The Heart of Torah, Volume 1


The Heart of Torah, Volume 1

Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus

Rabbi Shai Held
Foreword by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg

400 pages
2 indexes


September 2017


$24.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
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September 2017


$24.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

September 2017


$24.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Shai Held is one of the most important teachers of Torah in his generation.—Rabbi David Wolpe, author of David: The Divided Heart

In The Heart of Torah, Rabbi Shai Held’s Torah essays—two for each weekly portion—open new horizons in Jewish biblical commentary.

Held probes the portions in bold, original, and provocative ways. He mines Talmud and midrashim, great writers of world literature, and astute commentators of other religious backgrounds to ponder fundamental questions about God, human nature, and what it means to be a religious person in the modern world. Along the way he illuminates the centrality of empathy in Jewish ethics, the predominance of divine love in Jewish theology, the primacy of gratitude and generosity, and God’s summoning of each of us—with all our limitations—into the dignity of a covenantal relationship.

Author Bio

Rabbi Shai Held is president, dean, and chair in Jewish Thought at Mechon Hadar and directs its Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas in New York City. He is the author of Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence and a recipient of the Covenant Award for excellence in Jewish education. Rabbi Yitz Greenberg is one of the preeminent Jewish thinkers of our time.


"Rabbi Shai Held offers thought pieces on the parashat ha-shavua whose scope, depth, ethics, and insight will delight readers from all Jewish backgrounds, as well as anyone interested in mining the Bible for its timeless wisdom."—Jewish Book Council

"Shai Held's new book on the weekly Torah portions is the kind of book that people should keep in their tallit bag and peruse during the Torah reading, because he understands the three kinds of questions that we need to confront whenever we study the Torah."—Jack Riemer, Jewish Advocate

"If you want a book that is both accessible and deep, one which will open you to the humanity of all kinds of people, with love and compassion, this is the book for you."—Kol Ra'ash Gadol, Jew School

"A breathtaking commentary."—Parshat Lekh Lekha, madlik

"In Held's deft hand, these divrei Torah teach of human ethical responsibility in the face of pain that is interwoven into God's world. . . . The essays are beautifully written, richly woven, and speak honestly to the challenges facing religious people in the 21st century."—Yoel Finkelman, Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews

"A spirited call to moral action and social justice. . . . Held is not content with learning Torah. He insists that we must not only study the word of God; rather, we must both "hear and do."—Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal

"The Torah reading cycle provides the structure not just for the Jewish year but also for countless volumes of commentary on the biblical text, including Rabbi Shai Held's brilliant new two-volume collection The Heart of Torah, Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion."—Ilana Kurshan, Jewish Review of Books

The Heart of Torah is a stunning achievement: textually learned, theologically profound, ethically challenging, spiritually uplifting, and psychologically astute. If you want to know what it can mean to read the Torah today with your whole heart and your whole mind, read this book.”—Rabbi Sharon Brous, founder and senior rabbi at Ikar, Los Angeles

“Shai Held deftly brings the wisdom of Torah to bear upon the contemporary human condition. Christians who read this book can discover fresh dimensions within the biblical text, see more clearly where there is common ground between Jews and Christians, and better grasp what it means to understand and live in this world as God’s world.”—Walter Moberly, professor of theology and biblical interpretation at Durham University

“Shai Held is one of the most important teachers of Torah in his generation.”—Rabbi David Wolpe, author of David: The Divided Heart

Table of Contents

A Note on Translations

Bere’shit No. 1. What Can Human Beings Do, and What Can’t They? Or, Does the Torah Believe in Progress?
Bere’shit No. 2. Created in God’s Image: Ruling for God
Noaḥ No. 1. Before and After the Flood: Or, It All Depends on How You Look
Noaḥ No. 2. People Have Names: The Torah’s Takedown of Totalitarianism
Lekh Lekha No. 1. Are Jews Always the Victims?
Lekh Lekha No. 2. Between Abram and Lot: Wealth and Family Strife
Va-yera’ No. 1. The Face of Guests as the Face of God: Abraham’s Radical and Traditional Theology
Va-yera’ No. 2. In Praise of Protest: Or, Who’s Teaching Whom?
Ḥayyei Sarah No. 1. Isaac’s Search: On the Akedah and Its Aftermath
Ḥayyei Sarah No. 2. People Are Complicated: Or, Sensitivity Is a Dangerous Thing
Toledot No. 1. In Praise of Isaac: The Bible’s Paragon of Marital Empathy
Toledot No. 2. Between God and Torah: Judaism’s Gamble
Va-yetse’ No. 1. Can We Be Grateful and Disappointed at the Same Time? Or, What Leah Learned
Va-yetse’ No. 2. No Excuses: Jacob’s Sin and Its Consequences
Va-yishlaḥ No. 1. The Fear of Killing: Jacob’s Ethical Legacy
Va-yishlaḥ No. 2. The Power of Compassion: Or, Why Rachel’s Cries Pierce the Heavens
Va-yeshev No. 1. Against Halfheartedness
Va-yeshev No. 2. Election and Service: What Joseph Learned
Mikkets No. 1. His Brother’s Brother: Judah’s Journey
Mikkets No. 2. Reuben’s Recklessness: What Disqualifies a Leader?
Va-yiggash No. 1. Humiliation: Judaism’s Fourth Cardinal Sin?
Va-yiggash No. 2. Saving and Enslaving: The Complexity of Joseph
Va-yeḥi No. 1. The Majesty of Restraint: Or, Joseph’s Shining Moment
Va-yeḥi No. 2. Underreacting and Overreacting: Dinah’s Family in Crisis

Shemot No. 1. Why Moses? Or, What Makes a Leader?
Shemot No. 2. Gratitude and Liberation
Va-’era’ No. 1. The Journey and the (Elusive) Destination
Va-’era’ No. 2. Cultivating Freedom: When Is Character (Not) Destiny?
Bo’ No. 1. Pharaoh: Consumed by the Chaos He Sows
Bo’ No. 2. Receiving Gifts (and Learning to Love?): The “Stripping” of the Egyptians
Be-shallaḥ No. 1. Leaving Slavery Behind: On Taking the First Step
Be-shallaḥ No. 2. Bread from the Sky: Learning to Trust
Yitro No. 1. Does Everyone Hate the Jews? And, Is There Wisdom Outside of Torah?
Yitro No. 2. Honoring Parents: (Sometimes) the Hardest Mitzvah of All
Mishpatim No. 1. Turning Memory into Empathy: The Torah’s Ethical Charge
Mishpatim No. 2. Hearing the Cries of the Defenseless: Or, We Are All Responsible
Terumah No. 1. Being Present While Making Space: Or, Two Meanings of Tzimtzum
Terumah No. 2. Returning to Eden? An Island of Wholeness in a Fractured World
Tetsavveh No. 1. God in the Mishkan: Present but Not Domesticated
Tetsavveh No. 2. Between Ecstasy and Constancy: The Dynamics of Covenantal Commitment
Ki Tissa’ No. 1. The Importance of Character: Or, Why Stubbornness Is Worse Than Idolatry
Ki Tissa’ No. 2. God’s Expansive Mercy: Moses’s Praise and Jonah’s Fury
Va-yak’hel No. 1. Whom Do We Serve? The Exodus toward Dignified Work
Va-yak’hel No. 2, Pekudei No. 1. (A) Building with Heart
Pekudei No. 2. Building a Home for God

Notes on Genesis
Notes on Exodus
A Note on Bible Commentaries
Subject Index
Classical Sources Index

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