The author of this book is a poet, essayist and seeker, whose yearnings to reach beyond the confines of his religion and distill its teaching for the guidance of others has produced this charming work.
Reb Yerachmiel ben Yisrael speaks for Shapiro as a kind of evangelical alter-ego, a fictional character brought into being so that the author could say what he wanted to say, first to his son, after his Bar Mitzvah, and then to a broader audience. The fictional Reb makes himself real to the reader – “Maybe I am beginning to ramble in my old age,” he tells his epistolary friend.
The teachings are neither new nor radical. They are both opinion and holy writ. They are, as a Christian might say, sermons. But they are grounded to bedrock in the Jewish faith. He expresses his views on everything from Zionism - “If our Zionist brothers and sisters hope to build a homeland that is without…messianic vision and light, then I would say it is not enough” - to the difference between Christianity and Judaism - “Jews do not see the eating of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil as the fall of humankind, but as its first step toward fulfilling its destiny.” And of his own religion, “I am bored by labels. I owe allegiance only to God, Torah and Israel.”
“…Each choice builds upon those that preceded it. No choice happens in completely free space…we are not free to be anyone we wish. We are free to be only who we are…this pattern is our destiny. At first we may create it. In the end it creates us.”
If you are unfamiliar with the esoterica of Judaism, you may find this guidebook to faith somewhat daunting, though the author has kindly included a glossary of Hebrew words relevant to the text. You can, however, read it as pure philosophy and appreciate the insights of the Reb, as I did, without worrying over the “myths” as the author would call them. No matter what your religion, this book will speak to your spirituality if you learn, as the Reb advises, to listen.