Sunday, January 6, 2008

Genesis: The Untold Story

Genesis: The Untold Story

By: Dr. Lisa Aiken and Dr. Ira Michaels

Price: $24.95

ISBN: 0-9779629-1-1

Cloth Bound + Full Color Dust Jacket, 6x9,

265 pages, includes chapter summaries

Published by: Rossi Publications

What inspired the book?
Like many Jews, I read the Five Books of Moses when I was young. When I grew older, the stories about a talking snake in the Garden of Eden, Noah and the Flood, the Tower of Babel, and the like no longer made sense to me. By the time I was in graduate school, I realized that I had a grade school education in Judaism. I wanted to be as informed about Judaism as I was about psychology and other secular topics, so I tried to learn what I could from the small number of English Judaica books that existed then. There were no good books in English that reconciled reality with the stories in the Torah, and which explained how these stories spoke to us as modern people.

The stories in the book of Genesis seemed simplistic or enigmatic. Why does Genesis say that God created the world in 6 days, when science shows that it took billions of years? Can we believe Genesis' account of Creation in light of evolutionary theory? Was there ever a couple named Adam and Eve, from whom all people descended? How do thinking people understand a Garden of Eden with a tree of life, another tree of knowledge of good and evil, and a talking snake? How do we know if Abraham really existed? If he did, what kind of a world did he live in? Did anyone write about him besides the Jews? Most importantly, can a rational person really believe that a Divine Author wrote Genesis and the other Five Books of Moses?

Many people simply dismiss Biblical stories as outdated or ridiculous. I believed that there must be great beauty and wisdom in these stories, and I tried to uncover that by learning from teachers who had studied ancient commentaries and understood how to explain them.

I believe that if the Torah is the Owner's Manual for every Jew, it had to make sense and be relevant and accessible to people who were not scholars. Most Jews can't understand the original Torah, because it was written in ancient Hebrew, and in a kind of shorthand. Its Author did this so that we would have to interact with, and learn from spiritual mentors who had studied traditional commentaries who could explain what the Five Books of Moses really mean, and model how to live an ideal Jewish life. They would also guide the student how to practice authentic Judaism in their daily lives.

Judaism teaches that it is critical for us to understand the Five Books of Moses in order to develop our spirituality. I wanted to understand these books better and be able to share that knowledge with others.

Around 25 years ago, I started listening to audiotapes of lectures given by rabbis whom I had never met. They explained the Torah (Five Books of Moses) in such amazing ways that it made me want to learn more. Their explanations of Torah stories were so wise, insightful, and relevant that I wrote down their ideas so that I could share them with others.

In time, I convinced my husband to listen to these tapes as well. He was so excited by what he heard that he took over writing down the ideas instead of me.

Over the next 14 years, I reworked the original notes. My husband and I each added our own understanding and insights about the various topics brought to light in the Genesis stories, based on our research and knowledge of many fields. These included biology, physics, archaeology, history, psychology, political science, languages and modern life. The result was a book that integrated the wisdom of Genesis with contemporary knowledge. Every chapter also tells us how we can apply the moral and spiritual insights of each story to our daily lives.

What makes this book special to you?
I find it very exciting to solve problems, especially ones that touch our core being. That is why I love being a psychologist. The greatest possession we have is our soul, but most people don't know what we are supposed to do with it. How do we define a moral compass for ourselves? How do we actualize our potentials? How do we understand the world and our place in it? How do we construct an idea of a personal God and why He put us here?

The answers to these questions are embedded in the stories of Genesis. The Almighty gave the Jewish people the Torah, which means Teaching, so that they would have a roadmap to life. Showing people from various walks of life how this is so in Genesis—The Untold Story was a very special opportunity for me.

