Creative Mitzvah Living

Danny Siegel
Edited by Rabbi Neal Gold
Foreword by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

400 pages


May 2020


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eBook (EPUB)

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May 2020


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eBook (PDF)

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May 2020


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About the Book

The Selected Prose and Poetry of Danny Siegel

This first anthology of the most important writings by Danny Siegel, spanning and renewing fifty years of his insights intersperses soulful Jewish texts with innovative Mitzvah ideas to rouse individuals and communities to transform our lives, communities, neighborhoods, and world.

As a renowned teacher Siegel describes the creative—often startling—ways individuals from different walks of life have brought compassion into the world, recognizes them as Mitzvah heroes, and suggests how we can apply their life lessons. He also plumbs how giving enriches living and presents Jewishly informed best principles for doing more world repair (Tikkun Olam).

As a scholar of rabbinic literature Siegel offers translations and commentaries on Jewish texts illuminating Tzedakah, values, caring, and leadership. In addition he tops off a half-century of his thought with five new essays reflecting on his visions for a better world. The selected poetry asks religious and theological questions in the face of oppression and war, gives voice to personal moments often neglected by ritual, and exults at the wonders of modern Israel and the revelation of love.

Both inspirational and pragmatic, this anthology offers practical guidance on using Siegel’s classic and novel works in personal living and in Jewish organizational settings. Ultimately, in exploring the dynamic interaction between heroes, texts, and ourselves, Siegel seeks to engage each of us in discovering our own radiant potential for creative Mitzvah living.


Author Bio

Danny Siegel is a well-known author, lecturer, and poet and has served as the Tzedakah resource person on the United Synagogue Youth Israel Pilgrimage for more than four decades. He is the author of nearly thirty books, including Where Heaven and Earth Touch: An Anthology of Midrash and Halachah.


"Danny Siegel is a magician and this book is a collection of his best tricks. Open it to any page and smile or weep. Read any essay or piece of poetry and recognize humanity at its most open-hearted. This volume should be in every library and many personal collections. Rabbis can mine its contents for sermons. Students, synagogues and schools can find ideas for individual and community projects. Foundation professionals can find inspiration for difficult moments (which we especially need now)."—Fred Isaac, Association of Jewish Libraries News and Reviews

“No one has inspired the Jewish community to perform acts of kindness more than Danny Siegel, and this comprehensive collection of his most radiant works sings out to us all. Radiance is a spiritual masterpiece!”—Rabbi David Ellenson, chancellor emeritus, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion

“This volume is a unique mix of prose, poetry, classic texts, Torah insights, models of good deeds, portraits of Mitzvah heroes, and Danny Siegel’s unflagging affirmation of the good in people and in living. In a classic comic book trope, a hitherto ordinary person is hit by a powerful, mysterious ray and becomes endowed with superpowers. If you allow yourself to be hit by this collection’s rays of love and life wisdom, you will emerge a Mitzvah superhero.”—Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, author of For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter between Judaism and Christianity

“It’s impossible to think about Mitzvah heroes and the way they inspire others to change the world without the work of Danny Siegel. Through his poetry, his stories, and, perhaps most of all, his person, Danny helps us to believe in the possibility of tikkun—healing and repair—for everything that is broken. Radiance is aptly named: this beautiful collection fills the reader with light and hope!”—Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, Stephen Wise Temple, Los Angeles

“In today’s world Siegel’s Radiance is a much-needed guide—each text becomes a source of action, and any Mitzvah, no matter how ostensibly small, changes the world.”—Harlene Appelman, executive director, Covenant Foundation

“Danny Siegel was one of the first people in the 1960s to call for a new approach to Jewish communal life: seeking out ways to give and ‘do’ Tzedakah. Within a short time, young people, their parents, and entire communities were thinking differently about Tzedakah. Radiance, the best of Siegel’s transformational teachings through the years, is a welcome volume that continues to challenge and teach us today.”—Deborah E. Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, Emory University

“Danny Siegel is that rare writer who dazzles us by spelling out timeless values and inspiring suggestions that can change our lives—and the lives of those who may need our help.”—William Novak, coauthor of the best-selling memoirs of Lee Iacocca, Tip O’Neill, Nancy Reagan, Oliver North, Magic Johnson, and others

“My father, Rabbi Noah Golinkin z”l, was one of Danny Siegel’s Tzedakah rebbes; Danny Siegel is my Tzedakah rebbe. We have learned in the Talmud: ‘Greater is one who convinces others to do [Tzedakah] than one who does’ (Bava Batra 9a). ‘One who learns in order to do, they enable him to learn and to teach, to observe and to do’ (Avot 4:5). Danny Siegel has taught tens of thousands of people how to do Tzedakah. May he continue to learn, to teach and to do—ad meah v’esrim, until 120.”—Rabbi David Golinkin, president, Schechter Institutes, Jerusalem

