Torah Mysteries Illuminated
In Torah Mysteries Illuminated, Thomas Furst, a descendant of the Chasam Sofer, has produced an erudite, yet highly readable and accessible, volume of English language derashot that will appeal to those who enjoy creative, often challenging, insights into major Torah topics of contemporary relevance, and will inspire readers with the obvious satisfaction of a writer who has truly claimed his own unique share in the revelation of the Torah’s profound, yet exciting, concepts.
Furst’s essays cite a wide range of both classical and contemporary sources, and take on a mix of classic and contemporary topics. Whether exploring the hidden essence of Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh, the special status of the tribe of Levi, marital harmony, the contemporary relevance of remembering and destroying Amalek, the immense importance of inviting guests, the striking significance of the Seder night, the special kedushah of Eretz Yisroel, the story of Balak and Bil’am, or various other topics, Furst is intellectually rigorous, but writes accessibly for a general audience.
As stated by Rabbi Benjamin Blech in his endorsement: “With probing analysis, wisdom and an unusually gifted question-and-answer style, the author takes on a host of crucial and fundamental issues of Jewish life and law, and embellishes them with meaning we had never suspected. This is a book to educate, to inspire and to treasure.”
Rabbi Berel Wein’s endorsement reads, in part: “Thomas Furst has written an insightful and original commentary on major Torah topics. His thoughts are at many times profound and suffused with wisdom, understanding, and faith. His work shows us once again the depth and breadth of Torah and its relevance to all times.”
Each essay, some adapted from lectures Furst prepared for live audiences, begins with several basic questions around a key topic. The ensuing discussion builds towards a chiddush that eventually resolves all of the difficulties and leaves us with intriguing and novel insights into the topics discussed as well as the practical relevance of the message. Along the way, each essay has a wide-ranging scope, incorporating many other seemingly unrelated topics. These sidebar discussions pave the way towards the central chiddush of the essay, and are in turn themselves illuminated by it.
The connections Furst charts are often the products of his own creative thinking. For example, in the volume’s opening essay, he outlines an original approach for understanding the essential nature of Shabbos along the lines of the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem. In this case, the textual basis for the connection is God’s approval of His handiwork following the six days of creation, which reminded Furst of Maimonides’ description of how contemplation of creation leads one to love of God – or, in other words, of how the natural world is an instrument of kiddush Hashem. He then applies this connection to explain many different aspects of Shabbos, both practical and theological.
Other times, Furst draws meaning out of connections that we might recognize, but may not consider significant. For example, in his attempt to explain why we colloquially refer to holidays as “yom tov” as opposed to any of the words generally used in the Torah to refer to these days, the author analyzes many other places in the Jewish tradition where the word “tov” has a surprising secondary meaning that can be extrapolated to appreciate the deeper meaning of the expression “yom tov,” as well as the very special significance of these days.
The volume begins with essays that are more detailed, with the feel of full-length shiurim and concludes with a series of shorter pieces with the feel of insightful divrei Torah. In both formats, Furst’s goals are the development of original thoughts geared towards presentation of novel and exciting insights into traditional topics as well as a more mindful moral, religious and textual outlook.