Young Esther’s family is moving from bustling Brooklyn to San Francisco, and during her last Shabbat as a New Yorker, she is upset at having to leave her home and her friends. A going-away kiddush for her and her parents in her synagogue is not enough to cheer her up. She seeks solace in the synagogue sanctuary, and is beckoned by a talking Torah scroll into a secret passageway leading to an enchanting “forest rabbi” named Nachman.
Throughout the fun of this inspiring and brilliantly illustrated book, Esther and the reader are treated to accessibly packaged teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (the said “forest rabbi”) as Esther finds the strength to begin the next stage of her life. She follows Nachman over narrow bridges, through castle walls, and around obstacles that are both literally and metaphorically in her way.
The author, a pulpit rabbi and a cofounder of Base Hillel, is adept at offering Jewish teachings in engaging and relatable ways. Accompanying Rabbi Nachman’s reassuring messages (“You’re never given a challenge you cannot overcome”; “the most important thing is not to be afraid”) are characteristically colorful and whimsical illustrations by Jessica Tamar Deutsch, the award-winning creator of The Illustrated Pirkei Avot.
While the story is meant to be a children’s book, peripatetic parents of young children will no doubt relate to its reassuring message drawn from the wellsprings of rabbinic literature — that proper intention and preparation can strengthen one’s ability to withstand both spiritual and physical wanderings.
Esther’s Magical Mystery Torah is a volume parents and children alike will enjoy regardless of their level of Jewish observance or textual background. Both the author and illustrator are to be commended for producing a timely tale inspired by ancient teachings.
Dr. Stu Halpern is Senior Advisor to the Provost of Yeshiva University. He has edited or coedited 17 books, including Torah and Western Thought: Intellectual Portraits of Orthodoxy and Modernity and Books of the People: Revisiting Classic Works of Jewish Thought, and has lectured in synagogues, Hillels and adult Jewish educational settings across the U.S.