From Where I Stand
By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Edited by Yanki Tauber
Ktav Publishing House, 2012, 229 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - December 19, 2012
This is an uplifting, enjoyable, and down-to-earth book by the senior rabbi of Johannesburg, South Africa. It contains short, easy to read essays on the fifty-four portions of the Pentateuch, the first five volumes of the Hebrew Bible, usually three essays on each portion, although a few have more and a few less.
The book's cover shows a bearded smiling man, and this image reflects the content of his talks. Virtually every one contains a poignant story and many are humorous. Rabbi Goldman also spices his talks with humorous remarks; for example, he tells a tale of a man who recognized another man as being pious, and Rabbi Goldman adds in a parenthesis "(perhaps he wore a black hat and had a beard.)" In another essay, he writes that sermons are generally as successful as a man standing on top of the Empire State Building and dropping an aspirin to the ground and it just happens to fall into the hand of a man strolling by who has a headache. In still another, he emphasizes that everyone has at least some faith and tells the story of a thief who dug a hole beneath a bank so that he could enter and rob the bank. But before doing so, he prayed to God that he will be successful.
In one talk, he mentions that "love at first sight" isn't really love; it's lust. True love develops over a period of time when a couple learns more about each other and faces life's difficulties together. In another, he writes that when a previously non-observant person comes to him saying he wants to become religious, he doesn't tell the individual to observe all of Judaism's commands immediately. He suggests that he begin Jewish practices little by little.
Rabbi Goldman believes that God is involved in human affairs. He assists people, but he only helps them when they do their part; "God helps those who help themselves." God provides rain, but no grain grows unless humans plant seeds. He also, like many rabbis, accepts midrashic imaginative tales, written for their sermonic lessons, as true facts. Thus he writes that Moses took Joseph's brother's bones with him to bury in Canaan, when the Israelites left Egypt, and that Abraham signed over all of his property to his son Isaac when his servant went to try to find a wife for Isaac, to help the servant persuade a woman to come and marry his son; yet these stories are not in the Bible but only in Midrashim. Some readers may not like these midrashic tales, but even so, the book is filled with so many good ideas that they will find very much that they will like.