This week, before Rosh Hashana, we read Nitzavim during which all of the Israelites establish a covenant with God. Entering into the covenant is stepping into a concrete process in this world. “For the mitzvah which I command you this day, it is not beyond you, nor is it remote from you. “It is not in heaven . . . It is not across the sea . . . Rather, it is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart, that you may do it” (30:12-14).
This is not about just accepting “I am Jewish” but embracing and living Jewish beliefs and values. While we are a few thousand years removed from the Israelites at Mount Sinai, their journey and experience is as relevant today to each of us. Rabbi Shai Held explains, “One of Judaism’s central projects is to maintain a living connection to our foundational moments: to remember that no matter how much time has passed, Exodus and Sinai have always only just taken place.”
Furthermore, our covenant with God dictates how we live and respond to pain and suffering in the world. Rabbi Brad Artson writes in The Everyday Torah, that “Jewish law… moves Judaism beyond the realm of mere religion. . . . . Jewish law provides involvement in the repair of the world” (p. 333).
Towards the end of Nitzavim, it is written, “I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses [that I have warned] you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life,” (30-19:20). Rabbi Yossy Goldman explains, “To ‘choose life’ means to choose to live a meaningful life, a life committed to values and a higher purpose.”
The world’s challenges–whether a homeless person in my neighborhood, refugees migrating to Europe or the one billion people around the globe without clean drinking water–are relevant to me. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his comments about the current refuge crisis in Europe writes, “It is all too easy to say, this is not our problem, and besides, it is happening a long way away. Yet nothing in our interconnected world is a long way away.”
As each of us prepares for Rosh Hashana, we can be reflect upon our thoughts, speech and behaviors of the past year. Not only can we each choose a life with purpose, but each Rosh Hashana, we are chosen by God to continue our work in the world.
The dish that I prepared this week is stuffed zucchini rolls. The cylindrical rolls are symbolic of Torah scrolls and the covenant that the Israelites accept. Moreover, the “wrapping” of the inner ingredients is representative of the Israelites embracing of the covenant. The mixture of dried fruits and walnuts inside is symbolic of the sweetness of life. The pomegranate and syrup mixture is sweet and bitter. It is drizzled on top to
represent the choice between blessing and curse and life and death. The different vegetables used for the rolls are for the depth and diversity of Israelites, all of whom are equal.
Nitzavim: Stuffed Zucchini Rolls
2 large summer squash (long), zucchinis and/or small eggplants
1/2 cup cooked brown rice rice
1/2 tbsp raisins
1/2 tbsp chopped dates
1/2 tbsp chopped walnuts
salt and pepper
1/2 tbsp each of honey or date syrup and pomegranate molasses
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Wash summer squash/zucchini/eggplant. Trim ends and thinly slice lengthwise. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place vegetable strips on tray and lightly drizzle olive oil over them.
3. Bake in oven for about 30 minutes, turning over half-way through cooking. The pieces should be lightly browned but still soft.
4. In a bowl, mix cooked brown rice, walnuts, chopped dates and raisins. Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste.
5. When vegetables are finished, remove from oven. When cool to touch, take each piece of vegetable and place on a platter. Scoop a 1/2-1 tbsp of the rice mixture at one end of the vegetable. Roll, tucking as it rolls.
6. Drizzle syrup-pomegranate molasses over each one before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.
B’tayavon! Shana Tova U’Metukah!