Foreword by DROB

Published on 7 Sep 2006 at 3:44 am. No Comments.
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Reading Birnbaum’s book, I cannot help but also view it as a complement to Lin Yutang’s 1937 Confucian classic The Importance of Living, in which the author speaks so eloquently and so spiritually of life’s simple pleasures, like “lying in bed” and “sitting in chairs”. Lin tells us “If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.” Birnbaum, in God and Evil, espoused a much more active, and hence Jewish/Western, view of life’s meaning, but here in “120 Guardian Angels” he makes room for such dalliances as “Bubbles” (angel #13), “Kite Flying” (#54) and “Catching the Moment” (#40). There appears to be an appreciation that in matters of actualizing Holy Potential there is, indeed, as Lin Yutang articulated, both “the noble art of getting things done [and] the noble art of [sometimes] leaving things undone.

The Kabbalists, in whom much of Birnbaum’s thinking is rooted (angel #109 is “Lurianic Kabbalah”), held that there is a coincidence of opposites governing both God and humanity; Birnbaum’s latest effort, especially when placed in the context of his earlier one, (with the complementary book titles explicitly forewarning us) most certainly seems to embody this dialectical spirit.

Chayyim Vital, whose great work Sefer Etz Chayyim, is the classic exposition of Lurianic Kabbalah, once acknowledged that the world is for the most part evil, with only the slightest bit of good mixed in. Adin Steinsaltz, the contemporary rabbinic sage and Kabbalist, has said that the full meaning of Vital’s seemingly pessimistic dictum is that “ours is the worst of all possible worlds in which there is yet hope, and that this is paradoxically the ‘best of all possible worlds.’” The reason for this, Rabbi Steinsaltz tells us, is that only in such a world of extreme adversity, a world “on the brink” of total disaster, can humankind be motivated to realize the emotional, spiritual, aesthetic and intellectual possibilities that have been bequeathed to it by our creator.

David Birnbaum’s mythic 120 Guardian Angels are a celestial chorus imploring us to do just that, to realize our full cosmic potential as human beings and thereby act as partners with the divine in actualizing the potential of our world.

Dr. Sanford Drob
May 19, 2006
Founding co-Editor, The NY Jewish Review


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