We so often study a book and simply skip its introduction. And yet, introductions are often where authors lay out their view of the world, the grand “big picture” they see the work fitting into.
In the introduction of his magnum opus, Shaarei Yosher, Rav Shimon Shkop outlines his view of the purpose of Judaism, our lives, the nature of holiness, and what it means to be a good person and in the “image” of G-d.
His vision is one that speaks to us today.
In this unique work by Rabbi Micha Berger, we use Rav Shimon Shkop’s teachings as a guide to provide direction and give meaning to our own lives.
About The Author
Rabbi Micha Berger’s teacher at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, Rav Dovid Lifshitz, ignited in him a dream to infuse Jewish observance with love, Mussar, and grounding in Jewish Thought. To that end, Rabbi Berger established The AishDas Society. AishDas assists synagogues and institutions develop meaningful programming and has been hosting the Avodah discussion forum for over twenty years. Rabbi Berger has also taught for The Mussar Institute since its inception. He has spoken to audiences of a variety of backgrounds about Jewish Thought, Mussar, and the siddur. His work has been described in Hamodia, Yated Neeman, and OU Radio, as well as mentioned in Jewish Action and The Jerusalem Report.
Rabbi Micha Berger has prodded our consciences for
decades, demanding that we examine our avodah, our service of G-d,
more critically and intelligently… In this work, he shows us how to extract
exquisite meaning from the brief words of a modern Torah giant — Rav
Shimon Shkop. His core message — that the development of the Torah
personality demands widening circles of embrace of more and more
people — is exciting and liberating.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
Ben Rothke –
One of the more famous commercials in television history was for the American stock brokerage firm E.F. Hutton. The line of “when E. F. Hutton talks, people listen” was meant to indicate the importance of the views of the firm.
With that, when one of the greatest Talmudists of the past 100 years speaks, he should be listened to. When it comes to Rabbi Shimon Shkop, who headed the Yeshiva Shaar Hatorah of Grodno in pre-war Europe, listened to he is. As one of the main students of Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, the creator of the Brisker method, a reductionistic approach to the study of Talmud, his magnum opus Sha’arei Yosher is one of the fundamental Talmudic texts and part of the curriculum in almost every Lithuanian yeshiva.
While the core text of Sha’arei Yosher is well known, far too many of its readers bypass its introduction. But by sidestepping the introduction, they miss an opportunity to understand R’ Shimon’s worldview, where he details the purpose of life and mission of man.
It’s not coincidental that some of the greatest Talmudists of recent memory (Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik perhaps the two most prominent) wrote works of significant philosophy. While Talmud and philosophy may initially be thought of as two separate domains, they are in fact dependent on each other. That’s why the introduction to Sha’arei Yosher is so central to its overall content.
In Widen Your Tent: Thoughts on Life, Integrity & Joy (Mosaica Press 978-1946351555) Rabbi Micha Berger (full disclosure: the author is a friend and neighbor), has written a book that expands on that introduction, and provides the reader a path towards personal growth and spiritual refinement.
Had the introduction been printed as an independent work, Sha’arei Yosher would likely be one of the great mussar seforim. Perhaps its lack of recognition, is that just as people often bypass haskamas, they also bypass introductions, forwards, and prefaces.
Chapter 1 of the book is the introduction to Shaarei Yosher, in both Hebrew and English, and is freely available here. The remaining 8 chapters deal with how one can improve their character traits and spirituality. This is not a trivial endeavor, as Berger writes that our character traits are nothing less than the dimensions of our soul. If those traits are lacking, the spiritual repercussions are significant, and lasting.
At the very start, Berger highlights the inherent tension when dealing with a path in life. On one side, a Jewish religious life demands fully surrendering to halacha. But if a person’s sole focus is on halacha and its study, they run the risk of walking down a path, but not with more than a vague notion of where to go, or where they are going. Berger’s astutely shows that the fully enlightened path is one that has complete fealty to halacha, along with the deeper understanding of the function of halacha.
An central point the book makes is that while Sha’arei Yosher is one of the fundamental texts on the Brisker approach and R’ Shimon one of the greatest students of R’ Chaim Soloveitchik, one can’t discuss the abstract Talmudic rules and principles of doubt, majority, presumption (which form the core content of Sha’arei Yosher), without remembering they are elements within the pursuit of honesty and part of life’s big picture.
