Well, Roy (Yisrael) Neuberger has done it again. Author of the bestseller From Central Park to Sinai (reviewed in the JO, May 2001), Mr. Neuberger has undertaken a new challenge in his latest work. Having inspired thousands with his life story – finding Torah-true Judaism after being raised in the spiritual wasteland of the Ethical Culture Society (see footnote 203) – Neuberger sets out to analyze the current world crisis through a Torah lens. He seeks nothing less than to trace the convoluted chain of events from Creation to 9/11, from Yishmael to Bin Laden, from the conflict between the sun and the moon to Christianity and Islam. The chidush of this book is that, as Neuberger disarmingly admits (page 17), “I am not a Torah scholar… I am not qualified.” Indeed, Yisroel Neuberger did not enter a synagogue until age thirty and remains a layman, not a rabbi, Rosh Yeshiva or Mashgiach.
So what is he doing making pronouncements upon some of the most sensitive Torah topics ha’omdim b’rumo shel olam? The answer, I believe, is important and should encourage others as well. Our sages (Sifri Ekev 49:11,22) teach us that “if you wish to know the Creator, study Agadah – the homiletic portion of the Talmud. In other words, if we wish to understand G-d’s ways in the world, His actions and messages, we should immerse ourselves in that portion of the Torah which addresses these issues. Of course, since many of these teachings are concealed in parables and encoded in mystical phrases, we still require a Rebbe to interpret them for us. The Sea of the Talmud is replete with waves of glittering insights into our world. Geopolitical puzzles, military enigmas, political mysteries are all brilliantly deciphered by the teachings of the Rabbis and their later commentaries. However, we require a skilled captain to navigate these beautiful but dangerous waters.
Roy Neuberger’s book and the hundreds of wonderful footnotes are eloquent testimony to the guidance he has sought from contemporary Torah sages. Although there is much that is highly original in this work, the major themes are firmly based upon Chazal, Meforshim and the direction Reb Yisroel received from Rabbonim, Roshei Yeshiva, and Talmidei chachomim around the world. A number of his fascinating insights are attributed to the most important spiritual influence in his family’s life, the kiruv pioneer Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. It is perhaps a failing of current study methods that too few of our brethren concentrate on these matters. Not only do study of Hashkafah and machasheves Yisrael add important dimensions to the Jewish mind, they create tremendous opportunities for kiruv (outreach). Not everyone is immediately interested in goring oxen or the intricacies of various blessings, but everyone wants to understand what is happening in the world. Everyone is impressed by explanations which seem to turn chaos into orderly patterns and everyone wants to know “how it’s all going to end.” This book and this particular author can reach people usually immune to the declamations of rabbis and Talmudic scholars.
Worldstorm has an additional quality which will endear it to its readers and taps into a traditional methodology. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (Ohr Yisrael No. 30) coined the phrase sefasaim dolkos – flaming lips – to describe the study of Mussar with hispa’alus – a sense of excitement and awe. He taught that matters of the heart, as opposed to those of pure intellect, need to be studied with a strong emotional component as well as that of the mind. For hashkafah to be effective, there must be a sense of wonder and exhilaration.
Roy Neuberger is one author who certainly brings a profoundly emotional component to his thesis. He cries “uncontrollably every year” when the story of Joseph revealing himself to his brothers is read from the Torah (page 133). Many explications are prefaced with the author’s own wide-eyed excitement, “is this not truly amazing?” (page 142), “when I realized this I was amazed” (page 150), “the scenario is truly amazing” (page 154), “when you contemplate it, it is incredible” (page 205), “This is so fascinating that I can hardly contain my excitement” (page 221), “This is truly amazing” (page 224), “I want to point out something rather amazing” (page 253). Neuberger’s infectious enthusiasm sweeps the reader up in its whirlwind and makes him a part of this odyssey of spiritual discovery.
Just to whet the reader’s appetite a bit, let us conclude with a short synopsis of this fascinating work. As Rabbi Dovid Cohen notes in his approbation, Worldstorm is “a brilliant exposition of the Rabbinic saying, Ma’aseh Avos siman l’banim – “the acts of the Patriarchs are actually a template for all that occurs to their descendants.’” There is, in fact, more to this haskamah than meets the eye. Rabbi Dovid Cohen has written three volumes (one translated into English) on this subject and his enthusiastic approbation is therefore all the more significant.
What exactly is this method of examining historical events? The Midrash Tanchuma (Lech Lecha 9) teaches that G-d gave Avraham Avinu a sign that whatever happened to him would later occur to his progeny. Various Midrashim elaborate upon this theme, extending it to all the Avos. The Ramban throughout Bereishis explores this seminal teaching, also limiting its significance to the Patriarchs. However, the Maharal (Gur Aryeh, Bereishis 32.2) extends it to the Shevatim as well. In short, if one studies these ancient events with the proper guide, the entire future will unfold like a detailed map. Roy Neuberger takes us on an illuminating journey through early world and Jewish history, pointing out, like every good guide, the details which an inexperienced traveler might miss. It is the totality of these details which have defined Jewish history until the present and provide the hope for redemption and salvation in our time.
Speaking of Moshiach, Yisrael Neuberger’s beautiful poetic description of what his arrival may be like is worth the price of this volume in and of itself. Perhaps if we all dreamt and yearned as vividly as Yisrael Neuberger, we would indeed arrive at the moment when “all the world is filled with knowledge of Hashem.”