For Rabbi Dovid Hoffman what started as a modest weekly newsletter 12 years ago has evolved beyond his greatest expectations. That unassuming publication known as “Torah Tavlin” is now distributed to thousands of Jewish readers around the globe. It has emerged into the form of a new full-length book of the same name, published by Israel Book Shop.
Rabbi Hoffman began his newsletter in the memory of his mother’s father and it garnered immediate success in what was then his new hometown of Monsey, N.Y.
Hoffman estimates that today his newsletter’s current readership can conceivably contain up to 25,000 people. This is taking into account the newsletter’s distribution – by email and regular mail – to countries as far away as China and Australia.
He credits the popularity of his publication to its unique open-mindedness. Readers of “Torah Tavlin” can enjoy a tremendous array of Torah views, with a broad spectrum of sources, whether it be from a “Chassidishe Rebbe, a Litvishe Ba’al Mussar, a Sephardic Chacham or American Rabbanim.” Despite this contention, the humble Rabbi Hoffman says it is ultimately only siyata d’Shmaya (Heavenly assistance) that has made his newsletter so appealing.
Despite the success of his newsletter, Rabbi Hoffman experienced his fair share of disappointments on his journey to transform “Torah Tavlin” into a book. Publishing houses initially told him that his project “should be nothing more than a book of stories,” he confesses.
But he refused to allow his years of work to be reduced to merely a storybook. The writer thus advises aspiring authors not to lower their standards. He asserts, “Don’t give up! If you believe in your work and it’s really good, then eventually someone will agree with you.”
This is not the first book authored by Rabbi Hoffman – while he was a student at Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland, he wrote one entitled Zichron Yitzchok in the memory of his paternal grandfather. However, he admits that writing Torah Tavlin, as a book was entirely different from what he knew when writing it as a newsletter.
For one thing, he says, while readers of the newsletter may be used to succinct and unelaborated articles, a necessity due to the limited space a newsletter affords, they should not expect that from his book. Rabbi Hoffman was pleased with the space the book’s format provided, allowing him to elaborate and add colorful details to his stories and lessons.
This freedom was especially important to Rabbi Hoffman, who considers himself a storyteller, a gift he attributes to his mother, Helen Hoffman. She is a much sought-after speaker for the Holocaust Heritage Museum speakers’ bureau.
Most often, his mother speaks to schools and organizations to recount the experiences of her mother, Rose Kurz, in World War II and is able to “leave the listener spell-bound and in awe,” says Rabbi Hoffman.
Readers of the newsletter can also expect differences regarding the format of the book. Torah Tavlin is divided by the weekly Torah portions, but Rabbi Moshe Kaufman of Israel Book Shop Publications saw it beneficial to further split the book into the following seven subcategories:
1. “Mashal,” or parable
2. Derech Eretz / Middos,
4. Mussar / Hashkafah
5. Dvar Torah
6. Halachah and
Each category is assigned to a different day of the week, as Rabbi Hoffman intended this book to be read on a daily basis. That way people, whether individually or with a study partner, can learn something small and let it percolate in their minds throughout the day.
The book’s title is a reference to the Talmudic passage (Kiddushin 30b) commonly translated as “I created the evil inclination; I created the Torah as its antidote.” In this case, Rabbi Hoffman chooses to translate the word for antidote, “tavlin,” literally, as “spices.”
He explains that just as a chef mixes together many spices to create the most pleasurable culinary experience, G-d has created many different “spices” or modes of understanding, to enhance the appreciation of Torah.
With this interpretation, it is clear why the book has such a unique format, with seven different approaches to understanding and enjoying the Torah, and why Rabbi Hoffman permeated it with anecdotes, humorous rhetoric, witty quotes, parables, and lessons. By assembling material from a vast range of sources including, Rabbi Hoffman’s personal favorite, the stories told to him first-hand, Rabbi Hoffman ensures his book is not only impressively comprehensive, but that there is truly something for everyone in Torah Tavlin.
The “Torah Tavlin” weekly newsletter is available free of charge. To receive copies by mail for your shul or to have it e-mailed to you directly, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.