Book Review | DovBear on the Parsha
Over Shabbos I had the privilege of reading an excellent book. On Thursday my DovBear on the Parsha arrived at my summer residence and I was hoping to look it over on Shabbos.
At just over 175 pages I thought I would peruse the articles and formulate a general opinion of the book over Shabbos. Instead, I was so tired by the time Shabbos came along I decided to just read the first couple of chapters before heading to bed Friday night.
To my surprise I was unsuccessful in my goal… I started the book after the Friday night meal and I went to sleep at 11:30 PM, after I had read the entire book cover to cover (not just the first couple chapters). DovBear on the Parsha is a true page turner.
I was spellbound and mesmerized. As I was reading I felt myself running through the full gamut of emotions. The book made me laugh, cry, agree, disagree, shake my head, nod my head, upset, happy, disappointed, thrilled and thirsty for more.
Before I begin the substantive review, I would be remiss if I did not mention that I found the dedication and acknowledgements sweet and honest. It was not contrived as some cheesy dedications are and it only added to the power of the book. The book certainly starts on the right foot.
First, allow me to say, the book demonstrates DovBear’s tremendous breadth of Torah knowledge. The sheer number of Torah commentaries, Midrashim, Talmudic passages and contemporary opinions presented represents a life’s work devoted to understanding and appreciating Torah.
Too many of us “punch in” at the local Daf Yomi instead of “tuning in” to our learning. This book demonstrates the latter.
Second, the insights are impeccable. I found myself time and time again wishing that I had thought of what I was reading. Much of it seems so obvious and yet elusive to the average observant Jew.
In particular the observations made in “Eliezer and his 318 Men is obviously the correct reading of the material and yet I have never heard it before! Perhaps, I would have seen it myself in the original text down the road, but the way DovBear seemlessly integrates the words of the commentaries with the Torah gives life and a spark to the commentaries quoted.Similarly, the sentiment expressed in “What Was Rivka Playing At” and “Esav Enigma” is something I talk about often but is foreign to many learned Jews.
A clarity of thought and of writing makes some difficult concepts more palatable and easier to appreciate. But the depth of the content is not compromised by its simple tone. Each short essay (almost each essay) provides deeper insight into some of the most complex sections of the Chumash. Such as, the story of Tamar, Yaakov stealing the Blessings from Esav, the curse of Cham, the sin of the Spies and the first Shabbos violator.
Third, the aesthetics of the typography and layout is pleasing. So often a book is well written but so hard to read because of the obvious lack of attention paid to the reader’s eyes. DovBear on the Parsha is easy to read linguistically and physically.
Next, the essays. Many essays were outstanding. My overall favorites (I could be missing a few) are: Rainbows, The Curse of Ham, A Twenty First Century Sodom?, Why Was Isaac Blind?, Salt and Straw, Marrying Sisters, Leah’s Lament, Esav Sonei L’Yaakov, Tamar’s Tale, Abominations, Stoned, Talking Torah with the Baby Bears and What Remains of my Favorite Post. I regret that I read it on Shabbos, because I kept on thinking “I have a great kneitch to add here”, or “that is just like something I once saw on something else”, or “that is such a pet peeve of mine as well”, and I wish I could have annotated the book with my thoughts.
To me, that is the greatest asset of the book. It provides real (fast) food for thought on an unlimited number of Torah subjects. The essays are not ends in themselves, they are starting points for discussion and beginning point to understanding Torah more deeply.
There were a couple of essays which I disagreed with on a theological basis. That is a good thing. That means that DovBear on the Parsha is pushing us to challenge and think. Too often we accept and move on. DovBear on the Parsha takes that away from its reader and I think that is wonderful.
What moved me the most was DovBear’s unyielding devotion and dedication to Torah. Questions, answers, problems, solutions, issues and explanations did not deter DovBear as throughout the book he remained dedicated to Torah and mitzvos. It was clear to me, the reader, that DovBear is passionate about his Judaism and takes pride in his adherence to Torah and mitzva observance.
I felt this particularly due to the joy that jumps off the page in DovBear’s tone as he writes a new insight or thought. The sheer enjoyment is palpable and to me, only a feeling felt through a real dedication to Torah Judaism.
The final essay in DovBear on the Parsha is “What Remains of My Favorite Post“. The relevant quote is here:
Any two-bit exegete can flatter his colleagues and offer simpering praise. That sort of behavior may suggest manners, but it doesn’t demonstrate brains, talent or confidence. Endless praise is the behavior of a sycophant, someone who values popularity over truth and integrity. Is that really what we want…? An endless exchange of Valentines?
As a blogger who has been smacked around (and who has done his share of smacking) I can relate. The roughness is how some people prefer to communicate but it’s always sign of respect to be noticed, and mentioned. Moreover, rough language often comes with the territory when ideas are at stake.
With this thought, DovBear has given license to his readers to criticize. A review with no criticism would be shallow and empty. It is in this light that I present my sole critique.
Imagine you buy a brand new car. Let’s say you got your first new Lexus. It is a beauty and something you have coveted for years. You get into your new ride and turn the key, ahhhh, the engine roars to life. You exert some pressure on the gas pedal, ahhhh, the cars purrs as it accelerates. Your hand reaches for the radio and you push the power button and… nothing. The radio doesn’t work. Big deal, right? The car is a Lexus, you didn’t get a Lexus for the radio – right? But it still bothers you – right?
That is how I felt a couple of times while reading DovBear on the Parsha. The content is so good and yet it could use another good proof-reading. There are more than a few typos. There is a lack of consistency in the transliterations. For example one (great) essay is title “Makot Machlokes”. Those two spellings are contradictory. Makot is a sephardic pronunciation and Machlokes is an ashkenazic pronunciation. Throughout the book we are treated to both variants with no consistency. Similarly, in a post titled “Mean Loez”, the Me’am Loez is spelled Meam and Me’am.
This is just like the radio not working in the Lexus. I don’t tune in to DovBear for perfectly consistent writing style I tune in for substance. But the lack of attention to the nitty gritty in the writing does not do the rest of the book justice. DovBear on the Parsha is too good a book for the reader to be annoyed by typos and inconsistencies.
My only other critique (if this is even a critique) is the lack of content on the summer Parshios and the book of Devarim. I simply wish there was more content in the book.
In summary, DovBear on the Parsha is a masterpiece. It is a masterpiece because so few of us could even write a book like this. Most lay people are not producing innovative thought on Torah and our Rabbis and teachers focus on so many other corners of Torah. DovBear on the Parsha is a mechayev on all of us to think, challenge, study and grow in our Torah study. Each short essay can evoke emotion and thought from its reader.
I recommed DovBear on the Parsha for every Jewish home. You will probably find yourself agreeing with most of what DovBear has written. And even if you disagree with everything in the book it will still be a worthwhile, if not important read.
Click anywhere it says “DovBear on the Parsha” to buy from Amazon.
If it is sold out of Amazon go to DovBear’s blog and purchase there by clicking here.