Va’yigash: Reconciliation

Va'yigash: roasted parsnip carrot dip

Va’yigash: roasted parsnip carrot dip

This week’s parsha, Va’yigash, brings to a climax the relationship between Joseph and his brothers, who had sold him into slavery. Joseph, overcome with emotion, reveals himself to his brothers. It’s a moment where Jospeh could seek revenge.  But, the shocked brothers are offered words of forgiveness instead. Joseph says, “Do not be distressed or reproach Yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that this is humanity’s first moment of forgiveness.

The choice of reconciliation rather than revenge, is a challenge and opportunity for each of us. Rabbi Cheryl Peretz writes that Joseph’s responds by telling his brothers, “Sadness

Carrots. Carpinteria Farmers Market, Carpinteria, CA

Carrots. Carpinteria Farmers Market, Carpinteria, CA

and regret lead to revenge and that is the deepest pit of all. I am no longer in the pit. Instead, I am choosing to live in the future not in the past, to love despite the hurt, and to reconcile over the pain.”

It’s a monumental task for a human to transcend one’s own pain and suffering to find God in the experience and to  reconcile with an oppressor. Joseph could have lived his life with a hardened heart, punishing his brothers for what they did to him. But, he choose a different path that offered an open heart. Rabbi Peretz continues that Jacob explained, My life has unfolded in a way that I could do God’s work. . . . It’s not about me and it’s not about all of you, but about the goodness and blessing of the life we have been given.” Continue reading

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Chanukah: Oil, the bad and the sweet-smelling good of it

Chanukah infused oil ingredients

Chanukah infused oils’ ingredients

This was originally printed in the Jewish Journal.

Chanukah is a holiday where we consume lots of oil-drenched foods. But beyond these dishes, what is the connection between oil? Actually, a lot, and it has to do with our agricultural system.

We till the same soils through which God breathed Adam into existence. Our water is a finite source that operates in cycles; we drink much of the water that was consumed by the Maccabees. Protecting these precious soils and water sources is integral to our stewardship of our agricultural lands and our existence.

In the 12,000 years of agriculture, the most significant changes have occurred in the past century. We live in an era of agricultural assimilation, which pushes for uniformity in growing practices and types of crops grown. And, at the heart of much of these “big ag” forces is “big oil.” Unlike the sacred olive oil used at Chanukah, there’s nothing sacred about fossil fuels in agriculture. Continue reading

Vayeshev: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Stew

Vayeshev: Technicolor Stew

Vayeshev: Technicolor Stew

In Vayeshev, Jacob returns to his home to “settle.” But, there is not any internal or external settling for him. Jacob’s sons are upset by the arrogance of his favorite son, Joseph. The brothers strip Joseph of the elaborate tunic Jacob had given him and throw him into a pit. Rather than letting him die, though, Reuben convinces the other brothers instead to sell him into slavery. But, the brothers lie to their father that his beloved Joseph was killed by presenting his bloody tunic.

Why is Jacob unable to have tranquility in his life after everything he’s been through? Yanki Tauber writes, “many are content to live this lie: to forget what happened yesterday, avoid thinking about what will happen tomorrow, ignore the sadness in a neighbor’s eye, the poverty on the other side of town and the bombs in the other time zone.

While one may look at a farm and see a tranquil, lush landscape, agriculture is anything but calm. Rather, it is the epicenter of global fights for human rights, land sovereignty and the survival of family farmers. This Wednesday, December 10, is Slow Food’s Terra Madre Day–a global celebration of local foods. The Terra Madre network in 160 countries supports food sovereignty–local communities control over the growing, production and eating of food. It is also about preserving indigenous food cultures and traditions in the face of threats from international agriculture and food homogenization that eliminates food diversity, hurts

Purple Yams. Pureland Farms. La Cienega Farmers Market, Los Angeles

Purple Yams. Pureland Farms. La Cienega Farmers Market, Los Angeles

small farmers and devastates communities. Part of Terra Madre’s commitment to preserving food diversity is through it’s Ark of Taste which has already 2,000 foods from around the globe that are at risk of disappearing.

It’s also Human Rights Day on December 10. While the family farmers of Terra Madre fight off threats from industrial agriculture, tens of thousands of industrial farmworkers are fighting for their human rights.  The Los Angeles Times has an incredible story about farmworkers in Mexico picking tomatoes at “mega-farms” for the US market. They live in “squalid conditions, trapped for months at a time  [and] camp bosses illegal withhold [of] wages.” 

One worker said, The real truth is that we’re work animals for the fields. Continue reading

8 Ways to Make Your Chanukah More Sustainable

From foods to gifts, there’s many ways to add sustainable practices to your Chanukah celebrations. Please share your ideas in the comments section at the bottom!

Black Rock Orchard. DuPont Circle Farmers Market. Washington, DC

Black Rock Orchard. DuPont Circle Farmers Market. Washington, DC

1. Organic apples and potatoes
Apples and potatoes are ranked #1 and #12, respectively, on Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of produce with the highest levels of pesticide residue. Take pesticides out of Chanukah and prepare your latkes and applesauce with safer, healthier and tastier organic apples and potatoes.

2. Wooden dreidels
Plastic is forever and we are literally drowning in it. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a massive floating vortex, comprised mostly of plastic, that stretches from the West Coast of the US to Japan.  It doesn’t need more spinning plastic dreidles!

3. Fair Trade gelt
More than half the world’s cocoa is grown in the Ivory Coast where children are forced to work on farms without pay or safe conditions. Go guilt-free gelt, instead! Choose kosher certified gelt, produced only by adults at a democratically-run fair trade cooperative in Ghana. Continue reading

Vayishlach: Wrestling to Righteousness

Vayishlach: Roasted potatoes, apples and leeks

Vayishlach: Roasted potatoes, apples and leeks

In Vayishlach, Jacob wrestles with an unknown force in the night. At dawn, Jacob’s foe wants to leave. But, before letting him go, Jacob  demands a blessing from him. He replies by asking Jacob his name and responds, “your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.”  Afterwards, Jacob realizes he had been wrestling with God. So, “Jacob named the place Peniel, meaning, ‘I have seen a divine being face to face, yet my life has been preserved.'”

Black Rock Orchard. DuPont Circle Farmers Market. Washington, DC

Black Rock Orchard. DuPont Circle Farmers Market. Washington, DC

Prior to this event, Jacob was dishonest and deceptive.  The wrestling is transforming, not just in name but spiritually.  Rabbi Brad Artson writes in The Bedside Torah, “through the process of introspection, remorse and a commitment to confront his own failings, Jacob is able to make himself into a better, more empathetic individual.” This is also about Jacob doing the “right thing.” The Sefat Emet taught, “this may be an account of Jacob’s wrestling with his conscience, torn between his human tendency to avoid an unpleasant encounter and the divine impulse in him that urges him to do the difficult but right thing.”

Jews wrestle with moral questions including those about food and agriculture issues. For example, what does or should kosher mean in the 21st century? Is junk food worthy of a hecksher (kosher certification)?  Should an animal raised under inhumane conditions but slaughtered by a shochet (ritual slaughterer) be deemed kosher? Why aren’t all GMO crops considered treyf (not kosher)? Continue reading