[written in 2013, when my first book was published]
Building up to a work like this has taken many, many years.
I must thank my parents, who, throughout my childhood, provided an environment where lively arguments about Big Questions were always welcome: where the substance of an argument mattered regardless of the identity of the arguer. I learned from them that, when hunting the truth, weak assertions are worse than useless. It is crucial to erect a strong and clear thesis, and then see how well it stands up to sustained assault. My mother helped me respect the power of intellect, while my father showed me how intellect and reason melt away when confronted by sheer force of will.
I wish to thank Yoram Hazony for first positing to me that it was possible for a person today to add to the etz chayim that is the Torah, in midrashic explication. Until that moment, as a fresh high school graduate in 1989, such a thing had never crossed my mind. An epiphany can be sparked by a single word. This one took a long time in germinating, but it made an indelible impression on me.
Akiva Ehrenfeld changed my Torah life in a similar way: he made me understand that not only is it possible for a person to add to our understanding of the Torah, but that the person in question could be yours truly. It happened on the day he said to me, “That is a really interesting idea!”
It seems like such a simple thing to say. But it changed my life. The right word at the right time can change a person forever.
I was also greatly inspired by the work of David Gelernter, who wrote a series of essays in Commentary magazine. Gelernter writes a great many things about a wide range of subjects. But those essays were not of this world. They shone with divine inspiration, every word delectably plucked and placed. I realize, as I read his words, that when we aim to understand Hashem, He helps us get where we are going.
It is one thing to have an idea. And entirely another to do something about it. And for this, I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to my rebbe, Rabbi Shaya Milikowsky. I do not, in this text, talk about how important it is to have a close and personal relationship with a rav, but that is in part because I am not able to explain just how much he has changed my life through his profoundly empathic and individualistic approach to Judaism. It was through Rabbi Milikowsky that I came to understand that every Jew has their own arc, their own unique relationship to Hashem, and that the answers to questions have to be understood in the context of the questioner. In other words, each person’s relationship to the Torah, and to Hashem, is unique and personal.
And this work only started being written when Rabbi Milikowsky told me to start writing. He has guided me from the beginning, especially teaching me how to write positively.
Thanks to Rabbi Milikowsky, this work is not interested in quarreling, or drawing stark divisions between myself and others. Nor am I interested in labels and categories. We should be vigilant against using the Torah as a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, and not illumination.
I must also acknowledge a true giant in the Torah world, a man who is singularly the most brilliant and creative Torah mind I have ever met, and the inspirer of many of the ideas contained herein: Simcha Baer. Rabbi Baer has sometimes been a muse, and sometimes a collaborator. He is an exemplar of what the human mind, infused with ruach hakodesh, can achieve. I wish that I could grasp all that he has to share!
My sons Toyam and Asher have also been very important collaborators in this work. I bounce ideas off of them all the time, and they have not only acted as sounding boards, but also as originators of some truly beautiful chiddushim of their own. The greatest blessing a father can have is to be surpassed by his children, and I pray, with all my heart, that each of my children, in their own unique way, outshines me.
I also acknowledge, with thanks and praise, the influence of Jonathan Sacks. His writing is poetry itself, and his ideas have often provided a jumping-off point for my own. Whether we agree or disagree, his weekly words on Torah have been a source of inspiration to me.
I must thank, on bended knee, my wife Nechama, the very embodiment of an ezer knegdo. Words cannot express my love and appreciation and devotion to the woman who has inspired me, and shown me both the enormous gap between a man and his spouse (in heaven and on earth) – and to revel in the surpassing beauty that is produced in the bridging of that gap.