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New Pruzansky Book Analyzes Themes of Redemption

Review: “Road to Redemption” by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky. Kodesh Press. 2023. Hardcover. 463 pages. ISBN-13: 979-8888940044.

Just in time for Pesach, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky has released a fascinating collection of thoughts on redemption culled from more the dozens of Shabbat Hagadol pulpit sermons he delivered as the rabbi of Teaneck’s Congregation Bnai Yeshurun.

A Kodesh Press publication, “Road to Redemption” is geared to a wide audience, giving readers an eye-opening look at the Jewish people’s foundational moments as they left Egypt, while also offering an exploration of the Haggadah and a contemporary view of Pesach’s many thematic elements. In addition to being an excellent resource for rabbis during a particularly busy time of year, the 461-page book’s discussions of past and future redemptions and their significance to present times make it a fascinating read for the layperson as well.

Choosing just a handful of sermons to include in “Road to Redemption” from the 35 he gave since he first stepped up to the pulpit at Bnai Yeshurun in 1985 was no small task for Rabbi Pruzansky.

“I put a lot of thought into it,” Rabbi Pruzansky told The Jewish Link. “I chose the drashot that had messages that are most relevant to today and are timeless, giving substance, depth and, I hope, insight, into what Pesach is.”

The average congregant who comes to hear a Shabbat Hagadol drasha is typically investing an hour of their time to glean pre-Pesach inspiration, perhaps double that amount if they contemplate those words in the days that follow. But for a pulpit rabbi, creating an original drasha each year is a significant effort and Rabbi Pruzansky estimated that he would often start formulating his Shabbat Hagadol oratory several months before Pesach. Even once a concept started coming together in his mind, Rabbi Pruzansky often spent an additional three or four weeks writing and fine tuning his drasha, a process that he was able to streamline somewhat as he gained more experience.

Revisiting his many Shabbat Hagadol speeches was a trip down memory lane for Rabbi Pruzansky, each one bringing to mind his personal experiences and circumstances, as well as ongoing current events and crises that may have colored his words at that time. Far from simply submitting the selected drashas for publication, each one was thoroughly reviewed and edited to ensure that its messages, which were created to be given over orally, were equally potent in writing.

“When you speak, people can tell certain things from your inflection but it isn’t as simple in the written word,” explained Rabbi Pruzansky.

Rabbi Pruzansky had a similar experience when he authored his last book, “Repentance for Life.” Composed of 18 Shabbat Shuva drashas given during his tenure at Bnai Yeshurun, that book also took a thoughtful approach to a key component of Jewish life, prompting personal introspection and sparking meaningful discussion. While Rabbi Pruzansky had planned to write “Road to Redemption” irrespective of the success of “Repentance for Life,” he admits that he is gratified by the response to his first book and has gotten positive feedback from friends, family and even strangers.

It took Rabbi Pruzansky approximately four months to write “Road to Redemption,” embarking on the project just after Sukkot. He found authoring a book in his new home in Modiin to be an easier process than the writing he did in Teaneck, with fewer distractions in his life now than when he served as a pulpit rabbi, something he described as a true privilege. Working from Israel also brought with it another significant advantage, with Rabbi Pruzansky quoting the Talmudic tenet avira d’Eretz Yisroel machkim — the air of the land of Israel promotes wisdom.

“I always ended my drashas with something about Eretz Yisroel,” observed Rabbi Pruzansky. “It was inspiring to think about the situation when I said it at the time, and updated those thoughts in several places to reflect current trends.”

Reviewing those sermons, Rabbi Pruzansky realized that he addressed a wide spectrum of issues in his pre-Pesach drashas, tackling religious, cultural, political and controversial ideas, topics that are often avoided by most rabbis. Utilizing a novel approach to examine familiar topics, “Road to Redemption” presents a unifying and distinct theme to each of its 16 sermons, giving readers the ability to view the Pesach Seder through a slightly different prism and offering unique insights on the integral role of women and children on this special night. The book also raises questions that typically may not be addressed during the Seder, including what it means to be a chosen nation and the importance of miracles in the Torah. While each chapter of “Road to Redemption” addresses a theme all its own, they are interwoven with a common thread — our nation’s centuries-old longing for redemption.

With “Road to Redemption” now in print, Rabbi Pruzansky is taking some well deserved time off before he starts contemplating his next book, which may include divrei Torah on the Yomim Tovim. He considers himself to be truly blessed for the opportunity to spend Pesach with those he loves most, his children and grandchildren, all of whom live in Israel.

“The whole country has been in Pesach mode for weeks, with every item in every store marked whether it is chametz or kosher l’Pesach,” said Rabbi Pruzansky. “The Knesset ends its sessions and isn’t resuming for weeks. It is special seeing how everyone in the entire country is involved with Pesach.”

Rabbi Pruzansky admits that there is one thing he misses about Pesach in Teaneck — the friends, neighbors and congregants he left behind — but the atmosphere in Israel during Pesach and the weeks leading up to Yom Tov are beyond comparison, when the flavor of matzah and Moshiach fill the air.

“We are in the process of redemption,” said Rabbi Pruzansky. “We are on the road and coming very, very close to the end of the road. All the dreams and all the prophecies are coming true and we need to open our eyes and see that it is happening.”

By Sandy Eller

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