Rabbi Norman Lamm has enjoyed an outstanding career as a notable Jewish thinker, articulate representative of Modern Orthodoxy, and accomplished community leader. He has authored numerous volumes containing essays, philosophical studies, addresses and sermons, led congregations in Springfield, MA and New York City, and served for many years as President and Chancellor of Yeshiva University and Rosh Yeshiva of its Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. R. Lamm has been at the epicenter of Jewish academic, communal, and political life over the course of the second half of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
Derashot Ledorot, a collection of sermons on the book of Genesis, spanning the decades of the fifties through the seventies, delivered at Congregation Kodimoh and the Jewish Center, reflects the interests and concerns that R. Lamm has regularly and artfully shared with his congregants over the years. Naturally many of the presentations deal with his observations about the general human condition, situations which he has encountered during the course of counseling individuals and families in crisis, and his constant encouragement of congregants to raise their level of commitment and observance, all typical subject matter for rabbinical sermonizing. The unique aspect of these sermons is how the author combines a particular weekly Torah reading or seasonal Jewish holiday (even American Thanksgiving celebrations serve as platforms for presenting aspects of our religious tradition) with the issues that were of general concern during the fifties, sixties, and seventies. R. Lamm‘s words constitute model sermons whose values and themes continue to have contemporary relevance even as the specific “current” events that he referenced now have been reduced to reminders of Jewish, American, Israeli, and international past history. Over the course of the almost three sermons per Parasha in Beraishit (there are only two entries for Miketz), Rabbinic sources appearing in the Talmud and Midrash together with traditional textual commentaries are integrated together with references to and reflections about civil rights in the United States, policies of the United Nations, discussions in the US Supreme Court regarding censorship, the decision of an Israeli Prime Minister to vacation in a Burmese Buddhist monastery, the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and the 1968 lunar moon landing.
R. Lamm’s sermons cite a wide array of religious and secular thinkers, e.g., Jefferson, Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Diderot, Fromm, and Tillich, further universalizing the themes that are developed. R. Lamm’s appreciation of Chassidic tradition is also clearly evident by the number of luminaries who are referenced, including the Reszher Rav, R. Yitzchak Isaac of Komarno, the Rabbi of Kotzk, the Berditchever Rabbi and the Mezeritscher Rebbe. The author’s own erudition is eminently apparent by the numerous innovative twists and insights that he presents regarding biblical and Rabbinic texts upon which he effortlessly casts new light and understanding.
Derashot Ledorot holds in store fascinating reading for those interested in biblical interpretation, homiletics, the combination of religious and secular ideas and experience, and vicariously listening in on stirring Rabbinic calls to action and spiritual growth.
Yaakov (Jack) Bieler was the founding Rabbi of the Kemp Mill Synagogue in Silver Spring, MD until his retirement in 2015. He has been associated with Jewish day school education for over thirty years. R. Bieler served as a mentor for the Bar Ilan University Lookstein Center Principals’ Seminar and he has published and lectured extensively on the philosophy of Modern Orthodox education.