(photo credit: Courtesy Debbie Masel)
It is so hard to read a book written by someone who has recently died. The words
on the page echo her voice, bringing her whole being to life in your head,
behind your eyes, inside your ears.
You forget for a moment that she is
no longer in her body. You mistakenly think she is simply elsewhere, in another
spot on the planet, while you are holed away, escaping by yourself with her
Maybe she’s not really gone, just far away, your
mind toys with you. Memories of conversations you had with her over the years
morph in your imagination with the story unfolding in the volume open before
you. You sense her presence, filling the room, envisage her sitting in the chair
across from you, her soft smile lightening the atmosphere.
And then you
look up and realize, no, she really has left. And then the weight of the book in
your hands becomes overwhelming.
And you freeze, because you don’t want
to turn the page, you don’t want to let go.
Debbie Masel succumbed to
cancer in July, shortly after her book was released.
Soul to Soul:
Writings from Dark Places was perhaps her last great Torah wisdom, a brilliant
collection of some of her powerful and passionate insights gleaned from her
four-year battle with cancer. It’s perhaps a story about death and dying, but
actually it’s about life, spirituality, relationships, suffering and God. It is
like an album full of some great snapshots of lessons and teachings, the kind of
teachings that one can only gain at a moment when one is close to God, almost
It’s as if Debbie was on her way to embrace the
Infinite, but turned back for the benefit of the rest of us, to give us one last
Torah lesson, maybe her best one yet.
This book is an act of supreme
selflessness, giving us a gift before she went, a permanent legacy of her mind
Debbie was a Jewish educator and a writer from Melbourne,
Australia, whose journey took her many places for sojourns short and long –
England, America, Asia, and most notably Israel.
She was known for her
mystic teachings and insights, for her compassion and gentleness of spirit, and
mostly for her Divine wisdom. She taught, wrote books and essays, held classes
in her house and sent out her penetrating interpretations of the weekly portion.
She was involved in several communities, always seeking out deep connection,
relationship and meaning.
I was privileged to be able to call her a
colleague during my family’s three-year stay in Melbourne. My students at the
Florence Melton Adult Mini-School often came into class right after they had
hers, and I was able to learn by osmosis through our mutual students, hearing
her profound interpretations of the deeper implications of Jewish
Her ideas would blow you away, taking you to a whole other
dimension. Tellingly she always started her class with music – she wanted to
make sure that people understood that this was a sacred space, that when they
walked into the room, they were entering a different arena.
is part cancer story, part memoir, part kabbalistic manuscript. She used her
incredible writing gift to make the reader think that this is a story about her
last few years of life – from bombings in Safed through end-stage cancer. In
fact, this is not so much about cancer as it is about the search for meaning,
for an understanding of good and evil, suffering, humanity and the purpose of
Cancer is almost the backdrop for the journey, the trigger through
which Debbie reached astounding heights of wisdom.
Masterfully woven into
the entire narrative are Debbie’s reflections on the Eish Kodesh, a mystical
book written by the Piacezna Rebbe in the Warsaw Ghetto, where he miraculously
buried his papers before he was murdered by the Nazis in 1943. She brings the
reader into the depths of human anguish, perhaps the darkest of all dark places,
and from there gently leads the reader through her search for God. It is a
remarkable feat, and I believe this book should find its own sacred place on the
shelves of Jewish spirituality alongside the Eish Kodesh.
part about reading this book is that you don’t want it to end. As long as the
book is open, as long as you have a few more pages to go, you can still hear
Debbie’s voice in your head as you read. I kept reading a few pages and then
putting it down, allowing her spirit to be absorbed into mine slowly. Like a
good glass of wine, you’re afraid to drink too much too fast, afraid of that
horrible moment when the glass is empty and the experience is over.
to Soul reminds you that we all come and go at different times and under
different circumstances, that relationships are forged and can remain
spiritually alive whether a person is currently on the other side of the
or in a different spiritual realm. We are all creatures of the Divine,
life experiences, sometimes exhilarating and sometimes excruciating, are
guides on this quest for goodness, truth and godliness.
As Debbie writes,
chillingly: “It’s written in the Talmud that if anyone recites the words
dead scholar, the lips of that scholar mutter in the grave. The Rebbe of
Piacezna quoted this Talmudic teaching in the Eish Kodesh, and whenever I
these words, I hear him speak directly to me.”
It’s as if Debbie is
instructing us, her students and friends, how to find her once she’s
I read this book, I hear her speaking directly to me as well.