The beauty of the Torah is that it can be read and understood on many different levels. Over the centuries, many different approaches to its interpretations. Most of the major commentaries generally have an agenda that they want to cover. Rashi comes to explain the pshat while Ramban comes to attack Rashi, for example. Both the Netziv and Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch try to explain how the wording and arrangement of the text show the intricate connection between the Oral and Written Law.
However one of the real classics is also one of the most important despite its recent fall from grace. The commentary of Rav Joseph Hertz, z"l, is one most people who grew up in non-Chareidi shuls remember. Although in recent years most shuls have moved to replace this old standard with the newer Artscroll Stone Chumash, it is important to remember the contribution towards understanding the Torah Rav Hertz provided us with.
During his time, Rav Hertz noted that British Jewry was faced with two challenges. On the one side were the evangelical Chrisians who were intent on proving that the Torah actually predicted the coming of their so-called saviour. On the other side were the skeptics of the day, the scholars of Biblical Criticism who were intent on proving that the Torah was not the word of God but rather an anthology invented by Jewish leaders centuries after the events contained in it.
It was against these two trends that Rav Hertz wrote his commentary. For those who often wonder why non-Jewish sources seem to be quoted as often as Jewish ones, the preceding paragraph answers that question clearly. Rav Hertz was interested in disproving the opponets of the integrity and Jewishness of the Torah. Using Rashi and Sforno to do so would not be productive in this manner. After all, the major mephorshim were "in on the game" to justify the problems with the text. Rather he emphasized major Chrisian scholars who acknowledged the Jewishness of the text and then-modern historians and archeologists who confirmed that there was much to substantiate the Torah's narrative.
It is in a similar view that Between the Lines of the Bible, the first volume in a putative series, comes to us. As the book's write-up notes:
Over the past few decades, Orthodox Jewish scholars have carefully embraced many of the methodologies of modern Bible study. History, archeology, linguistics and many other disciplines-especially literary analysis-can serve to enhance our understanding of the Book of Books. Traditional students have much to gain by utilizing all of the tools available in studying the Divine word. However, this burgeoning genre of scholarship has been almost entirely in Hebrew.
In this book, Yitzchak Etshalom provides the first English introduction to the methodologies of the New School. In a number of popular essays, Etshalom analyzes the familiar stories of the Bible and demonstrates the powerful tools of modern Torah commentary. In the process, Etshalom undermines many of the arguments of biblical critics and defends the Torah, through literary and historical methodologies, against attacks.
The text starts off slowly enough. There is a long introduction on the need for "modern Orthodox interpretation of the Bible" along with an explanation of what kind of commentary this is going to be. The first few chapters, which focus on the story of Joseph and his brothers, introduces the idea of seeing the story from the characters' point of view instead of the commentator. Interesting but nothing earth-shattering.
However, things definitely pick up after chapter 5 as Rav Etshalom moves on deeper into the text of Bereshis and goes after the well-known difficulties in the text. After several chapters refuting the baseless claims of Biblical Critics, he goes further using scholarship and academic methods to show support of the text of the Torah. By the time he's done, he's done an excellent job not just defending the integrity of the Torah but also providing valuable insights off the beaten path of most existing Torah commentaries.
Overall an enjoyable read and one that will cause you to look differently at Bereishis in the future.