Steve Leder knows things. As the senior Rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, the 155-year-old Los Angeles congregation that is home to some 2400 families (including mine), where Leder has served for 30 years, when his phone rings, it is often not good news. He has had to comfort, support, minister to and officiate at hundreds of funerals, make thousands of hospital visits and counsel individuals and families as their lives and families fall apart.
When cancer is diagnosed, when adultery is uncovered, when families are torn apart, and when a loved one of longstanding is gone, Rabbi Leder is often who they call. The issues he helps his congregants face are neither abstract nor are they removed from his personal experience in working through his and his own family’s instances of grief, loss, depression or drug-related problems.
In “More Beautiful Than Before: How Suffering Transforms Us,” (Hay House), Leder distills what he’s learned into a short volume of less than 200 pages. The book is divided into three sections: Surviving, Healing and Growing. Each of these sections carries several chapters, each with its own pithy headline (often a nugget of advice in its own right), such as “When you must, you can” (which is Leder’s way of explaining how people go on after heartbreak or loss); “Stoop Low” (which is all about learning and practicing humility); and “You Matter” (which is an invitation to live like you matter).
Leder threads the book with his own personal struggles, most notably with his father, a very tough Midwestern scrap metal dealer. That Leder can both be honest about his father’s faults and yet find ways to be grateful to him and wrest from his father lessons that enrich his life, is the sort of miraculous alchemy Leder proposes we can all achieve.
Although Leder certainly sees right and wrong, in many of his examples there are no right answers – in some cases a spouse’s unfaithfulness can cause the couple to address issues they’ve avoided for years; other times it is the last straw, a betrayal that can’t be overcome. Leder does not adjudge one reaction as better than the other. The lessons Leder teaches in “More Beautiful” remain the same: acknowledge what is occurring, confront it honestly and own it, and then move on. Survive, heal, grow. And if you can do that, Leder says, you will emerge from the experience transformed. Not necessarily happier, wiser or wealthier, but certainly more at peace. That is the gift “More Beautiful Than Before” offers us.
As Leder writes, “…I know that a broken marriage, a broken heart, a ruined reputation – none of those things grow stronger. But we can heal enough, we can somehow find our true selves again – or for the first time – and what we find really is often gentler and wiser and more beautiful than before. A second love. A second chance. Another way to move forward.”
Leder is the author of two previous books, “The Extraordinary Nature of Ordinary Things” and “More Money Than God: Living a Rich Life without Losing Your Soul.” Like “More Beautiful” they are secular works, for the layman, regardless of religion or religious observance (or lack thereof). Although written by a Rabbi. they are not religious books, nor are they meant as scholarly commentary on sacred texts. They are each, in their own way, books to live by – manuals for living as it were.
Despite all this (or because of all this) there is no question that “More Beautiful” like Leder’s prior books, is also a deeply spiritual work informed by Leder’s chaplaincy that seek to add a fourth dimension to our lives, making them richer, more satisfying – and yes – more beautiful than before.
Written by Tom Teicholz, a Contributor on Forbes.com