In the third volume of his series of books on the Torah, Rabbi Francis Nataf delves into the book of Bamidbar. As the title indicates, the premise for the entire series is that the Torah has relevance for modern life – relevance that must be redeemed. The book is not a commentary, at least not in the classic sense: It contains seven chapters, leaving entire parshiot untreated. Rather than offer a running commentary or verse-by-verse elucidation of the text, Redeeming Relevance paints with broad strokes, articulating major themes in the book of Bamidbar – clearly, articulately, with elegance and wisdom.
This approach offers a unique vantage point that is often missed, particularly by those who access the text through the traditional format of weekly Torah readings. Too often, “the parashah” is seen as an independent unit, disconnected from the previous week’s Torah portion and without consideration for the book as an organic whole, as a book. Religious education, ever sensitive (even hypersensitive) to nuances of phrase, individual words, even individual letters, only exacerbates the problem with its tendency to overlook the themes conveyed by the larger context, often forgetting that the division of parshiot is not an intrinsic or organic feature.
This is why you should read this book: Rabbi Nataf successfully illuminates the larger themes contained in the book of Bamidbar, and mines these themes for their relevance to modern man. Nataf’s keen insights isolate existential issues in the book of Bamidbar that are constants in the human experience: leadership, politics, group dynamics, greed, and lust are no less pressing issues today than they were in the generation that wandered in the desert….
Redeeming Relevance has much to offer; it is replete with novel insights, it is creative and thoughtful, and it brings into focus the proverbial forest that is formed by the textual trees. I recommend this book, and I encourage the reader to use it as a companion to the text: Look closely at the trees, at the richness of detail and nuance that the text of the Torah offers, and see for yourself if they do, in fact, make up the beautiful forest that Rabbi Nataf’s most recent work describes.
This review originally appeared in Lookstein Digest