Vayetzei: Sunset to Sunrise

Vayetzei dish

Vayetzei dish

In Vayetzei, we read that Jacob leaves Beer-sheva at sunset to travel to Laban’s house. Jacob is at Laban’s house for 20 years, during which time he faces many challenges and uncertainties that shroud his life in darkness. After the 20 years there, he leaves Laban’s house at sunrise.

The Etz Hayim commentary describes “the 20 years at Laban’s house as a ‘dark night for the soul,’ years spent struggling with the dark forces represented by Laban’s treachery and Jacob’s confronting his own attracting to deceit” (p. 166).

However, despite the challenges and darkness that Jacob deals with in the 20 years, he also connects with God.  Etz Hayim continues, “when the Sages attribute to Jacob the institution of the evening prayer (Ma’ariv), they may be crediting him as the first person able to find God in the midst of darkness” (p. 166)

La Cienega farmers market. Pomegranate

La Cienega farmers market. Pomegranate

Jacob’s time of darkness was an opportunity for him to find God. And, as  Yael Shy comments, “Jacob leaves us with the challenge of recognizing our encounters with God in all God’s forms.” There are many dark and challenging parts of our lives and society. Our food system is one. How is it possible that the wealthiest nation in the world has 45.3 million citizens living in poverty and 49.1 million hungry people?  In addition, for 29 million Americans who live in low-income areas, the nearest supermarket is more than a mile away. When someone is poor, without transportation and/or living in a low-income area without a supermarket, it significantly hampers one’s ability to eat nutritious food. Despite, this dark aspect of our society, there are countless individuals who recognize this challenge and are re-imagining our food system.

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Toldot: Negotiating for Lentil Stew and More

Liar's Lentil Stew

Liar’s Lentil Stew

Toldot shows us the darker dynamics that can occur between loved ones, especially when one negotiates in less-than-transparent ways. Rebecca and Jacob’s prayers for a child are answered with the birth of her non-identical twin boys, Esau and Jacob.

A famished Esau encounters his brother Jacob enjoying lentil stew. Esau pleads with him to give him some stew in exchange for his birthright, to which Jacob agrees.

We are living in an era now where a different type of deceit happens for people’s birthright–farm land–through land grabs. There’s a lot at stake. The global food economy is a $6 trillion/year system. “The world produces more than 1 1/2 times enough food to feed everyone on the planet.” 

Star anise and red lentils.

Star anise and red lentils.

Seventy percent of our world’s food is grown by family farmers on 25% of the world’s farmland. Despite this being the UN declared, Year of the Family Farmer, land grabs continue to  happen around the world, including here in the United States.  When small farmers enter into negotiations with large corporations they are doubly disadvantaged. They don’t always understand what they are transacting, and they are sometimes made to believe that selling their birthright is the only option open to them. Similarly, Esau didn’t understand the value of his birthright and Jacob had leverage over his brother. When farmers today realize they lost their birthrights, they are upset like Esau. Continue reading

Chayei Sarah: Life and Death

Chayei Sarah: roasted beets, mushrooms, beet greens

Chayei Sarah: roasted Golden beets, mushrooms, beet greens

The title of this week’s parsha, Chayei Sarah (the life of Sarah), is a bit misleading at it is book-ended by the deaths of Sarah and Avraham. But, it is also filled with a celebration of life. Avraham dies in old age, but only after ensuring his progeny through the marriage of his son, Isaac, to Rebecca. It is a story of the spiraling cycles of our lives and the continuation of our legacies through the generations of our families.

We continue our lives even when are family and friends pass. And, upon death, we each return to the soil that initially gave us life.  The simplest matter that we become upon death–dirt and dust–also brings us forth to the beauty, complexities and interconnectedness of life on Earth.  Deep in the ground is the source of our nourishment and life for all: water, and soil.

LA Funghi mushrooms, Culver City farmers market

Mushrooms. LA Funghi, Culver City farmers market

In the parsha we learn that at Avraham’s request, his servant journeyed to find a wife for Isaac, bringing ten camels with him. The camels were brought to a well where the women of the town collected water each evening. As Rabbi Shai Held notes, Rebecca offered the camels water without the servants prompting. “She is so kind that she does more than she is asked, and beyond her concern for people, she cares also for the needs of animals.”  Continue reading

Vayera: The “Other”

Vayera roasted peppers dips

Vayera roasted peppers dips

This week’s parsha, Vayera, is filled with ethical challenges:  Sodom and Gomorrah, the binding of Issac, and the departure of Hagar and Ishmael. But, at the beginning of the parsha, Sarah and Abraham welcome three unexpected strangers to their tent. They wash their guests feet, bake bread and slaughter a calf for them for dinner.

Shortly after Abraham and Sarah’s generosity to the strangers, we are brought to the horrors of Sodom and Gomorrah. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah lived in a land of material abundance but followed the ethic, “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours” (Pirkei Avot). No one took care of sick, vulnerable people. As Aviva Goldbert of the Pardes Institute writes, “the people of Sodom and Gomorrah are utterly destroyed because, according to many commentators, they wouldn’t help the “other”: the poor, the hungry, the weak, the needy.”

We Americans live in a land today of great wealth. But, how do we share it? As I’ve written previously, there are 46.5 million hungry people in the US, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors. I live in Los Angeles–a city with hundreds of farms within hours of our city limit, countless urban gardens and some of the nation’s best restaurants–but there are 1.7 million hungry residents.  These are the “others” in our cities and country: food insecure Americans who go to bed hungry, not necessarily knowing when they will next eat. Continue reading