Esther’s Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Torah

Rab­bi Jonathan Leen­er, Jes­si­ca Tamar Deutsch (illus.)

  • Review
By – March 8, 2021

Young Esther’s fam­i­ly is mov­ing from bustling Brook­lyn to San Fran­cis­co, and dur­ing her last Shab­bat as a New York­er, she is upset at hav­ing to leave her home and her friends. A going-away kid­dush for her and her par­ents in her syn­a­gogue is not enough to cheer her up. She seeks solace in the syn­a­gogue sanc­tu­ary, and is beck­oned by a talk­ing Torah scroll into a secret pas­sage­way lead­ing to an enchant­i­ng for­est rab­bi” named Nachman.

Through­out the fun of this inspir­ing and bril­liant­ly illus­trat­ed book, Esther and the read­er are treat­ed to acces­si­bly pack­aged teach­ings of Rab­bi Nach­man of Breslov (the said for­est rab­bi”) as Esther finds the strength to begin the next stage of her life. She fol­lows Nach­man over nar­row bridges, through cas­tle walls, and around obsta­cles that are both lit­er­al­ly and metaphor­i­cal­ly in her way.

The author, a pul­pit rab­bi and a cofounder of Base Hil­lel, is adept at offer­ing Jew­ish teach­ings in engag­ing and relat­able ways. Accom­pa­ny­ing Rab­bi Nach­man’s reas­sur­ing mes­sages (“You’re nev­er giv­en a chal­lenge you can­not over­come”; the most impor­tant thing is not to be afraid”) are char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly col­or­ful and whim­si­cal illus­tra­tions by Jes­si­ca Tamar Deutsch, the award-win­ning cre­ator of The Illus­trat­ed Pirkei Avot.

While the sto­ry is meant to be a chil­dren’s book, peri­patet­ic par­ents of young chil­dren will no doubt relate to its reas­sur­ing mes­sage drawn from the well­springs of rab­binic lit­er­a­ture — that prop­er inten­tion and prepa­ra­tion can strength­en one’s abil­i­ty to with­stand both spir­i­tu­al and phys­i­cal wanderings.

Esther’s Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Torah is a vol­ume par­ents and chil­dren alike will enjoy regard­less of their lev­el of Jew­ish obser­vance or tex­tu­al back­ground. Both the author and illus­tra­tor are to be com­mend­ed for pro­duc­ing a time­ly tale inspired by ancient teachings.

Dr. Stu Halpern is Senior Advi­sor to the Provost of Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty. He has edit­ed or coedit­ed 17 books, includ­ing Torah and West­ern Thought: Intel­lec­tu­al Por­traits of Ortho­doxy and Moder­ni­ty and Books of the Peo­ple: Revis­it­ing Clas­sic Works of Jew­ish Thought, and has lec­tured in syn­a­gogues, Hil­lels and adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion­al set­tings across the U.S.

Discussion Questions