Preface to Rabbi Francis Natafs new book,
Redeeming Relevance In the book of Exodus, Urim Publications
To study Torah is a most difficult undertaking for modern man. It is not the Torah which is the problem but man. To read the text requires courage. Not the courage to open the Book and start reading but the courage to confront oneself. To learn Torah requires human authenticity, to stand in front of a mirror and ask oneself the devastating question of who one really is, without masks and artificialities. And that is one of the qualities modern man has lost. Man has convinced himself to be an intellectual, removed from subjectivity and to bow only to scientific investigation. As such he has disconnected himself from his self. Because man is a bundle of emotions, passions and subjectivities, he cannot escape however much he would like to his inner world. Still modern man formulates ideas; he may proclaim the rights of the spirit and even pronounce laws. But they enter only into his books, into his discussions, but not into his life. All these matters float in mid-air over his head, rather than walk with him into the inner chambers of his daily existence. They do not enter into his trivial moments but stand as monuments, impressive but far removed.
Man is no longer able to struggle with himself about who he is. Therefore he cannot deal with the Biblical text. It stares him in the face and he gets terrified by the confrontation. All that he can do is to deny it, to escape it so that he can escape himself. Because he knows that he has to come to terms with himself before he comes to terms with the Book, he cannot even negate or disagree with it as this requires him to deny something that he does not even know exists.
Does that mean that this man is not religious? Not at all. Even the religious man is detached from the spirit. He has elevated religion to such a level that its influence on his everyday life in the here and now has been lost. It is found on the top floor with its very special atmosphere of its own. It has been departmentalized. But the meaning of Torah is exactly the reverse. Its words, events and commandments are placed in the middle of the people, enveloped in history and worldly matters. What happens there is not taking place in a vacuum but in the hard core of human reality. Most of the Torah deals with the natural course of mans life. Only sporadic moments of miracle tell us about the murmurs of another world which is beyond. These moments remind us that God is, after all, the most real Entity in all of existence. But the Torah is the story of how God exists in the midst of mortal mans regular troubles and joys. It is not the story of God in heaven, but of the God of human history and personal encounter.
My dear friend Rabbi Francis Nataf, Educational Director of the David Cardozo Academy, has once again provided us with penetrating studies about the reality of human existence in the Torah and the great message and relevance of the Biblical stories in our day-to-day life without allowing us to lose their transcendent meaning. His treatment simultaneously makes us re-enter the minds and hearts of some of the great personalities of the Bible in ways we have previously not considered.
After giving us keen insights in his previous book Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Genesis, this time Rabbi Nataf gives a careful, penetrating look at issues and personalities in the book of Shemot. His analyses are refreshing and most informative and also introduce to us some major elements in Judaism. In his own unique style, Rabbi Nataf has once more done us a great service by engaging us with the words of the Divine text as well as the great Biblical figures without losing sight of the fact that they were human beings who tried to live in the presence of God. For this we are most thankful.
The Cardozo Academy is proud to put out this work.