Sunday, January 16, 2022

Reviewing: “Bedtime Reading for Briskers” by Rabbi Ephraim Meth. Independently Published. 2021. English. Paperback.
260 pages. ISBN-13: 9798524658272

Much material in the spectrum of Jewish learning catches the eye of avid learners. People turn to Daf Yomi, parsha books, halacha or machshava. However, for numerous reasons, the study of korbanos is something that is not as deeply learned, or sought after nearly as much as the aforementioned topics. It could be because people would like to learn more practical halacha or they find sacrifices to be less meaningful or personal. However, Rabbi Ephraim Meth provides the opportunity for many to become acquainted with laws and philosophy of korbanos in “Bedtime Reading for Briskers.” With this parsha book, the author pulls in a type of audience that may not be prepared to learn about korbanos, but has every reason to start.

While the Brisker method brings to mind strong analytical methods and deep cerebral engagement, the author shares that the book was afforded this title due to students of the Brisker methodology spending a significant time learning korbanos. Since the material is lighter than their usual study regimen, as the author claims, it is appropriate bedtime reading for that audience. While Rabbi Meth claims that the book is meant to be light for Briskers, there is no reason to sell it short. He, too, analyzes different sources in the way the Brisk students do, attempting to parse items and define the debates among the commentators.

This book is packed with a tremendous amount of commentary. Although the author says that the three primary commentators who influenced the book are the Ramo, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, and the Sefer Hachinuch, he utilizes a whole gamut of other sages. The reader will learn from the Tzitz Eliezer, Netziv, Rav Yoseph Dov Soloveitchik and many others, most notably the Rambam.

Rabbi Meth connects a plethora of sources and does a phenomenal job of summarizing lengthy pieces of the Talmud and commentaries. In addition, he allows for plenty of follow-up so the reader can spend time pondering the approaches he presents. There is such a wide array of sources that you often have five to 10 pages of material presented on each page. The author quotes many ideas and culls part of them for his insight he presents. You can acquire many different commentaries tersely summed up.

This book is loosely based on each parsha, as the author himself points out. While he does not hide the sometimes-tenuous relationship to the parsha, it is certainly relevant most of the time.

The style of the book follows a presentation of many debates from varied perspectives; the author then sums up the viewpoints; and at times, provides proofs for approaches from different sources. At other times, he provides his own insights to define the debate. One insight that I felt must be shared, and can best explain this structure of the book can be found on page 79:

“... Meat tastes best fresh; as time goes on, it slowly begins to spoil. The laws of nosar (what is remaining from the korban) ensure that the korban meat will be consumed at its most fresh. If one eats a korban after its time is up, he might become disgusted with the korban and its smell, and, by association, with holiness and Hashem.”

Rabbi Meth often drops in tidbits, many times providing elucidation of these side points. Certain themes are referenced in later chapters and further developed.

The reader is provided with historical details concerning bamot, knowledge of the Temple operations, and painted a picture of the layout therein. We learn about the role of other nations in their relationship to the Temple and the korbanos brought within it, about the happiness that was ever-present within those walls, and the awe evoked from the sight and sounds experienced on a daily basis.

This book gives the reader the opportunity to take bite-sized pieces of korbanos at a steady pace, week by week. Although it can be enjoyed by the very learned, the novice reader will be able to benefit as well. There is no assumption of earlier knowledge of korbanos by the author.

Additionally, the author hopes that this book inspires those unfamiliar with the laws, philosophy and many details of korbanos to further enhance their learning of these areas. He points out that we do not have the ability to bring korbanos but quotes the famous chazal which states that whoever studies the laws of a korban chattas is considered to have actually sacrificed that korban. I would add that this book can enhance a person’s tefillah as well, especially during the oft swiftly read korbanos each day in the morning.

While korbanos may be the focus of the book, Rabbi Meth provides readers tools to appreciate the words of our great thinkers, to learn the different approaches of our codifiers, and seek understanding in our service of God.

Sign up now!