Introducing Rabbi Yitzhok Adlerstein, author of the new book Netivot Shalom: Insights on the Holidays and Avoda Based on the Writings of the Slonimer Rebbe.
I grew up in New York went to yeshivot there through kollel. After kollel I took my first job at the Yeshiva of Los Angeles and never looked back. At the time, it was a new yeshiva beginning in LA. The yeshiva was meant to be for people who had started to get into Judaism and those who had learned in Israel and were now looking to ‘upgrade’ their learning. So this was a sort of a base shiur for baalei teshuva, but not beginner baalei teshuva.
Unfortunately the yeshiva did not last more than a number of years. And in time, I was switched to the sister institution of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles in a completely different career path. Eventually I wound up at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, today the largest Jewish membership organization in North America, which is a global NGO, and is vigorously attendant to, to Jewish and other needs in America, in Israel, and around the world. My primary responsibility has been for interfaith affairs, meaning looking for friends of Israel and Jews around the world.
Who were your mentors? What are your primary interests?
My interests from my early days were always in the more serious machshava (Jewish Thought) seforim. I was privileged to have, besides my own Rosh Yeshiva ztz’l, two other mentors. One was Rav Nachman Bulman, who was a polymath of incredible proportions who knew something about everything and could converse from a Torah vantage point about any topic under the sun and responsible for training many of the names that people would recognize today as important in the community.
The other was the larger than life Rav Aryeh Kaplan who I was privileged to know for the 10 years of his life that he did most of his writing, who developed this passion for Jewish thought even further and into new realms and universes. So I grew up with an appreciation of many different kinds of seforim. My first love was Maharal and that was the topic of my first published work.
How did this interest in the Slonimer Rebbe begin?
Netivot Shalom was introduced to me by one of my YULA high school students, years after she graduated but a remarkable young woman. She went on to study in some of the women’s yeshivot here and become interested in the sefer (Netivot Shalom). I had never heard of the sefer. She wound up introducing a few of her rabbis in Los Angeles to it and it was easy falling in love with it at first sight. That was a long time ago, that was decades ago. Since that time I’ve had the opportunity to consider what is it exactly about Netivot Shalom that is so special. And it IS special.
The Netivot Shalom struck me as the sefer of that next generation and is still carrying through to today. Wherever you turn there are people learning it. Again, he just transcends all of the borders.
What makes the Netivot Shalom so transcendent?
In Los Angeles in my day, I think the largest chavura doing the Netivot Shalom was run by a Modern Orthodox cardiologist. For me the Slonimer Rebbe was special. There were a number of things that made him special. One was just his decades of experience. Unlike others he was nuts and bolts. He was hands on. He was not afraid to articulate the real problems out there. So there are many references to issues of emunah… of people losing their emunah. He wasn’t calling it “off the derech” but you knew what he was talking about. There were issues which he approached more gingerly and used the circumlocutions but they were practical issues about the way people were leading their lives. And he gave such reassurance to people in their struggles, what they were going through. But at the same time encouraging them go to the next level.
But as I wrote somewhere, I think he was the mirror image of Rav Dressler. And that Rav Dressler took a lot of the material of Hasidut because he had this background and translated into the language of Mussar. The Slonimer Rebbe was able to take the content of Mussar and turn it into the language Hasidut, and for whatever reason, that combination of the two was something that we needed. We needed desperately.
Your book is specifically about “Avodat HaShem” and Yom Tov. What exactly does that mean?
In so many areas of avoda [Jewish Worship] he was the one who was giving the inner content of every yom tov, which is what this volume is about. How many of us approach the yom tov when we already know some halakhot and we know the routine? We can say “yes, ‘zman chareiteinu’ [Festival of Freedom i.e. Passover] or ‘zman simchateinu’” [Festival of Happiness i.e. Sukkot]. But what does it really mean? What is it really about?
For whom is this book written?
Even for people who have very good Hebrew skills and have learned in yeshivot and seminaries, many of them still prefer to learn in English. So my intention was to really whet the appetite of people for the style of the Slonimer Rebbe, with the hope that they will want to do the hard work and go back into the original.
I never take pieces and translate them whole.
I tried to figure out what parts of a piece are going to work better with an Anglo audience. Not everything that the Rebbe wrote is equally attractive to Anglo audiences and some parts do have to be explained.
Can beginners read this book also?
They can. There’s a glossary. So all the terms are explained. I think, quite to the contrary to your question, that for intrepid beginners, this will be their first exposure to some of the language of Hasidut and Kabbalah-lite. There’ll be enough there that they understand it and will probably also prod them to take it further. I’m hoping that it will both give a boost to the ruchniut [spirituality] and the spiritual quest of people… Plus an invitation to go further and to go back both to the mekor [original source] and to do many other pieces by the Rebbe.
Any other projects you’re working on? Or would like to start?
I continue the work of doing a sefer a year and people can go to torah.org and look at “Parasha Advanced” and see a full list of things that I’ve done.
I am hoping to do a longer sefer on the Mei Marom, which I think is totally unknown to the Anglo market.
Get your copy of Rabbi Adlerstein’s Netivot Shalom: Insights on the Holidays and Avoda Based on the Writings of the Slonimer Rebbe today!