God does not deliver us before afflicting us. This duality of the deity mirrors the duality that characterizes many of our holidays and rituals and nearly every psychological, historical, political, and social aspect of Jewish life. The pleasure of sex is preceded by the pain of circumcision; the pain of childbirth is followed by the joy of motherhood. The Passover Seder brings us bitter herbs before the sweet charoset, just as the Israelites in the Exodus story had to experience bondage before they earned their freedom. Indeed, human nature could be defined by our conflicting inclinations, or yetzers, toward good and evil. These impulses, viewed in the context of the all-too-familiar catastrophes and the radiant beauty in the natural world, informed our spiritual development in more ways than we might realize, according to this penetrating analysis by Gonen, a leading psychohistorian. Using his own lens as well as the views of other scholars, he deeply explores the dualistic nature of God and the human psyche in a variety of contexts, including messianism, holidays, love and fear, bereavement and resurrection, and the Holocaust. Although his writing is occasionally dense (subtitles would have been helpful), Gonen mingles wit with wisdom often enough to keep the book accessible — and quite fascinating. Biblio., index.
Robin K. Levinson is an award-winning journalist and author of a dozen books, including the Gali Girls series of Jewish historical fiction for children. She currently works as an assessment specialist for a global educational testing organization. She lives in Hamilton, NJ.