“A Year with Mordecai Kaplan: Wisdom on the Weekly Torah Portion” by Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben— Inspirations

Reuben, Rabbi Steven Carr. “A Year with Mordecai Kaplan: Wisdom on the Weekly Torah Portion”, Jewish Publication Society, 2019.


Amos Lassen

Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben invites us to spend a year with the inspirational words, ideas, and counsel of the great twentieth-century thinker Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan by reading his meditations on the fifty-four weekly Torah portions and eleven Jewish holidays. When it comes to Toah I have always thought of Rabbi Kaplan as a dynamo even though I had never read any of this Torah commentaries— it was just kind of understood. Now I indeed understand why.
Kaplan was a pioneer of ideas and action—teaching that “Judaism is a civilization” encompassing Jewish culture, art, and peoplehood; demonstrating how synagogues can be full centers for Jewish living (building one of the first “shuls with a pool”); and creating the first-ever bat mitzvah ceremony (for his daughter Judith). Kaplan transformed the landscape of American Jewry and it is a bit strange that his rich treasury of ethical and spiritual thought is largely unknown. That is, until now.

Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben studied closely with Kaplan and now offers unique insights into Kaplan’s teachings about ethical relationships and spiritual fulfillment, including how to embrace and maintain godliness in everyday experience. We look at  our mandate to become agents of justice in this world, and the human ability to evolve personally and collectively. We see reflective Torah commentary that integrates Kaplan’s understanding of the Torah text, and an intimate story about his family or community’s struggles and triumphs. We gain ideas of how to live reflectively and purposefully every day. I found this to be very special in that it gave me another level of both commentary and understanding of our holy texts. Kaplan was known for taking us through an appreciation of Judaism in the modern age.

Mordecai Kaplan’s illuminating commentary based on Jewish tradition and his own life experiences give us new wisdom. Rabbi Reuben explores Kaplan’s wide-ranging thought, Jewish religious experience, and human experience in a way that is clear and emotionally sensitive.

I am including the table of contents to give you an idea of what to expect.

Table of Contents

Foreword, by Rabbi David A. Teutsch    
1. Genesis (Bere’shit)
Bere’shit: Fulfillment    
Noaḥ: Good Enough    
Lekh Lekha: Purpose    
Va-yera’: Interconnectedness    
Ḥayyei Sarah: Lovingkindness    
Toledot: Family    
Va-yetse’: Seeking    
Va-yishlaḥ: God-Wrestling    
Va-yeshev: Thoughtlessness    
Mikkets: Dreams    
Va-yiggash: Destiny    
Va-yeḥi: Appreciation    
2. Exodus (Shemot)
Shemot: Revelation    
Va-’era’: Mercy    
Bo’: Hardened Heart    
Be-shallaḥ: Action    
Yitro: Self-Interest    
Mishpatim: Human Dignity    
Terumah: Indwelling    
Tetsavveh: Light    
Ki Tissa’: Giving    
Va-yak’hel: Community    
Pekudei: Building    
3. Leviticus (Va-yikra’)
Va-yikra’: Prayer    
Tsav: Firelight    
Shemini: Godliness    
Tazriaʿ: Witness    
Metsoraʿ: Defilement    
’Aḥarei Mot: Scapegoat    
Kedoshim: Holiness    
’Emor: Hunger    
Be-har: Oppression    
Be-ḥukkotai: Free Will    
4. Numbers (Be-midbar)
Be-midbar: Wilderness    
Naso’: Blessings    
Be-haʿalotekha: Humility    
Shelaḥ-Lekha: Perception    
Koraḥ: Rebellion    
Ḥukkat: Anger    
Balak: Dwellings    
Pinḥas: Women    
Mattot: Vows    
Maseʿei: Vengeance    
5. Deuteronomy (Devarim)
Devarim: Discovery    
Va-’etḥannan: Oneness    
ʿEkev: Gratitude    
Re’eh: Choice    
Shofetim: Justice    
Ki Tetse’: Indifference    
Ki Tavo’: Experiencing God    
Nitsavim: Generations    
Va-yelekh: Teaching    
Ha’azinu: Rock    
Ve-zo’t ha-berakhah: Divine Kiss    
6. Holidays
Rosh Hashanah: Sovereignty of God    
Yom Kippur: Transformation    
Sukkot: Gratitude    
Shemini Atzeret: Sharing the Divine Presence    
Simḥat Torah: Celebration    
Hanukkah: Rededication    
Purim: Resilience    
Pesach: Freedom    
Yom ha-Shoah: Living in the Shadow    
Yom ha-Atzmaut: Building a Just Nation    
Shavuot: Torah    
Epigraph Source Acknowledgments    

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