MESILOT BILVAVAM BY RABBI NAHUM RABINOVITCH
Earlier this year Rabbi Nahum Eliezer Rabinovitch, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Birkat Moshe, published ‘Mesilot Bilvavam’ (literally, ‘pathways [to God] in their hearts’), whose title was chosen to reiterate the need for an emotionally intelligent approach to Judaism.
Mesilot Bilvavam (ed. Rabbi Eli Reiff) contains 20 essays written by Rabbi Rabinovitch over the past 40 years in which he explores contemporary issues relating to the individual and the society.
Given the fact that Rabbi Rabinovitch is an authority on the writings of the Rambam, it was to be expected to find numerous references to Rambam’s writings throughout the work. In fact, even the division of Mesilot Bilvavam between the duties of Jews as individuals and as members of society emerges from a comment from Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim.
Yet notwithstanding the many references to Rambam, the true star of Mesilot Bilvavam is Rabbi Rabinovitch whose unique blend of authentic spirituality and intellectual honesty enables him to address some of the most challenging questions facing Jews today. Mesilot Bilvavam contains essays on topics such as the purpose of the mitzvot, psak and rabbinic leadership, the religious significance of the Modern State of Israel, the status of women in contemporary Orthodoxy and the relationship between Judaism and other religions. Moreover, and in contrast to many other rabbinical leaders who ignore the complexities of these questions, Rabbi Rabinovitch addresses each one head-on, offering insights and practical suggestions through nuanced and considered scholarship.
It is rare to find a scholar with such a broad range of knowledge. Rarer still is someone who is wise enough to apply that knowledge to the contemporary situation, and rarer still is someone who is unafraid to speak his mind when proposing solutions to the complex problems that Judaism faces today. It is precisely due to these qualities which makes Mesilot Bilvavam such as welcome addition to the Jewish bookshelf, and which makes its contents such a welcome contribution to contemporary Jewish discourse.
Mesilot Bilvavam concludes with one final gem which is a transcript of an interview between Rabbi Rabinovitch and his protégé, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Aside from the probing questions from Rabbi Sacks, as well as the sagacious answers offered by Rabbi Rabinovitch, this interview offers a glimpse at a student-teacher relationship which spans as far back as some of the essays contained in the book, and it demonstrates the simple lesson that great teachers who inspire great students can create great teachers.