Prophet Pearls – Lech Lecha – Isaiah 40:27-41:16

"For I, Yehovah your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, 'Fear not, I will help you.'" Isaiah 41:13“For I, Yehovah your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.'” Isaiah 41:13

This week Nehemia Gordon and Keith Johnson discuss the Prophets portion for Lech Lecha, covering Isaiah 40:27-41:16. As Isaiah spoke consolation to invaded Israel, Gordon and Johnson console the listener with the deep wells contained in the original Hebrew—nuances that bring even greater comfort from the promises of the Creator. Word studies include: “renewed” strength, “first and last,” “righteousness,” and “eternity”—with the significance of its second root. Gordon and Johnson consider the options concerning “who stirred up from the east” and discuss how the ancient Israelites knew who was speaking in this Portion’s fast-paced dialog. Gordon concludes with the comforting news implied by the winnowing process—not all nations will be carried away.

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Torah Pearls – Lech Lecha – Genesis 12:1-17:27

Torah-Pearls-03-Genesis-03-Lech-LechaThis week Nehemia Gordon, Keith Johnson, and Jono Vandor discuss the Torah portion of Lech Lecha covering Genesis 12:1-17:27. The trio revel in the extraordinary drama of Abraham’s epic: a call from heaven, famine, war, plagues, dreadful and great darkness, bisected animals, flaming torches, battles with vultures, sister wives and kings. Then the cliffhanger—the God-who-sees promises to make an everlasting covenant with a yet-to-be-conceived son, and to make him the father of 12 princes.

Word studies provide their own degree of drama in this portion as we learn the action implied in the Hebrew word for “belief” as well as details concerning the following phrases: “circumcised with foreskin,” “he gave tithes to him,” “make covenant,” and most telling, the three little words that sum up Abraham’s M.O., “So Abram left”.

Gordon, Johnson and Vandor guide us deftly through Lech Lecha. While not depicting Abraham as “every-man”—we’re led to imagine at least a smidgen of our own story in Abraham’s faithful life and wonder—what if we were prone to a little less conversation, a little more action?

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Prophet Pearls – Noach – Isaiah 54:1-55:5

“For this to Me is like the waters of Noah: As I swore that the waters of Noah nevermore…” Isaiah 54:9

This week Nehemia Gordon and Keith Johnson discuss the Prophets portion for Noach covering Isaiah 54:1-55:5. Gordon and Johnson revel in the glorious promises to Israel and explore the various ways the Tanakh allegorizes her: as a barren and abandoned woman, a maidservant, a slave, an owned animal, and yet, wholly and eternally a beloved wife. Original language brings insight to the following words: “foaming” anger, Yehovah of “hosts,” mercy, kibbutz, and “brief” moment. Despite differing views on some issues, Gordon and Johnson stand firmly on common ground concerning the messianic promise as Yehovah connects his eternal covenant with Israel to the seed of David.

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Torah Pearls – Noach – Genesis 6:9-11:32

Torah-Pearls-02-Genesis-02-NoachThis week Nehemia Gordon, Keith Johnson, and Jono Vandor discuss the Torah portion of Noach covering Genesis 6:9-11:32. The trio discusses the following questions and more: While Noah was a righteous man—relatively speaking—what spiritual disease was the rest of the world infected with?  Is doing what comes naturally the best answer for our bad selves? Does the post-flood diet really include the “all”-you-care-to eat buffet?  What was the sign of the curse and what is the sign of the covenant? When the whole earth spoke one language, what language was it? What are the implications of the 70 nations that sprung from Noah’s three sons? In closing, Gordon discusses the belief that Adam was a Talmudic scholar as well as other historical views concerning what we knew and when we knew it.
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Prophet Pearls – Bereshit – Isaiah 42:5-43:10

"Thus says the Mighty One Yehovah, who created the heavens and stretched them out..." Isaiah 42:5“Thus says the Mighty One Yehovah, who created the heavens and stretched them out…” Isaiah 42:5

This week Nehemia Gordon and Keith Johnson discuss the Prophets portion for Bereshit covering Isaiah 42:5-43:10. After a quick tutorial on the origin of the Haftarah, we learn that the Prophets aren’t the golden oldies; their writings are as relevant as ever and more current than our news feeds. Gordon and Johnson explore the original context in which this portion was written, followed by the context in 168 BCE when this passage was first read aloud in the synagogue, and finally the context in September 2014 when Netanyahu spoke the holy words of Isaiah to the United Nations. In addition to parsing key words from the portion, Gordon and Johnson answer the following: What service did the Jews provide to the ancient Roman Empire? And since the Creator refers to himself in so many wonderful ways, would he really name himself, “Lord”? In closing, Gordon and Johnson remind us that while God’s one and only name may have been lost for generations, he did not lose ours—he calls every one of his covenant people by name.

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Torah Pearls – Bereshit – Genesis 1:1-6:8

Torah-Pearls-01-Genesis-01-BereshitThis week Nehemia Gordon, Keith Johnson, and Jono Vandor discuss the Torah portion of Bereshit covering Genesis 1:1-6:8. The inaugural Torah Pearl kicks off with a “Portion101” and then, game on. Gap theory, hyper-literalism, parallelism, something from nothing or something from something? Old earth or young earth? Cosmic battle or crafty animal just doing his thing? What hovered . . . an angel, wind, the “Holy Spirit”? Interpretations abound, but to Gordon, sometimes an “et” is just an “et.” What was hot-wired into the sun and moon on the fourth day? Despite chapter manipulations by an Archbishop of Canterbury what climaxes the creation story—mankind or Shabbat? Moving away from theories and interpretations, Johnson shares his own take on the creation story—where the original language speaks to him in such a way that he sees and feels the darkness flee and the light be.
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Torah Pearls – Vezot Haberachah – Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12

Torah-Pearls-54-Deuteronomy-11-Vezot-HaberachahThis week Nehemia Gordon, Keith Johnson, and Jono Vandor discuss the Torah portion of Vezot Haberachah covering Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12. The trio connects viscerally with this emotional portion that begins with Moses’ farewell blessings to the 12 Tribes and ends with his death. The poetic, the strange, the rare and the wonderful are all here—clarified by Hebrew linguistics, geography, margin notes and a tense you probably didn’t learn in grammar class—the prophetic past. Add to the mix: Thummim and Urim, MLK’s final speech, a little pseudepigrapha, and you’ve barely scratched the surface. This final Torah Pearl ends fittingly with the bestowal of the majestic Priestly blessing and a joyful blast from the shofar. Continue reading

My U-Haul Sukkot

Uhaul_SukkahOne of my earliest childhood memories was Sukkot of 1976 when I was 3.5 years old. I remember sitting in the family Sukkah, looking up through the branches that formed the roof, at the clouds as they whisked across the sky. We lived in a 17-story condominium and there was no obvious place to build a Sukkah. My father (of blessed memory), an Orthodox rabbi, asked permission to build a Sukkah in his designated parking space. When his request was turned down by the condominium board, my mother came up with the idea of building our Sukkah on the back of a U-Haul trailer. She was inspired by a famous Talmudic ruling that a person traveling in a caravan over the feast is permitted to build a Sukkah on the back of a camel. She noticed many people parking boats and RVs in the outdoor lot and realized the board wouldn’t think twice about letting us park a trailer. When our 20th century equivalent of a camel pulled into the parking lot with a Sukkah on the back, the condominium board was livid, but there was nothing they could do about it. Continue reading