“The Aura of Torah: A Kabbalistic-Hasidic Commentary to the Weekly Readings” by Rabbi Larry Tabick— Creatively Interpreting the Five Books of Moses

Tabick, Rabbi Larry. “The Aura of Torah: A Kabbalistic-Hasidic Commentary to the Weekly Readings”, Jewish Publication Society, 2014.

Creatively Interpreting the Five Books of Moses

Amos Lassen

One of the ways of revealing the holiness of the Torah (which is often hidden under a plethora of details) is to interpret it with creativity. This is what Jewish mystics and spiritual teachers have done in their attempts to reveal the aura. What we have are the attempts in an effort to bridge the gap between the Torah text and the modern Jewish spiritual quest.

This is a collection of a wide variety of interpretations of Torah passages, commentaries, and midrash that come the mystical side of Jewish tradition and have been translated by Larry Tabick. The original Hebrew and Aramaic texts are included. The authors we have span many centuries and speak from many schools of thought including “kabbalists writing within the tradition of the Zohar and other gnostic works; Hasidic teachers, from the modern movement founded by the Ba’al Shem Tov in eighteenth-century Ukraine; and German pietists, or Hasidei Ashkenaz, of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries”. Tabick looks at how these texts build on the underlying principles of the Torah (the supremacy of God, the interconnectedness of nature and morality, and the unique (though not exclusive) role of the Jewish people in the divine plan for all humanity and we see the deep spiritual truth as a result.

In Jewish tradition, Kabbalah is the secret knowledge in the Torah given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and it has been passed down orally through the ages until it was finally written down in the “Zohar” by Shimon bar Yochai, a second century rabbi who did so while living in a cave to escape Roman persecution. Scholars, however, tend to believe that Moses de León, a thirteenth century Spanish kabbalist, is the actual author of the “Zohar” and that Isaac Luria, a rabbi and mystic who lived in the fourteenth century, drew upon to gives us modern Kabbalah as we know it today. Ḥasidism and Kabbalah become connected through Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, an eighteenth century rabbi who was known as the Ba’al Shem Tov and who founded Ḥasidism based upon reinterpretations of Kabbalah of Luria.

Rabbi Tabick uses three separate verses from each weekly Torah portion and each quote is followed by the verse’s scriptural context, a brief biography of the commentator, the commentator’s interpretation of the verse, notes on the expressions used in the interpretation, and Tabick’s observations and insights. Each interpretation is numbered and link to two appendices, one of which is the exegesis in its original language and the second is linked to an alphabetic listing of authors with their respective biographies.

In the Introduction, we get the information on how to understand the “secret interpretations” of the Torah portion and its imagery. is employed.

Some of the mystical explanations require understanding of the rabbinic use linguistic wordplay in which each letter of a Hebrew word stands for a full word but this is not always necessary to get an understand of what Rabbi Tabick has to say.

Most interpretations do not rely on esoteric symbolisms, but on such Ḥasidic concepts as achieving closeness to God through intense praying and performing good deeds; improving one’s character through quiet contemplation and deep introspection and love for the congregation of Israel and taking personal responsibility.

The exegeses are taken from the heart of Kabbalah and the writings of Ḥasidic masters that have historical value and give the modern reader insights into the ways eighteenth and nineteenth century Eastern European rabbis wanted their congregations to think about life and the Torah. Many of us think of Torah in terms of story or law; the mystics feel that the words contain an inner depth beyond the literal text and look at the hidden meaning itself as a vehicle to self-improvement.

The book is arranged in the order of the weekly Torah reading. Here we have explanatory notes and Tabick’s short commentary. The original Hebrew is printed at the back. Tabick explains the sentiments of the original and we sense his apparent liberalism.

Pertaining to Torah, “aura” is the distinctive atmosphere or quality that seems to surround and be generated by certain spiritual persons. This emanation often connotes a person of particular power or holiness and was most certainly associated with Hasidic rabbis. Here we see that Torah inspires the same.

“The Aura of Torah” is so much more than a commentary to the weekly Torah portion and while what is written here can be confusing, it requires time and patience to reap the rewards that are contained within. There are Kabbalistic and Hasidic commentaries that are accessible to all, and this is place from which to start understanding them.

 

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