The Heart of Torah, Volume 2


The Heart of Torah, Volume 2

Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy

Rabbi Shai Held
Foreword by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg

496 pages
2 indexes


September 2017


$24.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

September 2017


$24.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

September 2017


$24.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

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.


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

Va-yikra’ No. 1. Order amid Chaos: Connecting to Leviticus
Va-yikra’ No. 2. The Fall and Rise of Great Leaders: Or, What Kind of Leaders Do We Need?
Tsav No. 1. No Leftovers: The Meaning of the Thanksgiving Offering
Tsav No. 2. Buying God Off: Jeremiah and the Problem of Religious Hypocrisy
Shemini No. 1. Is Vegetarianism a Biblical Ideal?
Shemini No. 2. Of Grief Public and Private: Moses and Aaron Face the Unimaginable
Tazria’ No. 1. Living on the Boundary: The Complexity and Anxiety of Childbirth
Tazria’ No. 2, Metsora’ No. 1. Struggling with Stigma: Making Sense of the Metzora
Metsora’ No. 2. Life-Giving, Death-Dealing Words
‘Aḥarei Mot No. 1. Yom Kippur: Purifying the Tabernacle and Ourselves
‘Aḥarei Mot No. 2, Kedoshim No. 1. The Holiness of Israel and the Dignity of the Disabled
Kedoshim No. 2. Loving Our Neighbor: A Call to Emotion and Action
‘Emor No. 1. Covenantal Joy: What Sukkot Can Teach Us
‘Emor No. 2. Between Grief and Anticipation: Counting the Omer
Be-har No. 1. Another World to Live In: The Meaning of Shabbat
Be-har No. 2, Be-ḥukkotai No. 1. God’s Unfathomable Love
Be-ḥukkotai No. 2. Standing Tall: Serving God with Dignity

Be-midbar No. 1. Divine Love and Human Uniqueness
Be-midbar No. 2. A Torah for All? Universalism and Its Dangers
Naso’ No. 1. On Channeling and Receiving Blessing
Naso’ No. 2. The Risk of Relationality: Or, Why Confession Matters
Be-ha’alotekha No. 1. It’s Not about You: Or, What Moses Knew
Be-ha’alotekha No. 2. After Pain, Prayer: What Moses (and Job) Can Teach Us
Shelaḥ No. 1. The Tragedy (and Hope) of the Book of Numbers
Shelaḥ No. 2. (Don’t) Follow Your Heart and Your Eyes: Between Numbers and Ecclesiastes
Koraḥ No. 1. Every Jew a High Priest? The Meaning of Tzitzit and the Sin of Korah
Koraḥ No. 2. Giving, Taking, and the Temptations of Leadership
Ḥukkat No. 1. When Everything Starts to Look the Same: Moses’s Failure
Ḥukkat No. 2. Putting Down Ancient Grudges (and Learning Kindness): Between Israel and Edom
Balak No. 1. The Lampooned Prophet: On Learning From (and With) Balaam
Balak No. 2. Not There Yet
Pinḥas No. 1. When Zealotry Metastasizes: The Passionate Self-Regard of Pinhas
Pinḥas No. 2. Between Zealotry and Self-Righteousness: Or, Was Elijah the Prophet Fired?
Mattot No. 1. Cattle, Cattle Everywhere: The Failure of Reuben and Gad
Mattot No. 2, Mase’ei No. 1. Serving God in All We Do: Israel’s Journeys and Resting Places
Mase’ei No. 2. Do Not Murder! Shedding Innocent Blood and Polluting the Land

Devarim No. 1. “Do Not Be Afraid of Anyone”: On Courage and Leadership
Devarim No. 2. A Bolt from the Blue: Or, When God Falls in Love
Va-etḥannan No. 1. Coveting, Craving . . . and Being Free
Va-etḥannan No. 2. A God So Close, and Laws So Righteous: Moses’s Challenge (and Promise)
‘Ekev No. 1. Will and Grace: Or, Who Will Circumcise Our Hearts?
‘Ekev No. 2. Always Looking Heavenward: Learning Dependence
Re’eh No. 1. Opening Our Hearts and Our Hands: Deuteronomy and the Poor
Re’eh No. 2. Women in Deuteronomy—and Beyond
Shofetim No. 1. The Future Is Wide Open: Or, What Prophets Can and Cannot Do
Shofetim No. 2. Give the People (Only Some of) What They Want: Deuteronomy and the King
Ki Tetse’ No. 1. Let Him Live Wherever He Chooses: Or, Why Runaway Slaves Are Like God
Ki Tetse’ No. 2. Combating Cruelty: Amalek Within and Without
Ki Tavo’ No. 1. Against Entitlement: Why Blessings Can Be Dangerous
Ki Tavo’ No. 2. Between Fear and Awe: Forgetting the Self
Nitsavim No. 1. Going in Deep: What It Takes to Really Change
Nitsavim No. 2, Va-yelekh No. 1. Returning to Sinai Every Seventh Year: Equality, Vulnerability, and the Making of Community
Va-yelekh No. 2. Why Joshua? Or, In (Ambivalent) Praise of Hesitancy
Ha’azinu No. 1. “I May Not Get There with You”: The Death of Moses and the Meaning of Covenantal Living
Ha’azinu No. 2. Hearing the Whisper: God and the Limits of Language
Ve-zo’t ha-berakhah No. 1. The Beginning and End of Torah

Notes on Leviticus
Notes on Numbers
Notes on Deuteronomy
A Note on Bible Commentaries
Subject Index
Classical Sources Index

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