it's one holiday where we don't go out to greet the king, but the king (that's HaShem) comes into our homes to greet us. How much more special and meaningful is it that the king comes to us?! We're all commanded to light the chanukiyah (menorah for Chanukah) -- every man, woman, and child -- and the king is meant to come to our homes to check out our gnarly lights. It's like Justin Bieber showing up to taste your famous homemade waffles, if you need a ridiculous, modern reference to something that can't even begin to compare with what it's like to experience the presence of HaShem.

Also: Did you also realize that Chanukah is the one chag that we celebrate that actually took place in Jerusalem? Passover/Pesach was in Egypt, Purim was in Persia, and so on. Now that's a powerful reason to kindle the lights and experience the miracle.

One thing Mr. T is always kvetching about is how so many Jews (and people in general) are constantly asking "Mah magiah li?" or "What's in it for me?" instead of asking what can I provide, what can I do, where can I go? Rav Carlebach talks about how on Chanukah we're meant to look around and just take it in because we can't use the lights of the chanukiyah for anything, we can only enjoy them.
I can look at something and say, "Can I use it or can I not use it? Is it good for me or not?" Just like the spies said. But the fixing of Chanukah is that I'm not trying to use it for anything. I'm just so glad it's there.  ... The Torah of Chanukah is that I'm learning Torha, and I'm just looking at what I'm learning. No calculations, no expectations; I'm just looking at the light and I'm so glad it's there." (21)
That's some powerful, beautiful Torah right there. Chanukah, for Rav Carlebach, is all about how we look at the world, the people around us, the beautiful things that we are and are not doing. It's all about refocusing ourselves and reconsidering things, "fixing" as he says Chanukah by our perception.

There are moments where I can definitely see Rav Carlebach with guitar in hand calling something "deep" or talking about the "deepness" of Chanukah, which does make me giggle a bit, but whether you're into his style of Judaism or not, the morsels of Torah and truth in his vision are incredibly powerful.

I absolutely recommend this book, because the truth is this is one of those rare moments where I have nothing negative to say about it. Yes, mark your calendars, folks, because this is one book that will grace my shelves for years to come. It might even make for a Chanukah gift in the coming years.

Note: I received this book for review purposes, but my reviews remain honest, unbiased, and from the heart!