February 25, 2008
Congregational Libraries Today reviews Torah & Co. and Torah JourneysThe fact that people approach sacred texts from different perspectives is evident in the Torah commentaries and diverging interpretations found in these two books.
Rabbi Judith Abrams, a well-known teacher of Talmud (see her Web site at www.maqom.com), has selected for Torah & Company words from the Mishnah (rabbinic commentary on the Torah) and Gemara (rabbinic commentary on the Mishnah found in the Talmud) to enhance one's knowledge and understanding of the various Torah portions. Each portion has a two-page spread. On the left side is a brief quotation from the portion, and below are related quotations from the Mishnah and the Gemara or other rabbinic texts. On the facing page are comments and questions corresponding to each of the three quotations.
Abrams, in a brief introduction, mentions a saying that we should devote one third of our lives to Torah, one third to Mishnah, and one third to the Talmud. By dividing the portions in this manner and by encouraging discussion and thought each week, she has created an innovative way for the entire family to participate in the learning and reasoning process.
Rabbi Shefa Gold takes an entirely different approach in Torah Journeys. She concentrates on the meditative, spiritual aspects of the Torah. After a few words about the Torah portion, she explains why that section is a blessing, what the spiritual challenges are, and offers guidance for practice. Gold's analyses are longer and in some ways more personal than Abram's.
In the portion Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16), for example, Gold refers to the continuation of the story of the exodus from Egypt, entitling it "Come on in!" For Gold, the blessing is our freedom. Gold tells a story offering her interpretation that God is in the heart of Pharaoh and that Moses must find it in order to gain freedom. The spiritual challenge is the "cultivation of a rich inner life in order to penetrate Pharaoh's heart:' In guidance for practice, she has two suggestions: one is to devise a blessing for Pharaoh; the other is to soften the heart through musical meditation.
Abram's title for this same Torah portion is "And you shall teach your children:' citing Exodus 13:14, "With a strong hand God brought us out of Egypt from the house of slavery:' Then she quotes the Mishnah's version of the Four Questions said at the Passover seder. From the rabbinic texts, she touches on the discussion of the Four Sons, also a part of the seder. For questions, Abrams notes that the Hebrew word for Egypt means "a narrow place" and wonders if we have ever had to escape from a narrow place. She discusses the Four Questions we say today and ponders asking other questions. Lastly, she explains the Four Sons in contemporary terms and asks how we learn during developmental stages in our lives.
Depending on the interests in your congregation, you may find one or both of these books helpful. --Evelyn Pockrass
(From Congregational Libraries Today, January February 2008, p13-14)