These lessons are based on the approaches discussed in my book Beholding the Tree of Life: A Rabbinic Approach to the Book of Mormon and are FREE to anyone who wishes to download them (https://gregkofford.com/pages/using-beholding-the-tree-of-life).
“Bon appetit!” may not seem like an appropriate thing to say before a scripture study session, but studying at a local synagogue taught me otherwise.
Food for many Jews has an important religious dimension. Not only are Friday night worship services frequently followed by an oneg—an informal get-together featuring pastries, cookies, and other goodies—but nearly every Jewish holiday has a special dish associated with it. Passover has matzah, Purim has hamentaschen, and Chanukah has sufganiyot and latkes. In fact, food is so central to these holidays that Jews often humorously sum them up as “They tried to kill us. They failed. Let’s eat!”
Food also plays a significant role in Jewish scripture study. Before each of the Torah classes I attended, someone always brought bagels—and not just plain bagels, but poppy-seed bagels, sesame-seed bagels, onion, garlic, and pumpernickel bagels. Blueberry and chocolate bagels also a common feature of these sessions as well as several varieties of delicious cream cheese spreads. And these treats were more than just an incentive for congregants to come to class; they also served to remind class members how Jews traditionally approach their scriptures.
Unlike some Christians, Jews do not typically “consume” their scriptures quickly, gobbling down entire chapters or even books like so much fast food. Instead, Jews typically approach the Torah in a more “slow-food” style—studying them just a few verses at a time, in portions small enough that they can be lingered over, looked at from many angles, compared to other biblical passages, and discussed in context. In other words, Jews typically “chew over” their scriptures—much like freshly baked bagels—slowly, carefully, thoughtfully, in an attempt to appreciate their every nourishing nuance.
During the Torah study sessions I attended, it was not uncommon for the class to cover just five verses in an hour and a half. As soon as everyone was well-situated with a chumash (a volume containing the Five Books of Moses complete with notes and commentary) and a bagel, Rabbi Friedman would begin the session with a blessing—“Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has sanctified us with commandments, and commanded us to immerse ourselves in the words of Torah”—and then we would proceed to do just that—to immerse ourselves in the Torah, digging into its words as though they constituted a sumptuous meal.
And so they were. Per request, someone would read the next verse, first in Hebrew and then in English, and immediately the questions would come—questions about individual words, their translation as well as their implication; questions about concepts, their ancient meaning as well as their modern relevance; questions about this verse’s relation to other verses in the Scriptures as well as its connection with current Jewish practices and social events. And the discussion that followed was indeed an intellectual as well as a spiritual feast—spiced up, as it were, with humor, seasoned with real-life experiences, and peppered with sudden insights and understandings. Never did anyone suggest that his or her comment constituted the final interpretation. Tentative answers almost always led to more questions and to more discussion. And that was the point.
As these classes taught me, devouring the Scriptures quickly, in large bites, like a cheeseburger in a moving car, does them no great service and restricts their value as a conduits of information and revelation. Scriptures function much better when they are bitten into aggressively, like a good bagel, and then chewed over with others, slowly, carefully, appreciatively, in smaller amounts, until they are thoroughly digested.
So impressed was I with this approach that I have put together thirteen lessons that can be used to help set up a Jewish-style scripture study group for the Book of Mormon. These lessons are based on the approaches discussed in my book Beholding the Tree of Life: A Rabbinic Approach to the Book of Mormon and are FREE to anyone who wishes to download them (https://gregkofford.com/pages/using-beholding-the-tree-of-life). Basically, they teach in a step-by-step fashion how to study the Book of Mormon in this “slow food” way—concentrating on small amounts of text, reading the words closely, reading on multiple levels, and so forth. For fun as well as to emphasize their main points, I have arranged these lessons as an Edwardian-style 10-course meal and supply not only suggestions as to what food to serve during each lesson but suggestions as to what the lesson’s main point is, how to present it, what learning activities might be involved, and how to follow up next time.
In the spirit of Come Follow Me, the lessons I have put together are highly adaptable to any sized group or situation and are meant to complement this program. They can be used monthly or weekly, as appropriate, and can serve as many as twenty people or as few as two. These lessons are also ideal for singles as well as for families and can be combined or split up as necessary. And although preparing the food that accompanies these lessons might take some time, teaching them does not require a great deal of preparation. Several Torah sessions I attended involved simply reading a few lines from Leviticus and then inviting the group to comment upon it. Given the way the suggested food item functions as an object lesson setting up the discussion by presenting a new principle, such discussions oftentimes have a life of their own and progress without much guidance.
And this is how these lessons are designed—to whet your appetite and get you started. They concentrate on the first few chapters of 1 Nephi, but once learned, the principles they teach will carry your group forward to what I hope will be a deeper understanding of the Book of Mormon and a closer relationship with God. As Nephi wrote, “Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”