Rabbi David Aaron is founder and dean of Isralight, an international organization with programs throughout North America, South Africa, and Israel. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife, their seven children, and three grandchildren. In his sixth book, he proclaims that Judaism is animated by deep spiritual meanings and a joy that keeps on growing.
Many Jews have abandoned their religious roots due to distorted images, misunderstandings, and erroneous definitions of God, Judaism, Torah, prayer, the commandments, the Sabbath, and keeping kosher. For these individuals, Jewish practice was joyless and based on fear, oppression, and guilt rather than on the expression of an abiding and expansive love of God. Aaron puts the emphasis on another approach: "Judaism clarifies the essential beliefs that inspire and enable us to live a purposeful, passionate, and pleasurable life soaring to the greatest heights of vitality, meaning, and joy."
The great eighteenth century Hasidic teacher the Baal Shem Tov taught that human beings are partners with God in all that they do, say, and think. Aaron expands on that premise:
"We are simply not happy with who we are, because we don't really trust and believe that every one of us is a unique divine being, a holy note in the divine symphony. I'm a C-minor, you're a B, and she's a D-sharp. That's why we make such beautiful music together. If everyone were a C-minor, there would be no symphony, just monotony.
"When you understand this, you cannot but honor and respect the vast differences among human beings, and you never want to be anyone other than you are.
"This is the goal of Judaism: to be who you are, a godly being."
To serve God is to emulate and model ourselves on what God has revealed to us about what it means to be human. So each day, we practice love, kindness, compassion, and justice. Staying connected to God and to our neighbor is a path of liberation and transformation. Wrongful actions, according to the author, stem from our counterfeit approaches to being god-like when we try to dominate others or always put ourselves ahead of them. Aaron sees the Torah as a guiding light for Jews: "it articulates the universal principles of spiritual and ethical life and empowers you to be who you really are." The Torah also draws out our inner beauty and grace.
Prayer, Aaron states, is not about trying to change God's will but is about trying to channel God's will. In his discussion of Shabbat, he challenges all Jews to stop in the name of love with all activity on this day of rest.
In his own distinctive way, he writes:
"Maybe during the week my face was a briefcase. Maybe during the week my face was a pen, or a computer monitor. But on Shabbat, I get a whole new Shabbat face, a face that reflects the transcendent. On Shabbat, I get a face that reflects God. On Shabbat, I am beaming with the likeness of God. And no feeling in the world can compare to that."
Rabbi Aaron makes a good case for living a joyous life through Jewish practice. He takes these ancient traditions and makes them relevant to modern life while respecting that they are filled with mystery. It is evident that he loves being Jewish, and in this capacious volume that enthusiasm shows through on every page.