Earlier this month, in an attempt to prepare for one of my Shavuot night lectures, I was searching to find the source of one of a number of quotations that I wanted to use. I remembered the name of the book where the exact quotation could be found and then began a search of the books that I have here in my apartment in Jerusalem, confident that it was here somewhere.
Thank God, I have an extensive library and my books are spread over a number of rooms in our home, so I spent a considerable amount of time trying to track down the book I was looking for. As you can imagine, I was frustrated to no end by my failure to locate that book. After a long period of soul searching, I suddenly remembered that this book was one of the over one thousand books of mine that I was forced to leave in the United States when I moved to Israel from our previous home in Monsey, New York.
That American home of ours had an enormous room filled with bookcases where my library proudly resided. I knew every book in that room and where it was located. But I was moving into far smaller quarters here in Jerusalem and simply did not have sufficient space for all of my books. So, I had to engage in an intellectual form of triage trying to guess which books I really needed here in Jerusalem and which books would remain in America with my family, students and yeshiva library.
Another factor that influenced my choice of books that I was going to bring to Israel with me was the size and space of the custom made shelving that I had ordered to hold my books in Jerusalem. Outsize books, in the main, had to be left in America because I had no place to put them here in Israel. They simply would not fit on the prepared shelves.
And, I then remembered that the book that I was so diligently searching for here in Jerusalem was a tall thin volume of rabbinic response, exactly what shelf it was on in my Monsey library and, that because of its unusual size and height, I had left that book in America. I also recalled that one of my rabbinic students adopted it as his own.
I was delighted that a student of mine would want to own and use one of the volumes from my personal library but I complained to myself at my shortsightedness at having left the book in America. I should have realized that a time would come when I would need to have that book in my hand. I was chagrined to have thought that simply because a book was outsized - and would not conveniently and neatly fit on my new shelves here in Jerusalem, that it should have been left in the Exile. I reconstructed the approximate quotation that I wanted from the book by memory but I was in doubt as to whether I was truly accurate.
The Jewish people have moved many times in our long and tension-fraught history. Because of this constant, forced movement of ours we have been unable to always bring along everything we once possessed. This is especially true of the memories, works of scholarship and individual people who were somehow outsized and not in societal conformity. To a great extent, their books, opinions and personal life stories have not made the journey with us.
Since they did not conform perfectly to the ‘shelf size’ demanded of them, someone from the outside picked them up and used them. We could certainly profit from having them with us, for ours is a time that we can use all the help, ideas and opinions that we can obtain.
I have ruefully found that it is the one missing book that I did not bring along with me to Jerusalem that is the book that I need most at a certain given moment. Less concern should have been given to the size of the book or to the non-conformist nature of the author, who most times was a pious Jew who possessed different and innovative viewpoints.
In our times, we are witness to the acceptance in our Torah world of people, educational methodology and institutions which were once considered to be radical or unacceptable. We should never be quick to judge, for only God and His history of people and events is the ultimate judge. The missing book can always come back to bite you.