Mikraot Gedolot, the classic set of Chumashim containing a plethora of rabbinic commentaries, was not designed by a classroom teacher. Approaching the page can be intimidating. Setting aside the difficulties of deciphering the varieties of Hebrew script and writing styles, the reader still faces the assumption that he is already familiar with the Biblical text. The commentaries, each in its own style, immediately make complex points about translation, interpretation and plot. A teacher would structure the lesson differently, providing background and a structure for proceeding from point to point.
Rabbi Yonasan David Arenias has published a Chumash that redesigns the book. Journey of Faith takes readers through Bamidbar as a teacher would. First comes an introduction to a passage, explaining what happened earlier in the text and any further background necessary. Then comes an aided translation, based on Rashi. The running commentary contains summaries of great commentarial debates, differing perspectives on key issues and a few inspirational points to further satisfy the soul.
Journey of Faith is a competent commentary. The book summarizes the classical commentators, including many not in the Mikraot Gedolot, such as Ralbag and Malbim. But the commentary contains no original insights nor ideas from modern commentators such as Shadal, Nechama Leibowitz or the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Arenias utilizes midrash that explains the text, often assuming that background as historical. But this does not prevent him from also drawing from the well of great literalist commentators like Ibn Ezra and Rashbam. Rabbi Arenias surveys the classical commentaries, distinguishing between their ideas rather than the all-too-common homogenization.
This is a reader-friendly commentary, specially designed for maximum pedagogical impact. Rabbi Arenias uses language that is accessible but not simplistic. Additionally, shaded margins contain brief summaries of the commentary for quick reference. The lessons flow smoothly as Rabbi Arenias takes you step-by-step through the ages, engaging with the text and commentators.
The book is available for purchase at www.menorah-books.com.
Rabbi Gil Student is book editor of Jewish Action.