Derashot Ledorot: Gen­e­sis, A Com­men­tary for the Ages

Nor­man Lamm; Stu­art Halpern, ed.; Meir Solove­ichik, fwd.
  • Review
By – May 31, 2013
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.

Discussion Questions