It’s Sunday morning in the rabbi’s office, and in his hands Goldberg holds his new 494-page book, Hallel Hakohen. Goldberg has written other books. As editor of the Intermountain Jewish News, he writes all the time, in English and Hebrew. But this book is different: It took six years of his life, 12 drafts and thousands of discarded pages, now packed away in boxes, stacked floor to ceiling.
On Sunday night, Goldberg’s feat was honored at the East Denver Orthodox Synagogue in a siyyum ceremony, which is done at the completion of any task.
The task? It’s a journey not to the Himalayas or into a mathematical conundrum, but deep inside the mind of a brilliant 18th century Jewish scholar and mystic known as Vilna Gaon (the genius of Vilna).
"The Gaon" wrote the definitive treatise on Jewish law, which is based on the 613 laws God gave to Moses. Trouble is, the Gaon wrote in fragments, in a kind of code, which hordes of scholars have been trying to unlock ever since.
"Everybody knew he was an unbelievable genius," Goldberg says, "but nobody could understand what he was saying!"
Goldberg decided to try to unravel one of the Gaon’s 1,500 or so chapters.
"I entered this project with extraordinary naivete," he grins, with all the boyish enthusiasm of an adventurer tackling a sheer icewall. "You know what I thought at the beginning? I’m running a newspaper; I don’t have time anymore to write books . . ."
He tackled the chapter on mikvahs, purification pools prescribed by Jewish law for women’s monthly ritual bathing. In a new Orthodox community, a mikvah is built before the first synagogue and is essential to Jewish family life, Goldberg, an adviser to a newly built Denver mikvah, explained to me in 2000.