Over the past forty years, several books stand out as the go-to reads introducing newcomers to Judaism: Rabbi Abraham Twerski, MD’s zt”l Generation to Generation and Let Us Make Man, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s zt”l Anthology, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s zt”l Halakhic Man, l’havdil bein chaim l’chaim, Rabbi Mayer Schiller’s The Road Back, Rabbi Akiva Tatz, MD’s Anatomy of a Search and World Mask, Rabbi Mordechai Becher’s Gateway to Judaism, Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen’s Permission to Believe and Permission to Receive, Dr. Lisa Aiken’s To Be a Jewish Woman, Rabbi Jeremy Kagan’s The Jewish Self and The Choice to Be, Rabbi Doron Kornbluth’s Jewish Matters, and Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb’s The Informed Soul and Reason to Believe, among others.    

Rabbi Avraham Edelstein’s latest book, The Human Challenge, will certainly join this library to educate and inspire both newcomers and established Jews about the meaning, relevance and importance of Jewish philosophy and living. The Human Challenge follows Rabbi Edelstein’s previous sefer, The Laws of Outreach, both books emanating from the author’s rich experience as a Jewish leader, educator and innovator at Ner Le’Elef, Olami and Neve Yerushalayim.

Leonard Fine, a veteran international strategy consultant and South African Jewish leader, describes the vital perspective Rabbi Edelstein’s The Human Challenge offers the contemporary Jew:

While every generation has its challenges, our post-COVID era faces a paradigm shift. The way we are going to live is going to be very different to the past. I have rarely come across an intellect like Rabbi Edelstein’s who has the ability to communicate the wisdom of Judaism. Now he has written a must-read for every Jew seeking answers to the relevance of Judaism to today’s modern world.

Miriam Kosman, popular author and teacher adds that The Human Challenge provides a unique synthesis of depth and clarity into understanding Jewish thought:

How does one create a readable overview to 3,000 years of Jewish wisdom? How does one introduce Judaism without dumbing it down and over-simplifying it? The Human Challenge manages to do just that! It is profound and revelatory — each concept meticulously sourced — yet made clear and accessible to the complete beginner.

OlamiResources.com is honored to feature a series of free chapters from The Human Challenge over the coming weeks. This week we are sharing the sefer’s Introduction.


Introduction: The Treasure in Your Own Backyard

Yitzchak ben Moshe, known as Reb Ayzik (Isaac) Yekeles, lived in Krakow in the early 17th century. Night after night, Reb Ayzik had a recurring dream in which he traveled to Prague where he would find a treasure buried underneath a certain bridge. Finally, he went to the bridge in Prague he had seen in his dreams but found it guarded by soldiers. Afraid to search for the treasure, Reb Ayzik left and came back the next day, and the next, and the next, hoping in vain for an opportunity to dig unobserved. The captain of the guard stationed at the bridge noticed the stranger who came back day after day, and asked him what he was doing there.

When Reb Ayzik told him the story, the officer laughed and said, “Who believes in dreams? I dreamed that I should journey to Krakow and find someone there named Ayzik Yekeles, and that if I dig in the home of that Jew, I will find a treasure under the stove.”

The point of the story, of course, is that we don’t need to go elsewhere to find a treasure. It is waiting for us, right “at home.” This is a book for Jews who want to find that treasure. Erich Fromm commented in The Sane Society, “Whereas in the nineteenth century G-d was dead, in the twentieth century man is dead.”

That was before the internet created a whole new wave of dehumanization. This is a book that shows that Judaism believes that man can be not only alive, but fully human.

To do so is to engage every aspect of oneself, as I will show, but also to engage the sparks of holiness that lie in the world around us. The Hebrew word for world is olam – עולם – which  comes from the word he’elem (העלם) — hidden. And that is because real spirituality is not openly seen. [1] And yet, when we scratch under the surface of ourselves and our surroundings, it is everywhere, all over. By peering below the surface, we connect to our inner selves. This is what Micah was telling us when he said, “to walk modestly with your G-d.” [2] The Hebrew word for “modesty” actually means hidden. So, Micah was telling us that if we want to walk with G-d, we have to walk below the surface of superficial reality, where spirituality resides.

Together, in these pages, we will learn where and how to look.

[1] Rabbeinu Bachya, beginning of Genesis.

[2] “And what does G-d demand of you except to do kindness and justice and to walk modestly

with your G-d” (Micah 6:8).

Click here to continue reading the Introduction.

Purchase a copy of The Human Challenge.

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