Rabbi Blech (The Sistine Secrets) provides intriguing reasons for readers to take a fresh, fearless look at their own mortality in this surprisingly upbeat book on dying. Diagnosed with a fatal heart disease in 2012 and given only six months to live, 85-year-old Blech reminds readers that “life itself is a fatal disease for which there is no known cure.” He found his diagnosis liberating, and it inspired him to look for proof of the soul’s existence after death. After consulting the Torah, Jewish rituals and oral tradition, accounts of near death experiences, and the mysteries of the kabbalah, Blech concluded that, if God is good, the fact that life on Earth is unfair means there must be more left to experience. Though Blech acknowledges his arguments are more anecdotal than scientific, he gives readers plenty of food for thought on fringe topics (including reincarnation and hell’s expiration date) without any pressure to buy into his own conclusions. Blech leaves readers with key lessons he’s learned over the course of his ongoing dance with death, including the importance of holding on to faith, prayer, and optimism. (Sept.)
I read Hope, Not Fear and learned quite a bit. I was struck by the similarities between Judaism and Islamic traditions. Rabbi Blech’s personal anecdotes from his long and illustrious career are enlightening and informative. The extensive discussion regarding near death experience is very edifying.
Perhaps it seems incongruous to speak of 'enjoying' a book on such a serious topic, but I must say that I have found these words profound, inspiring, and very real. Rabbi Blech has tapped into a vein of reflection that our culture shies away from, and has addressed the reality of death with gentleness, wisdom and an evident faith. The author has a gift for blending ancient insights with a deep sensitivity to our modern culture, his own personal situation, and a great deal of gentle humor.
This is an intelligent and soulful exploration of the unknowable. Rabbi Blech doesn’t try to conquer death or ‘spin’ it or sugarcoat it. He’s amazed by death, but not fazed by it. He looks it squarely in the eye, turns it around, peels back the layers, and, ultimately, infuses it with meaning. Blech finds meaning in death by discerning divine meaning in life. If God is eternal, and we are created in God’s image, then we share in that eternity. Our physical bodies might die, but our little piece of Godour individual soulsnever dies. Our souls live on in everything we have done in this life, in every person we have touched, every word we have shared, every song we have sung. Living with that awareness helps us fulfill our purpose in life.
Rabbi Blech gets to the very heart of the human condition with superb insight, infinite compassion, and great wisdom. He draws on personal experience, pastoral training, and his profound mastery of the Jewish tradition to produce a universal guide for facing the inevitable with new understanding. His moving and accessible style transmits an indelible message: faith and love are stronger than despair and death.
Really enjoyed it; beautifully written and quite fascinating.
Rabbi Blech has long been a friend and teacher from whom I have benefited greatly. In Hope Not Fear, Blech invites the world into his caring heart, insightful mind, and wealth of wisdom as he gets to the very core of our relationship with the Almighty while helping us understand the true meaning of our existence and destiny. In allowing us to confront our feelings of death, he mandates that we affirm our savoring of life. He draws upon his vast experience, personal encounters, and unparalleled knowledge to bring the world an awakening volume that will inspire us all.
As his six-months-to-live diagnosis extended to six years and counting, Rabbi Blech, may he live and be well, used his time to construct an honest, comforting, and sometimes unorthodox, description of the Jewish view of death. Like his other books, it is written for the layperson; it is not overtly academic or scholarly. Its accessibility to people of any background, including non-Jews, is one of its strongest attributes. . . a truly instructive message for every person.
At 139 pages, without footnotes but with seven additional pages of suggested contemporary readings. . . this slender but splendid book is conversational, an introduction to the subject for the ignorant (which is almost all of us) . . . the 85-year-old Rabbi Blech writes with the excitement of a bling person suddenly able to see the aurora borealis. On every other page, it seems, he discovers Jewish ideas about death that are ‘fascinating,’ ‘remarkable.’
While Blech’s book is uplifting and life-affirming, he does not flinch from asking (and answering) the hardest questions of all.