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12/16/2021 04:41:00 PM

Dec16

Rabbi Ari Lucas


I’ve missed my books. Between working from home during the pandemic and transitioning to a new office in the synagogue building, it’s been a while since I’ve been surrounded by my library of Jewish books. This week, I finally had the chance to be reunited with my books (with the help of some young people - Sophia Rosen, Alexa Brodack, and Hailey Raymond - who did the schlepping). Aside from making for a better background during Zoom calls (known affectionately as a “shelfie”), there’s something both comforting, and inspiring to be surrounded by lots of books. When I pause to look up from my computer screen, I see titles like “Man is Not Alone” and I feel less lonely. Then I glance over to “I’m God; You’re Not” and get a good dose of humility. “Love and Joy,” “Everyday Holiness,” and “There Shall Be No Needy” remind me of my mission. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I peer at “A Guide for the Perplexed” and “This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared” and, somehow, I feel a little better.

Coincidentally, this week, Susan Werk and I helped hang new mezuzahs in the Lerner Early Childhood Center. The teachers made beautiful cases as part of a professional development workshop earlier this year. Then they taught an immersive unit on mezuzahs in their classrooms. Susan and I had the privilege of witnessing the fruits of their labor. It was a highlight of my week and I’m grateful to Geula Zamist for leading this initiative.

Returning to my office (now filled with books) from hanging the mezuzot, I was reminded of an old story from the midrash that imagines a rebellious character in the Torah challenging Moses’ authority. He asks a smart aleck-y question “does a room filled with Torah scrolls require a mezuzah?” While the question is regarded by our sages as hutzpah - using logic to circumvent the rules - he actually makes a compelling argument. A room filled with Torah feels like a sacred Jewish space - does it actually need a mezuzah? The answer is yes. Those classrooms we visited are filled every day with the Torah of lovingkindness, friendship, and curiosity. Affixing a mezuzah on the threshold of those rooms felt to me like icing on the cake - adding an extra level of sweetness and holiness to the spaces.

Books, or seforim, are even believed to contain some measure of holiness - holy books are not supposed to be placed on the ground, and when they fall, some have the custom of kissing them. I know that you can fit a billion books on an e-reader, and sefaria.org has made access to Jewish text more accessible than ever before, but there’s still something special about books.

In our synagogue, we’re blessed with an incredible library/beit midrash thanks to the generosity of the Feinstein, Shapiro/Wieseneck, and Levenstein/Kruger families, and to Phil Kruger’s tireless efforts to acquire books for the library. It’s an incredible collection. In fact, Phil has done such an amazing job that the shelves are overflowing and he doesn’t know where to put the books! A good Jewish problem to have.

There’s a Japanese term for the art of buying books and never reading them. It’s called tsundoku. While it might seem like this term has a negative connotation, apparently it’s neutral. Perhaps there’s some benefit in surrounding yourself with lots of books even if you don’t read them. But we should all try to read them. Hoping you have an opportunity this winter to cozy up with some good works, or at least to peruse their titles on your shelves.

July 14,2024 /  8 Tammuz 5784