Too many Biblical commentaries today consider anomalies within the text of the Torah from either one of two extremes: as problems needing to be resolved, or as mistakes needing to be dismissed. In this fascinating new work, Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner proposes following a third approach: to consider these anomalies of syntax or grammar as the way that the Torah communicates both text and subtext. This approach, which the author ties to Freudian interpretation of language, allows Klitsner to find new meaning and motivation in the Genesis narrative.
One brief example of this method is found at the beginning of Klitsner’s third chapter, where he analyzes the episode of Jacob’s blessing of Esau. Opening this discussion, Klitsner immediately notes a parallel between the language used at the Akaida [lit. “the binding” of Isaac] and the language used when Isaac invites Esau to receive a blessing (both episodes use the word hineini, while one uses avi [lit. “my father”] and the other bni [lit. “my son”]). This echo of a previous dialogue sets the tone for Isaac’s intended blessing of Esau — “in order that my soul bless him before I die” — which tragically is misunderstood by Isaac’s wife, Rachel, as if Isaac wanted to confer upon Esau the Abrahamic blessing of G‑d, or in her retelling of his conversation “and I will bless you before God.” All of this transforms this episode into a tragic misunderstanding between husband and wife, which Klitsner develops with great skill and precision, drawing upon a wealth of classic and contemporary commentaries.
Rabbi Klitsner is a master teacher whose knowledge and ability have created a scholarly work that will be of great value to bible scholar and layman alike. But even more, in this work he presents a paradigm of how to read a biblical text that can be applied to other texts beyond the scope of this current study.