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My Book Library

An acquaintance of mine asked me why I have not yet begun to dispose of my library? After he left, I gave the matter some thought.
Rabbi Berel WeinTevet 28 5781
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An acquaintance of mine delivered a package to me in my apartment. He noticed that the apartment is full bookcases in almost every room. He knows that my eyesight no longer allows me to read or study from books, so he asked me why I have not yet begun to dispose of my library, since it is of little practical value to me now.

I thanked him for his comments and suggestion, but I was not really convinced as to what his true concern was regarding me and my books. After he left, I gave the matter some thought and consideration. And I realized that I am so emotionally attached to my books that even though it has been many months since I've been able to read any of them, I still want to have them present and around in my home and in my life.

Much of this is because every book brings a memory with it. For most of them, I remember when and where I purchased the book, and I recall how much pleasure and knowledge I derived from its pages. To me, at least, books speak not only from their word content, but also about the personal story of how and why I acquired it.

Buying books can become very addictive. In my lifetime I have spent many hours browsing in bookshops, Jewish and general, and rarely have I been able to leave without purchasing a book. And there are other times, and these have been many, when I entered a bookstore to buy a certain book and discovered, to my delight, a book that I had long sought but never found sitting on the shelf. There is almost nothing like the feeling of accomplishment for one who loves books, in finding a book that one had been searching for, sometimes for years, and is accidentally found lying on a back shelf in a dusty room in the bookstore.

Many, if not most, of the books that I have on my bookshelves and scattered throughout my apartment, have sentimental value over and above the knowledge and words that they contain within their covers. Therefore, I am very loath to part with my books, even if I can no longer really use them or even teach from them.

Because of this contemplative mood regarding the printed word, I have thought about another issue that is clearly associated with books, especially books dealing with great ideas and values in Judaism and the Jewish world. I have read books replete with beautiful words, for example, about the Jewish Sabbath, extolling its virtues and the necessity to live a Jewish life to the fullest. But I have been disturbed by the fact that some of the authors of these most beautiful words were themselves not observant of the Sabbath. They write and speak of the Sabbath in abstract philosophical terms – and of the beauty and importance of this Jewish concept, and of the sanctification of this special time. However, after my many decades in the rabbinate, and my attempts to create within my congregants a greater appreciation and stronger observance of the Sabbath, I have concluded that this cannot be done through books or essays, no matter how well- written and beautifully phrased. It is only the experience of the Sabbath itself that can convey the true spirit and essence of this holy day. The Sabbath is not a cerebral event. It is one that must be experienced on a regular basis, for its meaning to take hold in the life of a Jewish individual or family.

Thus, I fully realize the limitations of books. In the Middle Ages, Jewish scholars scornfully referred to houses full of books, and the owners of those houses, not as scholars and not compassionate towards others nor possessing a true sense of piety. They compared such a home to a beast of burden, a donkey carrying books. I always thought this was a rather harsh judgment, but I think the point is well taken. As important as books are, and they are important, good deeds and behavior are really the determining factors in our lives. Books are an emotional comfort. They are necessary objects to be found in any Jewish home. However, no good book equals a good deed.


Rabbi Berel Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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