“Essays on Ethics: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks— What the Torah Tells Us


Sacks, Jonathan Rabbi. “Essays on Ethics: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible”, Maggid, 2016.

What the Torah Tells Us

Amos Lassen

The Torah is a storehouse of questions, some of which have answers only by interpretation. In this second companion volume (the first was “Lessons in Leadership) to his “Covenant and Conversation” series, Rabbi Saks takes an ethical exploration of the weekly Torah portions looking for the message if send us. He looks at the questions that have difficult answers. “Why was Abraham ordered to sacrifice his son? Was Jacob right in stealing the blessings? Why were we commanded to destroy Amalek? What was Moses’ sin in hitting the rock? And how did the Ten Commandments change the Jewish people, and humankind, for good?”

The Hebrew bible is the blueprint for morality in the Western world and as such it delivers a message of truth, compassion, dignity and justice, Sacks tells us but it is not always clear to the naked eye.

This new book is made up of readings/commentaries on selections from the Hebrew bible, with special attention to ethics, philosophy and social and political history. Many times Rabbi Sacks investigates the language and the grammatical style of the Torah in order to find the real meaning of what is being said and we indeed see that the Hebrew that is spoken today is not always the same Hebrew of the Torah.

Beginning with a portion of the Torah that he has selected, Rabbi Sacks explains the wording and how various Jewish interpreters have discussed it over time. He then gives his own interpretation making it relevant to the modern world.

At times, the Hebrew bible features certain passages that some biblical scholars have referred to as lawsuits, because the passages seem to be conducted as claims and counter-claims in a court of law. We all have the Law of Moses and see that the Bible could also be a handbook for legal instances. We see here that Jewish thought is unlike the Western philosophies in that it tends to go against the tradition of that philosophical bent. For those who are not aware, it is important to know that Rabbi Sacks is British and therefore his ideas might be a but different than what we have here in America. His society is traditional British and this makes the way he looks at the Hebrew bible very interesting to say the least. Having studied linguistics for so many years, I am fascinated by the way he deals with the Hebrew language.



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