by Stanley Peerless
Since his death in 1993, the teachings of Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the scion of the “Brisker dynasty” and the recognized rabbinic leader of the Modern Orthodox community in North America, have been published in a growing number of works written or edited by his students. The Rav taught primarily in four contexts: his regular shiurim at Yeshiva University; his public lectures such as his yahrtzeit and teshuvah lectures and his addresses at Mizrachi conventions, the articles that he published mainly in tradition magazine; and his drashot on Chumash that were delivered on Saturday nights in Boston. Most of the publications on the Rav’s teachings have drawn from his public addresses, which focused primarily on halachah and philosophy. A few works focusing on the Rav’s shiurim on Gemara have also been published. Rabbi Avishai David’s new book, Darosh Darash Yosef, reflects a new genre, recording teachings from the Rav’s Saturday night drashot on Chumash.
Perhaps the most important section of this book is found in the introduction to the Rav’s thoughts on Parshat Noach, in which Rabbi David provides an insight into the Rav’s approach to the study of Chumash. Noting that his grandfather, Rabbi Chaim Sloveitchik of Brisk, did not write s commentary on Chumash or Tanach, the Rav posits
that the same sophistication that R. Chaim manifested in the study of halachah should be applied to Chumash as well. The most important part of the process, he contends, is the formulation of the problem. Yet, the Rav implies a significant distinction between the study of halachah and the study of Chumash — that while the study of halachah
is based on logic, the study of Chumash is based more on intuition than logic. He identifies the Ramban as the best commentator for this type of analysis, a commentator whose intuition led him to many original and creative interpretations of Chumash that reflected a weltanschauung. The Rav concludes that “one must study the Ramban’s commentary on Chumash as one studies the Ketzot Ha-Choshen and the Netivot Ha-Mishpat on Choshen Mishpat.”
The Rav’s subsequent commentary on Parshat Noach explicates the classical controversy between Rashi and Ibn Ezra on the timing of G-d’s command to Avraham to leave his birthplace, and demonstrates how the commentary of the Ramban enables us to understand the seemingly difficult position of Ibn Ezra. The Rav’s comments on some of the other parshiyot follow this model of analyzing the comments of the classical medieval commentators and deriving new meaning from them. Another example is his discussion on Parshat Shemot, in which he analyzes the perspectives of Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Ramban on the implications of G-d hardening Pharoah’s heart. Yet, not all of the parshiyot are dealt with in this manner. The book includes an eclectic collection of comments that include the Rav’s own textual analysis (as in his comparison of Moshe’s divergent reactions to chet ha-egel and to kivrot hata’avah in Parshat Beha’alotcha), halachic analysis (as in his analysis of the concept of shirah in Parshat Beshallach), mussar lesson that he derives from the narrative (as in his explication of the moral-religious imperatives in Parshat Bereishit), and even lessons that he learned from his chassidishe teacher in cheder (as in his explanation of Yosef’s question “Have you a father or a brother?” in Parshat Vayigash). Similarly, in some parshiyot, the Rav’s comments are self contained, while in others, he develops a concept that enlightens other parshiyot, as well. An example of the latter is his distinction between the concept of the first born in Jewish thought, in contrast to Egyptian thought. From this distinction, the Rav illuminates our understanding of the struggle for the birthright involving Yaacov and Esav (and their parents), the status and responsibility of Bnai Yisrael as the “first-born son” of G-d, the mitzvot relating to first-born children and animals (e.g. peter rechem, peter chamor, etc,), and the slaying of the Egyptian first-born children.
Its eclectic nature also allows the book to give expression to the Rav’s opinions on a number of contemporary issues. These include, among other topics, parenting, education, the pitfalls of western society, environmental issues, and some of the dangers of capitalism. The eclectic nature of the book notwithstanding, there is perhaps one theme that weaves its way throughout the book — the development of the covenantal community. This concept finds expression in a good number of the parshiyot, suggesting that the Rav viewed the documentation of this process as a key function of the Torah narrative. This notion is supported by a footnote in Parshat Noach which reads as follows: “Rarely does the Torah digress from its account of the development of the covenant community.”
Rabbi David’s book has been released at the same time that a five volume work based on the Saturday night drashot of Rav Soloveitchik is in the process of being published by another student of the Rav. I am not in a position to compare the two works. I can attest, however, to the fact that readers of Darosh Darash Yosef will benefit from the scholarship and eloquence of Rabbi David, who was an ardent student of the Rav. His selection of the material and his articulate formulation of it in a manner that both preserves the personality of the Rav and assures readability can only enhance the value of this book. Darosh Darash Yosef is a rich collection of the Rav’s teachings that can be enjoyed by a spectrum of readers, from relative novices to seasoned students of Torah, even those who are well acquainted with Rav Soloveitchik’s works.
The original article may be found here.