Reading Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein’s Essays On the Weekly Parsha Based on Nesivos Shalom I could not help thinking of the old warning that “a young man who wishes to remain an unbeliever cannot be too careful of his reading.”
As a not-so-young man who has never personally been moved by sifrei chassidus, I was skeptical when friends recommended the original Hebrew Nesivos Shalom as a work that crosses all boundaries. I read a few pages, found nothing that seemed to justify the investment in time and effort serious learning would require, and so I remained a skeptic (if not quite an unbeliever) regarding the sefer.
As he did so successfully with the writings of the Maharal, Rabbi Adlerstein has adapted rather than translated, conveying the author’s ideas as a loyal chasid might repeat his Rebbe’s teachings to younger or less educated listeners: fiercely loyalty to the original material, at the same time re-working it to make it more enjoyable and easier to understand, and ever conscious of the delicate balance necessary to preserve the spirit that might touch the soul.
Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg wrote that an innovation of chassidus was to change the traditional understanding of “Sur me-rah v’asey tov” from “Abandon evil and then do good” to “Abandon evil by immersing yourself in doing good.”
Rav Yisroel Salanter and Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel also stressed encouragement and positive reinforcement, and it seems to be ever more needed in our times when, as Rav Hutner said: “It used to be some people did not believe in the Creator, but now, there are many who don’t even believe in themselves!”
This accent on the positive comes through loud and clear in Rabbi Adlerstein’s adaptation. The idea that we are all Avraham Avinu (p. 12), that there is a “portion of the Divine within us” (p. 43), that we can unselfconsciously “borrow” spiritual levels we have not yet attained (p. 45), and that even feeling distant from Hashem is itself a sign of hope (p. 111) all speak to our generation. Even if we sin, we can find courage to fight on, knowing that the subsequent battle against hopelessness and despair is in some ways the most important victory of all.
Nits to pick? Rabbi Adlerstein’s user-friendly language may sometimes miss the mark (“Those who achieve [kedushah] do it through nepotism,” p. 100), but word choice is largely a matter of personal taste. Perhaps more serious is the phrase noted above, “the portion of the Divine within us.” Since there is, at the very least, some controversy whether a literal reading of that phrase is opposed to the very foundations of emunah, a footnote of clarification would have been helpful.
In his introduction, Rabbi Adlerstein writes that he wrote the book in order to open Nesivos Shalom to readers who have limited facility with the language of the original. He could have added that he also hoped to open the sefer to readers who might not explore the original because of limited time, interest or attention spans. He has succeeded.
Editor’s Note: Rabbi Adlerstein’s book may be purchased online from CreateSpace