As we start another cycle of Torah reading, allow me to list some of the books I am using. In this post I will describe the books and in a later post, I’ll summarize essays on the weekly reading from each book. Note that some of the books are published by OU Press, my employer, so you don’t have to take my word for their quality. But I think most will agree with my assessments.
1. Unlocking the Torah Text by R. Shmuel Goldin (OU Press and Gefen) – I’ve written about this series in the past (link). I see in these books a Nechama-Leibowitz-for-Americans style. R. Goldin uses midrashim and commentaries to explore literary and philosophical themes in the text, parshanut as a tool for understanding the text better. See R. Hayyim Angel’s review here: link.
2. Covenant & Conversation by R. Jonathan Sacks (OU Press and Maggid) – R. Sacks combines a remarkable eloquence with philosophical insight to find contemporary messages in the text. He occasionally uses literary methods but is always very relevant to today’s issues. It’s derush for sophisticated thinkers. Here is the review in Kol Ha-Mevaser: link.
3. Mitokh Ha-Ohel edited by R. Daniel Z. Feldman and Stuart Halpern – This is a collection from rabbeim and professors at YU. Each parashah‘s essay is written by someone else. Because of that, there is no consistency in style from week to week. Instead, there is a wide variety of approaches offering exposure to the many different personalities and attitudes within the institution. Last week’s essay was by my good friend and classmate, Dr. Yitzchak Schechter, who brought his psychologist’s perspective into a derash analysis of the generation of the Flood. This week’s essay is by R. Assaf Bednarsh, a YU rosh yeshiva (I think that’s his title) in Israel and also from the same year as I (he attended Princeton as an undergrad but always seemed to be in the YU beis medrash). I’d say his approach, at least in this essay, is classic derush. Other approaches in the volume include R. Dr. Aaron Levine’s economic analysis of Esav’s sale of the birthright to Ya’akov, Dr. Barry Eichler’s historical study of the wayward son (ben sorer u-moreh), R. Mordechai Willig’s mussar derush on Yehudah’s apology and some 50 or so more — too many to list here. I’ll just add that I found Prof. Nechama Price’s two peshat interpretations of Yosef’s buying Egyptian lands for Pharaoh particularly illuminating.
4. The Rav Thinking Aloud – Sefer Bereishis by R. David Holzer – This book is irresistible. It consists of transcripts of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s lectures. The book’s main weakness is also its main strength: the transcripts. They are powerful and evocative, but also unedited and unpolished. This became clear in a lecture on last week’s reading, in which R. Soloveitchik homiletically described the generations of the Flood and the tower of Bavel as symbolizing the Western and Communists worlds, respectively. Because of the oral nature of the work, some of the essays are uneven. The second half of the comparison, however, the Communist part, is insufficiently developed. R. Soloveitchik does not explain why he considers Communists to be similar to the generation of the tower of Bavel. However, on other occasions R. Soloveitchik expanded on this idea and the fully developed essay can be found briefly in Reflections of the Rav vol. 2 p. 78 and expansively in Abraham’s Journey (pp. 36-37, 126-127).