How to Live

“Torah is not a book of history, even though its includes history. It is not a book of science, even though the first chapter of Genesis – as the nineteenth-century sociologist Max Weber points out – is the necessary prelude to science: it represents the first time people saw the universe as the product of a single creative will, and therefore as intelligible rather than capricious and mysterious. Rather, it is, first and last, a book about how to live. Everything it contains – not only mitzvot but also narratives, including the narrative of creation itself – is there solely for the sake of ethical and spiritual instruction. For Jewish ethics is not confined to law. It includes virtues of character, general principles and role models. It is conveyed not only by commandments but also by stories, telling us how particular individuals responded to specific situations. Torah moves from the minutest details to the most majestic visions of the universe and our place within it. But it never deviates from its intense focus on the questions: What should one do? How should one live? What kind of person should one strive to become? It opens, in Genesis 1, with the most fundamental question of all. As the Psalm (8:4) puts it: “What is man that You are mindful of him?””

A Living Book (Bereishit, Covenant & Conversation)