On the Road with Rabbi Steinsaltz: 25 Years of Pre-Dawn Car Trips, Mind-Blowing Encounters, and Inspiring Conversations with a Man of Wisdom
September 2006, Jossey-Bass
Arthur Kurzweil—himself a Jewish scholar, author, teacher, and publisher—has been a disciple of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s for over 25 years, as well as the Rabbi’s designated chauffer in the United States. While stuck in countless traffic jams and attending the Rabbi’s lectures at universities, government agencies, synagogues and seminars, Arthur Kurzweil has had the rare opportunity of personally learning from his inspired teacher and has become intimately familiar with the Rabbi’s wisdom and teachings.
INTRODUCTION: Becoming the Rabbi's Driver: Stepping Down to a Higher Position (1980–1985).
I "A Series of Small Turnings" (1986).
II "Let My People Know" (1989).
III "Kabbalah Is the Official Theology of the Jewish People" (1998).
IV "Make the Lives of Your Teachers as Miserable as Possible" (2001).
V "If You Think You've Arrived, You're Lost" (2005).
"It has been a long time since I have enjoyed a book this much and it will probably be a long time until another classic like this is published." –The National Jewish Post & Opinion, June 2006
"In an age in which people flit from cause to cause, and in which ‘what are you into this year’ is frequently heard, it is heartening to read the story of a person who has stayed loyal to the same teacher for more than two decades." –Jewish Ledger, June 2006
"There are several strong reasons to read this remarkable book by Parabola publisher Arthur Kurzweil. The primary one is given at the end of the book’s subtitle: ‘a Man of Wisdom.’
The man of wisdom is Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, the world’s leading Talmudic scholar. That Steinsaltz is a wise man has been demonstrated beyond doubt by his profound writings, from formal works such as his classic Kabbalah commentary The Thirteen Petalled Rose to his more informal presentations, including his regular columns in Parabola, "What Does Rabbi Steinsaltz Say?" But common sense dictates that a man of wisdom will express his wisdom not only through the published word but also in conversation and, more subtly, through his manifestations as a human being—how he goes about his day, how he relates to others.
On the Road with Rabbi Steinsaltz gives readers a memorable close-up portrait of a man of wisdom doing just that—sitting in a car, standing on a street, eating meals, delivering lectures, visiting a gravesite, and, most importantly, exchanging ideas with those around him, particularly with Kurzweil. It is the closest most of us will get to Rabbi Steinsaltz the man, and through this proximity to the rabbi, a warm, intimate, and rare wisdom flows from him toward the reader.
The channel for this wisdom is Kurzweil, who, judging from this work, knows books like Julia Child knew eggs—he served for 17 years as editor-in-chief of the Jewish Book Club before coming to Parabola. Kurzweil brings us close to Steinsaltz by placing his book’s narrative in the grand literary tradition of Watson/Holmes or Castenada/Don Juan: that of an eager apprentice, full of questions, relating his encounters with a master. "I’ll do anything for him. Give me the crummiest job you have," pleads Kurzweil early in the book when, in 1985, he makes a fateful call to the rabbi’s office in Manhattan. And having devoured Steinsaltz’s writings for the seven previous years--readings that inspired him to move toward observant Judaism--Kurzweil is thrilled to gain the regular task of picking up the rabbi from JFK Airport (where Steinsaltz flies in from Jerusalem) at 5:00 A.M. to drive him to appointments.
What follows is much more than a standard account of Kurzweil’s subsequent time with Steinsaltz. Because Kurzweil is an eager apprentice, his memoir offers not only astonishing access to the rabbi but also a vivid depiction of the growth of Kurzweil’s own wisdom, as Steinsaltz advises him with authority and much good humor on matters ranging from the mundane (overwork; a divorce; the use of tobacco) to the religious (synagogue behavior; Kurzweil’s proper Hebrew name) to the spiritual (a right way to pray; the meaning of good and evil). And, over the course of the book, Kurzweil’s spiritual growth becomes, by example, an inspiration for the reader’s own. Moreover, because it is Steinsaltz, a Jew and a Kabbalist, who is guiding Kurzweil, this book serves as well as an unusual, smart, and deeply informed introduction to Judaism and Kabbalah.
For all these reasons, this book is worth reading—as it is for its reader-friendly presentation, divided as it is into short chapters interspersed with boxed asides and brief but chewy "Notes from the Road." Ultimately, though, it is for the figure of Adin Steinsaltz, smoking his pipe, smiling, questioning, deeply and then more deeply still, a true Man of Wisdom, that anyone interested in the spiritual life should read this book--and more than once." –Parabola, 2006