Creation, the Flood, Joseph’s dreams, the miracles of the Exodus and other stories out of the Torah have been told and retold for thousands of years, but the seam of the story running through the five books is covered throughout with bits of law, genealogy, proscriptions for ritual and sacrifice, and all kinds of other information. In With a Mighty Hand, however, author Amy Ehrlich seeks to extract the pure story from the rest of the Torah to create one complete and poetic narrative.
As anyone who has read, or even simply flipped through the Torah knows, it is far from a seamless, coherent story. Though it is all one scroll in the Ark, the cut-and-paste nature of the Torah is evident in the many repetitions, contradictions and tangential side-tales coloring it.
Along with the adapted text by Ehrlich, paintings throughout the book by Daniel Nevins add to the feel of a family story book to be shared with adults and children alike. With the story laid bare, one can easily imagine parts of it being read to younger children, telling them the famous stories in a way far closer to the unabridged version than many other Bible stories for children while still keeping their interest with the smooth pattern of verse and no digressions to matters of precise instructions for sacrifice that can often seem tedious, even to adults.
Mining the Torah for story seems almost effortless for Ehrlich in the early parts of the five books. Not much seems to have been left out and even when condensed, the stories in Genesis and Exodus take up a larger percentage of With a Mighty Hand than they do in the Torah. What’s most noticeable in the book is the interpretation of the text to give the stories of Adam, Noah, Abraham and others a more lucid description and with a unified but still poetic style that can sometimes be lost in word-for-word translations, which may be scrupulously accurate but lose something of the meaning and tone.
The stories of creation and the history of the Israelites can also get quite obscured in the tangled torrent of obligations and rules that make up most of the latter three books of the Torah. Those books are noticeably less represented in Ehrlich’s distillation though not without their famous moments like Balaam the sorcerer blessing instead of cursing the Israelites and Moses’ final farewell to his people.
Although without extensive annotations or commentary, the book does provide a few notes on some of the harder to interpret verses along with maps and a genealogy to help readers make sense of what they are reading.
With a Mighty Hand may not provide anything new, but it’s not supposed to add anything. What it does is lift out the amazing stories of the Torah and tell them in a way that anyone could pick up and flip through, finding their favorites or maybe discovering something new that had been buried in ancient legalistic arguments or perhaps renewing an interest in the stories that end with Moses and “all the signs and wonders [Hashem] sent him to do in the land of Egypt. And Moses did them with a mighty hand before the eyes of all Israel.”