Joe Rosenstein

Memorable Verses in the Torah (The Five Books of Moses):

with commentary and questions

Memorable Verses in the Torah

by Joseph G. Rosenstein

  • 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.

The simple answer is that these are verses that I both particularly remember and whose significance I recognize. I did not have to read the entire Torah to look for these verses; they simply occurred to me or to others who considered the list.

How are these verses memorable?

  • Some of the verses are visually memorable – ones that we can picture in our minds because of the stories we learned when we were first introduced to the Torah – such as the flood, the crossing of the sea, and the golden calf. (click here for more)
  • Other verses are memorable because we recognize them from the siddur – the Jewish prayerbook – such as each of the verses of the first paragraph of the Sh’ma, the central Biblical reading in the Jewish prayer service.
  • Still others are memorable because they refer to core commandments of Judaism, such as the Ten Commandments.
  • Still others are memorable because they articulate basic principles of Judaism, such as “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” and “you shall love the stranger, for you were a stranger in the land of Egypt.”
  • Still others refer to our relationship with God and our eternal covenant with God.
  • Still others refer to the apparently historical narrative that establishes the foundational mythology of Judaism – creation, slavery, redemption, and revelation.
  • Still others are memorable because they are associated in some way with another of the memorable verses.
  • And there are a few verses that don’t quite fit into any of those categories.

Other people might create different lists of memorable verses, although I think that any such list of approximately the same size would have a substantial overlap with mine. However, my list would most likely include some verses that would not appear on a similar list created by someone else, and someone else’s list would most likely include some verses that are not on mine.

The book Memorable Verses in the Torah contains a list of 148 memorable verses, in their order of appearance in the Torah.

 

Following the list of verses are one or two pages containing my comments and questions about each verse.

 

These pages include, in addition to the English translation of the verse, its original Hebrew text, and its transliteration into English characters.

 

Here are sample pages: The Sh’ma • Mannah • Dishonest Business Practices • “She is More Just than I”

This book can be used for personal reading and reflection, as the basis for family discussions, as a text for an ongoing class, as a resource on individual topics and themes, or as a “performance” of Torah highlights on Shavuot and other occasions. However you use it, you will enjoy a real taste of the Torah.

 

Personal Reading and Reflection: You will find this an interesting read – with a non-conventional perspective – whether you read it straight through or take a few minutes each day to read and reflect on the commentary and questions for one or two verses.

 

Family Discussions: You can read a verse at your Shabbat dinner table and initiate a discussion of the commentary and questions discussing that verse.

 

Classes for Adults and Teens: You can use this book as a text for a course on the memorable episodes and teachings of the Torah.

 

Resource: You can use this book as a resource, in conjunction with traditional commentaries, for increasing your understanding of the Torah of for preparing your own d’var torah.

 

Performance: On Shavuot or other occasions, you can use the verses by themselves as a summary of the highlights of the Torah: Each person in the room reads one verse – with a brief pause after each verse, but without any discussion – and this is repeated until all 148 verses have been recited (about 35 minutes), after which a discussion can take place.

The cost of “Memorable Verses in the Torah is $28 per copy
(including s/h) within the U.S.