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There’s one word almost always associated with the name Joel Grishaver here at Beit T’Shuvah: genius.
A prolific author and academic with degrees from Boston University and the University of Chicago, he’s written and published over 200 books and works of scholarship on topics ranging from gender and spirituality, to the nature of evil. For the last four years, he has been Beit T’Shuvah’s scholar-in-residence, a source of wisdom for residents and staff alike. Joel met and became friends with Rabbi Mark thirty-one years ago and has been a congregant of BTS ever since. HE volunteers each year to teach at Shavuot, an all-nighter dedicated to learning and to celebrating the Torah. It’s safe to say Shavuot is Joel’s favorite holiday.
Originally from the Boston area, Joel came to Los Angeles to study at Hebrew Union College with the intention of becoming a rabbi. However, upon graduation, that’s not what happened. “My ego was pretentious enough without being a rabbi,” he says, “so I decided I wanted to be a lifelong Jewish teacher. I felt like I’d be too egotistical as a rabbi.”
Though not an addict himself, Joel finds working with residents to help them along their path to recovery highly rewarding. When asked what the biggest struggle he sees in residents, Joel says “guilt and shame.” Joel talks about the journey from addiction to recovery as one of darkness and light. When asked about the darkest point in his own life, Joel pauses, then replies, “My father died when I was 22, and that created a black hole – several years of being difficult and having difficulty, where I backed of everything, withdrew, and broke.” Joel would later find the light, if you will, and go on to launch his own publishing company, Torah Aura Productions.
Joel was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 50. “I try to not let it be a hindrance, to not let it be an excuse, to not let it stop me from doing anything,” he says. Clearly, he lives by his words; making his way across the city in his wheelchair, coming to Beit T’Shuvah each day, teaching and guiding residents throughout their recovery.
Of the 200 or so books he’s published through his own imprint, Joel says he’s proudest of two. The first one, titled The Stories We Pray, is “a look at the Midrashic history, of the moment every prayer in the prayer book was created. By recreating these moments, you get a whole new perspective on what you’re saying when you’re reciting that prayer.” It took Joel over eleven years of research to gather the information needed to write the book.
The second is called The Binding of Isaac, a collection of stories and essays revolving around the moment Abraham holds a knife over his bound son. “It probably contains the best writing I’ve done, and took me around three years to write,” Joel says.
Joel is a blessing to the community of Beit T’Shuvah. And like everyone says, he’s absolutely a genius. Thank goodness he is, and that the humanity and pain that comes with being so has brought him here to us, to teach us and be with us, while we all heal together.
You can read all about Joel and his life at his website: www.torahaura.com