As I read through Rabbi Yechiel Spero’s newest book, A Touch of Inspiration, what amazes me most is the variety of the stories. This is his thirteenth book and the stories are still fresh, unusual, and, yes, totally inspiring. The people he introduces us to are incredibly varied: a banker in Haifa, a “kid-at-risk” in 19th century Europe, a rabbi in a Staten Island ice-cream store, a bestselling author (yes, it’s Rabbi Spero himself!) on a lecture tour.
Let’s hear what this beloved author has to tell us about his stories.
ArtScroll: Thirteen books, hundreds of stories! Where do you find them?
Rabbi Spero: Stories surround all of us; every day there are new ones. Most often the stories find me. Whenever I am writing, I have the siyata D’Shmaya to find more. Many people email me their stories. I once leafed through a 50-year-old Jewish textbook that my mother had used in high school. The pages were brittle, but the story I found in it was magnificent.
ArtScroll: Your stories all touch the hearts and souls of your tens of thousands of readers. How do you choose them?
Rabbi Spero: The moment I hear a good story I write down the highlights so that I don’t forget it. After that, I share the story with others. Sometimes I think I have a great story but the audience might not agree. Almost always, I will defer to them.
ArtScroll: What makes a good story great?
Rabbi Spero: One secret of a good story is to find the underdog and rally the reader to root for him. And a story without a lesson is no story at all. Stories are meant to teach us, we have to think about the story and reflect on its message.
ArtScroll: Do you have any personal favorites?
Rabbi Spero: A story about the Stropkover Rebbe, which appears in A Touch of Inspiration. The Rebbe survived the concentration camps with nothing. No family. Nothing but a few scraps of paper. On them were the names of men who died in the camps, with witnesses testifying to their death. He saved them so that he could help their wives remarry if they survived. Picture the scene: a man with nothing but a few scraps of paper. For himself, he has nothing. But for others he is prepared to do anything. Living for someone else. Isn’t that what life is all about? That’s a beautiful story!