Talks on the Parasha

Rab­bi Adin Stein­saltz; Yis­rael Malkiel, ed.

  • Review
By – April 19, 2016

This lat­est book by the won­drous­ly pro­lif­ic Rab­bi Stein­saltz is a col­lec­tion of essays on the week­ly Torah read­ing, includ­ing essays for three spe­cial Shab­ba­tot: Shab­bat HaGadol (the Shab­bat right before Passover), Shab­bat Shu­va (between the Jew­ish New Year and the Day of Atone­ment) and Shab­bat Zachor (the Shab­bat pri­or to Purim).

These essays tremen­dous­ly engag­ing in terms of the breadth and depth of ideas as well as the con­sid­er­able eru­di­tion that they reflect. Each attempts in some way to make the issues intro­duced imme­di­ate­ly rel­e­vant to the read­er — no small task, espe­cial­ly when deal­ing with eso­teric top­ics found for exam­ple in the book of Leviti­cus. As Rab­bi Stein­saltz self-con­scious­ly states at the very out­set, Every­thing that is writ­ten here refers not to Jews who lived in past times, but to con­tem­po­rary Jews. The Torah serves as a kind of won­drous look­ing glass in which we can simul­ta­ne­ous­ly see the end of exis­tence and our own reflec­tion, and with­in that reflec­tion not only are our out­er facades vis­i­ble, but the image of our true inner selves as well.”

Two exem­plary essays, con­tain­ing astute obser­va­tions regard­ing the chal­lenges of liv­ing an obser­vant life, deal with the Torah por­tions of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim, which are read togeth­er in the syn­a­gogue. Rab­bi Stein­saltz address­es the prob­lem of becom­ing over­fa­mil­iar with God and His ser­vice.” Call­ing upon the exam­ples from the Bible of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avi­hu, the Priests —par­tic­u­lar­ly those serv­ing in the Taber­na­cle, the sons of the High Priest Eli, Uzzah (who reached out to steady the Ark and died for his trou­ble), and even con­tem­po­rary stu­dents of Torah, Rab­bi Stein­saltz iden­ti­fies the rou­tiniza­tion and a sense of over­all ease and com­fort that erode reli­gious feel­ing and prop­er obser­vance. Fur­ther­more, he notes that as destruc­tive as such atti­tudes may be for those in the lime­light, the con­se­quences for onlook­ers and those who revere these insid­ers” can prove to be even worse.

Rab­bi Steinsaltz’s com­ments on Kedoshim com­ple­ment the theme he explores in the pre­vi­ous essay, when he turns to how holi­ness can be achieved even with respect to actions that at first glance do not appear to be ter­ri­bly excep­tion­al or tran­scen­den­tal. He main­tains that sin­ful behav­ior typ­i­cal­ly does not sud­den­ly crop up, but rather is the result of a grad­ual ero­sion of stan­dards and val­ues over time. When chal­lenges recur day after day, they can sap the strength of an indi­vid­ual to resist temp­ta­tion: A lion or a bear can be struck down, but a mil­lion ter­mites is a dif­fer­ent kind of chal­lenge alto­geth­er.” Holi­ness, there­fore, means com­mit­ting our­selves to take on the mil­lion ter­mites of life.”

Each essay in R. Stein­saltz’ book offers con­sid­er­able food for thought, and the vol­ume in its entire­ty is high­ly recommended.

Relat­ed Content:

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