Photo Credit: Maggid

Title: Pathways to Their Hearts
By Rav Nachum Rabinovich
Brown Judaic Studies



Even a short review of Pathways to Their Hearts, the recently published translation of Rav Nachum Rabinovich’s essays on Jewish life and thought, requires a few words on what kind of person and scholar he was, or at least on how he appeared to a young student in his yeshiva many years ago.

I was blessed to have had three types of interactions with Rav Rabinovich, of blessed memory. The first kind of interaction was impersonal, when I had heard of his various accomplishments: He wrote a massive and astounding commentary to the Mishneh Torah and was said to be the greatest student of the Rambam alive; he was a professor of mathematics and the rosh yeshiva of a major yeshiva; He was Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s rebbe and had a major influence on many great teachers and writers, including Rabbi Eliezer Melamed; he founded a school, served as a pulpit rabbi, answered all sorts of difficult and new halachic queries, and wrote many essays on Gemara, halacha, and philosophy. To hear of him was to be in awe of his accomplishments.

The second kind of interaction I had with my rebbe was in person, when I attended Yeshivat Birkat Moshe in Maale Adumim. Rav Rabinovich was perhaps the most unassuming person that I have ever met. His affection for his wife and family was obvious and palpable, and I vividly recall being unable to square how exactly the greatest Maimonides scholar alive could be the same man who made silly noises at a baby. He was gentle and so very quiet, always listening to what others had to say, always asking students what they thought, greeting children and giving them candy at shul on shabbos, where he sat near the back.

He was also unpretentious in his scholarly style; he did not pursue fancy answers to difficult questions. Quite the opposite, in fact. He always sought the simplest solution to the most difficult of problems. Comparing his exceptionally simple and straightforward explanations to the Rambam with others’ proposed ideas is always enlightening. If there is a difficult question on the Rambam, his Yad Peshuta must be nearby with something clear and concise to say (and woe to you if the rosh yeshiva’s comments were long; this is a sign of a difficult and long road ahead). Sometimes I wished that he would be more exciting, that his answers would be flashier. Yet his hallmark was always simplicity in reasoning and presentation. This quieter and more human experience was the second kind of meeting we had.

The last type of interaction has been had these past years when all we have left are the rosh yeshiva’s writings. It is here that the first two interactions come together: his vast and incredible knowledge along with his quiet and unassuming character, his monumental scholarly stature with his quiet humility, his optimism and intellectual curiosity along with his staunch faith and words of healthy caution.

Pathways to Their Hearts is the logical fruit of Rav Rabinovich’s unique personality, pen, and work. It is everything you might expect from the rosh yeshiva: Optimistic and patient, full of simple faith and intellectual curiosity.

Indeed, the book reads, in many respects, like a modern day application and restatement of the Rambam’s views on all sorts of questions and issues: faith, natural morality, the purpose and goals of Torah, the rabbinate, and more. Yet, as we read it, everything feels new, since the rosh yeshiva constantly sheds new light on old ideas and eternal light on new issues. Of course, his trademark simplicity shines throughout.

Along with mostly classical ideas, many new ones are to be found. Well-trodden ground regarding human nature, potential, and responsibility along with discussions regarding the purpose of mitzvot and the nature of Torah bear new fruit. Rav Rabinovich’s treatment of the unique and holistic relationship between science and Torah is especially a must read for teachers and parents of curious students, and his many comments on this relationship will open the reader’s eyes to new ways of looking at Torah. Teachers and rabbis will benefit immensely from these pages, which offer many useful sources and ways of thinking about fundamental questions that must be treated during the maturation of a young tzelem Elokim.

The need to take the long path is another consistent theme of the essays. Optimism about human potential pervades every page; yet, several of the essays meditate not only on our ability to make good choices and become wise but also on the pitfalls of avoiding full responsibility or taking shortcuts. The last essay on Solomon is a must read for anyone concerned with the difficult relationship between arrogance and intellectual excellence. Other essays and comments on faith and intellectual openness and morality and seemingly immoral commandments are also especially helpful and clear.

All in all, readers will come away with a better sense of what it means to be made in the image of G-d and what the Torah seeks to do for us, should we love it, study it, and commit ourselves to G-d’s instructions. It is slow reading, though relatively very easy reading if it is compared to the writings of Rav Soloveitchik or Rabbi Lichtenstein. For issues that two or three of them touched upon, it may be helpful to first see Rav Rabinovich’s views before turning to more difficult study.

As a bonus, Rabbi Sacks’s introductory essay is characteristically fabulous. The book would have been worthwhile for it alone. Kudos are also due to Rabbi Elli Fischer for a translation that captures both the content and tone of the original.

I would strongly recommend buying this book and making proper time to read it with patient and curious friends or students. While it is simple and clear it will be difficult to understand at 10 p.m. It is also a book that will reward rereading, as its simple style belies the depth and wide ranging ramifications of its ideas. It will be especially useful for rabbis and teachers who are often asked classic questions regarding the human experience and the nature of Torah or halacha. And serious students of Torah will benefit from reading it a few times and keeping it on the bookshelf for reference.


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Yitzchak Sprung is the Rabbi of United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston (UOSH). Visit our facebook page or to learn about our amazing community. Find Rabbi Sprung’s podcast, the Parsha Pick-Me-Up, wherever podcasts are found.