November 25, 2014
By Fred Isaac
Many recent books have pointed to great leaders—Jesus, Lincoln, etc.,—as role models for modern managers and leaders. In this book, Zvi Grumet (formerly at the Lookstein Center) examines Moses as the exemplar of leadership, using the Torah and Jewish scholarship to develop his thesis.
Grumet divides his thesis into five parts, including: Moses’ “zealotry” and how he controls his emotions; “the man of the people or the man of God”; growing pains on “The Rocky Road” through the Wilderness; how “Leadership Emerges” in Deuteronomy; and “The Leader as a Teacher.” Each section contains three chapters dealing with the identified aspect of leadership. The first chapter poses the relevant issue as presented in the Torah. The second analyzes how the stories in Exodus and Numbers resolve the question both for the people and Moses himself. The third chapter summarizes the lesson both in Torah terms and for us. The arguments are made using Torah primarily, but other Biblical texts and Talmudic sages are also cited, as well as classical and modern scholars, to reinforce the discussion. The book contains indexes of names and relevant Biblical stories, and a timeline of chapters in Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy that chronicle the key events cited in the volume.
While it does not discuss contemporary society directly, Grumet’s book can certainly provide insights into the modern world. It is recommended for synagogue libraries with extensive Torah Study collections, as well as academic libraries interested in demonstrating the value of biblical tales. It may be beyond most Bar Mitzvah students, but rabbis and mentors can also use its perspective on well-known stories.
This review originally appeared in the AJL Newsletter
November 23, 2014
By Roger S. Kohn
The Library of Congress classifies this book under the first subject heading “Self-realization—Religious aspects—Judaism.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines “self-realization” as a term in philosophy which refers to “the fulfillment by one’s own efforts of the possibilities of development of the self.” According to the author’s preface, this book is his “attempt to find wholeness between three facets of life … our relationship to the Torah and G-d, our relationship to who we are, and our relationship to others.” Rapaport hopes that the reader “will develop a deeper understanding and connection in each of these relationships, and between them, and find greater wholeness in their lives.” Obviously, Rapaport goes well beyond the accepted meaning of self-discovery or self-realization to include Torah and the divine creator. The Jewish art of self discovery contains some eighty chapters, each consisting of one to two pages. The chapters have very secular titles (“Individuality,” “Awareness,” for example) except for one or two (“Daas” and “Working out our middos”), but the content is very focused on Judaism. The sources—rudimentarily referenced— are chiefly the Midrash, the Babylonian Talmud, several Hassidic masters, and the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides; there are also implicit references to Lurianic kabbalah… Each chapter ends with a “Reflection:” a series of three or four very brief questions to allow the reader to make the chapter more relevant to his or her self.
The review originally appears in the AJL Newsletter
November 21, 2014
By David Tesler
Rabbi Daniel Sperber has written a short but lovely book about the relationship between the commandments that are directed between ‘Man and his Neighbors’ (meaning commandments that connect one person to another) and between ‘Man and his Maker’ or ritual commandments. This is a familiar dichotomy within Jewish Law and Rabbi Sperber argues that when there is a tension between the two and it becomes impossible to follow both commandments, there is a requirement to favor and prioritize the interpersonal commandment.
In the first part of the book, Sperber offers 21 examples of this prioritization. The second part relates famous stories of great Rabbis who integrated this concept into their lives. In one moving example, the author tells us about Rabbi Salanter (1810-1883) who ritually washed his hands with what his contemporaries thought to be too little water. When asked why he wasn’t using the proper amount of water, Salanter said that he saw how difficult it was for the maid who was tasked with drawing the water from afar and carrying the heavy load to the house. Rabbi Salanter felt that it was “forbidden for a person to be overly religious at the expense of others.” A similar story is told of a Rabbi who would cut short his long prayers when there were working men present waiting for him to finish so as to avoid negatively impacting their earning potential.
This review originally appears in the AJL Newsletter
November 19, 2014
The first one came out red with a full coat of hair, and they called him Eisav. Afterwards, his brother came out clutching the heel of Eisav,and he was called Yaakov. Yitzchak was sixty years old when they were born.
When parents have the privilege to name a child there is much contemplation and consideration prior to the decision. The name of a person captures one’s essence and depth and therefore requires wisdom and deliberation. The Midrash explains that even the Angels were unable to name the animals and man. Adam Harishon, with insight and intelligence, was able to name the animals, himself and even Hashem. Naming is a talent gifted to man together with the help of divine influence from above. Many times when asking Tzaddikim for advice concerning my own children, I was told to make sure to call my children by their complete name. The name of a person captures one’s strengths and character traits and by hearing it reminds a person of one’s abilities.
With these thoughts on the beauty and depth of a Jewish name, we will analyze the naming of our third Patriarch at the beginning of our Parsha. The Torah explains that Yaakov is given his name because he was born holding onto the eikev, heel, of his brother Eisav. This momentary occurrence seems like a superficial reason behind a name for life. What is the essence of Yaakov that was being captured by this name? According to one opinion in Rashi 3 this name was decided by Hashem himself. This knowledge requires even deeper explanation as a divinely determined name must have hidden meaning on a very deep level. Another important question arises as to why there is a letter yud added before the word eikev? Shouldn’t Yaakov have just been called eikev? Although now that may sound strange, it is only because we are not accustomed to that name. The name of Eisav also seems to be altered. Rashi 4 explains that the name Eisav represents the fact that he emerged as a finished product. This is clear from the pasuk as his body was full of hair. The Shem Mishmuel explains that this was the essence of the negative character of Eisav. He always considered himself a finished product, not needing to work on himself or grow. This was the foundation that led him to his ways of wickedness. Just as Yaakov seems to have an added yud, Eisav is missing one from his end. The word for an object being finished would be Assui including a yud at the end. Where did this yud disappear to?
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November 16, 2014
by Ervin Landau
Constant Salvation from Esau
The first verse of Parashas Toldos states, “These are the offspring of Isaac.” Who are the progeny of Isaac to which the verse refers? Rashi explains that the word “offspring” in this verse is a reference to Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac who are the topic of the entire parashah.
The haftorah is a selection from the Prophets that follows this theme, discussing the relationship — and contrast — between Jacob and Esau. The haftorah is taken from the first chapter of the Book of Malachi, the last of the twelve later prophets. In fact, the Talmud teaches that Malachi was the very last prophet of all. Considering that context, we can assume that this book was written sometime around 450 BCE, shortly after the Second Temple was built.
Although Malachi is often grouped with Chagai and Zechariah, because the three were the last prophets to lead the Jewish people, the books of Chagai and Zechariah contain more information regarding the period in which they lived, thus shedding light on their identities. Malachi’s book, on the other hand, does not specify in which time period he lived. Similarly, little is known about Malachi himself: we do not know the names of his parents, his life story, or any of his activities, aside from his task as a prophet who delivered some powerful messages to the Jewish people. It is even unclear whether he personally wrote the Book of Malachi or whether it was recorded after his death. Read the rest of this entry »