When Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran turned 60, he went beyond having a birthday party or getting nice gifts from his family – he wrote a book. His Meditations at 60:One Person, Under God, Indivisible,” has just been published by KTAV Publishing House. In the book, he explores, among other topics, Kashrut (keeping kosher), Modesty, Mourning, Prayer and Love, among other topics seeking in each area to articulate the relationship between body and soul -- the physical and the spiritual – with the goal of allowing the reader to divine greater meaning in his or her life.
The emphasis is on the word “divine.”
Rabbi Safran, Senior Rabbinic Coordinator and Vice President of Communications and Marketing at OU Kosher, is the author of several well-received works, including Kos Eliyahu: Insights in the Haggadah and Passover, and his recent Sometimes You Are What You Wear! An Argument for Tzniut-Modesty. In this book, he goes beyond modesty to explore an entire range of issues dealing with how to live a spiritual Jewish life. They include, as well as those noted on the cover, The Power of Paradox in Jewish Tradition; Honesty and Ethics in Jewish Law and Tradition; and The Dreidle: The Miracles in our Lives. Each subject is dealt with as a meditation, rather than as a mere chapter. Thus, the title of the book.
“Too often,” Rabbi Safran writes, “our modern world demands that we choose the physical, or the spiritual. But how do we decide between the two? For Jews, there is authentic holiness in the physical, in the embrace of the world, and physical expression in the spiritual. We see it in every aspect of Jewish ritual behavior.”
How, then, does one create the proper balance between the two worlds? “It is important to engage in this discussion because the demands of our modern world have thrown the two powerfully out of balance, even affecting the inner meaning of kashrut, modesty and honesty,” Rabbi Safran says.
Rabbi Safran credits his late father, Rabbi Dr. Joseph Safran, with the stimulus for writing the book, because in his will, written more than 20 years before his death, he urged his children to “frequently and insightfully” study and “look into the books” that not only he, but his own father had written, and to have their own children study these works as well.
“As a young man, I confess that my father’s words did not fully resonate with me but as I advance in years and I too began to meditate on the world after I am gone, I find myself sharing my dear father’s sentiments that my children, and please G-d, their children and their children too, might be able to share in something real and meaningful that I have left behind.”
He notes with pride that his father’s works, and those of his grandfather, Rav Bezalel Zev Safran, continue to be read and studied.
“Of my grandfather’s physical possessions, none remain. Of my father’s physical possessions too, nothing remains. But their thoughts and ideas…? These endure. The ideas, lessons and messages transmitted from father to son to grandson and to the many generations yet to come continue to live and thrive.”
Like father (and grandfather), like son. Rabbi Safran’s essays, based on a lifetime of study and his experiences an educator and author, besides his work at OU Kosher, frame the 613 Torah mitzvot as “specific ways to engage every part of one’s body and every part of the world in harmonious, sacred action.”
For example, he notes that “hunger is an essential physical drive of all living things. But like all essential drives, unless it is satisfied in a way that is both permissible and holy, it is impossible to enjoy a spiritual life. The essential truth is that there is no bodily desire or function that is not rooted in an essentially soul desire.”
Rabbi Moshe Elefant, Chief Operating Officer of OU Kosher, commented, “As a kosher professional I obviously first read Rabbi Safran’s piece on kashrut. Having been involved in the kosher certification of foods for more than two decades, I thought I had a good understanding of what kosher was all about. However, after reading Rabbi Safran’s essay, I have a much deeper and better appreciation for the central role that following kosher dietary laws has in our religious experience.”
Rabbi Menachem Genack, Chief Executive Officer of OU Kosher, agrees. “Rabbi Safran’s Meditations at Sixty is beautifully written and will touch a chord with those above and below sixty. He brings to his task enormous scholarship, much historical information, and his years of experience in the rabbinate. There are many lessons here on life, all worthy of being fully absorbed and appreciated by readers.”
These readers include, of course, those closest to Rabbi Safran.
“And if one day, someone will ask my children and grandchildren, ‘What did your grandfather Eliyahu do in this world? I will be blessed if they are able to reply that I left some Torah thought and teachings. These meditations and others,” Rabbi Safran writes.
Meditations at Sixty is available from the publisher, or at Jewish bookstores everywhere. Rabbi Safran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.