Exodus: The Book of Redemption

The Chief Rabbi’s literary Exodus


Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
OU/Maggid, £16.99

This second volume of Chief Rabbi Sacks's essays on the weekly parashiyot, containing articles adapted from his popular electronic Covenant and Conversation series, will find a broad and receptive audience.

Attractively produced, the book includes a powerful thematic introduction to Shemot and four essays for each of the 11 parashiyot. As ever, Rabbi Sacks blends literary and philosophical references with classic rabbinical sources to create a sophisticated, thought-provoking, yet readable, collection.

A typical set of essays is those on Terumah, the parashah which provides instructions how to build the desert Tabernacle. In a varied and interesting treatment, Rabbi Sacks discusses the portability of the "Tabernacle of the heart", which, he asserts, gave rise to the notion of the synagogue; tackles the failure of King Solomon to complete the "last chapter in the long story" of the Exodus; and extracts from the instructions to build the Ark of the Covenant the "profoundly egalitarian" approach of a Judaism whose genius is to make knowledge "accessible to all". And in a piece with the unmistakably Sacksesque title of "The home we make for God", he considers the cosmic importance of the Tabernacle, which represents the notion that human beings can create a space for God.

I was particularly taken with the introduction, where Rabbi Sacks offers an articulate approach to the transition from Genesis to Exodus, discusses whether the Sinaitic covenant may truly be considered reciprocal, and delivers a persuasive account of the revolutionary nature of the liberation of a nation of slaves and its inspirational impact on later oppressed minorities. It ends with a hopeful spin on a favourite theme: while Shemot describes a "realistic utopia", in which God's aspirations for the Israelites is constantly challenged by their wayward behaviour, they will one day reach their destination.

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