A version of this originally appeared on the Joy of Kosher
In this week’s parsha, Shemini, on the 8th day Aaron (reluctantly), and his sons become Kohanim. After Aaron’s sacrificial offering, he and Moses “bless the people; and the Presence of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces.”
Thereafter, Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu proceed to offer a sacrifice to God, but bring “alien fire.” Thus, “fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them: thus they died at the instance of the Lord.” After their deaths, Aaron was instructed by Moses, “you must distinguish between the sacred and the profane, and between the impure and pure; and you must teach the Israelites all the laws which the Lord has imparted to them through Moses.”
Commentary about the episode, notes, “Aaron is the gentle man of peace who never reprocess but only tries to bring people to God through love and kindness. This concept was best articulated and possibly originated by Hillel in his statement, ‘Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace; loving humankind and bringing them to Torah.’” (Reuven Hammer in The Classic Midrash, p. 189).
Being a disciple of Aaron is a daily challenge for each of us. Like the consuming fire at the beginning of the parsha, God’s presence comes into the world through our actions. And, through our humble behaviors and speech, we can live in relationship with God as his vessels spreading the light of Torah to the darkest corners of the world.
The dish that I prepared for Shemini is about recognizing and integrating God into our lives. The dish includes two main ingredients: couscous and tomato stew. The couscous is symbolic of the Israelites while the tomato stew is the consuming fire. The two are blended together after presentation to represent the bringing of God into our daily lives. Rabbi Lazer Gurkow on Chabad.org comments that, “Aaron’s dominant trait was Chessed, kindness.” The concentric circles of the ingredients are also symbolic of the idea of chessed (loving-kindness) and the envelopment one feels when it’s expressed in relationship with another.
Shemini Couscous and Tomato Stew
1 cup couscous, uncooked
½ tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 handful of rainbow chard stalks (only), finely chopped
4 tomatoes, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ tbsp pine nuts, toasted
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Bring 1 cup water with a pinch of salt to a boil. Once boiling, add 1 cup couscous, mix well and remove from heat. Let sit for 4-5 minutes and then fluff with a fork.
2. Over medium heat, warm ½ tbsp olive oil. Add onion, garlic and rainbow chard stalks. Cook until soft and onion translucent, approximately 5 minutes.
3. Add chopped tomatoes and a bit of water (not more than ¼ cup). Cook over low-medium heat, allowing tomatoes to soften and liquefy. Cook for 5-8 minutes.
4. In a separate small pan, toast pine nuts over medium heat until golden brown.
5. Fold pine nuts into tomato mixture. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Place the couscous in the middle of a platter, surrounded by tomato mixture. Once presented, fold ingredients together.