The title of the book Widen Your Tent is meant to expand on R’ Shimon’s concept that in order to grow as an individual and develop into a true Torah personality, one must think in much more cosmic concepts, and not limit themselves to their own, often myopic concepts of what the true self is. By expanding their own tent, thinking about things in a much grander concept with a focus on the big picture of life, can one find a true and deeper purpose.
In some way, Sha’arei Yosher can be seen as a companion text to Chovas haTalmidim by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro, the Piaseczno Rav. R’ Shapiro saw that many yeshiva students left the world of the yeshiva and embraced the myriad isms of the time. They and others left Judaism as they felt it lost its mission, and was only focused on the externalities, without any meaningful shell. Widen Your Tent addresses that problem, and provides the reader with tools to get on that path of deeper meaning.
Berger has written a most helpful guide for the contemplative reader who wants to get back on track, or perhaps even get on the track for the first time, to a more meaningful relationship with their creator, and to understand their purpose in life. This is a deep and meditative book, to which people should certainly listen.
This review originally appeared at https://jewishlink.news/features/29839-a-path-toward-personal-growth-and-spiritual-refinement
Neil Harris –
I will tell you, if you want to see how ethical Judaism is practiced and why mitzvos bein adam l’chavero (commandments between man-and-man) are the foundation of our Avodah then WIDEN YOUR TENT is the book for your. Not only does Rabbi Micha Berger beautifully translate the introduction to Shaarei Yoshar by Rabbinic sage Shimon Shkop beuatifully, but he explores many aspects of Mitzvos (commandments), Kedusha (holiness), Chesed (kindness), and interpersonal relationships in an accessible and practical way.
Not it mention the amazing ending chapters of the book that explore in depth several middos (character traits) and ways to bring theory into practice.
Based on years of study and teaching, this book is a welcome addition to any scholar, layperson, educator, or individual who wants to grow as person in their Judaism and relationships with their Creator and others around them.
Moshe Yehuda Gluck –
*Simple to read, deep meaning to be found – worth your time.*
Rabbi Berger managed to pull off an impressive feat. He wrote a book heavy on philosophy and thought, laden with meaning and food for thought, but presented in a way that it can be easily understood by non-academics and non-philosophers, as well as by people who have studied the Mussar Movement and Jewish thought extensively.
I was amazed at how much meaning the author managed to pull out of what is really just a few dozen lines of text. What was even more amazing to me was that the meaning doesn’t seem forced; by that, I mean, it’s apparent that what the author is writing really WAS the intent of Rav Shimon Shkop, and that the casual reader of Rav Shkop’s hakdamah would totally miss the depths that were intended had Rabbi Berger not taken the opportunity to elaborate on Rav Shkop’s words.
Very highly recommended.
Michael (Meir) Traube –
This book should be required reading for any jew, preferably at an impressionable age. Rabbi Berger brings out Rabbi Shkop’s wonderful approach to the meaning of life beautifully, with lots of great anecdotes and sidebars explaining and illustrating the concepts and hints in the concise language from R Shkop.
Answers questions like:
What does Kedusha or Holiness mean and why do we revere it?
What should our focus in life be?
Practically how does that play out in affecting our daily decisionmaking?
Is being happy/enjoying oneself ok and part of the plan?
So wonderfully holy and reasonable, its a great way to refocus and work on yourself to becoming closer to god (and thus to your fellow man). I will probably read this book MANY times, and got a few for gifts…
Isamu Hartman –
I read Rabbi Berger’s book this past year and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is partly his translation of, and commentary on, the hakdamah of R’ Shimon Shkop’s “Shaarei Yosher,” but it’s also an exposition of R’ Berger’s own thoughts using R’ Shkop’s hakdamah as a jumping-off point. It also contains an elucidation of the difference between R’ Shkop’s variant of the Telsher derech halimud (which R’ Berger inherited from his rebbe R’ Dovid Lifshitz, a talmid of R’ Shkop) and the more widespread Brisker derech, which I found incredibly enlightening. It’s also a work of mussar, and also contains fascinating thoughts on the relationship between the individual and the community (and, as a subset, between particularism vs. universalism).
How to determine whether or not you’d enjoy the book? You can go to R’ Berger’s website and download a PDF of R’ Shkop’s hakdamah together with R’ Berger’s translation of it (https://www.aishdas.org/asp/ShaareiYosher.pdf). If reading it hits you like an explosion going off in your head (in a good way), then it’s a good sign you’ll find this book valuable.