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Five Cities of Refuge: Weekly Reflections on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy Hardcover – August 26, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
This commentary, reflecting the thoughts of learning partners Rabbi Kushner and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Mamet on the weekly Torah portion, is insightful and inspiring. For each parasha, or weekly reading, the authors choose a verse or a set of verses that evokes questions or raises difficulties in understanding the text. Yet, instead of sharing the ideas that they pondered and perhaps resolved jointly, their commentaries are presented as two unique and separate entities with little or no connection with one another. As a result, although the book offers valuable explanations and helps elucidate the biblical readings, its format suggests it was simply a convenience to record the opinions of both men and not the result of laborious effort extended by their longstanding mutual Torah study. Kushner's concise one-page analyses sound like shorter versions of the typical rabbinical sermon, questioning incongruities and offering interpretations that are faithful to the text. They will be relatively easy for the novice to understand and learn, reliable and original enough for the Torah scholar to appreciate. Mamet, on the other hand, digresses into contemporary issues and submits commentary that, while fascinating, leaves the lay reader struggling to understand its meaning and its connection to the text. However, those seeking a creative take on the parasha will enjoy this commentary's brevity and intelligence.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"When I was a kid, I used to hide comic books behind my copy of the Bible. Having read FIVE CITIES OF REFUGE, I will now keep it behind my copy of the Bible. It is an invaluable midrash on familiar verses, bringing them alive to contemporary readers. Don't go to synagogue without it. Even if the sermon puts you to sleep, this will keep you awake."
-- Alan Dershowitz
Author of The Case for Israel
"If you think everything to be said about the Bible has already been said, pick up this book of weekly reflections. You will find yourself surprised, awed, angry at times, and always engaged. Lawrence Kushner and David Mamet delve into some of the richest and most challenging of biblical texts and come up with original, often unconventional insights. Read it for learning--and for fun."
Author of The Fourth Commandment
"Lawrence Kushner and David Mamet are both study partners and creative spirits who have touched and inspired the lives of thousands during the course of their respective careers. Their collaboration in FIVE CITIES OF REFUGE has produced a work of rare insight, intelligence, and sensibility. Readers of the Bible will be enriched and moved by their reflections. I recommend this book most highly! "
-- David Ellenson, President
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
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The cities of refuge in the book of Numbers were those cities where people suspected of violent crimes could flee to be protected from the blood vengeance of the family and clan members of one's victims. The citizens of these towns guaranteed your safety until your case could be carefully deliberated by wiser and cooler heads. According to Numbers, there were to be six of these cities within the territory of Israel. For the authors, the five "cities" of refuge are the five books of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). In these five masterworks, students can experience the patience and loving kindness of the Creator while reflecting on their blessings, mistakes, desires, and shortcomings. Safety, the authors seem to be saying, is a necessary prerequisite to exploring the fullness of God's mind and human potential. As Mamet says in his final contribution to this volume, "The 'struggle with the angel,' Judaism's struggle, is this: not that we will wrest more information from him--we will not--but that we learn to live with the information we possess--to cease seeking information and to pursue wisdom."
Some readers may find these devotions to be too slight (most are only one page long), but I found a slow careful reading of a single biblical text and Kushner's and Mamet's reflections on that text to be a great way to start the day. They are short enough to commit to, deep enough to enrich one's entire day.