“Redeeming Relevance in the book of Genesis”
For thousands of years, Jews have read a portion of the Torah in the synagogue every Shabbath. It is customary to begin the first portion on Simchat Torah and to finish the Torah on the same day a year later. Once the last verses of the book of Devarim are read and the Torah scroll is closed, a second scroll is brought and the Torah reader starts all over again with the story of the Creation in the Book of Bereshit. This happens within seconds, and there is barely time to breathe between the first and the second readings. It is as if any delay is dangerous. And indeed it would be. The Torah is the life-blood of the Jewish people, and any hampering of its flow would be detrimental. It is the Jewish people’s portable homeland, and for millennia it has been seen and experienced as the Divine voice speaking to all generations, instructing them in the correct way of living.
But why start reading all over again after merely a year- such a short period of time? Why not read a few verses a week in the synagogue, and dwell on them throughout the week so as to figure them out and truly understand them? Why not take tens of years for one complete cycle and carefully study the Torah’s contents piece by piece? After all, what is the difference between the first and second reading – or between thousandth and the thousandth-and first readings -when the reading stays superficial? What has been gained?
Human beings grow, change, and constantly transform themselves. And when one brings his experiences to the text, the text gets transformed as well. Human experience itself functions as a kind of commentary on the Biblical text. The dynamic human being depicts himself in the text, and as such the text takes on an entirely new meaning every moment. Consequently, the biblical text cannot stagnate. What can stagnate man and the biblical text is man’s inability to recognize and explore his own growth and change.
Conversely, the text also changes man. By reading the entire Torah scroll every year and being confronted by the sum total of the text, a person realizes that many of the biblical stories presented in the Torah are an explanation of his life. But not only that. The truth is that one needs all the stories in order to understand one single moment in his life. All of the stories are represented in this moment; layers and layers of one’s own life-moment are revealed as a kind of Traumdeutung. It is for this reason that the Jew is asked to complete the reading of the Torah scroll within a year: He needs to be reminded of the broadness of the text, so as to understand the implication of one narrow moment in his life.
In Redeeming Relevance my dear friend Rabbi Francis Nataf, the educational director of the David Cardozo Academy, has brought his life experiences as an educator to the biblical text. He shows us how the ancient stories are highly relevant to our lives as well as how the text itself reveals the depth of our lives as individuals and as a people. Moreover, he teaches us how we need to approach some of the most difficult life challenges. In these fine essays, Rabbi Nataf proves that the Torah was passed on to us not as a closed, boxed-in wisdom, but as an open-ended ongoing conversation between its Author and the people of Israel – and through it to all of mankind.
He is to be complimented for his original insights and the eloquence of his language.
We, at the David Cardozo Academy are honored to have this book published.
May the Master of the Universe bless him.
To purchase “Redeeming Relevance” see our website: www.cardozoschool.org/