Listening to God
Inspirational Stories for My Grandchildren
By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
Maggid Books, 2010, 446 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - February 24, 2011
The very popular and charismatic Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is a well-known speaker and raconteur. He has published highly respected books on the Bible and other subjects. In this volume, he offers one hundred chapters containing one hundred stories about his life. Some, he writes, are totally true. Others are true with some details changed. Others are fiction. But all are inspiring. They are stories the rabbi wants to tell his grandchildren about himself, stories that we will like as well. The rabbi takes an almost mystical approach to life, and this together with his love of Judaism, Jewish people, humanity generally, Torah, and especially God, permeates and spices his tales.
His first story, for example, is entirely true. It is about his grandmother who influenced the course of his life. He tells how his grandmother would "gaze intently as she would bentsh licht, bless the candles [on Friday before the Sabbath], for twenty minutes. Her face framed by the flames, her eyes shut tight, I watched Grandma speaking to God, happily mentioning the successes and tearfully mentioning the problems of each family member in turn." He tells how when his grandfather had a stroke and was in the hospital unconscious, his Grandma went to the store and bought a red dress. His mother was surprised. She told Grandma that she thought it was inappropriate. Grandma, who called Grandpa "Cham," replied: My Cham "always liked me in red. Maybe he'll see me in the dress and he'll wake up from the slumber he is in."
Rabbi Riskin was influenced at Yeshiva University by both Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who taught him Talmud and philosophy and by Professor Louis Feldman from whom he learnt about Greco-Roman civilization and classical languages. He writes about both of them. He tells about his early years as a rabbi and how he turned the Lincoln Square Synagogue into an "outreach synagogue," one of the most important Orthodox congregations in the world. He speaks about Russia, building up a Torah community in Efrat, Israel, and the many schools he established. He writes about the Palestinians and Christians, and how he worked and still works for peace among all people. He ends his book with a message to his grandkids and to us: "Never stop dreaming. But dream while you're awake… And make sure that your dream has a plan of action, which makes its realization a possibility… Let your dream be a ladder connecting heaven and earth…. Link your dream to God's dream, to God's goal for humanity. Make your ultimate vision the vision of the prophets, and use the laws of our Torah to guide your program of action for its realization."
This is Rabbi Riskin's message for his grandkids and for us. It is the dream of a dreamer who realized his dream.