Let’s suppose a Jew was stranded alone on a deserted island. What Torah books would he want to have with him?
Notice the two shuls. The one that he goes to, and the one that he doesn't.
On the assumption that he already has a Chumash, Tanach, Mishna, Zohar, Siddur, and the other holy standards, here is a list of 10 recommendations to fill out his treasure chest. Each one is a masterpiece, and a must-read ladder to G-d. Readers are invited to send in additional suggestions. While there are many indispensable Hebrew classics, we are only listing books that are available in English.
The Treasure of Jewish Learning
ADVICE by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Written by his foremost student, Rabbi Natan. This simply written book on the service of G-d gives profound advice on a wide gamut of topics, including Eretz Yisrael, Modesty, Pride and Humility, Revelation of Godliness, Alien Philosophies, Marriage, Anger, Money and Livelihood, Thoughts and Fantasies, Mikvah, Holidays, Patience, The Tzaddik, Healing, Joy, Prayer, and T’shuva. Truth glows from its pages like unearthed diamonds. It is a book to be read again and again for its deep and unparalleled Torah wisdom.
PATH OF THE JUST by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lutzato. This masterpiece in the service of G-d is a step-by-step guide to improving character straits on the way to attaining Divine Inspiration. Every word is like a drop of healing dew sent down from Heaven. Written in a clear, easy reading style, it a guide for serious heavyweight contenders who have the zeal to ascend all of the way up the ladder.
THE KUZARI by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi is a work of unsurpassed philosophical genius which lays out the tenets of Jewish faith through the probing conversations between a gentile king and a rabbi. While several sections of the book demand keen intellectual exercise, not always possible on a hot deserted island, most of the treatise is reader friendly and constantly stimulating, keeping the reader wanting to know what will happen to the two protagonists at the book’s end.
THE TANYA by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidism, is a profound, almost scientific exploration of the Divine and animal souls that vitalize the life of a Jew. Its esoteric insights illuminate the essentials of Divine service, and present the reader with the knowledge he or she needs to win in the battle between the good inclination and the evil inclination over the dominion of the soul.
KITZUR SHULCHAN ARUCH, is a compilation of Jewish Law by Rabbi Solomon Ganzfried. Even on a deserted island, a Jew needs to know what he can do and what he can’t do. Since you can’t play the game without knowing the rules, this concise and detailed code is a must, especially when you can’t pick up a phone to ask your local rabbi if the shark in your net is kosher.
Know that the evil inclination is a shark always hungry for a victim.
TORAT ERETZ YISRAEL is a collection of the teachings of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook with a commentary by Rabbi David Samson. As the saying goes, "You can’t tell the players without a scorecard." This book is the guide to the Redemption of the Jewish People in our time, illuminating the Divine meaning of the natural, historical, step-by-step process of the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of the nation in Eretz Yisrael after two thousand years of galut. If you are looking for a Judaism that is more than gefilte fish and bagels, this is the book.
EIM HABANIM SEMEICHAH by Rabbi Isachar Shlomo Teichtal is a revolutionary, scholarly study on the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel, written by a leader of Ultra Orthodox Jewry in Europe, who experienced a profound personal catharsis during the Holocaust and abandoned his previous anti-Zionist ideology to call on all Jews, religious and non-religious alike, to unite by returning en mass to Eretz Yisrael.
THE JEWISH IDEA by Rabbi Meir Kahane is a scholarly, two-volume treatise on the fundamentals of Jewish faith. Written in Rabbi Kahane’s uniquely powerful and uncompromising style, the book highlights the importance of self-sacrifice for the good of the Jewish People. His essays on Redemption, on Mashiach, on Revenge, and on the status of the non-Jew in Israel, based on the teachings of our Sages, are all eye-openers that are sure to keep you awake while swaying back and forth in your lazy, beachside hammock.
THE ART OF T’SHUVA is a commentary by Rabbi David Samson and yours truly on Rabbi Kook’s masterpiece "The Lights of T’shuva." Since there isn’t very much to do on a deserted island, it is a great opportunity to meditate on why we are here in this world and to make a genuine effort to get closer to G-d. After all, there isn’t anyone around to get down on you for acting holy or for being too pious. Besides, after you’ve read this book, you will realize that t’shuva isn’t just beating your head in the sand over all of the bad things you’ve done in the past. You will come to understand, in a burst of illumination as sparkling and vast as the sea, the t’shuva is the force that makes the whole go round, and that by boarding the ship, you are linking yourself with the uppermost reaches of the universe, connecting your tiny island with all of existence, all of history, all of the world.
Connection to the Universe
TIKUN HACLALI is the group of ten Psalms that Rabbi Nachman ordered together to rectify sexual transgression. Even on an island all alone, without access to the porn on the Internet, and without a bikini in sight, mistakes can happen to the holiest guy. And since you have got a lot of time on your hands anyway, why not put a little extra effort into cleansing the sins of the past? Reciting the ten Psalms and saying the confession that follows is a lot more pleasant than sitting naked on an anthill of red ants, one of the suggested ways of atonement for sexual sin (See the book, "The Ways of the Tzaddikim," Gate of Repentance, Pg. 545, Feldheim edition).
It is a lot easier to say the Tikun and leave the ants to former Hollywood screenwriters.
This list should keep you busy till rescuers come, may it be soon. Amen.