Ki Tavo: Mitzvot and Renewal

Ki Tavo: Roasted Fruit

Ki Tavo: Roasted Fruit

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, begins with the responsibility of the Israelites to bring an offering of first fruits (bikkurim) after they’ve entered the land of Israel. “He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground which you, O Lord, have given to me.” (26:9-10)

Fruit offerings were later replaced with prayers but the purpose and intention are the same. As my teacher, Diane Bloomfield of “Torah from Jerusalem” explains, each day is the potential for both the physical world and humans to renew through prayer and actions. Despite the darkness that shrouds much of the world, we are commanded by God, as caretakers of the world, to illuminate dark places through mitzvot (actions). Such behaviors enable us to connect more deeply to God and renew ourselves and the world.

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Naso: Blessings and Unity

Naso: Ful Medames

Naso: Ful Medames

In this week’s parsha, Naso, God says to Moses:
Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them:
The Lord bless you and protect you!
The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you!
The Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!
Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them. (6:23-27)

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Shavuot

Borough Market bourekas

Borough Market bourekas

In the Torah, it is written about the Shavuot offering: “you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring from your land, which the Lord, your God, is giving you. And you shall put [them] into a basket and go to the place which the Lord, your God, will choose to have His Name dwell there (Deuteronomy 26:2). Dates, figs, grapes, olives, pomegranates, and wheat were the first fruits of Shavuot.

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Bamidbar: Centering in the Wilderness

Bamidbar: bourekas and greens

Bamidbar: bourekas and greens

Bamidbar is both the name of the fourth book of the Torah (referred to in English as Book of Numbers) and this week’s portion. After receiving the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai, Bamidbar/Numbers tells the Israelites journey through the wilderness.   A wild landscape conjures images of unrefined, undeveloped, unknown. Our own journeys might have similar descriptions: intimidating, challenging, mysterious. During the Israelites journey, “we will see much adventure, crisis and turmoil take place in the darkness of the wilderness,” writes Yael Shy.

Despite their years in the wilderness, though, the Israelites have a guide to center and direct them: the Tabernacle that they transport. It is always placed in the middle of the Israelites as they walked and camped. Etz Hayyim commentary notes, “The tabernacle was the first thing one saw on leaving home and the first thing one looked for on returning home” (p.774). Continue reading

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

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

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

Lech Lecha: From Dark to Light

Scallions. La Cienega farmers market

Scallions. La Cienega farmers market

Lech Lecha tells the story of the birth of the Jewish people through Avraham’s prophecy.  God tells Avram, “I will bless you and make you a great nation.”  As Diane Bloomfield taught this week about Lech Lecha, “God is bringing in a radical new creation with different qualities of what it means to be a human being and the potential becoming of a Jewish nation that brings blessings into the world.”

In the parsha, Avraham is sent on a challenging journey to unknown land, despite God’s promise to protect him and Sarah. It is fraught with dangers, famine, and personal challenges. As Yael Shy wrote, the unknowingness of journeys can create unease and fear in oneself, as is true for Avraham. But, as she continued, “God is telling Abraham to stop trying to predict or figure out or gain control of what that which he is not in control.”

His journey is not about where he has been or his previous actions but where he is going and the potential for the future.  He’s a baal teshvua: someone who lives in the process of what he can become, not what he did, according to Diane Bloomfield.

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Rosh Hashana & the Garden of Eden

Garden of Eden

Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden dish is inspired by many of the symbolic foods eaten on Rosh Hashana and the story of the garden. According to Talmudic rabbis, Rosh Hashana falls on the sixth day of the creation of the world when humans were made.The conflicting notions of beauty, sins and judgement were unleashed in the Garden of Eden.   Humanity was created, sinned and judged. As a result of human’s actions, the pains of the world–violence, death– were exposed.

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Apples & honey: Rosh Hashana 5775

Mr Ha’s apples, La Cienega farmers market

Apples and honey: as I launch Neesh Noosh  just days before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, I thought it would be appropriate for my first entry to be a simple dish.  Rosh Hashana (head of the new year)  celebrates the creation of the world. We are about to enter the Jewish year of 5775 for the world. What does a plain dish of sliced apples, dipped in honey, have to do with the awesomeness of the creation of the world?  And why the seductive fruit that played a  pivotal role in the future of the world and humanity?

The simple answer to all of this is that apples and honey are eaten at Rosh Hashana meals after saying a prayer, that asks God for a sweet year.

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