J-BOM stands for Jewish Book of the Month Club and is a term coined by young MJ blogger Yahnatan Lasko for a movement of bloggers and readers working through great Jewish books together. The April selection is Visions of the Fathers by Abraham Twerski.
I have suggested that busy people start with an abbreviated reading of Twerski: Introduction, 1:1, 1:2, 1:6, 1:10, 1:11, 1:12, 1:14. Now add 2:2, 2:4, 2:5, 2:9, and 2:15.
The May selection will be The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendehlson.
The June selection will be As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg.
The July selection will be Chaim Potok’s The Promise.
The August selection will be The Last of the Just by Andre Schwarz-Bart.
This saying is many things, including: wise advice for clergy, wise advice for everyone in any occupation, and practical wisdom for dealing with our proclivity to sin. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.
One of the great things about Twerski’s commentary on Pirkei Avot is the authority he brings to the commentary as a professional who has been helping people free themselves from addiction for many years. His words are not theoretical, but carry the weight of actual experience.
His stories are delightful. A man’s business was failing even though his father before him had thrived in it. He inquired of a rebbe who asked, “When your business is idle what do you do?” The man responded that he reads newspapers. “That’s the problem,” said the rebbe, “your father would study Torah or recite Psalms. The devil would send people into the store to keep your father from having much time for these pursuits.”
Twerski also has a breadth of knowledge of good ethical writing (much from Hasidism and the mussar movement). He shares with us sayings that are provocative, “The reason one should not sin is not because it is forbidden, but because one should not have time for sin.” The saying is scandalous. It suggests what seems an insufficient reason for refraining from wrong. The point of the proverb is irony, a deliberate turning of values. One who is devoted to work and study will not have time to get around to needing moral restraint. The saying provokes thought.
The problem of work and godliness is universal. As Tevye dreamed in Fiddler on the Roof of being rich so he could study Torah all day, so do many people think that an occupation prevents them from study and piety. Pirkei Avot 2:2 suggests two things contrary to this notion. First, those who work at an occupation can and should study as well, and in filling their time with useful things will be less prone to sin. Second, those whose occupation is study and religious work should also have an occupation so that they are too busy to become superficial (and also unable to relate to the rest of people who engage in labor).
As Twerski says, and he knows the workings of the sin nature in people: “Filling our time with constructive activities is the best deterrent to improper and unhealthy behavior.”