Title: Unlocking the Torah Text: Shmot: An In-depth Journey into the Weekly Parsha
Author: Rabbi Shmuel Goldin
Publisher: Gefen Publishing House
The secret to making a good sequel to a book is to make one that is original, yet effectively ties into the previous title. If you make it too much like the first one, then you just might as well read the original, because you’re not getting enough new content. If you make it too different than the first, there’s no sense of continuity.
In his previous work Unlocking the Torah Text: Bereishit, Rabbi Goldin set the stage on how to properly dissect the biblical narratives of our forefathers without veering off into some homiletic Neverland. He stayed true to the text and offered innovative commentary that connects the ancient past to the issues we deal with in society today, and made the Book of Genesis accessible to both scholars and laity.
It’s mistaken to think that, having mastered the first volume’s approach to Scripture, one would be able to predict the thematic pieces and unique scholarship in Rabbi Goldin’s commentary on the Book of Exodus. Instead Rabbi Goldin, pleasantly surprises. He examines, for example, the long established speech impediment of Moses. In describing himself, Moses says he is “heavy of mouth andspeech with sealed lip.” The majority of commentators view Moses speech impediment as a real, physical disability.
Rabbi Goldin, however, challenges this approach by quoting the Rashbam, known as the ultimate p’shat (textually oriented) commentator. This scholar maintains that Moses “speech defect” was not at all physical, but the product of Moshe’s sense that, after years of absence, he was no longer adept in the language of Egypt and its nuances.
Rabbi Goldin then suggests another approach based upon the possibility that Moshe was not limited by physical disability. Moses’ argument with God is that he lacks diplomatic skills. He is “heavy of mouth and speech,” the type of person who does not mince words but, rather, calls things the way he sees them. He is the last person who should negotiate with Pharaoh for the release of the Israelites from Egypt, arguing he is unsuited for any diplomatic mission when truth has to be pursued at all costs.
Rabbi Goldin dares to ask why God did not prohibit slavery in the Bible or how come the Torah cannot be more explicit in its terminology when dealing with the issue of “eye for an eye.” Goldin is not afraid to open the curtain on a number of commentaries that deviate from the plain meaning of the text when defending Moses’ action breaking the Tablets of Testimony.
What is truly remarkable is Rabbi Goldin’s statement that “God is the only source of holiness. No man, sanctuary or even the words of God are intrinsically holy. Sanctity is only derived from the people’s relationship with God and their willingness to follow His law.” With the sin of the Golden Calf, the nation of Israel robbed the Tablets of Testimony of their holiness and transformed them into mere stone with words. Moses was thus able to smash them to the ground.
Unlocking the Torah Text: Shmot is not just another commentary that gives it all on a silver plate. Rabbi Goldin begins each section with challenges that will spark thoughtful conversation, thereby walking in the footsteps of Nehama Leibowitz. He concludes with a series of questions that will be debated each week in our homes and synagogues. Rabbi Goldin brings back a passion and a love in exploring biblical text. His sequel was definitely worth waiting for, and all one can anticipate is how the series will continue when he, please God, publishes his commentary on the Book of Leviticus next year.
David Nekrutman is executive director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding & Cooperation (cjcuc.com).