By Abraham Twerski
New York, 2003
Reviewed by Yaakov Kornreich
While Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski’s Light at the End of the Tunnel is written in the form of a novella (too long to be a short story and too short to be a true novel), it is accurately described on the book jacket as an “inspirational story” (with the emphasis on inspiration). That should come as no surprise to readers of Rabbi Twerski’s previous books. Those books, which seem to form their own genre of popular Anglo-Jewish literature, relate Torah insights to daily living in an easy-to-read format.
This book is a contemporary morality tale, based on the fictional story of Alan Silverman, a fifty-four-year-old workaholic head of a successful law firm. An irreligious Jew who belongs to an Orthodox synagogue, Silverman is jarred into re-examining his mostly empty spiritual life when he learns that he is suffering from non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
To his surprise, Silverman finds new meaning in the words of his rabbi’s High Holiday sermons and accepts the rabbi’s invitation to visit his sukkah. Silverman then signs up to attend the rabbi’s class in Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s Mesillat Yesharim. This allows Rabbi Twerski to devote much of the first half of the book to illuminating Rabbi Luzzatto’s approach to the fundamentals of Jewish belief. Rabbi Twerski also provides Silverman with a strong Jewish family background, helping him relate the rabbi’s lessons to his personal experiences and early memories. Silverman soon realizes that his career-centered life, devoted to the pursuit of material wealth and professional status, has been empty of meaning.
Troubled by questions of faith, Silverman is then referred by his rabbi to a Chassidic master, who explains the kabbalistic teachings about life-after-death and reincarnation. Once again, Rabbi Twerski demonstrates his unique ability to relate sophisticated Torah insights to the problems of contemporary living in clear, simple language.
At the beginning of the story, Silverman is in denial and deeply resents his medical condition. “The light at the end of the tunnel” that he so desperately seeks is a cure that would allow him to continue living his life as before. But his spiritual search leads him to an appreciation of the light of Torah, which, teaches him how to accept his disease and how to get much more out of the time he has left. Eventually, Silverman sees his illness as a wake-up call and realizes that the true purpose of his life is to allow his neshamah to achieve spiritual perfection through mitzvot and gemilat chassadim. This spiritual reawakening also provides him with newfound joy and meaning in his personal relationships. During the two-and-a-half years following his diagnosis, as Silverman pursues newly discovered spiritual goals, he and his wife grow closer to one another through sharing acts of chessed and playing a more active role in their community’s religious life. He also learns to savor the approaching Jewish milestones in the lives of his children and grandchildren. As the story ends, Silverman’s medical prognosis is uncertain, but he has accepted his fate and learned to appreciate every remaining moment of his life.
This is not a novel in the conventional sense.
While I found the book to be enjoyable and effective in conveying its inspirational message, a caveat for the prospective reader is in order. This is not a novel in the conventional sense. Rabbi Twerski provides only enough detail to satisfy the demands of his inspirational message which, rather than the story, is paramount. Eventually, we do get to know Silverman fairly well but the other characters remain sketchy. The wealth of descriptive detail, which one would expect from a work of fiction of this length, is missing. Moreover, readers looking primarily for light entertainment are likely to find the early sections of this book rather heavy. However, those who have enjoyed Rabbi Twerski’s earlier inspirational books will not be disappointed.
Mr. Kornreich has been an Anglo-Jewish journalist for thirty-five years. He is a past editor of Young Israel’s Viewpoint magazine and a past managing editor of Jewish Life and Jewish Action. He is president of Y.K. Services, Ltd., in Brooklyn, New York.