Rabbi Reuven Mann’s new book, “Eternally Yours: God’s Greatest Gift To Mankind,” explores the meaning — psychological and spiritual — embedded in the second book of the Pentateuch, Exodus or Shemot.
While the story of Exodus is one of the most recognizable from the Torah, the subject of perennial Hollywood blockbusters and so much more, Mann, who founded Congregation Torat Emet in Phoenix, seeks to ferret out subtexts and to bring readers with him on a deep analysis of the story of the Jewish people’s liberation from bondage and forging into a nation.
Most importantly, the project is rooted in the belief that the Torah is a living idea, one that continues to enrich the lives and minds of those who read it.
The book is a collection of dvar Torahs Mann has written over the last eight years, and its release is timed to come just before Exodus starts being read in synagogues the world over.
The book was the brainchild of Rabbi Richard Borah, an author and founder and president of the Observant Artist Community Circle, a nonprofit focused on developing connections between Jewish artists and scholars.
Borah’s organization served as the book’s publisher, and Borah combed through eight years of Mann’s dvar Torahs to select the strongest and most readable for the book.
He chose well. The book is written in clear, approachable prose, with questions the readers have likely asked themselves at times. Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Why did God have Moses turn his staff into a snake when Pharaoh’s magicians and necromancers were capable of emulating this act? Why did Egypt end up turning on the Jews who were initially welcomed with open arms?
Mann doesn’t just answer these questions biblically or historically; he uses them to examine universal themes, making them relevant in a modern context.
In so doing, Mann confronts some difficult and controversial issues facing Jewish people today.
In one portion, he muses on the irony of Jewish history and identity, noting “anti-Semitism has played an almost indispensable role in preserving the identity of the Jewish people. The greatest spiritual threat we have ever faced is the complete freedom and acceptance offered by America.”
Not only does Mann believe the questions posed in Exodus continue to be relevant, but he also notes that the answers to these questions are embedded in the very same texts.
“A scientist can ask all kinds of questions about how the world operates because deep down he knows there’s a reason,” Mann said. “He may not know the reason, but he knows that there’s some source of profound wisdom behind it. That’s the school of thought that I come from.”
Whether you’re looking for a fresh take on an ancient story, or a jumping-off point for a discussion of the week’s parshah, Mann’s book provides an engaging and accessible means to do so. JN
“Eternally Yours: God’s Greatest Gift To Mankind” is available on amazon.com.