There are many high quality commentaries and translations on the Book of Exodus. Here are two that deserve your attention.
“Redeeming Relevance In The Book Of Exodus” (Urim Publications, 2010) by Rabbi Dr. Francis Nataf, part of a five-volume series on the Chumash. Consisting of an introduction and seven in-depth essays that are thematically linked to the various episodes in the Biblical text, Rabbi Nataf explains the events, locales and personalities of the Exodus experiences with sophisticated detail that treats the engaged reader with respect.
The introduction, entitled “The Conversation with G-d,” sets the tone for the entire book. Rabbi Nataf recreates the mindset of the Exodus experience, and the reality of the Egyptian civilization within the historical context of the Jewish people’s spiritual existence. He considers the impact of Egyptian thought and mores on the Jews’ worldview, something that would play itself out in the numerous lapses that the Jewish people experienced during the desert journey, all attributed to the pagan influence of Egyptian culture.
Other essays deal with the meaning of Egypt as the crucible and cradle of Jewish nationhood and the influence it had in nurturing Moshe’s leadership skills as the Jewish people evolved from pagan slavery to monotheistic-based freedom.
One unique chapter in this book deals with the family relationships Moshe enjoyed with his siblings. This nurturing family experience was in marked contrast to the experiences of the patriarchs Yitzchok, Yaakov and Yosef, whose sibling hostilities dominated the early chapters of the Torah. This relationship is enhanced by Rabbi Nataf’s treatment of Moshe’s father-in-law, Yitro, who had a prominent role in assisting Moshe is his governance of the people.
Daunting as this experience was for the untutored Moshe, Yitro’s advice was crucial in making Moshe’s leadership effective for the remainder of the most difficult 40 years ahead.
In the chapter dealing with exile, alienation and the Jewish mission, Rabbi Nataf references in rather sharp tones the way some religious Jews regard those who come to religious observance later in life (Rabbi Nataf is himself a proud ba’al teshuva). This segment deserves careful reading by all who hold dear the concepts of ahavat Yisrael, and achdut Yisrael, for within these two concepts lie the integrity and future of the entire Jewish people.
Rabbi Nataf has delivered in this slim volume an eloquent, traditional, yet modern Torah commentary. He clearly defines and expounds upon the communication between man and G-d as an essential component to our physical and spiritual existence.
A version of this column appeared in 2010.