Talmud this Shabbat: What Do We Learn From Nehemiah Chapter 13 About How to See Our Own Failures?


I attach a priceless Hanukkah present, a link to Micah Goodman’s lecture from this past Sunday about the Book of Nehemiah.

Micah’s lecture is gold. In one hour, he makes this obscure, unread book come alive. The setting is shivat tzion, the return to Israel after the destruction of the First Temple. Two prior waves of Jews had tried and failed to rebuild Jerusalem after the destruction. Nehemiah is the third wave. When we first meet him, he is a powerful and trusted advisor to the King of Persia. When Nehemiah hears how demoralized and defeated the Jews of Jerusalem are, he gets permission from the King of Persia to go to Jerusalem and rebuild.

He spends years of his life successfully rebuilding Jerusalem. He rebuilds the walls. He rebuilds the army. He rebuilds the sense of communal cohesion. He accomplishes economic reform. He accomplishes religious reform. (For example, Jews had not observed Sukkot since the time of Joshua, and he inspires a renewed commitment to Sukkot.) He accomplishes social reform. This is a part of Nehemiah that will be troubling to many modern Jews, but he is very anti inter-marriage, and wants non-Jewish spouses expelled from Jerusalem. All in all, complicated. Modern readers might not like the whole package. But while he is in Jerusalem he is effective.

He goes back to Persia to serve the King. After a period, he revisits Jerusalem and, in chapter 13, learns that all of his reforms had failed. Nothing took. The book ends on a note of abject failure. Chapter 13 is attached here.

In Talmud this Shabbat, we will double click on chapter 13. What does Nehemiah’s failure teach us about our own?