A Rabbi Reads Collections - What are your thoughts on this set?

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DIsciple II | Forum Activity | Posted: Sun, Apr 15 2018 6:37 PM

Do you have any experience with any of the books in this collection? 


What are you thoughts on its value ?

Does it read like a devotional commentary, something more, something less or something else?

What sort of insights have you gained form reading it?

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Apr 16 2018 12:32 AM

It's not my favorite of the genre, but is useful especially for developing a sense of the issues that would concern a rabbi reading the passage. You can check out some of my favorites on Amazon to see similarities and differences:

In short, I tend to favor those who make their method of interpretation very explicit - which corresponds to my interest. But if you are less interested in the history of how did you get here, this series is a solid introduction to the identification of issues and the living application of scripture. Worth the cost, certainly.

Jacob’s Ladder

Genesis 28:10–32:3

The biblical patriarch Jacob is an extraordinary character. Two of the most famous images to be found in the Bible belong to his personal story.
One of them is Jacob’s midnight struggle with the mysterious man or angel. It led to his name being changed from Jacob to Israel, though the struggle left him limping.
But the other image comes from this reading. Jacob has stolen the blessing that belonged to his brother Esau. Now, in fear of his life, he has to leave home on his way into exile. He cannot know at this moment that it will be 20 years before he returns to his homeland, years of suffering but also years of great material success. Since the blessing he stole was all about material success that is not surprising, but Jacob cannot have realized at the time what a price in pain he would have to pay.
But all that is ahead of him. Now he is simply alone. Later he will speak of this moment and remember that all he took with him from home when he crossed the Jordan river was his shepherd’s staff. He arrives at a place where he will stay the night. Jacob falls asleep and dreams the famous dream of the ladder, the other great biblical image that comes from his life.

  And he dreamed and behold! there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold! the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold! the Eternal stood above it … (Gen. 28:12–13)

The Rabbis were puzzled by one aspect of this dream. If angels are heavenly beings then surely they should be coming down the ladder from heaven and only then going up it. But the biblical text specifically puts it the other way round. First they are described as going from the ground upwards towards heaven and only then coming down. The Rabbis found one explanation that fits very closely to Jacob’s personal situation at this time.
In this interpretation, these figures on the ladder were the guardian angels that protected Jacob. But the ones that had been looking after him throughout his life till now were restricted to the land of Israel. Now that he was about to leave the land, their task was completed, and they were returning to their base; other angels would now take over to protect him on the journey to other places. Jacob had fallen asleep at the border post at the edge of the land of Israel.
In his dream, Jacob does not try to climb the ladder himself. He remains earthbound. Even when God speaks to him Jacob fails to understand the full implications of what is said.

  I am the Eternal, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants; and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south. And by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you till I have done that of which I have spoken to you. (13–15)

God spells out the entire vision of Abraham’s blessing and the destiny of the Jewish people; to spread throughout the world but also to live in this special land; to become a blessing for all the peoples of the earth. It is a dazzling and challenging destiny. But Jacob is not ready yet to comprehend what he has heard. His personal situation is too frightening and his immediate needs too great—they overwhelm any long-term ambitions he might have. So when he responds he makes no mention at all of the promise of Abraham. Instead he offers a vow of his own to God, but one that only speaks about his personal needs:

  If God will be with me, and will keep in in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Eternal shall be my God, and this stone which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that You give me I will give the tenth to you. (20–22)

‘Just get me home safely,’ he asks, ‘with food to eat and clothing on my back—that is my only ambition at this moment.’ It is partly a promise to God, partly a kind of bargain. Jacob is still Jacob and not yet Israel. Till now all that we know of him is that he is tricky and willing to be dishonest. He seems to be the least likely person for God to want to choose to carry on Abraham’s task of bringing blessing to all the peoples of the world. But this same Jacob can also dream dreams, can have a vision of a ladder rising to heaven. So there is also within him the promise of a greater quality to his life that could emerge. He could become two quite different people: the Jacob who steals and cheats or the Israel who wrestles with God and on behalf of God. That is why his name keeps changing back and forth in the different stories about him—Jacob becomes Israel, Israel becomes Jacob.
Before his spiritual self can fully emerge, all of his trickiness and practicality will also be tested. Ahead lies the meeting with Laban his future father-in-law who is more than a match for Jacob when it comes to being tricky and dishonest. Jacob will see in Laban, as if in a distorting mirror, all of the worst of his own qualities. That must make him reconsider his own actions. But he will also meet angels on other occasions in his life, and with one he will struggle all night. But is Jacob trying to pin the angel to the ground, to bring him down to his own level; or is he trying to force his way up the ladder to heaven and overcome the angel who stands in his way? These two key pictures from Jacob’s life, the ladder and the struggle, actually belong together.
Today we meet fewer angels, or if we meet them we do not recognize them for what they are. But we can understand the struggle, for we each contain within us a Jacob and an Israel, the material and the spiritual, the earthbound and the heavenly, the part of us that manipulates other people and the part of us that has the potential to bring a blessing to the whole world. And just as Jacob keeps changing to Israel and back again, so the struggle within us is never over till the day we die.

Jonathan Magonet, A Rabbi Reads the Torah (London: SCM Press, 2013), 24–27.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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DIsciple II | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Apr 16 2018 4:20 AM

Thanks MJ. Appreciate the response 

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