What a marvelous resource are these reviews of all the fabulous books you've read! Your summation of Cassuto was so perfect: "The beauty of Cassuto's style of writing is matched only by the clarity of his exposition."
I just finished reading Strauss's "An Interpretation of Genesis" (which one can find online) for about the third time. Have you read it? His long essay, "Progress or Return? The Contemporary Crisis in Western Civilization" I have likewise read three times in my life. They both blow me away.
You can read "Progress or Return" at this url: http://mj.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/
Here is a quote from it:
"Their children shall be as aforetime" (Jeremiah). Redemption consists in the return of the youngest, the most remote from the past, the most future ones, so to speak, to the pristine condition. The past is superior to the present. This thought is, then, perfectly compatible with hope for the future. But does the hope for redemption-the expectation of the Messiah-not assign a much higher place to the future than to the past, however venerable?
This is not unqualifiedly true. According to the most accepted view, the Messiah is inferior to Moses. The messianic age will witness the restoration of the full practice of the Torah, part of which was discontinued owing to the destruction of the Temple. Belief in the Torah was always the way in Judaism, whereas messianism frequently became dormant. For example, as I learn from Gershom Scholem, kabbalism prior to the sixteenth century concentrated upon the beginning; it was only with Isaac Luria that kabbalism began to concentrate upon the future-upon the end. Yet even here, the last age became as important as the first. It did not become more important. Furthermore (I quote Scholem), "by inclination and habit, Luria was decidedly conservative. This tendency is well expressed in persistent attempts to relate what he had to say to older authorities." For Luria, "salvation means actually nothing but restitution, re-integration of the original whole, or Tikkun, to use the Hebrew term.... For Luria, the appearance of the Messiah is nothing but the consummation of the continuous process of Restoration.... The path to the end of all things is also the path to the beginning."
Judaism is a concern with return; it is not a concern with progress. "Return" can easily be expressed in biblical Hebrew; "progress" cannot. Hebrew renderings of "progress" seem to be somehow artificial, not to say paradoxical. Even if it were true that messianism bespeaks the predominance of the concern with the future, or of living toward the future, this would not affect in any way the belief in the superiority of the past to the present. The fact that the present is nearer in time to the final redemption than is the past does not mean, of course, that the present is superior in piety or wisdom to the past, especially to the classic past.
Today, the word t'shuvah has acquired a still more emphatic meaning. Today, t'shuvah sometimes means, not a return which takes place within Judaism, but a return to Judaism on the part of many Jews who, or whose fathers, had broken with Judaism as a whole. That abandonment of Judaism-that break with Judaism-did not understand itself, of course, as a defection or desertion, as leaving the right way; nor did it understand itself as a return to a truth which the Jewish tradition in its turn had deserted; nor even merely a turn to something superior. It understood itself as progress. It granted to the Jewish tradition, as it were, that Judaism is old, very old, whereas it itself had no past of which it could boast. But it regarded this very fact, the antiquity of Judaism, as a proof of its own superiority and of Judaism's inadequacy. For it questioned the very premise underlying the notion of return, that premise being the perfect character of the beginning and of the olden times. It assumed that the beginning is most imperfect and that perfection can be found only in the end-so much so that the movement from the beginning toward the end is in principle a progress from radical imperfection toward perfection. From this point of view, age did not have any claim whatsoever to veneration. Antiquity rather deserved contempt, or possibly contempt mitigated by pity.
Let us try to clarify this issue somewhat more fully by contrasting the life characterized by the idea of return with the life characterized by the idea of progress. (etc)"