Anyone familiar with the many books of Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D., knows he generally writes for two different audiences.
Some of his books, which are for a general audience, deal with substance abuse, addiction, mental illness or emotional issues.
Others are geared specifically for a Jewish audience, such as his cookbook or his application of Jewish law to everyday life.
But with one of his latest works, “A Formula for Proper Living: Practical Lessons from Life and Torah,” Twerski reaches both audiences at once.
The book ostensibly deals with issues of identity and self-esteem, relationships, defense mechanism for coping with adversity and how to improve oneself — typical Twerski stuff.
Only this time, the long-time Pittsburgh resident and founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Beaver County cogently argues (well, proposes may be a better word) that modern medical and psychological discoveries regarding human behavior are really thousands of years old, because they are all contained in Jewish texts.
For example, when explaining modern medicine’s understanding of psychosomatic illness, Twerski writes: “The mind-body connection has been recognized in the spiritual community for thousands of years. … The traditional Jewish prayer for the sick is for ‘healing of the spirit and healing of the body.’ ”
Or when Twerski describes Sigmund Freud’s description of rationalization — a psychological defense mechanism in which a person unconsciously uses excuses to defend bad behavior, he adds this:
“A much earlier graphic description of the self-deception of rationalization can be found in [Proverbs 26:13-16], traditionally seen as authored by King Solomon in the ninth century B.C.E. … As this verse indicates, not only does the indolent person believe his reasons for inaction to be true, he cannot be convinced of their falseness even by seven wise counselors.”
The book is filled with descriptions of medical and emotional conditions, and comparisons with Jewish texts on the same subject that predate them.
Ever the rabbi, Twerski’s intent is to show “that the Torah supplies a complete formula for proper living that accounts for your human ability to choose as well as the inner workings of the human mind that can affect how you make your choices.”
But the book has another, perhaps unintended, accomplishment: read by many non-Jews, as it likely will be, this 124-page book serves as an excellent primer on Judaism. It demystifies Jewish teachings and clears up misconceptions long held by non-Jews of the Jewish faith. Is it really a strict legalistic religion with no emphasis on love and compassion? Or do its lessons directly speak to love and compassion, especially for the emotionally afflicted?
For whatever reason you choose, here’s one thin book that should be on your shelf.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)