You may be Jewish and have never studied the Torah, or you may not be Jewish and want to have a taste of what’s in the Torah, the Five Books of Moses.
You may be interested in the Torah, but have never given much thought to its individual verses.
You may have learned that the Bible is the word of God and never questioned that assumption. Now you may be open to a different approach, one that reflects a combination of respect and skepticism: respect for what the Torah is trying to say, and occasional skepticism about how the Torah says it.
You may have a traditional background and have questions that you never had an opportunity to ask or to explore.
You may be curious about what the words mean and how they fit together.
You may have dismissed the Bible altogether, because it doesn’t speak to you or because you reject religious ideas and texts as outmoded, but you are willing to take another look at the Bible from a different perspective.
You may want to know how the Torah can make a difference in your life, hoping to gain insight into your own situation by looking at the questions, beliefs, and struggles of our ancestors.
You may be interested in the Torah but do not have the inclination to devote a lot of time to perusing it. You may just want to know the highlights, the essence of what the Torah says.
On the other hand, you may know the text well and, for some reason, are interested in what I have to say about it.
If your position is reflected in any of the above paragraphs, then you might want to read this book, which provides a contemporary approach to 148 specific verses in the Torah.
Why would you be interested in what I have to say about the Torah?
I have spent all of my adult life as a teacher – as a teacher of mathematics and as a teacher of Judaism.
As a teacher of mathematics, I have been a professor of mathematics at Rutgers University and have written and published a textbook for high school students, among other books in mathematics and mathematics education. As a teacher of Judaism, I have given many courses in Judaism and have written and published prayer books.
As a mathematician, I bring a sense of curiosity and a sense of skepticism. As a committed Jew, I bring a sense of wonder and a belief that Judaism has something valuable to offer people in today’s world.
My earliest recollection about Jewish study is learning these texts, as one of three eight-year-old boys sitting at a kitchen table learning Torah with an eighty-year-old Rebbe. I know these texts intimately from reading them, thinking about them, and discussing them in the weekly portions through the yearly cycle. I chant from the Torah on a regular basis and have done so for the last 40 years.
The memorable verses discussed in this book are mostly ones that I remember, ones that speak to me, ones that I have thought about and sometimes written about, not ones that I had to look up. I relate emotionally as well as intellectually to many of them; they are part of who I am.
Many of these verses are simultaneously inspiring and problematic, and my comments about them might resonate with you or might appear contrarian, or even heretical.
In any case, I invite you to join me in learning them, thinking about them, and struggling with them.