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    An Exclusive Interview with Rabbi David Fohrman

    Rabbi David Fohrman is the Dean and founder of Aleph Beta and scholar for the Hoffberger Foundation for Torah Study. He lectures internationally on Biblical themes. Rabbi Fohrman grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. He came to NY (Kew Gardens, Queens) as a teenager when his father died and his mom remarried. He went to Ner Yisrael starting in tenth grade. While in Yeshiva, he earned a Master’s degree in History of Ideas at Johns Hopkins. While living in Baltimore, he wrote for ArtScroll for about seven years as part of their Schottenstein Edition of the Talmud.  Rabbi Fohrman slowly developed a methodology for approaching Chumash and Nach and for interpreting Midrashei Chazal. He began using his methodology to teach both yeshiva groups at Ner Israel, and, simultaneously, to non-frum groups at a local bookstore in Baltimore, called Bibelot Books. He eventually started teaching courses in Biblical Themes as part of the faculty at the Johns Hopkins University.  Rabbi Fohrman also learned with Rav Tzvi Kushelevsky in Israel and Rav Shternbuch’s Kollel in Har Nof.  He has three published books to date: “The Beast that Crouches at the Door” (about Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel), “The Queen You Thought You Knew” (About the Book of Esther), and his most recent, “The Exodus You Almost Passed Over.” He and his wife Reena live in Woodmere, NY with their two sons and five daughters.

    Ari Hirsch: Please tell everyone about your newest book “The Exodus You Almost Passed Over?” Why should they run to the store to purchase it before Pesach?

    Rabbi David Fohrman: We spend a lot of time on Pesach focused on the Sedarim — where the mitzvah of the night is to focus on the retelling of the story of our Exodus from Egypt. But curiously, most of us don’t spend all that much of our time on Seder night doing that. We talk a lot about the preliminary parts of the Hagadda — whether R’ Elazar ben Azaryay was really 70 years old, or just looked like it; why the question of the Wicked Son is so very different from that of the Wise Son. By the time we are done with that, it’s ten at night, everyone is hungry, and we rush through the Hagadda to get to the meal. The story of the Exodus sometimes falls by the wayside.

    This book is intended to give people a chance to delve into that story for themselves, before and during the chag. It is kind of like a travelogue of my own journey through that story. It’s me, one reader of the Torah, talking to you, another reader of the Torah, about what I’ve seen on my journey — with hopes to inspire an exciting and fascinating journey of your own through this wonderful text.

    I think the story of the Exodus isn’t just about what happened a long time ago. There are parts of the story that should touch us deeply, and very personally. We learn how to live, both individually and collectively, from this story. I wanted to share some of that with the broader public.
    AH: How long did it take you to write this book?

    RDF: About 4 months, pretty much full time.

    AH: How did you come up with the title/name of the book?

    RDF: We went back and forth between a couple of titles. My daughter, Shalva, suggested “Exit Strategy”– and I liked that and almost went with that. Another possibility was “The Exodus that Might Have Been.” In the end, I settled on “The Exodus You Almost Passed Over.”  It seemed to me to suggest one of the core ideas I was trying to get across, that there is an Exodus story right there in the Torah that is hidden in plain sight. Plus, it resonated with my last book on the Megillah — “The Queen You Thought You Knew.”

    AH: How can one get the book in time for Pesach?

    RDF: I guess it’s a good problem to have, but I think it’s possible we may sell out and exhaust our supply before Pesach!  We printed 10,000 copies and they went on sale ten days ago. There are 2,000 left, as we speak. Your best shot is to order direct from our website, alephbeta.org. It’s quick, it’s easy — and we have them in stock. Amazon has them but is struggling to keep them in stock. Local Seforim stores should have them, too. If they’re out, ask them to put in an order and we will send them more. I hope there are enough for the people who want them.

    AH: Please tell everyone about Aleph Beta and your web site.

    RDF: I was looking for a way to bring my work to a larger and more diverse audience, so to that end, I founded alephbeta.org. I wanted to bring the beauty and depth of “pshat-style” learning of Chumash to people of all ages and backgrounds. The site contains beautifully animated 10 minute videos on the entire Torah, separated by Parsha — and each of the holidays. We come out with new content all the time. The videos are designed to help make Chumash come alive for people, in a way that is real and relevant. Watch the videos yourself or watch them with your kids. I hope the material there delights you!
    AH: How did you get into that?

    RDF: As far as the videos, I was inspired by Sal Kahn, of Kahn Academy. He created videos to teach people math and they were wildly successful. I figured we should be able to do it for Torah, too. So I started. First it was just me, doing rudimentary, basic videos. We still have some of those on our site. Slowly, we hired people to help — young, passionate and talented people. They learned the craft on the job and over time became experts at what they do.

    In terms of my focus on Tanach, generally, as a kid I always felt that we didn’t give Chumash enough due. We used it for Sheva Brachos Torah and sermons, but few people walked around amazed and inspired by reading God’s book. I felt that there must be some kind of methodology the Torah uses to convey meaning that we were somehow overlooking. In the end, I think I pieced together parts of that. The tools I’m using are deceptively simple but very powerful. It’s the same tools, I think, Chazal themselves were using many centuries before us. When you apply them to the Torah, the layers of meaning and beauty of the text is simply breathtaking.

    AH: Speaking of Tanach, who is your favorite person in  Tanach?

    RDF: The Daughter of Pharaoh:  Her heroism and moral vision are astounding. She was the original Raoul Wallenberg. Out of all people, it is her name for Moses that sticks.

    AH: Any special plans for Pesach?

    RDF: I think this year we will be home with family. We’ve often gone away where I speak at hotels, but it’s nice to be home too. :).