Table of Contents

A Rebbi's Proverb
Foreword: Teaching Goodness by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
Introduction: Seeking Out Places Where Light is Hidden by Rabbi Neal Gold
            About This Book
            How to Get the Most Out of This Book
            Using This Book in Your Personal and Organizational Life
            Notes on Language and Utility
Part I: Prose
1. Mitzvahs and How to Implement Them
The Dress (1981)
Gym Shoes and Irises (1982)
Proposed Course Titles (1987)
Why People Who Are Blind Should Own Their Own Cars or: How to Think Mitzvahs
Holy Balloons (1997)
Songs of Love (1997)
Three Prongs (2000)
Occupation: Mitzvahs (2000)
David Copperfield (2000)
The Starfish (2000)
The Butterfly (2000)
Wow à Duh! (2000)
The Pedestal (2000)
Whatever I Want for Myself, I Want for Other People (2000)
24 Questions Parents May Wish to Ask Themselves (2004)
100 Possible Reasons Why You May Have Decided to Do More Tikkun Olam—in No Particular Order of Importance (2006)
A First Exercise: The Relationship Between Doing Tikkun Olam Jewishly and Your “Jewishness” (2006)
The Four Questions (2006)
The Good Stuff and the Crud (2006)
            Jewish Optimism—From Radical to Mainstream (2019)
2. Interpretations of Jewish Texts
The Angels (1980)
Commentary on Bava Batra 8a (1989)
Life (1995)
Life is the Good People (1995)
Jewish Jewish Leadership (1995)
DNA Analysts: Parashat Shemot (1996)
Va-yishlah: Our Ancestor Jacob, the One with the Bad Hip, and Other Tales (1999)
Teaching Jewish Texts Today (2019)
3. Portraits of Mitzvah Heroes
The Giants of Jerusalem (1981)
Trevor Ferrell (1988)
Yossi Samuels and Shoshana Weinstock (1997)
The Rabbanit Bracha Kapach (1988)
Samantha Abeel: The Kid Who Got It All Wrong in Class (1998)
Mitzvah Heroes are Everywhere—We Just Have to Know How to Look (2019)
4. Living a Life of Menschlichkeit
My Father’s Personal Passover Ritual (1978)
A Tribute to My Friends in the Rabbinate (1981)
A Story I Once Heard from a Medical Student (1981)
The Lamed Vavniks (1988)
The College Interview (1988)
Li’at in the Park (1988)
Klal Yisrael—All Jews (1989)
Tzedakah and Tzedek (2019)
5. How and Why to Give Tzedakah Money Away
The First Tzedakah Report (1975)
Theology and Tzedakah: Two Points (1982)
The Second Rule of Tzedakah: There’s No Such Thing as a Small Mitzvah (1982)
Does Tzedakah Money Really Belong to You? (2006)
What Does It Mean “to Do Tzedakah Jewishly”? (2006)
Should You Always Do Your Tzedakah Giving Anonymously? (2006)
Will You Find “The Meaning of Life” by Doing Tzedakah? (2006)
How Do You Evaluate Financial Information from a Tzedakah Program So You Can Decide to Whom to Give or Not to Give? (2006)
From the Ziv Tzedakah Fund Final Report (2008)
A Smaller World (2019)
Part II: Poetry
6. From Soulstoned (1969)
Father Abraham–Genesis Chapter 22 Slightly Changed
7. From And God Braided Eve’s Hair (1976)
The Crippler
A Recent Immigrant Comes from the Soviet Union to His Family in the U.S.
Selig and the Judge
Personal Preference
Psalm 55
Mashiachtzeit or Davidson from Egged
Knife, Birds
8. From Between Dust and Dance (1978)
A Blessing
9. From Nine Entered Paradise Alive (1980)
Surveying the Jewish Multitudes
Erev Shabbas
Blessing the Children
The Tree and the Mashiach
10. From Unlocked Doors (1983)
Children’s Games
Rav Sheshet and the Angel
Carolyn’s Last Snow
11. From The Lord is a Whisper at Midnight (1985)
The Geese and Hoopoes Praise You
Number My Days This Way
A Prayer for Teachers of Torah
12. From The Garden (1985)
All Red White and Blue, We American Kids
Wallenberg I
Wallenberg II
Snows of My Childhood
13. From Before Our Very Eyes (1986)
Sunflower Seeds and Name-Brand Shirts
A Certain Holiness
Summer 1976, Wine in the Streets
14. From The Meadow Beyond the Meadow (1991)
With a Kiss
The Old Tapestry in the Den
The Imaginary Conference of the International College of Poets, Tampa, June 12-15, 1982
Spring Storm
The Four Children
Be Not Irrelevant
15. From A Hearing Heart (1992)
King Solomon Asks for a Hearing Heart
Above All, Teach This Newborn Child
Bat Mitzvah Speech of a Fifty-Year-Old Woman
Mitzvah Therapy
The Late Bloomer
Where Heaven and Earth Touch So Closely, They Appear to Be Kissing
A Recitation for Students of Anatomy
Statement by a Woman Who Has Chosen to Be a Jew
Commencement Address for Rabbinical School
Speech to the Camp Counselors Just Before the Kids Arrive
A Dream: A Touch of Glory
16. From Healing: Readings and Meditations (1999)
The 23rd Psalm (Adapted)–A Responsive Reading
The Restaurant of Broken Dreams
17. From From the Heart (2012)
The Bears
In Loco Eshet Chayil

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