To celebrate our 101 Great Jewish Books list, we’ve been publishing some behind-the-scenes glimpses into the list’s production here on the Scroll, as well as the requisite Liel Leibovitz Philip Roth takedown (this time in handy listicle form!).
Our latest entry comes from Elisa New, 101 Great Jewish Books contributor and esteemed Harvard University Literature professor. Well, actually, her daughter: “blooper alert! mom blurbed the 2nd book of the torah, then @tabletmag clarified the assignment was for the uris epic,” tweeted Yael Margalit Levine yesterday. We got our hands on the original blurb, and it was so great (as was New’s subsequent Uris blurb, and her Anzia Yezierska blurb for that matter) that we had to share it. So, without further ado, the best argument yet for book #102:
101 Great Jewish Books: The Book of Exodus
The Torah’s epic, the one page-turner of the five books, Exodus is eternally fresh and enlightening. A story of national emergence, this second book of the Scripture shows a People in the making, and it lets this People’s movement through space (from Egypt to Israel, from slavery to freedom) stand for other, subtler movements. The Israelites begin imbruted, slaves not only to Pharaoh but their own short term desires. Time on the road teaches them patience, teaches them the civilizational necessity of Law and the rewards of abstract thinking: monotheism means holding onto a principle that is not directly before one’s eyes. Thus, while Exodus’s villain, Pharaoh, is easily manipulated by tactics and grisly special effects, Moses is in it for the long haul, and his People, too, learn that what lies beyond the present moment—history, futurity, posterity—trumps the value of the merely proximate.
What instructive story is there, really, to tell your children of the night you shook your booty around the Golden Calf? But the story of a journey not yet complete, a story they themselves must take up and must advance—that is the Haggadah, a Freedom Ride. That’s the story of human aspiration Exodus tells
And there you have it.
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.