By Rabbi Neil Sandler
Many people in our community enjoyed and learned much from the spoken and written words of Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman, my immediate predecessor as senior rabbi of Ahavath Achim Synagogue and, at present, senior scholar of our congregation.
Not infrequently do I hear someone say, “I remember one of Rabbi Goodman’s sermons when he said …” I remember some of Rabbi Goodman’s sermons too, and I probably heard his wise and uplifting words before anyone in Atlanta did.
I grew up at the Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minneapolis, where Rabbi Goodman served as senior rabbi during my youth, adolescence and early adulthood. His words had a profound impact on me. In fact, after I enrolled at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where I originally expected to spend one year in study before moving on to graduate school, it was Rabbi Goodman who persuaded me to stay at JTS and enter rabbinical school.
He has made a difference, again through both the spoken and written word, to many of us.
Since Rabbi Goodman’s retirement and aliyah to Israel, he has remained an active student of our rich textual tradition and has conveyed his learning, experience and wisdom in weekly columns, “Ma Nishma From Jerusalem.” Now Rabbi Goodman has compiled a significant portion of these columns in a book titled “Ma Nishma From Jerusalem: A Weekly Touch of Torah.”
All of us desire to learn, gain new perspectives and receive replenishing uplift, and many of us appreciate these things in small doses with which we might begin or end our day. Our Christian brothers and sisters call these moments of learning devotionals. We call them divrei Torah, a word of Torah.
In “Ma Nishma From Jerusalem,” Rabbi Goodman offers one or two brief (two or three pages) divrei Torah on the weekly Torah portion. He begins with quoting a small section of the Torah reading, perhaps adding a comment from a biblical commentator or from our midrashic (interpretive) tradition, and then shares his own thoughts.
I have known Rabbi Goodman since I was 9 years old. Truth be told, 50 years ago I probably didn’t marvel at his outstanding ability to share a message. But by adolescence I was already taking note of this ability, and later, as a colleague, I positively marveled at Rabbi Goodman’s ability to share a message rooted in Torah that jumps off the pages of our holy yet ancient text into our lives today. He writes succinctly, offers us perspective on issues of the day (especially regarding Israel), and lifts up our spirits.
In “Ma Nishma From Jerusalem,” Rabbi Goodman draws on sources of wisdom from outside the Jewish community, from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Navaho proverbs, to enrich our understanding of our own tradition. Ultimately, as any spiritual leader does, Rabbi Goodman moves beyond providing perspective; he urges us to act in a world that is sorely in need of our reparative acts.
In “Ma Nishma From Jerusalem,” Rabbi Arnold Goodman “mixes a powerful formula” of his vast knowledge of traditional Jewish sources with other literary sources. To that mixture he adds the experiences of 50 years in the rabbinate and healthy amounts of personal wisdom gained from that experience. The result is a book worth keeping on your night table or desk and reading once or twice a week.
In Pirkei Avot 2:4, Hillel teaches us a practical lesson: “Do not say, ‘When I free myself of concerns, I will study,’ for perhaps you will never free yourself.” Time is precious. Rabbi Goodman’s “Ma Nishma From Jerusalem: A Weekly Touch of Torah” reminds us and expertly enables us to study Torah, to learn from it and to apply its timeless wisdom to our own lives and world.
Ma Nishma From Jerusalem: A Weekly Touch of Torah
By Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Dog Ear Publishing, 380 pages, $24.95 (hardcover), $14.95 (paperback)
Available at Amazon and arnoldgoodman.com