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

How Yom Teruah Became Rosh Hashanah

Tissot_The_Seven_Trumpets_of_JerichoOn the 1st day of the Seventh Month (Tishrei) the Torah commands us to observe the holy day of Yom Teruah which means “Day of Shouting” (Leviticus 23:23-25; Numbers 29:1-6). Yom Teruah is a day of rest on which work is forbidden. One of the unique things about Yom Teruah is that the Torah does not say what the purpose of this holy day is. The Torah gives at least one reason for all the other holy days and two reasons for some. The Feast of Matzot (Unleavened Bread) commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, but it is also a celebration of the beginning of the barley harvest (Exodus 23:15; Leviticus 23:4–14). The Feast of Shavuot (Weeks) is a celebration of the wheat harvest (Exodus 23:16; 34:22). Yom Ha-Kippurim is a national day of atonement as described in great detail in Leviticus 16. Finally, the Feast of Sukkot (Booths) commemorates the wandering of the Israelites in the desert and is also a celebration of the ingathering of agricultural produce (Exodus 23:16). In contrast to all these Torah festivals, Yom Teruah has no clear purpose other than that we are commended to rest on this day. Continue reading

Torah Pearls – Ha’azinu – Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52

Torah-Pearls-53-Deuteronomy-10-HaazinuThis week Nehemia Gordon, Keith Johnson, and Jono Vandor discuss the Torah portion of Ha’azinu covering Deuteronomy 32. The song of Moses provides a lyrical backdrop for discussing the beauty and message of Moses’ last words to the people. Gordon explains poetic structure and rhythm as well as how poetic names are formed in Hebrew. The trio explores the repeated references to the “rock” in this song and clarifies who “they” refers to—Israel or the nations. Johnson expounds on the beauty inherit in the Tanach for Christians—with no retrofits needed—while Gordon highlights the passage equating “calling out the name of Yehovah” with “giving greatness” to the Name. The trio concludes with all the conviction of Moses—that there simply are not any other gods out there. Continue reading

Torah Pearls – Vayelech – Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30

Torah-Pearls-52-Deuteronomy-09-VayelechThis week Nehemia Gordon, Keith Johnson, and Jono Vandor discuss the Torah portion of Vayelech covering Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30. The trio discuss traditions they were taught concerning the Torah—a Law so simple ancient Israelites were expected to obey just by hearing it every seven years. They examine how religious traditions can stray from the intent of Torah—to hear, to learn, to fear, and to do. Regarding who “crossed over,” God or Joshua, Gordon discusses the Hebrew concept of dual causality—where the actions of the sender and the messenger are equal—a perk when partnering with the Creator of the universe. Gordon also provides Hebrew word studies that both boggle and thrill the mind—God “puts on” the suit on a man? All nations will be grafted in? The trio concludes by discussing the livability of Torah and the strength and courage required to keep it.

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