Do to no one what you yourself dislike. Give to the hungry some of your bread, and to the naked some of your clothing. Seek counsel from every wise man. At all times bless the Lord God, and ask him to make all your paths straight and to grant success to all your endeavors and plans.
– Tobit 4:15a, 16a, 18a, 19, Morning Prayer, Wed. of Week 1
So recently I took a deep dive into the OT and found myself consulting one Jewish source after another in an attempt to better understand the text and its meaning. One thing led to another and I ended up starting Essays on Ethics: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I’ve been a fan of his for some time, ever since hearing a lecture he gave in New York several years back on the subject of creative minorities.
I’m about 2/3 of the way through the book, and I’m reading it straight through. The chapters, though, are meant to be read as companion pieces to the weekly readings of the Torah, or parsha. Here’s a bit from the various first piece, on Bereshit, “In the beginning,” Genesis 1:1-6:8:
What exactly is being said in the first chapter of the Torah? The first thing to note is that it is not a standalone utterance, an account without a context. It is in fact a polemic, a protest, against a certain way of understanding the universe. In all ancient myth the world was explained in terms of battles of the gods in their struggle for dominance. The Torah dismisses this way of thinking totally and utterly. God speaks and the universe comes into being. This, according to the great nineteenth-century sociologist Max Weber, was the end of myth and the birth of Western rationalism…The universe that God made and that we inhabit is not about power or dominance but about tov and ra, good and evil. For the first time, religion was ethicised. God cares about justice, compassion, faithfulness, loving-kindness, the dignity of the individual, and the sanctity of life.
The parsha are explored with a particular focus on the ethical dimensions: what is going on here, what is revealed about God, and what do we do now, and so on. There is wisdom here for anyone. Highly recommended.