You can tell Rabbi Yossy Goldman’s book From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading by its covers. The front cover is a photograph of a rabbi in a shul that is full of light. The beautiful burgundy curtain on the ark has Hebrew letters that read “For Torah shall go forth from Zion” embroidered in gold, dancing above “and the word of God from Jerusalem.” Rabbi Goldman stands to the right of the ark; his wide smile indicates a man who relishes what he is doing.
He is looking at the reader from where he stands to teach the Torah portion for each Shabbat and Tom Tov. The insights he has shared with his congregation are collected in this book. You might guess from the cut of his beard that he is a Lubavitcher chassid, an observation confirmed by a photograph on the back cover that shows Rabbi Goldman speaking at a conference of Lubavitcher emissaries (shluchim); a portrait of the Rebbe hangs on the wall. On the first page of his Introduction Rabbi Goldman informs the reader that “Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, of sainted memory” was his “mentor and teacher.”
Three other photographs on the back cover show Rabbi Goldman’s friendship with Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, and Rabbi Dr. Avraham J. Twerski. The former chief rabbi of Israel, the chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, and the American Orthodox psychiatrist and author all appreciate Rabbi Goldman’s ability to relate the Torah to contemporary life – to be, in the words of Rabbi Sacks, “witty and wise, learned yet accessible.”
In a take-off on the title on the front cover, the back cover has the heading “Where They Stand…” These distinguished leaders from three continents “stand” together in recommending ideas that Rabbi Lau calls “riveting and relevant…succor for the soul.” They consider the Sydenham Highlands North Synagogue in Johannesburg fortunate to have him as its rabbi since 1986.
The nature of Rabbi Goldman’s appeal is evident in the honesty with which he reveals upfront in the Introduction that “though some of the content in this book is original, most is not.” He calls himself a melaket, a collector; he builds brilliantly on what he gathers. To give one example from many: he recounts an interview he heard on the BBC with the late Malcolm Muggeridge, the former editor of Punch, the very funny but sharply satirical British magazine. The interviewer questioned how Muggeridge, who had been a famously free spirit, had become religious as he aged. Muggeridge answered with a lesson he had from an accomplished yachtsman: “If you want to enjoy the freedom of the high seas, you must first become a slave to the compass.”
Rabbi Goldman sees the analogy to a Torah life. As a sailor must obey the compass for the wind to catch his sails so that he can experience the exhilaration of the high seas, so Jews must take the Torah as our compass to give us direction through the seas of life. This is his argument for free will within the structure of Torah observance.
This short account encapsulates Rabbi Goldman’s approach: everything, even a radio program that one listens to while driving, can enhance one’s appreciation of Hashem and the Torah.
His phrasing is memorable: “Revolutions may come and go, but revelation is eternal.” His jokes and anecdotes flow from his sense that learning should be enjoyable. The reader is uplifted by his joy in learning Torah and living a Torah life. On Friday night, Shabbat morning before shul, or Shabbat afternoon, the two pages Rabbi Goldman devotes to each parshah offer a pleasant read that will enhance one’s appreciation of the relevance of Torah at all times.