It is a given that Torah study is for all, not just rabbis. It is also a given that contemporary Jewish life has been radicalized and hijacked by various groups claiming to own “the Truth.”
It is therefore refreshing to read this slim volume by a learned layman containing profound insights on various Torah texts with the express purpose of validating a theocentric Judaism that embraces multiple truths and perspectives. This collection includes pithy lessons from twenty-three weekly Torah readings demonstrating biblical models for humility and tolerance. The kabbalistic notion of tzimtzum (contraction) can help us contract our own presence to allow other points of view, and the Eden experience of nakedness can help us see our own and each other’s vulnerabilities and perhaps be embarrassed; Cain’s act of murder depicts self-delusion, and the Tower of Babel teaches us about lost potential; Jacob’s ladder shows us that we must ascend, Joseph teaches us about the ease with which events can be forgotten, and Moses demonstrates a call to action against social injustice.
Building the sanctuary has multiple lessons: sacrifices challenge us to become closer to God, tzara’at points out the need for spiritual advisors, and holiness means imitating God’s ways. Judging others is fraught with perils and abuses, a census implies that we all count, and Pesach Sheni shows that there are second chances for missed opportunities and demonstrates the humility of Moses’ leadership. Liss-Levinson’s analysis of the Korach is spot-on, as is his examination of the talking snake and Bilaam’s donkey. The potential danger of zealotry, the beauty of free will, and the cloudy and smoky aspects of revelation illuminate our need to meet the daily theological challenges we face, hobbled as we are like our patriarch Jacob.
The necessity to relate to each other free from triumphalist animus, theological arrogance and polarity is teased out from the biblical text in a concise and easily readable format. In Search of Theological Modesty is a welcome addition to the debate presented without rancor and with great insight.