Of the Book

From the introduction to Rabbi Bortz’s new book, Beneath The Surface

At nineteen, I packed my bags and left my college campus at U.C. Santa Barbara for the land of Israel. I couldn’t wait to explore the mystery of why I was alive and what my purpose might be on this planet. I felt an inner yearning for a force beyond me, like a flame dancing on a wick, stretching out for a place that transcends it.

Growing up, I had a dream life, lacking nothing. But as a teenager, none of that helped. I had a deep feeling of emptiness inside. Our inner self, the soul, needs nourishment just as much as our bodies do. It will also cry out when it’s starved.

From the moment I entered the gates of study in Jerusalem, my soul enjoyed a constant stream of profound insights into life that finally quenched my inner thirst and deeply resonated with me.

After years of learning around the world, I realized that the thousands of hours spent poring over Hebrew text hadn’t been kind to my eyesight. When I first put on my new pair of glasses, I could see the same world around me as before, but everything was clearer and sharper. The details of nature were vibrant. I noticed beauty in everything that I had been viewing as drab and fuzzy. That day, I appreciated the world like it was new. I realized the time spent learning and growing spiritually had served as glasses for my mind and heart. My focus had turned away from the superficial details around me. I now searched for the deeper truth behind everything I encountered.

While our generation craves deep insights into life, Social Media has lessoned our attention span and we need the ideas to be concise and easily accessible. I’ve always loved analogies and short stories as vehicles for explanation. While simple, they preserve the deep wisdom behind them. This book attempts to deliver ancient Jewish concepts in an easily attainable way, regardless of your background.

Many insights into the secrets of life can be extracted through traveling and observing the world. But the deepest truths are discovered when staying still and exploring inwardly. Through quieting the superficial noise of the outside world and focusing inwardly, we can discover the music of our soul. As James Joyce writes in Ulysses: “Shut your eyes and see.” Electromagnetic waves may be all around you, but if the radio isn’t tuned properly to receive them, nothing will be heard. The priceless treasure we seek is already within. It’s our neshamah—our soul, a divine energy.

For nearly a decade, at the end of every week I would sift through the countless insights from the past days, painfully deciding on only one to share with friends and family. From the sweltering rooftops of Jerusalem to the frozen rooftops of Brooklyn (Internet access wasn’t easy to find), I tried to share what I was feeling with others, feeling a duty to share what was inspiring me.

I hope that you find within these pages something that uplifts and inspires your journey in life as it did mine, helping to lift the veil and see beneath the surface layer of reality with a fresh pair of glasses. Through working to see life in a Torah way, may we find the sense of purpose and have the strength to light up the darkness in our world, revealing the inherent goodness it contains and transforming it into a home for the Divine.

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