Chumash Mesoras HaRav: Sefer Bereishis: With commentary based upon the teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik; Compiled and edited by Dr. Arnold Lustiger; OU Press
It is hard to think of Torah in America without picturing the face of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (“the Rav”). He was not just a titan of Torah scholarship but a sensitive soul overflowing with creativity. As a rosh yeshiva, his brilliant mind developed new insights in Talmudic law. And as a teacher of laymen in synagogues in New York and Boston, he revealed new depths in parashah and aggadah (weekly Torah portions and Talmudic stories). His lectures combined a mastery of midrash with a profound understanding of the human psyche, yielding interpretations that speak to man’s innermost feelings, that dig deep into human aspirations to create a binding link with Torah. The Rav was able to touch someone’s soul with Torah, creating a permanent connection between man and God.
I am from the generation that never saw or heard the Rav but lived in his shadow, feeling his recently departed presence in his students’ lectures. My poverty in this sense pales in comparison to that of the next generation, who have only a distant notion of who this great man was and his sprawling impact. They cannot comprehend how he maintained an audience’s attention for hours on hours, with an overflowing room of listeners captivated by his Torah lecture. The very idea seems ludicrous to those who never knew the Rav. Yet it is true. His profound ideas, his challenging questions and brilliant answers, his eloquent and dramatic presentations delighted and inspired thousands, from novices to experienced Torah scholars.
Much of that material was almost lost. An infrequent writer and a rare publisher, the Rav left a largely oral legacy. However, his students have taken on the holy task of faithfully disseminating his teachings in writing. My first encounter with the Rav was in high school. We were learning the Talmudic tractate of Sukkah at the same time that Rav Hershel Reichman published his first volume of notes from the Rav’s lectures – conveniently, on Sukkah. Day after day we excitedly drank from the Rav’s well of insights, learning Sukkah with him as our study partner. I was hooked on the Talmudic genius of the Rav.
Over the nearly 25 years since, dozens of books have been published containing the Rav’s Torah on a variety of subjects, in Hebrew and in English. The Toras Horav Foundation has published the few English manuscripts the Rav left as well as a number of other books based on recorded lectures. Others have published transcripts, notes and reconstructed lectures in the Rav’s voice. The ever-growing library is more than any one person can master. Well, almost anyone.
Dr. Arnold Lustiger, a research scientist and expert in the Rav’s teaching, is the Rav’s super-editor. Building in part on the work of others, he has accomplished the intimidating feat of turning the Rav’s teachings into running commentaries of classic texts. With an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the Rav’s entire oeuvre, Dr. Lustiger is able to identify what original insight the Rav said on any given passage. By collecting these disparate teachings from other books, unpublished notes and recorded lectures, Dr. Lustiger has created the Rav’s widely acclaimed commentaries to the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur machzorim and the siddur, all within the Mesoras HaRav series and published in conjunction with OU Press. And now he has turned his attention to the Chumash, with the first volume of the Chumash Mesoras HaRav.
The Rav’s commentary on Bereishis is eclectic by design. Because the Rav was the master of so many Torah genres, his various teachings reflect these different modes of study. The Chumash Mesoras HaRav presents readers with commentaries that range from halachic to midrashic to peshat to philosophical to psychological. The unifying features are the Rav’s brilliance and his soaring language, his magnificent ability to frame his insights in inspiring words. Some people are challenged by the Rav’s complex language but the reader with the courage to persevere leaves the page not only understanding the underlying text better but loving it and treasuring its message.
Most remarkable about the Rav’s commentaries is how they are both timely and timeless. On the one hand, you can clearly see an echo of the concerns of his time, the issues facing Orthodox Jews in mid-twentieth century America. There is no way to miss how rooted these explanations are in the Rav’s experiences with his students and laymen. Indeed, a great teacher would have it no other way. The Rav reached out to his audience, guided them in their religious struggles through, among other tools, Bible commentary. However, the Rav’s genius spoke on another level as well. Torah is eternal, its message applies to all times and places. The Rav’s emphasis was on his time but his teachings resonate throughout the ages, forever speaking to man’s religious challenges.