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The Fern Sidman Commentaries:
January 4th, 2007: "LIFE IS A TEST" a Book Review

"LIFE IS A TEST - How To Meet Lifeís Challenges Successfully" by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, move over. Your days are numbered. The pharmaceutical industry will lose billions in revenue after readers get their hands on this book. Simply put, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreisí new book, "Life Is a Test - How To Meet Lifeís Challenges Successfully," (Mesorah Publications) is the spiritual equivalent to the myriad of anti-depressants on the market. There is no question that Rebbetzin Jungreis has her finger on the pulse of the people. I would surmise that from her vast experience counseling those facing a multitude of challenges that life presents, she decided to write this book as an answer to a collective cry for help from a lost generation, totally unequipped to understand the true meaning behind lifeís trials and tests. Fear not reader, for it is Rebbetzin Jungreis to the rescue. Your soul is about to get the ultimate work out, so get ready to stretch your spiritual muscles and become reinvigorated as you read "Life Is A Test".

This is Rebbetzin Jungreisí fourth book and its magnitude of depth, focus and analysis of our personal and communal struggles sets it apart from any other treatises on this subject. It is written as a trilogy, combining three books in one and takes the reader on a trajectory that is permeated with such a genuine sense of warmth and love that can only be termed palpable. In a society immersed in grotesque materialism, decadence and loss of any real and meaningful direction and purpose, we are clueless about what life is really about and more importantly, who we really are and what our potential could be. Rebbetzin Jungreis is the consummate storyteller and it is through this treasure trove of true stories do we begin to understand that our identity is not inextricably tied to our careers or professions or the external superficialities that our culture imposes upon us.

Rebbetzin Jungreis utilizes the timeless wisdom of the Torah to illustrate her points and to lead the reader on the road to true self-discovery. The book begins with the saga of Sam, Phyllis and daughter Kelly (names changed to protect anonymity), yet they could be any one of us. What follows is the story of the personal transformation of these three individuals that is beyond miraculous. By the middle of this book, the reader will feel a tangible connection to these people. Sam is a man who suffered a tremendous financial loss in business and was forced to declare bankruptcy. He and his family are secular Jews who turn to the Rebbetzin for guidance at this stressful juncture in their lives. Samís cynicism is all encompassing, as it oozes from every pore of his body, while wife Phyllis is concerned with social status and personal appearance. Daughter Kelly is a 35-year-old single career professional that has had her share of painful relationships and is dubious about the prospect of ever getting married.

Through a series of counseling sessions with Rebbetzin Jungreis, rife with personal stories of her own tests and challenges and those of her family, the Rebbetzin explains that each of us is actually blessed by G-d with tests to assist us in realizing our full potential. Rather than falling prey to depression, despondency and hopelessness when we are tested by G-d, we have the G-d given power to change our lives for the better. For each of us our potential is different, as we are custom made by G-d and no two people are exactly alike and we must know that G-d would never test us if we did not have the wherewithal to pass. As the Rebbetzin states, "G-d actually makes a portrait of what He intends us to become and equips us with the necessary tools with which to realize His purpose. All of the tests, trials, and tribulations of our lives are orchestrated by the One Above so that we may fulfill this goal, and if you wonder whether you have what it takes to succeed in this mission, be assured that G-d never makes mistakes - the very fact that it is He Who created you is proof positive that it is within your capability to fulfill this charge."

Sam, Phyllis and Kelly soon learn the sublime truth of this Divine message and through their attendance and participation in the Hineni Torah classes; all three become closer to G-d. They learn to appreciate and understand the power of prayer, as they embrace the Torah and commandments. They begin to experience the kind of happiness and joy that no amount of money could buy. They begin to understand what lifeís tests really mean, what message G-d is sending them and they begin to deal with problems and pitfalls with great equanimity.

The second installment of this book deals with interpersonal relationships and the tests that are indigenous to them. Rebbetzin Jungreis speaks with the authority of a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor as she imbues those she counsels with a solid spiritual foundation and practical nuances that will assist them in making the right choices. Whether it comes to looking for qualities in a prospective life partner, to dealing with a marriage riddled with constant strife and infidelity, to attempting to bring a potential intermarriage to a screeching halt, or dealing with a rebellious, disrespectful and irreverent teenager, Rebbetzin Jungreis explores these issues with the kind of depth and aplomb that is seldom spoken about by television and radio psychologists and gurus.

The third and last section of "Life Is A Test" speaks of communal and global tests. The Jewish nation stands at a critical and dangerous precipice in history. Global anti-Semitism continues to dramatically increase, while natural disasters such as tsunamis and Katrinas become more prevalent. The events of 9/11 still haunt us as it stands as an eerie reminder of the beginning of the age of terrorism. Madmen, such as Iranian President Ahmadinejad threaten to vanquish the State of Israel and to annihilate the Jewish people, while the world remains silent. We are told by Rebbetzin Jungreis that the putrid stench of hatred against Jews is reminiscent of Europe in 1938. Rest assured that these assessments are not being promulgated by paranoia, but by someone who lived through that nightmarish period and knows from whence she speaks. Rebbetzin Jungreis implores us to recognize these "wake up calls", to realize that the times that we are living in are indeed the times of "Chevlei Moshiach", the birth pangs of the coming of our righteous Messiah. We are being importuned by Rebbetzin Jungreis to recognize that these birth pangs can be long and excruciatingly painful or they can be short and abbreviated, yet it depends on us.

It is clear for all who have eyes to see and ears to hear, that Rebbetzin Jungreis is a true Torah scholar. This book is replete with a voluminous amount of passages from the Torah, Talmud and Kabbalistic sources and each is given more than ample explanation as she delves into complex sources with such ease and finesse. What is most remarkable is her knowledge of Gematria - (mathematical equivalents for Hebrew letters) and how they apply to our times. Please donít skim this book - youíll miss tons of amazing insights, and while weíre on the subject of amazing and mind blowing insights, please take note of the meaning of the number 11 on page 231. You will never forget it.

Rebbetzin Jungreisí message is clear, uncompromising and unremitting. Only through a sincere return to G-d, only through genuine and heartfelt prayer, only through performing acts of kindness, only through learning Torah will our lives and values begin to take shape. Only then can we begin to experience the kind of contentment, serenity and tranquility that our souls long for. Only then can we understand what real happiness and joy means, only then can we save our nation from the plethora of insidious haters who rise up to destroy us and only then will we merit G-dís redemption on a personal and collective scale.

"Life Is A Test" is a must read for anyone seeking answers to the vicissitudes of life, for anyone who has grappled with issues of self-discovery, and frankly, for just plain anyone.

This book is a significant historical and religious contribution to the corpus of books on Jewish thought and will be a welcome addition to any library.


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