The 40 Day Challenge: Book Review

By BJLIfe/Sharon Altshul
Posted on 08/04/21

Jerusalem, Israel - Aug. 4, 2021 - What do you remember about the Yomim Norayim last year? 

Certainly not the usual, preparing for big family meals and sitting (or standing) in shul for long services.  Perhaps you heard the shofar during the month of Elul as in previous years? Synagogues around the world were shuttered for the start of the year 5781.

Last year Rabbi Mark N. Wildes, founder and director of the Manhattan Jewish Experience (MJE), began a daily WhatsApp group to reach out during the time that regular minyanim and synagogues were closed due to Covid-19. Wilde has compiled and published "The 40 Day Challenge: Daily Jewish Insights to Prepare for the High Holidays," based on his popular daily inspirational morning sessions. 

Search results go over a billion for "40 Day Challenge," and cover health, exercise, diet, marriage, and more. However, each chapter in this 40 Day Challenge is based on a short 'vort' or story, or lesson, urging the reader to take the time to stop and think and prepare for the new year, beginning on Rosh Chodesh Elul and culminating on Yom Kippur. The chapters are based on varied sources from Gemara, Rishonim, the Rambam, and modern gedolim.

Wildes, besides the MJE, teaches at Yeshiva University and is also a lawyer. He incorporates historical lessons from Abraham Lincoln and Alfred Nobel to Yitzhak Perlman, illustrating his daily challenge of individual growth. The author asks: what are your priorities and challenges and what would you change? 

Transformation does not happen overnight but takes time. As business and life coaches advise, find your life mission, and break down seemingly overwhelming tasks into smaller components to move forward. 

"I have always believed that when you show people the beauty and wisdom of Torah, they will run to it. People are looking to connect to something beyond the daily grind, something to uplift them, especially in times of crisis," writes Wildes.

One consideration for correction in a future edition, on the topic of tzedakah, Day 23, entitled "The Stork," Wildes questions why the stork is not considered a kosher animal and cites various sources. "My mentor Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schachter explains that any living thing which expresses kindness only with its friends is unfit for Jewish consumption."  Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter (note the correct spelling) credits the commentary to his father, Rabbi Herschel Schacter z"l, who taught that our obligations are to all people, not just our friends. 

This year with Rosh Chodesh Elul, I plan to start over, read a chapter daily, and take time to consider the challenge posted each day. Uncertain of the future again this year, we will have to take one day at a time, and it is good to start with something positive to think about.

Manhattan Jewish Experience (MJE) 2021

Publisher: Kodesh Press LLC

ISBN: Hardcover: 978-1-947857-68-1   Paperback: 978-1-947857-67-4

pages 167