Unlocking the Torah Text
An In-depth Journey into the Weekly Parsha: Vayika (Leviticus)
By Shmuel Goldin
Gefen Publishing House, 2010, 284 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - January 10, 2011
This is the third volume in the series of books unlocking the lessons contained in the weekly Torah portion by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin. My previous reviews of Rabbi Goldin's first and second volumes, on Bereishit and Shmot, tell some things about the author, the style of his books, the kind of questions that he raises, his acceptance of Midrashim as not necessarily true, and how he extracts the teachings from Midrashim and commentators. He states that he is presenting the plain meaning of the biblical text. These meanings are generally lessons on how to act properly.
This volume addresses the portions in the third biblical book, Leviticus, a volume that contains many laws about sacrifices, laws that raise many questions. Thus, the rabbi asks, does God really want animal sacrifices? What possible benefit could the all-powerful divinity get out of sacrifices? Are they really designed to address human needs? Do sacrifices atone for sins? Does the famous scapegoat that is driven into the desert during Yom Kippur atone for sins? Whose sins? Do people need to do anything to rid themselves of their misdeeds? The revelation of the Torah is a fundamental principle in Judaism (even though different Jews may define revelation differently). Why then doesn't the Torah mention the date of revelation? What does this tell us?
Among many teachings, Rabbi Goldin offers many "educational layers to the ritual surrounding" the scapegoat. He discusses chukim, laws that he feels we "may never fully understand, for example, why a deer is kosher while a horse is not, why shellfish are forbidden yet turkeys are allowed." True, the philosopher Maimonides offers reasons for all of the commandments and rejects the idea that there are unreasonable laws, yet even if one accepts the Maimonidean view, Rabbi Goldin's ideas, which are the ideas of mainstream Orthodoxy today, are interesting to read and raise questions that should be pondered.