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Cardozo on the Parashah: Book Review

Tags: Books, Jewish Identity, Education, Shabbat

Essays on the weekly Torah portion – Sefer Shemot/Exodus

Reviewed by Yocheved Golani

If you’re struggling with your Jewish identity and want to make it meaningful, a tool for genuine spiritual growth, this book might jettison your success. Rabbi Natan Lopes Cardozo fans will rejoice in this collection of familiar essays. Readers new to his unconventional, thought-provoking style will be fascinated to think outside trite, predictable boxes of Torah commentary. It is a fun, exciting paradigm shifter for breaking out of conventional interpretations.

The text lets readers look at Biblical passages with curiosity, imagination, what-ifs, and intelligence. The result is innovative thinking plus a powerful appreciation for what our forebears endured and achieved.

Pages 14-15 address holy loopholes that our sages innovated in order to make life more pleasant for halakhically compliant Jews. Those pages serve as a gateway to increasingly wonderful reading.

Each chapter is followed by a “Questions to Ponder” page that leaves participants thinking hard in creative ways. The goal of the questions, culled from the David Cardozo Academy Think Tank, is to put discussion group members into the position of thinking fresh, challenging thoughts, of innovating valid “Chidushei Torah,” new understandings based on the text. An empowering way of thinking, it can do much to make Torah teachings meaningful in terms of today’s realities.

Torah thus becomes exciting, relevant, motivational, and inspirational. That can advance the Jewish world into increasingly valuable spirituality based on a genuine appreciation for Torah text. As you’ll read on page 29 of the Parashah; Essays on the weekly Torah portion – Sefer Shemot/Exodus “… we will succeed in creating determined religious personalities only when we ensure that they are confronted with strong ideological opposition.

Instead of developing a Jewish educational system that is self-contained and ideologically self-supporting, we should build yeshivot and high schools in which students are constantly challenged in their beliefs and commitment, in order to give them the Jewish religious tools to explain and to defend those beliefs. In fact, they should learn how to challenge the very teachings that oppose their tradition.” A “rebellion against mediocrity” is called for, as Rabbi Cardozo later indicates in the book.

In the Vaera chapter, pages 45-46 present the case for why halakhah depends on “case law,” and why “The purpose of halakhah is to disturb – to disturb a world that cannot admit that it doesn’t have all the answers.” Read the rest of the chapter to understand how halakhists, over time, “succumbed to the daily grind of halakhic living while being disconnected from the spirit of Halakhah, which often clashes with halakhic conformity for the sake of conformity.” Not a typo, this is a line of thought to rescue Jewry from self-imposed turmoil.

Learn why Moshe Rabenu is an invaluable role model for courage, a man who “knew how to lose” in order to grow. Self-respect will probably rise for anyone who adopts that mindset. Find out how parshat Mishpatim teaches us that “true freedom can only be earned through a great discipline. Freedom is the will to take responsibility… a mission to live for.”

Exult in understanding parshat Ki Tisa’s lesson about a “manifestation of holiness that surpasses the holiness of the Tabernacle (Mishkan) and of Shabbat.” It can ignite a revolution in the improved ways that Jews relate to themselves, to one another, and to the wider world, or in the words of Rabbi Cardozo’s text, “the unparalleled holiness of you and your fellow human beings!”

Humorous and educational throughout, the book includes a Vayakhel-oriented chapter entitled “Zen and the Art of Keeping Shabbat.” I won’t spoil the impact of that section for you by citing phrases from it, but know that it can certainly increase your sense of connection to, with, and as a member of, Am Yisrael - the People of Israel.

The Jewish identity as the People of Israel will become vividly alive as you put yourself in the times and events described here and throughout the Cardozo on the Parashah; Essays on the weekly Torah portion – Sefer Shemot/Exodus. Take yourself to the Temple Mount, to Mount Sinai, and throughout the journeys of the Jewish people in the holy land bequeathed to them by the One and Only GOD. Reading this book can do that for you.

Sharp, witty, and thought-provoking, Cardozo on the Parashah; Essays on the weekly Torah portion – Sefer Shemot/Exodus holds treasures for laymen and clergy, serious students, and the intellectually curious - including Jews and non-Jews. Read every word of the book to enter new dimensions of comprehension and love for Torah, the people and events recorded within it. Buy this new release from Cardozo Academy.

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Tags: Books, Jewish Identity, Education, Shabbat