A River Flowed from Eden
Rabbi Ari D. Kahn
Reviewed by Rabbi Pesach Sommer, June 8, 2015
I must admit, that I am not a fan of “vortlach” and thus, many divrei Torah heard around the Shabbos table tend to not work for me. While I understand that a devar Torah said over before bentching is not the place for a long and complicated idea, I still believe that Torah should never be presented in a way that is cute or “shtick-y”. It was precisely for that reason that I was excited to see Rabbi Ari Kahn’s latest book A River Flowed From Eden: Torah for the Shabbos Table. Having been a big fan of Rabbi Kahn’s Torah for many years, I hoped that he could combine his usual erudition and depth, with the brevity that is required for a devar Torah that is said around the Shabbos table. Thankfully, my hopes were realized.
I first encountered Rabbi Kahn nearly 20 years ago. I was learning in the kollel at Aish HaTorah, where Rabbi Kahn taught a beginners class at the time. Occasionally, when I would get a little “gemara-ed out”, I’d go up to Rabbi Kahn’s classroom and listen as he explained a piece of aggadeta to students who had been in the yeshiva for a very short time. I was incredibly impressed with Rabbi Kahn’s ability to translate and explain a fascinating story from the gemara, and make it understandable to newcomers to the world of Torah, while, at the same time, explaining the story in a novel, creative and intellectual manner. While I have subsequently read and heard many of Rabbi Kahn’s shiurim, it was these classes that I thought back to, as I read his newest book. Once again, Rabbi Kahn manages to combine his own creativity (his devar Torah on Noach is one of the places where he is brilliant and original), and the ideas that he learned from his own revered teachers, Rav Yosef Soloveitchik, Rav Yitzchak Hutner, and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zichronam liveracha, and present them in a way that is accessible even for those who do not have the same background.
To cite one example from parashat Shelach, this week’s parsha, Rav Kahn notes that when Moshe delivers instructions to the meraglim at the beginning of the parsha, his words indicate that, in fact, Moshe knows that the land is good. This can be seen from the fact that he instructs them to bring back fruit after asking if the land has fruit trees. If he were unsure of what they would find, Moshe would not have been able to say that. Quoting his rebbe Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Kahn suggests that the meraglim misunderstood their mission. Through the use of an analogy, Rav Kahn explains the sin of the meraglim as being that they saw themselves as spies, whose job was to to ascertain whether the land of Israel was good.. In the space of a few pages, Rav Kahn manages to combine depth, scholarship and creativity, while sharing Torah that will be enjoyed by everyone sitting at the Shabbos table.
Alec Goldstein, of Kodesh Press has done a wonderful job of publishing English Jewish books that are both thoughtful, readable, and attractive. It is my hope and wish that he will continue to have success doing so and that books like “A River Flows from Eden” will find the large audience that it deserves.