Book Review: Hearts and Minds: An Original Look at each Parsha in the Torah by Rabbi Pini Dunner


Hearts and Minds: An Original Look at each Parsha in the Torah by Rabbi Pini Dunner

Reviewed by Sarah Pachter

Hearts and Minds: An Original Look at Each Parsha in the Torah, by Rabbi Pini Dunner, is an engaging book that offers readers a wide scope of information covering the entire Chumash.

His chapters span a range of topics including politics, entertainment, history, current events and more. Each portion has several options to choose from, but reader beware: you will have trouble only choosing one of them to read.

Rabbi Dunner draws in his audience, and then, once captivated, provides a non-intuitive, often mind-blowing connection to the Parsha that leaves the reader both stunned and impressed. He manages to connect even the most mundane topics to Torah, such as famous movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Trappist monks, and viral videos such as “The Mannequin Challenge,” to name just a few.

As Pirkei Avot teaches us, a truly wise person learns from every person and scenario. Dunner has the inherent capability to find Torah in everything he encounters. He also humbly shares his vulnerabilities. In his introduction, he explains that he had been writing a column for some time when he was told by someone that while his speeches were excellent and engaging, his writing was a bit boring. He was mindful enough to revamp his approach, incorporating his pulpit material, and these articles are the result.

My favorite chapter is titled Why the Devil wears Prada, in which he connects a hit movie to the Parsha. The intriguing topic grabs you right away, and then, before you even realize it, you have learned a deep idea brought down by the Kedushat Levi. It is Rabbi Dunner’s ability to connect to these dichotomic concepts that I found so refreshing and fantastic.

Another fascinating chapter is titled Learning to Speak the Language of G-d. It begins by sharing a true historical tidbit about a group of hunters who discovered an odd creature in the summer of 1725. Rather than killing it, they decided to trap it. What they discovered was that this animal was actually a feral child – probably eleven years old – who was unclothed, and unable to speak.

This child was brought to the palace of the British king, George I. The king named him Peter, clothed him in finery, and provided him with footmen and tutors, and doing everything in his power to teach him to speak and behave as a regular human. But unfortunately, Peter never learned how to speak. Eventually, the king grew tired of Peter, and handed him off to be cared for at another location for the rest of his life. Scientists and psychologists have since discovered that if a child is not taught language skills by a certain age, they will never learn to speak.

Dunner connects this story beautifully to Parshat Lech Lecha: “It appears that for Abraham to emerge as the progenitor of monotheism… he needed to learn the vernacular of G-d before it was too late. This was achievable in an environment drowning in pagan beliefs and idol worship. Abraham needed to extract himself totally and thoroughly from this spiritual setting so that he could arrive at his destination–namely the land that I will show you. This was not merely geographical location, but a place where meaningful conversation with G-d could take place.”

As a teacher, I remember wondering how I could make my classes both engaging and educational. I thought, if only Torah could be presented the way Yahoo headlines hook us in. This book is the solution! Rabbi Dunner manages to captivate the reader, while simultaneously teaching us deep lessons from Tanach that are no so well-known.

This book is a great resource for teachers, and a wonderful addition to one’s Shabbos table. I highly recommend using this book as an opportunity to gain an encyclopedic breadth of knowledge about Torah and many worldly topics. I would suggest this thoroughly researched book for anyone looking to gain a greater depth of knowledge in any topic of modern life.