Life-changing work

Rabbi Leo Dee’s new book explains how the Torah can bring happiness to all.

An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Rabbi carries Torah scrolls as others dance during Simhat Torah celebrations in a synagogue in Bnei Brak (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Rabbi carries Torah scrolls as others dance during Simhat Torah celebrations in a synagogue in Bnei Brak
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When Leo Dee was a rabbi in a small village in the British county of Hertfordshire, he organized a question-and-answer session on one Yom Kippur afternoon.
More than 400 Jews of all ages sat before him, and one young man – a science student at a British university – raised his hand to ask a question.
“Rabbi, isn’t the Torah just an ancient text that is out-of-date and irrelevant in our modern age?” he asked.
It was the most basic of all questions a rabbi could be asked.
Transforming the World is Dee’s answer.
Why is the Torah still relevant after thousands of years? What does the Torah offer to contemporary Jews living in today’s world? In Transforming the World, Dee begins not with a discussion of history or faith, but instead with a reflection on the subject of happiness – what happiness means to people and the link between happiness and Judaism.
Transforming the World is not a scholarly volume intended for Jews with an extensive background in Jewish law and Jewish study. Instead, it is a straightforward book that addresses Jews who want to know what Judaism has to offer them personally.
In today’s atmosphere of self-disclosure and openness, the pursuit of happiness is a subject examined and discussed frequently in the media, literature and popular culture. Dee presents Judaism in this novel way in order to bring his main point across to his readers: Judaism is worth investigating and absolutely has something to offer the modern Jew.
Dee reminds the reader that there are, of course, angles from which to approach Judaism other than its ability to bring happiness into the lives of those who keep its traditions and laws. He discusses history, holidays and traditions. Although the book is clearly intended for the “not-yet-observant” Jew, the fact that Judaism brings happiness into our lives is also a meaningful notion that already observant Jews may need reminding of from time to time.
Transforming the World is divided into three main sections and written in short and succinct chapters, each one focusing on a specific topic. In the first section of the book, “How Does the Torah Transform My Life for the Better?,” Dee shares conversations with students in which he asked them why they work so hard to get good grades in school. The answers to his questions inevitably end with: “then I will make money.”
When he asks what making money will do for them, the answer is predictably “then I will be happy.”
When pressed further, the students describe happiness as stemming from family relationships, friends, time off, and a meaningful occupation that matches our skills. All of these, Dee explains, are given to us in Judaism through the commandments of the Torah.
“What is the ultimate source of family happiness? Well, every relationship within a nuclear family is important – between siblings and between parent and child.
There is one relationship that is fundamental to creating a strong unit: between husband and wife. As our rabbis stated, “A man without a wife lives without blessing, life, happiness, help, goodness and peace.”
In society, Dee explains, marriages formalized by marriage ceremonies and marriage certificates are most likely to succeed.
Where did the idea of the marriage certificate begin? In Judaism, of course.
“Enter the Torah. More than 3,300 years ago, the Torah introduced the ketuba, the first marriage contract, something that has transformed global society ever since,” he wrote.
How does the Torah command us to make friends? By introducing the mishkan (portable Temple), says Dee. The mishkan is the predecessor to the beit knesset, where people not only gather to pray, but also to become a community of support and help for one another.
What about meaningful occupation? The Torah commands us to help others and continue to learn, and these are two of the major happiness areas in a meaningful occupation.
Dee did not originally plan to become a rabbi. Growing up in Britain, he went to Cambridge, where he studied natural sciences and chemical engineering, before entering the fields of high finance and strategic consulting. Lucky for him, he says, he and his wife decided to take a year off to travel the world. During this year, they realized that there was a great deal more to life. After two children and a few more years back in London, they left for another year off, this time to Israel to study at yeshiva and seminary. Four years later and with two more children and another on the way, Leo Dee, the scientist/ strategic consultant, became Rabbi Leo Dee – and moved to Israel to stay.