Title: Foundation of Faith: A Tapestry of Insights and Illuminations on Pirkei Avot
Edited by Rabbi Mark Dratch
OU Press, 224 pages
Rabbi Norman Lamm’s literary output was inspirational. He wrote popularly and academically on topics that speak to the heart of his powerful vision for the Modern Orthodox community. In an eloquent, sophisticated, yet accessible style, his books cover topics on morality, ethics, law, spirituality, education, character and engagement with the broader society, amongst other topics. It is consequently surprising that he did not directly publish on Judaism’s key text that relates to many of these themes, namely, Pirkei Avot.
Thankfully, his son-in-law, Rabbi Mark Dratch, noticed that while he may not have published on Pirkei Avot, he wrote and spoke either directly or indirectly about almost every mishnah. Rabbi Dratch did the research and collected all of Rabbi Lamm’s relevant messages from his other works and organized them according to the order of the mishnayot. What emerges is a concise and accessible “best-of” version of Rabbi Lamm’s ideas. Interpersonal messages of sensitivity, charity, kindness, humility and peace are interspersed and intertwined with messages of spiritual growth and connection to G-d. Classic Rabbi Lamm ideas such as Torah U’Madda, and faith and doubt also find their relevant connection to the text. Many of the sources tap into Rabbi Lamm’s extensive fondness and knowledge of chasidic rabbis, texts, and stories, with sometimes surprising and always inspirational ideas extracted. Frequent quotations of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin bring to mind many important themes from Rabbi Lamm’s Torah Lishma, and several quotes from Rabbi Soloveitchik remind us of the important connection he had with his rebbe.
In terms of the book’s structure, because it is a compilation rather than a direct commentary, some connections are more directly related to the mishnayot than others. The length of the ideas varies, with some comments lasting just a few sentences, and others, several pages. Additionally, there are a handful of mishnayot with no commentary offered, making me long for Rabbi Lamm’s ideas on those particular mishnayot.
Whether you are looking for a new resource to enhance your learning of Pirkei Avot or if you want a wonderful collection and compilation of some of Rabbi Lamm’s most important messages, make sure to read Foundation of Faith.