Title: Psyched for Torah
By Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Schiffman
Kodesh Press, 252 pages
A number of years ago I had asked a friend who is a prominent rav and rosh yeshiva in Israel to speak in our shul. Due to a flight cancellation, I was going to be left with an audience but no speaker. The yeshiva’s American staff told me not to worry and that their distinguished alumnus, a young, up-and-coming rav working on his degree in psychology would fill in. “And you should know,” the local staff member told me, “he is a rare breed. He presents passionately and with mastery displaying expertise in both Torah and psychology. I do not believe there is anyone that can do both.” With that introduction to Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Schiffman (and a bit interested as a rabbi/psychologist myself), I could not wait to see how he would do.
The presentation was spellbinding. He spoke about the important role of humor (it was the month of Adar) from both a psychological and a Torah perspective. He wove statements from our Sages interspersed with studies, case examples and psychological theories to offer a modern perspective. And through the shiur, Rabbi Schiffman clearly demonstrated that he loved what he was doing and did it well.
I became a fan of Rabbi Schiffman as a result of that presentation, often following his shiurim at his beloved Kingsway Jewish Center where his talks on Pirkei Avos have been crafted so beautifully with both ageless wisdom and timely advice – always backed up with current research. His writing too, especially from yutorah.org, was similarly gripping and his perspective always fascinating.
Psyched for Torah is a compilation of many of Rabbi Schiffman’s Torah thoughts on the parsha. However, unlike other modern perspectives on the Torah portion, many of which are either too intellectual or too preachy, Rabbi Schiffman’s seems to strike the right balance of raising interesting ideas, binding them with modern psychological research, and providing a springboard for the reader to cultivate a perspective from within which discussion can ensue and growth, character and wellbeing can be cultivated. The work is enhanced by the “further reading” section wherein the author directs the reader looking for more information on various phenomena and psychological perspectives as to where to turn. That section too is impressive in both its brevity and its completeness.
I highly recommend Psyched for Torah for your reading pleasure, enhancement of Shabbos table discussions, or the basis of a Shabbos afternoon shiur (or for the person looking to speak at shalosh seudos and not sure what to say). The messages in the book are timeless and the vehicle and psychology research quite contemporary. I cannot wait for Rabbi Dr. Schiffman’s works on Pirkei Avos and future works as well.