Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Book Not to be Passed Over- A review of Rabbi David Fohrman's The Exodus You Almost Passed Over

Many assumptions are made about what makes something a serious sefer. Some will say that it can’t be written in English, that it can’t be written in a way that speaks to the masses, or that it has to be about gemara or halacha. With his latest book, The Exodus You Almost Passed Over, Rabbi David Fohrman has, once again, shown that these assumptions are false. His fascinating, deep, and readable book explores the big ideas of Pesach, including the reasons for the makkot, to what degree God hardened Paroh’s heart and why that was justified, as well as the fascinating possibility that the exodus from Egypt might have occurred in a very different way if only Paroh would not have, in the words of Abba Eben, “never missed an opportunity, to miss an opportunity”.

Many readers will be familiar with Rabbi Fohrman’s website AlephBeta, where he, and his team share Torah in way that is thoughtful, creative and thought-provoking. Through fairly short animated videos (usually about ten minutes), AlephBeta shares Rabbi Fohrman’s approach which is original and literary, without being overly speculative. I have seen how these videos can be used in a classroom for students as young as middle school, while at the same time offering brilliant chiddushim worthy of a talmid chacham of Rabbi Fohrman’s caliber. In the Exodus You Almost Passed Over, Rabbi Fohrman uses a style similar to the one used on his AlephBeta videos, although the ideas he shares are much more expansive, as one would expect from a book of 285 pages. This has the benefit of showing how each individual topic connects to a larger whole.

What makes Rabbi Fohrman and his approach unique is that he doesn’t fit into any box. He shows that one can be literary and creative, while at the same time be loyal to the text, as well as to traditional commentators and their ideas. He demonstrates that a close reading of the text need not lead to a passionless discovery of minutia. Finally, he is able to create a serious text which is understandable to the layperson as much as it is to the more advanced reader.

It is difficult to pick one favorite part, so I’ll just give two of the many examples of what I loved about the book. Much has been written about how God hardened Paroh’s heart, and how it could be just to punish him for his subsequent negative behaviour. With a very close reading of the text, Rabbi Fohrman demonstrates that God’s approach, and whether he is taking away Paroh’s courage, giving him courage, taking away his free-will, or simply letting Paroh destroy himself, changes from plague to plague, as does the overall goal of the plagues.

Equally fascinating is where Rabbi Fohrman shows how God’s plan might have ended very differently had Paroh been willing to take to heart what was happening before him. Without giving anything away, he compares the story of the Jews becoming slaves and subsequently going free from Egypt, to the story of Yosef and his brothers and their subsequent reunion in Egypt, and discovers a different way the Pesach story might have ended, and suggests that it can serve as a model for the Messianic age.

It is not always easy for me to find time to read, and thus, I am sometimes slow in reviewing books which I receive. In this case, it became clear to me that I had to read this incredible book with enough time to give people a chance to buy this book before Pesach. It would be a shame for anyone to pass over this book. It will change the way you think about the story of the exodus, and will lead to a deeper more meaningful holiday. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that RDF doesn't violate the limits of traditional parshanut or even pushes that envelope. However, he does extrapolate quite a distance from his sources. And his writing style is quite engaging. Third, he speaks to our generation and mindset.

    All good things. But all three make it very easy to get lost in Truthiness (H/T Stephen Colbert), and forget to bring one's critical thought along. A few times -- and certainly not the majority of ideas -- I found that given enough time to have forgotten the engaging details of the presentation I didn't buy into RDF's thesis after all.