Title: Divine Footsteps: Chesed and the Jewish Soul
Author: Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman
Publisher: Yeshiva University Press
The proliferation of seforim, and for that matter English seforim (and for that matter English seforim on halacha), in the last 20 years or so is mostly a blessing. But it has its drawbacks as well, chief among them the gobs of poor seforim. Poor can mean poorly written, poorly explained, poorly reasoned, or all three. Once, in an age when publication was expensive and not easy, usually only the very gifted would write a sefer, and certainly only the very gifted merited to have his sefer last more than a few years. And only the most useful and brilliant seforim from the most important Torah figures would make it into the beis midrash – and eventually people’s homes.
But now we have much – much too much. Not everyone who has written a sefer should be writing seforim. And that’s all the more reason to rejoice (rejoice!) – when a contemporary brilliant scholar produces an English sefer on Jewish law. Let’s hope the masses find it.
Divine Footsteps: Chesed and the Jewish Soul, by Rabbi Daniel Feldman – a Talmud and Jewish studies instructor at Yeshiva University as well as a rabbi in Teaneck, NJ – is a very enjoyable ride through as many sources and authorities as you can you think of on several topics of chesed. Chesed is commonly translated as acts of kindness, or as Rabbi Feldman puts it in the introduction: “Chesed describes an attitude, a demeanor, a sensitivity, and worldview, as well as acts of kindness themselves.”
This is Rabbi Feldman’s second English sefer of halacha and, like in his first one and in his Hebrew seforim on halachic topics, he draws from literally hundreds of sources (his index of sources for Divine Footsteps, itself categorized for the reader, runs over 50 pages) to present detailed explanations, instructions and perspectives on chesed – categories like visiting the sick, giving charity, and comforting mourners. Remarkably, he takes these many sources and delivers a clear, linear, and engaging read. The clich? that this book will be valuable for scholar and layman alike should have been held in reserve for Divine Footsteps.
Furthermore, far too many authors of halachic works know only how to translate the classic texts, but not how to make them meaningful for the average 21st century reader. And so we get chapters on how not to work our farms on Shabbos and detailed rulings on how to barter livestock. Rabbi Feldman’s book, on the other hand, keeps his modern audience in mind. For example, in the chapter called “Bringing Merit to the Masses,” Rabbi Feldman mentions that not every law that applied to the classic gabbai tzedakah applies to the “contemporary non-profit executive,” and he presents the chapter accordingly.
One other unique aspect of Divine Footsteps also makes the book vital to the landscape of halachic seforim. Unlike the large majority of other halachic authors whose books are on the market, Rabbi Feldman, a YU musmach, quotes from YU authorities – yes, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, but also Rabbi Zevulun Charlop and Rabbi Hershel Schachter.
Next time you are in the seforim store looking for a halachic work, remember that the bar for entry into the store isn’t very high. Look past the clutter for the cover with the rainbow over the horizon.
In addition to bookstores and the Internet, information about acquiring the book can be found at yutorah.org/yeshivapress.