web analytics
February 27, 2015 / 8 Adar , 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


A Chumash For All Times

The Rav  (Photos courtesy of Yeshiva University)

The Rav (Photos courtesy of Yeshiva University)

The Rav’s midrashic acumen was phenomenal but he also maintained an acute sensitivity to peshat. In itself, this is not particularly unusual. Many great Torah scholars are capable of switching from one mode of study to another, in this case from peshat to midrash. The Rav, however, distinguished himself by basing important philosophical concepts on peshat. Peshat serves to uncover the simple meaning of the Bible but midrash is the traditional language of rabbinic wisdom. The Rav utilized both but he sometimes based critical philosophical ideas on the simple, albeit brilliant, peshat.

Some of the Rav’s most famous insights are based on Bereishis, making this volume of the series so rich. Perhaps most famous among the Rav’s commentaries is his distinction between Adam I and Adam II, which formed the basis of The Lonely Man of Faith. In the first chapter of Bereishis, Adam is described as emerging at the same time as Eve while in the second chapter, the story is told with more detail, explaining that Adam was created first and then Eve. The Rav explained (2:22, all citations are to commentaries in the Chumash):

Adam the first exists in society, in community with others. He is a social being, gregarious, communicative, emphasizing the artistic aspect in life and giving priority to form over content, to practical accomplishments over inner motivation…. Adam the second, on the other hand, is lonely, as he becomes aware of his uniqueness and exclusiveness. No external achievement, such as belonging to a natural work community, can reclaim Adam the second from this state. He is a citizen of a new world, but he has no companion with whom to communicate.

Noting other differences in the stories, the Rav builds two types of personalities. Adam I is social, creative, political, constructive. Adam II is contemplative, spiritual, personally connected to God. These two aspects of human nature are complementary. Rather than contradicting each other, as Bible critics claim, the two narratives of Creation provide insight into man’s multifaceted nature and mission.

The Rav with students, in the early 1970s.

The Rav with students, in the early 1970s.

In the landmark essay Confrontation, the Rav lay down his policy for interfaith dialogue in four points: 1) We are an independent faith community, not a satellite of Christianity nor part of a tradition of faiths. 2) We may not debate matters of faith but only discuss and act on a “human ethical level.” 3) We may not ask other religions to change their rituals or texts. 4) We may not even hint that we are prepared to change our historical attitudes. These policies, and the specific guidance the Rav provided the Rabbinical Council of America over the years, have served as guidelines for all responsible Orthodox interfaith dialogue. In contrast, we have seen over the past few decades how non-Orthodox representatives fell into the traps the Rav cautioned against.

The Rav based his essay in the text of Bereishis. He showed the multiple aspects of humanity as described in the progressive process of Creation, beginning with man as a part of nature and culminating in God’s norm, the Divine command (2:16):

With the birth of the norm, man becomes aware of his singularly human existence which expresses itself in the dichotomous experience of being unfree, restricted, imperfect and unredeemed. At the same time, man is potentially powerful, uniquely endowed and capable of rising far above his environment in response to the divine moral challenge. Man attains his unique identity when he grasps the incommensurability of what he is and what he is destined to be, after having been enlightened by God that he is not only a commanded person but also a free person, endowed with power to implement his commitment.

The Rav also ends Confrontation with an explanation of a passage in Bereishis, this time with a very different emphasis. When Jacob fearfully approached Esau after their long separation, he sent messengers to his brother and instructed them in detail. These instructions serve as an excellent guide to navigating the modern world as a faithful Jew. The Rav explains (32:14):

My brother Esau, Jacob told his agents, will ask you three questions. “To whom do you belong?” To whom do you as a metaphysical being, as a soul, as a spiritual being belong? “Where are you going?” To whom is your historical destiny committed? To whom have you consecrated your future? What is your ultimate goal, your final objective? Who is your God and what is your way of life? These two inquiries are related to your identity as members of a covenantal community.

About the Author: Rabbi Gil Student writes frequently on Jewish issues and serves as editor-in-chief of TorahMusings.com. Rabbi Student previously served as managing editor of OU Press and still maintains a connection to the publisher but did not work on this book in any way.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

One Response to “A Chumash For All Times”

  1. Uws IH says:

    I followed 3 Parshiyot before giving up on the book. I recommend a read of the commentary on ויתרוצצו הבנים בקרבה on p. 187 to see if it is your cup of tea.

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
John Kerry up in the air and out of this world.
Kerry to Talk with Iran at Same Time Netanyahu to Warn Congress
Latest Sections Stories
South-Florida-logo

Jews, wake up! Stop educating the world and start educating yourselves.

Hebrew Academy students learn the ABC’s of safety during Hebrew Academy’s recent Safety Kid Program.

The lessons conform to the sensitivities and needs of the Orthodox community…

Women learn in honor of first yahrzeit of Rebbetzin Chasia Kudan, a”h.

The program took on special significance as it marked not only the first anniversary of Rebbetzin Kudan’s levayah but also the 27th yahrzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, a”h.

It captures the love of the Jewish soul as only Shlomo Hamelech could portray it – and as only Rabbi Miller could explain it.

Erudite and academic, drawing from ancient and modern sources, the book can be discussed at the Shabbos table as well as in kollel.

I’m here to sit next to you and help you through this Purim with three almost-too-easy mishloach manot ideas, all made with cost-conscious paper bags.

Kids want to be like their friends, and they want to give and get “normal” mishloach manos stocked with store-bought treats.

Whenever he did anything loving for me, I made a big deal about it.

“OMG, it’s so cute, you’re so cute, everything is so cute.”

A program that started with a handful of volunteers has grown exponentially to include students from a wider array of backgrounds.

Tutor. Counselor. The doctor too,
Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with you.

Recently, due to age and wear, programming and NCSY events were moved into portable units outside the youth building.

More Articles from Rabbi Gil Student
We are always in His presence

If we can learn to fear the surveillance of the Internet, we can learn to fear God’s constant watching.

Rabbi Gil Student

Traditional Jewish texts clearly discuss men and women as categories – as distinct groups – even though individual men and women vary.

There must be an Orthodox presence and an Orthodox refusal to attend Limmud NY.

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.

The Internet is a medium that has made its way in its short existence all the way to the center of contemporary life. Many of our daily tasks are now tied to it, and will be more so in the future.

In light of all the attention that the recent Internet Asifa garnered, we thought it wise to offer this analysis on the subject by Rabbi Gil Student, founder of TorahMusings.com and former managing editor of OU Publications.

Israel is a Jewish country – but can it continue to be so when Judaism threatens to destroy the state?

The unfair longstanding attacks on Israel’s legitimacy are a permanent stain on the international community. For over 60 years, Israel has valiantly grown under hostile conditions while fighting lies and half-truths in the international arena. Israel suffers doubly, however, when its very essence, its Jewish character, supports its opponents’ narrative.

There are two types of people in the world – those who are inspired by Mussar and those who are turned off by it.

Mussar is a school of study that teaches religious self-improvement. Traditional Mussar, as practiced in many yeshivas to this day, has a rabbi exhorting his listeners, often yelling at them, to be more careful in their actions and attitudes. This is frequently accompanied with a Torah insight and maybe even a good parable. But it can be scary: fire, brimstone, judgment day – all the horrible implications of religious failure, in graphic detail.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/book-reviews/a-chumash-for-all-times/2013/11/21/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: