Reviewing: “Gateways to Greatness,” by Rabbi Benjamin Yudin. Mosaica Press/Feldheim. Hardcover, 221 pages, 2017. ISBN-10: 1946351032.
The Naftali Aron Torah Enrichment Program of Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn hosted a dinner honoring Rabbi Benjamin Yudin on the publication of his second book, “Gateways to Greatness.”
Associate Rabbi Andrew Markowitz led the proceedings, with tributes from Rebbetzin Chaviva Rothwachs, representing the Yudin Family, Josh Fogelman, co-president of the shul, representing its membership, and John Cosgrove, Mayor of Fair Lawn, representing the town. A special appearance by Rav Hershel Schachter capped off an evening in recognition of not only Rabbi Yudin’s writing efforts, but also of his commitment to the sharing of Torah.
The origin of the book goes back nearly 18 years. Rabbi Yudin explained that he was one of eight Rabbis recruited by Rabbi Judah Diament for a Divrei Torah project called Torah Web. Each was to contribute a written Torah thought once every two months. Over the years, Rabbi Yudin wrote sixty essays for the project. The book is a compilation of many of those ideas split into six sections. The concept, though not the content, resembles his first book, “Rabbi Yudin on the Parsha,” which takes selections from his long-standing weekly radio parsha commentary on JM in the AM. Both projects are a tribute to Rabbi Yudin’s strong commitment to regularly impart Torah to a range of audiences year after year.
Although “Gateways to Greatness” is divided into six pillars, including Belief, Connection, Knowledge, Refinement, Influence and Kedushah, the theme throughout is one of growth. In fact, a single paragraph in the book’s introduction sums up Rabbi Yudin’s intent. “It is my fervent prayer that this book will help readers focus on their great potential. May it guide us so that our chesed not be the same as it was last year, that our tefilos not be as routine and rote as they were yesterday, and that our time for Torah study be looked upon as a privilege to connect with Hashem.”
Rebbetzin Rothwachs was particularly poignant in describing her father. She spoke of a comment attributed to Rav Yochanan, suggesting that if someone is steeped in Torah, he shouldn’t let it go to his head because “That’s why we were put here.” Rav Yochanan’s point was that Torah knowledge is to be shared with others. The Rebbetzin explained that her father embodies that concept of teaching and inspiring others. “He can’t suppress sharing of himself with his family, the community, and those who are non-observant.”
Rabbi Markowitz echoed that thought, speaking of how Rabbi Yudin is completely engaged, similar to an angel who is given one task. “I can personally say he has been a malach to my family and me,” he added. Rav Schachter spoke of the written and oral Torah, and how the thoughts contained in this new book are a contribution to the oral tradition.
When it was Rabbi Yudin’s turn to speak, he noted that it was a colossal compliment to have Rav Schachter attend the event, but clarified “It’s not about me. It’s about celebrating the beauty of Torah. That’s my connection with most of the people in this room.” He went on to say that he’s not sure if he ever worked a day in his life. Whatever he gives in his classes, he gets so much more in return.
Rabbi Yudin said he can’t thank the community enough for giving him the opportunity to do what he loves to do, and noted all of Mendy Aron’s efforts in coordinating this event. He then referenced his new book. “Just as a businessman isn’t satisfied with the prospect of earning the same next year as he did this year, we should have that attitude when it comes to spiritual matters. Kiddush this Friday night has to be better than it was last Friday night.”
He concluded by saying we must see ourselves as ascending the ladder—and it can’t be a staircase but a ramp. “On a staircase one can stand still and rest. A ramp is more challenging. You must go up or down, and if you don’t go up, you will go down.”
Rabbi Yudin shared with The Jewish Link a more intense commentary on the themes of his book. He talked in very measured tones so that each thought would be correctly captured. “The Jew should always realize how vast and all-encompassing the Torah is, and as he matures he should derive constant lessons from it to enrich his life. The Jew grows with the Torah. God is the author and it contains His character. So many aspects of the Torah contain His divine signature.”
Regarding belief—“When we sit at the Pesach seder we are reliving the past. However, regarding the first Pesach experience in Egypt, what were they celebrating? After all, it wasn’t until ‘mid—the night’ that the Egyptian first born were killed and the wheels were set into motion. Yet, instead of starting the seder at that hour, we are told it must be concluded. Why? It’s all about emunah. We are celebrating the Jewish People’s belief at the time that Hashem would carry out the plan he had promised.
Another theme is knowledge as it relates to the study of Torah. Rabbi Yudin explained that we imbibe Godliness by studying Torah. “When you study Torah you literally connect with God’s soul. An example is if you are a farmer and you are carrying bundles of grain that you harvested. You realize you are missing one and tell your son or a worker to go back and get it. After all, it’s your field. The Torah says leave it for the poor. Doing so refines your character and turns you into a giving person. Help others so He helps us.”
Rabbi Yudin added that he wrote this book because he has intense pride in the Torah. “It uplifts, and whatever stage you are at, there is room for more. The author of the Torah is unlimited, which makes the Torah unlimited.”
By Robert Isler
Robert Isler is a marketing researcher and a senior content writer who lives in Fair Lawn. He can be reached at [email protected]