The Kosher Bookworm: New commentaries on the Book of Exodus

Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Exodus

Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Exodus

by Alan Jay Gerber

As in past years, a number of high quality new commentaries and translations are newly available on the Book of Exodus. I will attempt to briefly describe two works that deserve your immediate attention because of their unique manner, style and importance.

Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Exodus [Urim Publications, 2010] by Rabbi Dr. Francis Nataf is the second of a projected five-volume series on the Chumash. Consisting of an introduction and seven in-depth essays that are thematically linked to the various episodes in the Biblical text, Dr. Nataf successfully explains the events, locales and personalities of the Exodus experiences with sophisticated detail that treats the engaged reader with respect.

The introduction, entitled “The Conversation with G-d,” sets the tone for the entire book. Dr. Nataf recreates the mindset of the Exodus experience, and the reality of the Egyptian civilization within the historical context of the Jewish people’s spiritual existence. He seriously considers the impact of Egyptian thought and mores upon the Jews’ worldview. This factor was to play itself out in the numerous lapses that the Jewish people experienced during the desert journey, all attributed to the pagan influence of Egyptian culture. Other essays deal with the meaning of Egypt as the crucible and cradle of Jewish nationhood and the influence it had in nurturing Moshe’s leadership skills as the Jewish people evolved from pagan slavery to monotheistic-based freedom.

One very unique chapter in this book deals with the family relationships that Moshe enjoyed with his siblings. This nurturing family experience was in marked contrast to the experiences of the patriarchs Yitzchok, Yaakov, and Yosef, whose sibling hostilities dominated the early chapters of the Bible. This relationship is enhanced by Nataf’s treatment of Moshe’s father-in-law, Yitro, who had a prominent role in assisting Moshe is his governance of the people. Daunting as this experience was for the untutored Moshe, Yitro’s advice was crucial in making Moshe’s leadership effective for the remainder of the most difficult 40 years ahead.

Rabbi Nataf is the educational director of Jerusalem’s famed David Cardozo Academy and he is a musmach of Yeshiva University. Dr. Nataf is a proud ba’al teshuva, a fact that he deals with at some length within the context of this volume. In the chapter dealing with exile, alienation and the Jewish mission, Nataf states in rather sharp tones the way that religious Jews regard those who come to religious observance later in life. This segment deserves careful reading by all who hold dear the concepts of ahavat Yisrael, and achdut Yisrael, for within these two concepts lie the integrity and future of the entire Jewish people.

Rabbi Nataf has delivered in this slim volume a most eloquent, traditional, yet modern, Bible commentary. He clearly defines and expounds upon the communication between man and G-d as an essential component to our physical and spiritual existence.

From The Jewish Star

The full text of the review may be read here.

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