What makes this a book that other people MUST read and WHY?
Judaism teaches that the entire purpose of life is to have a relationship with our Creator, who loves us more than we can possibly imagine. People sometimes spend a lifetime searching for love, spirituality and meaning because they don't go to the Source. His Handbook, part of which is the book of Genesis, tells us how to get the most out of life. Instead of stumbling around for years, exploring other religions that take us nowhere, or trying to construct a way of life that is bound by human limitations and self-serving ideas, God made it easy for us to find our way. He gave us His Instruction Manual. Genesis—The Untold Story helps us unlock the treasures and divine information that is otherwise inaccessible to most people.

Who NEEDS to read this book and WHY?
Anyone who wants to find greater meaning in life, to understand why they are here, and make sense of the world, should read this book. The same is true for anyone who wants to understand what Genesis really says and means. Most people have misconceptions about what Genesis really says because:

a. The Five Books of Moses were written in ancient Hebrew, and most people who read Genesis don't read it in the original. If you think that Shakespeare in Chinese loses a bit in translation, this is even more the case with modern translations of the Hebrew Bible. They simply don't say what the original version meant.

b. People often learn the stories of Genesis from teachers who don't properly understand its ideas. They then teach them without a truthful historical and theological context. This includes many well-intentioned Hebrew school teachers as well as theology and university professors. The original Written Torah was given to the Jewish people along with oral explanations of the words, stories and laws. These have been passed down for the past 3,300 years to rabbis and learned Jewish teachers who studied these traditional commentaries, who then taught them to their students. Unfortunately, the majority of people today who teach the stories in Genesis are unfamiliar with these commentaries and have invented their own misguided understandings of these stories. Some of the most common misunderstandings and misrepresentations are addressed in my Genesis book.

If someone wants to know what the Almighty wants us to know, they need to read or learn from teachers who are familiar with our unique history and traditions. We have culled from these traditional commentaries and presented them in an easily readable, understandable way. We then integrate those ideas with our modern knowledge so that we can apply their messages to our lives.

What sparks your creativity? Any tips to help others spark their own creativity?
I am more an industrious than a creative person. I often see problems and challenges, then try to see the spiritual opportunities inherent in them. I wrote most of my books because I felt that no one else had adequately addressed important topics. For example, I wrote To Be A Jewish Woman after searching for answers to questions about feminism and Judaism. I didn't like any of the books that were then on the market. So, I researched and wrote my own book.

When Harold Kushner's book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People came out and was a bestseller, it pained me deeply that many Jews read it and thought that Kushner's ideas were those of traditional Judaism.

Many Reform Jewish leaders taught that Judaism doesn't believe in an afterlife, and that this life is all there is. With such bad advice, Jews were robbed of a way to make sense of their crises and losses, and their spiritual searching within Judaism was nipped in the bud.

Thousands of Jews went to the Far East seeking spirituality that they were sure was totally absent in Judaism. These Jews' teachers and religious leaders had failed them by hiding what Judaism says about the soul, its purpose here, and the spiritual purposefulness of everything that happens to us. After we die, our souls go to an afterlife, and other religions took their ideas about afterlife from us!

Traditional Judaism is a very spiritual religion, but few English books before 1990 explained that. Since no one else had written about the meaningful answers that traditional Judaism gives to help people cope with tragedy and loss, I decided to do so. That led to my writing Why Me, God?

Similarly, I wrote Guide for the Romantically Perplexed because no one had written a practical and relevant guide to finding and being a good Jewish marriage partner.

Another motivation for my writing is my getting inspired by someone's ideas, which I then write into books about areas that Jews struggle with. For example, I wrote The Art of Jewish Prayer and The Hidden Beauty of the Shema because I thought that disseminating Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner's, zt"l, teachings about prayer could change people's lives. Hearing his ideas inspired me to pray in a meaningful way for the first time in my life. I felt that his writing his ideas would also inspire many others.

What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some tips to help others get past similar problems?
I hate writing. There is a saying, "Every writer hates to write but loves having written." I don't think this is true of every writer, but I certainly believe that it applies to me. It is very hard for me to rewrite a manuscript for the 17th time, as happened with one of my books, or to organize and concisely present my thoughts about open-ended topics like marriage.

