Interpreting and understanding the Torah can take a lifetime, and the rabbis and scholars who study the ancient sacred text often also have to relate it to congregants in the modern world.
Congregation Torat Emet founder Rabbi Reuven Mann has released a new book, “Eternally Yours: God’s Greatest Gift To Mankind — Genesis,” a series of essays written over the course of nine years. The book covers topics such as love, sinning, jealousy and purpose — all of which are explored and discussed through the lens of the Torah and written to relate to modern-day struggles.
Genesis can be broadly divided into two different sections. The first is the creation story that begins with Adam and Eve and ends with Noah. The second follows the development of the Jewish nation by the patriarchs and matriarchs.
This is Mann’s second book. His first, “Eternally Yours: God’s Greatest Gift To Mankind — Exodus,” analyzed the well-known story of the Israelites’ flight from Egypt and makes the argument that Exodus remains relevant in today’s society.
While the stories in Genesis can seem complex to some readers, Mann writes about them in clear and almost conversational prose. The book is rooted in the belief that the Torah is a living thing, which continues to enrich the lives and minds of those who read it.
A standout section in the book is the discussion of Noah. Mann notes that some rabbis consider Noah to be somewhat controversial, as he can be read as selfish and uninterested in taking time to care for others.
“The classical answer is that he was not like Abraham, who reached out to others and saved many from a life of idolatry,” Mann writes. “Noah remained in isolation, taking care of himself and his family. His failure to save others made him responsible for their deeds.”
However, Mann argues that because Noah was able to take care of himself, he went on to do more wonders for the world around him. Thus, Mann writes, taking care of one’s self can be just as important as reaching beyond the self, and such personal attention can help define one’s morality and find purpose as a positive influence in the world.
In another memorable essay, Mann reflects on the story of Jacob and his uncle Lavan. Mann describes Jacob’s struggles and compares his uncertainty and confrontation of setbacks to contemporary difficulties with religious belief. Mann candidly writes that there isn’t always an easy path for the religious.
“Judaism does not make the claim that adherence to its precepts guarantees that you will live ‘happily ever after,’” Mann writes.
He adds that the patriarchs often had to suffer or put aside their personal plans to enact God’s plan.
For example, Jacob worked seven years for Lavan in order to marry Lavan’s younger daughter Rachel. On the wedding night, Lavan tricked Jacob into marrying his older daughter, Leah, instead. Lavan would not let Jacob marry Rachel until he spent another seven years working for him.
Mann described this as a great deceit, but he believes that Jacob’s reaction is something all modern Jews should aspire to. Jacob honored his uncle’s command and persevered through those seven years.
Contemporary readers can learn a lesson from this, Mann suggests: that one cannot be discouraged by setbacks or when things don’t go as expected. Rather, it is important to remember to be resilient as you push toward goals and fulfill God-given tasks.
Mann does an excellent job inviting the reader to understand the importance of these stories, how they can still be relevant and why it is important to read them.
More importantly, Mann doesn’t just focus on religious or historical analysis. He also discusses the psychological and moral teachings that attempt to answer the many questions of a contemporary world. JN
‘Eternally Yours: God’s Greatest Gift to Mankind — Genesis,’ published by the nonprofit Observant Artist Community Circle, is available on amazon.com.