Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Book I Didn't Write


A few years ago, on Friday evenings, after attending Shabbat services at Ahavath Achim with a friend, we used to stop at the Borders book store for a coffee, and sometimes have a bit of mindless fun looking at the ‘Christian’ and ‘inspirational’ books that were sold there. The sheer numbers of these books and their awe-inspiring titles simply blew us away. Sometimes we’d spend nearly twenty minutes just showing each other the new ones we hadn’t noticed before, and we gaped at them with dropped jaw and mesmerized eye like the two am ha-aretz that we were.

On one of our visits to the book store, overwhelmed as usual by these books that ‘have the gospel for sale,’ I remarked to my friend, ‘You know, I’m really bored to disgust by all these other books written by people who just have to get it out and show the world how they’re right about this, or how they’ve discovered that long lost truth that will change your life or help you enter a new world. I get the feeling I’m plummeting down an Alice’s rabbit hole lined with unending shelves of other books. Wouldn’t it be great to walk into a book store and find this title? The Book I Didn’t Write.’

Well, I have, in fact, a copy of that Book. In fact I have several copies in different editions. The one I’m showing here is my first and favorite, but there are others just as good. Even in all their different editions, they’re still the same one Book: The Book I Didn’t Write.

Now, as for the review. Here’s what some well-known commentators have said about this Book:

‘Turn it this way, turn it that way, everything is in it, keep your eye on it, grow old and aged over it, and from it do not stir, for you have no better portion than it.’
—Rabbi ben-Bag Bag (Pirke Avot, 5:29)

‘Read God’s Book continually: Nay, never let the sacred volume be out of your hand. Learn so that you may teach. Hold fast to the words of faith according to sound doctrine, so that you may be able thereby to exhort and refute the gainsayers.’
—Jerome (On the Duties of the Clergy)

‘Study first of all the Divine Scriptures. Study them, I say, for we require to study the divine writings deeply, lest we should speak of them faster than we think. And while you study these divine works with a believing and God-fearing intention, knock at that which is closed in them, and it shall be opened to you by the Porter, of Whom Jesus says, To him the Porter opens.’
—Origen (Letter to Gregory Thaumaturgos)

‘The way in to the Holy Scriptures is low and humble, but inside the vault is high and veiled in mysteries.’
—Augustine of Hippo (Confessions, III, 5)

‘In the Holy Scriptures, Truth is to be looked for rather than fair phrases. All sacred scriptures should be read in the spirit in which they were written. In them, therefore, we should seek food for our souls rather than subtleties of speech, and we should as readily read simple and devout books as those that are lofty and profound. Do not be influenced by the importance of the writer, and whether his learning be great or small, but let the love of pure Truth draw you to read. Do not inquire, Who said this? but pay attention to what is said. Men pass away, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.’
—Thomas à Kempis (On the Imitation of Christ, I, 5)

‘Everyone not ceaselessly busy with the Word of God must become corrupt.’
—Martin Luther
(Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation)

‘The Bible is God’s Word addressed quite personally to us, and the only way to know the truth of that is to start reading and using the Bible as though it were true. To approach it humbly and expectantly, to read it on your knees, to come to it as to a Word from God addressed with absolute appropriateness to yourself.’
—Richard Holloway (A New Heaven, p. 91)

Well, being the dyed-in-the-wool sheep in wolves' clothing that I am, I have a one track mind, a mind on its prey. I’m always on the prowl for, not what’s new, but for what makes new. What a blessing it would be if we could walk into a book store someday and find this Book alone on its shelves: The Book I Didn’t Write.

I humbly encourage all of you, my brothers, to throw away all your ‘other books’ (they will only make you miserable), and grab hold of The Book. Just say No, when the door-to-door peddlers come to the gates of your minds and wills, saying, ‘Come to us, for stolen waters are sweet.’ Just hit the little ‘delete’ button when you get an email advertisement from the purveyors of ‘Torah spades’ (do not make of the Torah a spade to dig with). And lastly, consign your Amazon Wishlists to that little waste basket in the lower corner of your Windows desktop.

‘All of it, my brothers! Throw it all away! It will only make you miserable.’
—Francesco di Bernardone, of Assisi

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