I think that you need to be very self-disciplined to be a writer. You need to carve out a space for yourself where you have no interruptions or distractions for long periods of time every week. I have usually been able to do that. When my children were little, I gave up writing altogether for a few years.

When a day's writing feels like it will be overwhelmingly difficult, I think about how what I am writing can benefit people, and how it allows me to actualize my spiritual potential. The thought that my writing is fulfilling part of the purpose for which the Almighty put me here often keeps me going.

Some days I simply cut myself some slack, and try to rejuvenate myself emotionally. I'll try to clear my mind by exercising, going on the internet and reading interesting articles for an hour, taking time off to do some things that I love, or talking to friends. Otherwise, I will be able to force myself to sit down and write, but not necessarily with the emotional richness that the book needs.

On rare occasions, I am so burned out that I just give myself the day off to do something completely unrelated to writing. This usually happens after I reread my final edited manuscript over a couple of days. The next day, my head feels like it was put into a blender. One time this happened, I spent the rest of the day baking muffins!

What do you think motivates people to become authors? What motivated you to get into this unusual industry?
People write for many reasons. Some write to express themselves, or to work out emotional issues and feelings. Some write to feel understood and be validated, or to get admiration and recognition. Some write because they think that they have important information that needs to reach the public.

I became a writer because I felt that Jews needed to be informed about, and be inspired by the wonderful ideas inherent in traditional Judaism. I wanted to make authentic, vibrant, logical Judaism accessible and compelling to English speakers who didn't have a strong Jewish background.

Why are you the BEST person to write this book? What in your background or in your research makes you qualified to do justice to this topic?

People sometimes tell me that what they most appreciate about my books is the clarity I bring to the topics I write about. Genesis—The Untold Story is easy to read for this reason. Yet, it draws upon a wealth of information that we have gleaned from our broad backgrounds in both Torah knowledge and the secular world. Few other writers are as well-versed in the variety of fields that we integrate in this book with traditional Torah commentaries. For example, some writers are scientists, but not knowledgeable about history or archaeology. Some are Torah scholars, but can't address secular people's interests and ideas. Some people make broad statements about the values of the secular world, but have no research data to back up what they say. Our combining traditional Torah commentaries and secular knowledge, and explaining both in ways that are clear and relevant to our modern day lives, is quite unique.

If a potential reader thinks that your book wouldn't interest them, what would you say to convince them to buy? I'm thinking something better than "Its the greatest book ever." Give me something more specific :)

Some people think that they have read Genesis and understand its stories. Other people think that Genesis has nothing to say to them, and is irrelevant to living in the real world in the 21st century. I would challenge them to revisit what they think they know already and see if my book simply rehashes old ideas or confirms their belief that Genesis is irrelevant to modern people. I would ask them to read a sample chapter or two, then ask if they found the material stimulating, interesting and/or informative.

Why does the topic of your book interest you? Why would it interest potential readers? Give us a hook to reel in new readers.

What topic could be more interesting and vital than how to get the most out of life? The way that Genesis—The Untold Story explains the stories in our "soul's owner's manual," it touches on about all of the big issues in life. The world's creation and existence, the psychology of people, how to find meaning in challenges and tragedy, how societies rise and decline, how to have a lasting and fulfilling marriage, how science can help fill us with awe of the Creator…every page is filled with insights about how we can view the most mundane aspects of our lives from a fresh and vital perspective.

Is there a way to tie your book topic to current events? If so, tell us about how you could do that. I have a blog to feature information and examples about tying books into current events that might be a good place for you to promote your book.

Yes. For example, Ben Stein just put together a film called Expelled, that is supposed to be released in February, 2008. It deals with a topic that we discuss in the book--the intellectual dishonesty of scientists who are faced with data that disprove their atheistic theories and point to a Creator. Many scientists can't accept the moral implications of a created world, so they concoct ridiculous explanations of scientific phenomena, then promulgate them as if they were truth.