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By: SGT Aaron Festinger, USA

I remember the exact moment when I became interested in chassidut and kabbalah, because it was the moment when I began to take the study of the spiritual dimension of life seriously. I was in Fort Bragg going for a Sunday run on one of the trails, zoning out while the trees blurred past me. I’ve always been an analytical guy, mathematically inclined and with a tendency to view the world through a materialistic determinism lens. That’s a great lens for scientific work, but you miss a lot of what’s important in life when it’s your only point of reference. What changed for me that moment, with my mind cleared by the runner’s high, was that the lens slipped for a moment and I saw the world in a completely different way. The spiritual aspects of life, like my personal tendencies in my relationships with G-d and others, suddenly came into sharp clarity while the gross physicalities of things grew somewhat fuzzy. It was as if I had only ever seen those aspects of life as the underside of a rug and in that moment someone turned the rug over and I glimpsed the top of it. I realized then that the spiritual side of things, that which is most important in all of our lives, is also the most neglected part of life in the modern world. I then resolved to begin exploring this area, with the intent of becoming a better person in my dealings with others, and to improve my intuitive grasp of myself, other people, and even politics and world events.

I have read quite a few books on Kabballah and chassidut since then, most of which were quite excellent (thanks to recommendations from more advanced friends), but also the bulk of which were better on a theoretical level than on a practical one. The Pathway of Teshuva stands out in that it is designed with daily reading and practice in mind, and is both very authentic and relatable in its approach. Rather than overwhelming the reader with esoteric theoretical concepts it provides a reading as meditation experience that invites the reader to become aware of his or her automatic unconscious tendencies, thereby enabling them to take control of themselves more fully. The focus of the book is on teshuvah, not in the usual sense of repentance, but in the sense of a continual process of returning one’s self to a state of perfection. In short, the path of teshuvah is the path of self-mastery and attunement with the divine.

The book is organized into 28 chapters and is meant to be read in 28 daily sittings for one lunar month of meditation and exploration of the self. Topics of the chapters include various aspects of the human spirit: patience, desire, depression, motivation, inspiration, and reaching out to the divine presence. It’s a high-quality book, printed on good paper with designs in color ink and with placeholder ribbons. Personally, I found the chapters to be a bit long for squeezing into my daily schedule and I did most of my reading on Shabbat and Yomim Tovim, usually before davening with a sizeable glass of bourbon. I very much enjoyed this book and I intend to reread it, and explore more of Rabbi Dovber Pinson’s books in the future.

*Bourbon not included

Originally published in the Tishrei 2021 issue of The Jewish American Warrior.

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