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Review of two books by Reb Zalman

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If you read the Forward, you may already have seen this; but I wanted to share it here just in case! I recently had the lovely experience of getting to review two books by my teacher Reb Zalman (Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi) for the Forward, and that review is now published. One book is A Hidden Light, a compendium of tales and teachings about the early Hasidim; the other is All Breathing Life, a collection of prayerful poems.

Here's a taste of the review -- first, of A Hidden Light:

A tremendous amount of knowledge is distilled into these pages. The sheer number of names, rebbes, dynasties and towns may overwhelm readers. To Schachter-Shalomi, each of these is an intimate friend.

The authors interweave the life stories of Nachman of Bratzlav and of Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founders, respectively, of Bratzlav Hasidism and of HaBaD (also known as Chabad; in the HaBaD spelling, the capitalized letters represent a Hebrew acronym for three different aspects of God), with their parables and teachings. In one anecdote, Zalman tells his son that as a young man, he had the choice of studying with the Vilna Gaon or with the Maggid of Mezritch: “In Vilna, they teach you how to study, and in Mezritch, they teach you how to pray.” Of course, the binarism is overstated, but Zalman’s choice — and Schachter-Shalomi’s — is clear.

And here's a taste of the second part of the review, about All Breathing Life:
At the core of Shachter-Shalomi’s teaching is the attempt to open up the possibility to feel really connected with both God and community through these Hasidic prayers and teachings, despite all the ways in which neither I nor many of its intended readers fits the classical Hasidic mold.

Post-it notes proliferate on my copy of “All Breathing Life,” showing which poems I most often use in my own prayer life: “Ana B’Khoach,” “Nishmat Kol Chai,” “We Are as Clay,” Psalm 27. (Many of these are also available as audio recordings on the publisher’s website.) I share these with my congregation and with my blog readership. Sometimes I pray them by myself...

You can read my review of both books here: Hasidic Tales and Prayer-Poems. Thanks, Forward!