Yedidya: A Novel
Written by Naomi Elbinger
Based on the Torah Series “Thanking Hashem When Things Look Bad” by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis
Distributed by Feldheim Publishers
Reviewed by Devorah Talia Gordon
From the opening pages of “Yedidya,” the reader is engrossed in the journey of Yedidya Steinhart, an aspiring, 22-year-old yeshiva bachur at a prestigious Eretz Yisroel yeshiva. However, as Yedidya’s life unravels when he is falsely accused of a crime, we are swept along as he tries to make sense of how this could have happened and figure out his next steps.
With wonderful character details, Elbinger does a fantastic job of drawing us into Yedidya. We can see him; but more, we can feel him. We feel his pain and struggle, as Elbinger plumbs the character’s inner world. We are right there with Yedidya when everything starts to fall apart: his place in yeshiva, his relationships with family members, his parents’ marriage, and his self-image.
When Yedidya wakes with the pasuk on his lips, “You have been shown, in order to know, that the Lord, He is G-d; there is nothing other than Him (Devarim 4:35),” he doesn’t realize this is anything special until he meets Gedalia, an old-time Yerushalayim bookseller. Gedalia, who becomes his spiritual guide, tells Yedidya that waking with a pasuk could be a form of minor prophecy (nevuah katanah). Over the course of the book, Gedalia helps Yedidya unlock the meaning of this pasuk, as well as others.
While the story is told through Yedidya’s eyes, Elbinger does a fine job of developing several characters and establishing their intricate conflicts with Yedidya, including roommates, friends, his mother, and sister. Each one of these conflicts serves a purpose, heightening Yedidya’s struggle and slow progression toward emunah, bitachon, and self-awareness.
While the mystic figure Gedalia lends the book a touch of intrigue, and Yedidya’s visits with him are nicely woven into the text, the story takes place in great bulk at the ‘yeshiva’ Beit Tikva (a rehabilitation facility) for struggling youth. Directed by Motty, another unexpected mentor for Yedidya, Beit Tikva becomes the unlikely setting for Yedidya’s spiritual growth. Motty’s imperfections – his disorganization, trouble managing finances, and ADD – are in stark contrast to Yedidya’s yekkishe personality, yet Motty’s big heart draws Yedidya to him, and to the reader.
The main plot and smaller conflicts create a rich, well-rounded narrative. The pacing is good; just when you think he is going to have a break, Elbinger throws Yedidya another curve ball to push him toward spiritual growth. As Yedidya is forced again and again out of his comfort zone, the reader, too, is on edge; the suspense keeps us turning the pages.
This novel was birthed in a unique fashion. After experiencing personal hardships, Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis, rosh kollel of Kollel Toras Chaim, made his personal slogan, “Kol mah da’vd rachmana l’tav avid,” ‘Everything the Merciful One does is for the good.’ The prolific writer and teacher wondered if, just as studying korbanos fulfills the obligation to bring korbanos, perhaps one could ‘fulfill’ the tzaros one needs to have in life by studying the teachings of Chazal about them. When this notion was confirmed by Rav Dovid Cohen, shlita, Rabbi Travis embarked on recording a daily shiur entitled, “Thanking Hashem When Things Look Bad,” on Kol HaLashon and Torah Anytime. As of this writing, there are 928 recorded shiurim!
Many times, Rabbi Travis attempted to write a book on this topic, but a non-fiction book felt too serious to be received by those in great emotional pain. Thus Rabbi Travis decided to write it in the form of an analogy, with the help of two longtime talmidim. Naomi Elbinger, an accomplished writer, entrepreneur, and activist wrote the book, while husband Rabbi Shmuel Elbinger contributed his expertise as a talmid chacham and therapist.
When the novel was almost finished, coronavirus struck. Rabbi Travis and Mrs. Elbinger wanted “Yedidya,” with its timely messages of emunah and bitachon, to be out, fast. They launched the book online as a weekly series, with an overwhelmingly positive response.
This novel is packed with important messages; yet they are delicately woven into the fabric of the narrative without compromising a great story. Just as Yedidya discovers what his pasukim mean to him and draws closer to Hashem, by witnessing his challenges the reader receives much chizuk in emunah and bitachon as well. One walks away with the priceless gift of feeling enveloped in a warm blanket of reassurance – “Kol mah da’vd rachmana l’tav avid,” “Everything the Merciful One does is for the good.”
“Yedidya” is available in Jewish bookstores, at https://www.feldheim.com/yedidya, and on Amazon, both in print and kindle editions.
To find out more and start reading the book for free, visit https://yedidyabook.com/.