A Review by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times
It is a little known fact, but the Midrash tells us that, according to Rebbe Eliezer, Kayin killed Hevel on Chanukah.
With that having occurred during Chanukah, it is imperative to counter the forces of sinah and discord and deliberately enhance our ahavas yisrael and brotherly love at this time. That is part of the avodah on Chanukah (Zecher David).
Dealing with relationships is an avodah not just for Chanukah. It is for everyone. And it is for every day of the year. “In Pursuit of Peace: a Torah Guide to Relationships” distributed by Feldheim and published by Mosaica Press is a remarkable work that helps us do just that. The sefer does something truly pathbreaking: It does the double duty of
a] giving us a Torah true text in how to conduct and improve our relationships with others
b] providing uplifting divrei Torah for the weekly parsha
And it does both tasks extremely well.
Each Dvar Torah is less than two pages in length and has a life lesson in relationships at the end of the Dvar Torah encapsulated in a box. The life lessons are meticulously well-sourced. They can come from a Gemorah, a Midrash, or a commentary from the Rishonim to the more contemporary Meforshim.
Rabbi Becker has an uncanny ability to derive important life lessons from sections of Torah that we would not have thought would contain that lesson – and yet, after he points it out, the life lesson is so logical and textually compelling.
SHARING EXPERIENCES BUILDS RELATIONSHIPS
In Parshas Vayishlach, Rabbi Becker points out that it was a bit strange that Yaakov tells Aisav that he had acquired vast wealth. Wouldn’t this infuriate Aisav rather than placate him? He cites the Ohr HaChaim who stresses the importance of sharing experiences in order to foster and develop closeness. This is the life lesson that Rabbi Becker encapsulates for us at the end – sharing all experiences – good and bad.
DOING THINGS WHOLEHEARTEDLY
What holds us back from doing our Mitzvos, and our Chessed more wholeheartedly? The Midrash tells us that had Reuvain known that Hashem would have noted the event of his having saved Yosaif – he would have placed him on his shoulders and carried him home to his father. So what holds us back? Rabbi Becker proposes three things: Opposition, ridicule and misunderstanding.
Rabbi Becker’s life lesson? Knowing deep down that the effects of our actions are eternal motivates us more.
PERFORMING THINGS IN THE BEST WAY POSSIBLE
Rabbi Becker quotes a fascinating Yalkut Shimoni (Yirmiyahu 38) that because Rachav did not set out ladder rather than a rope for the spies – it reverberated many generations later when Yirmiyahu was placed in a prison pit during the reign of Tzidkiyahu. When he was ultimately removed from the pit, it was not a ladder that was used but a rope. Rabbi Becker’s life lesson? Rachav was certainly kind and merciful to the meraglim. However, whenever we try to help others it is important to think hard as to the best way to accomplish the matter – rather than merely figuring out how to get by.
Not limiting himself to Rishonim and litvish Acharonim, Rabbi Becker cites a chiddush from the Chiddushei HaRim – the Gerrer Rebbe in parshas Yisro. Yisro doesn’t just criticize – he actively looks for finding solutions. This is the attitude that we should adopt when interacting with others.
CREATING WAYS FOR PEOPLE TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT THEMSELVES
In his Dvar Torah on parshas Ki Savoh. Rabbi Becker derives the idea of creating ways for people to feel good about themselves from the fact that the rich person receives his silver basket back and the poor donate his basket. This is all based upon meforshim, of course. But the takeaway is that we need to actively find and innovate methods for everyone to feel good about themselves.
In the topic of the cities of refuge found in parshas Shoftim, the Sifrei asks why when the Torah discusses the narrative of events it begins with one person hating another. Why doesn’t it start with, “if a person ambushes another”? The Sifrei is explaining how difficulties in a relationship escalate and sometimes they do so very rapidly. This is the life lesson that Rabbi Becker teaches us – to deal with challenges quickly before they escalate.
These are just some examples of the profound lessons found in this sefer. Each Dvar Torah is a golden nugget in and of itself. This book represents a new trend in Divrei Torah – where ethical and psychological life lessons are derived from the words of the meforshim. The truth is, however, that this anything but new. The Gedolei HaRoshei yeshiva and Baalei Mussar have led the Yeshiva movement in this manner for the past two hundred years. This was the methodology of the Seforno and before that, the method of the Midrashim.
Never before has this author seen such wealth of Torah information about relationships in one sefer. Rabbi Becker is a student of Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l, and has been a community Rav in Miami for over thirty years.
The reviewer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org