Contemporary Torah commentaries in English are ubiquitous. They are available to reflect every Jewish denomination and to accommodate every religious or secular sensibility. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi (and architect) of Efrat is a master teacher and preacher. He speaks and writes with a modern cadence that reflects very traditional Jewish values. He applies classical and modern interpretations to contemporary issues affecting sentient Jews from all backgrounds. Torah Lights is really a mistranslation of the Hebrew title of this volume. It should be Torah Light—Ohr Torah. Not only is Ohr Torah the name of his network of educational institutions and programs, but Rabbi Riskin truly sheds Torah light on a wide range of topics.
Most such books contain one essay on each parsha or weekly Torah portion. In Torah Lights, Rabbi Riskin follows the style of one of his teachers, the late Nechama Leibowitz, by including an average of six essays on each weekly portion in Genesis. Again, like his teacher whose works appeared piecemeal and then were collected in five volumes, this is only Volume One. We may expect volumes two through five to appear in short order.
For a number of years Pinchas Peli contributed a column on the Torah reading of the week for The Jerusalem Post (See Jewish Book World, Spring 5764/2005, p. 40 for a review of Torah Today, Peli’s collection of essays from The Jerusalem Post). Rabbi Riskin has been writing this column, which is also syndicated in 30 other Anglo-Jewish newspapers world-wide, for the past many years. This collection is from those weekly essays. He writes in a breezy style which makes a point but is never pedantic. He often illustrates his thesis with a Hasidic story or an episode from his personal history. It is pleasant, informative, concise, and well-structured.
Granted that Genesis frames the history of our first families, the subtitle Genesis Confronts Life, Love and Family is too modest. Riskin deals with broad societal issues, theology, history, science, sociology, psychology, messianism, etc. These are minisermons meant to stimulate thought and reflection couched in a bite-sized format. The late Rabbi Joseph Lookstein, dean of American Jewish preachers in the mid 20th century, once observed that a good sermon can be summarized in one sentence. These essays carry one thought and are well developed.
Rabbi Riskin has shed Torah lights on a myriad range of topics, and we eagerly anticipate the following volumes in this series for those who may not have initially seen them in the pages of their local Jewish paper.