Reviewing: “Parashah Sheleimah on Sefer Shemos: Applying The Weekly Torah Reading To Life’s Events And Celebrations” by Rabbi Allen Schwartz. Mosaica Press. 2023. Hardcover. 223 pages. ISBN-13: 9781957579498.
In his “Parsha Sheleima on Sefer Shemos,” Rabbi Allen Schwartz picks up where he left off from his same commentary on Bereshis. One can expect the same style in this work. For example, this sefer is unique in that it seeks to offer a multifaceted approach to the Torah. Each parsha contains some connection to the four amidahs of Shabbos, giving a greater understanding of a unique word contained within the weekly portion—which connects to seminal life events and provides a general introduction to both the portion from the Torah and the accompanying haftorah portion, through multiple methods of understanding.
As in the previous volume, each chapter contains a Friday night section—which connects an aspect of the parsha to the concept from that night’s tefillah—showing us that the purpose of creation was Shabbos. The next section provides an introduction to the Torah portion in connection to the Shabbos morning tefillah, which mentions that Moshe should be happy in his portion.This is followed by the introduction to the haftorah, which allows the reader to see what the rabbis highlighted from that week’s portion, which was elaborated on and further explained by the Navi. This is followed by a drasha, “the main homiletic exposition of the parsha with a more global message in the realm of drasha.” The next section leads into some mussar to be taken from the portion, highlighting an ethical lesson one can internalize from that week’s portion. Then, lifecycle sections are followed, with a piece of Torah related to birth, then bnei mitzvah and marriage. This is, then, followed by the affirmation that Hashem is One and His Name is One, in relation to seudat shlishit. Finally, he finishes off with a word on the parsha—a peculiar word that is infrequent in Tanach. This is what occupies the 10 sections contained in each weekly portion.
Yet again, any of the sections can be utilized for its own purpose. For example, one need not prepare a drasha by reading all of the prior sections for that parsha. Rather, one can focus on one area and cull out the situation-specific reason for which they are searching in the book. Rabbi Schwartz continues to do a superb job of explaining the ideas presented in the midrashim. He additionally displays his expertise in Nevi’im and Ketuvim, as he brings complementary verses to help us understand the weekly sedra.
Some examples of the new insights of Rabbi Schwartz include a beautiful explanation of the connection between Parshat Beshalach and Tu B’Shevat. He points out that every year the two coincide, and reveals a message of import to be learned from that unison. He points out that we were passive recipients in the redemption from Egypt. We did not lead a revolt, or even fight the Egyptians. “So far, since the beginning of Shemos, the redeemed relied on redeemers without much personal effort. Most of the acts of redemption come from outsiders … Moshe, himself, is quite the outsider, when he emerges on the stage heroically to save his fellow Hebrew … A concern is expressed that they may return to Egypt at the sight of war,” (pages 82-83). The Jews were saved by Hashem, but there was fear that they would run away at the first sight of trouble.
In order to counteract this emotion, Tu B’Shevat makes us an active partner in the fulfillment of mitzvot. We would grow the crops, take action and lead a life of independence, but keep the perspective that it was God who provided them with that sustenance. We would be able to find an equal balance between self-sufficiency and recognize how really dependent we are.
While many find difficulty in appreciating wisdom and forming a connection to aspects of Temple service, Rabbi Schwartz provides a plethora of beautiful insights to enlighten the reader. The author highlights a powerful marital insight by pointing to the, “… impossible task-encapsulating the Infinite in the finite configuration … the message is that for that relationship to reach its full potential, we must keep working at it each and every day, well beyond the day of the marriage. This is good advice not only between God and His people, but in all interpersonal relationships, especially marriage,” (page 138).
A final highlight relates to the importance of not attributing physicality to the Creator. “The makers of the golden calf sought to endow a physical object with Divine holiness, by saying that it represented the God, who had just delivered them from Egypt. With careful thought and deliberation, Moshe sought to teach his people a most powerful lesson. Nothing physical can represent God, and he taught this lesson by smashing the very tablets made by God Himself! The tablets—like the Aron and the Temple—are physical objects, and, as such, entail no inherent holiness,” (page 180). Rabbi Schwartz reinforces the integral relationship with God, which must exist—through a new understanding of Moshe breaking the first set of tablets that we received from Hashem.
The footnotes, yet again, share with the reader with basically a whole other sefer! He references other sources, asks leading questions and provides the reader with opportunities to explore further many different areas.
This second addition takes all the strengths and unique qualities of the first volume and applies them to sefer Shemot. Unfortunately, the reader will feel lost and longing for more when sefer Vayikra comes around and they don’t yet have this commentary to continue.
Rabbi Eliezer Barany is an editor and serves as a high school rebbe at Posnack Jewish Day School in South Florida.