Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul

Flatiron Books  2017


How does a Jew balance belief with science, body with soul, when facing the traumas of life? Albert Einstein, who first grasped the fundamental relationship between energy and matter in the cosmos, once comforted a bereaved rabbi with these words:

A human being is part of the whole, the Universe. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. Striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion.

Rabbi Naomi Levy was stunned by the power and simplicity of that statement when she first came across it. It echoed what she intuitively felt: that God and the universe are mirrored in human beings through the soul. And she felt compelled to find out how Einstein came to write that letter.

As the founder and rabbi of the spiritual community Nashuva in Los Angeles, Rabbi Levy has long helped people deal with loss, and with the hurt they have inflicted on others. She has counseled couples, comforted parents and children, and dealt with rage and sorrow. This book draws upon those experiences to guide her readers toward a more fully integrated life.

She values meditation, music, and spending time in nature. But unlike self-help books with vague tips about deep breathing, warm baths, and soothing music, she grounds her advice in traditional Jewish practice: the Sabbath, the power of prayer, the wisdom of Jewish texts, the meaning of holiness.

Her lessons are drawn from the painful yet touching stories of the people she counsels. There’s the successful man who feels empty and disconnected from his own family, and who finds a way to open up to his young son by unplugging from technology on Friday nights. There’s the woman who feels deep heartbreak and guilt for a traffic accident that cost a pedestrian his life, and who finds healing through forgiveness.

Naomi Levy also writes with an open heart about the tragedies and challenges of her own life, starting at the age of fifteen, when her adored father was murdered. She talks candidly about her own husband and children, and describes her fears and anxiety when she underwent a painful and prolonged series of surgical operations.

She also solves the mystery of why the rabbi of her book’s title reached out to Einstein. That rabbi was Robert Marcus, one of the first chaplains to enter Buchenwald at the time of its liberation. This book is worth reading just for the moving story of how Rabbi Marcus, and an unsung hero named Judith Feist, nurtured the rescued “Buchenwald boys” back to life.

Rabbi Levy quotes David the Psalmist: “I called to God from my narrowness, and God answered me with a vast expanse.” Anyone who feels that need to connect with something larger than themselves can find a pathway in this inspiring book.

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