The month of Elul is an acronym for the phrase “Ani l’dodi v l’dodi li” from Song of Songs (I am my beloved and my beloved is mine). It is about the relationship between ourselves and God. Rabbi Yoel Glick writes that the process of teshuva (return) is “about repairing our shattered vessel. It is about returning to the sense of inner balance and clarity that will make us fitting pipelines to channel the Divine emanation.. . . radically transforms our consciousness. To do teshuvah is to see light instead of darkness – to view the world through God’s transcendent eyes.”
We begin the month of Sivan during which we celebrate Shavuot, when the Israelites received the Torah at Mount Sinai. If you’re not a coffee drinker or dairy eater, like me, Shavuot can be challenging. In celebrating the holiday, people’s all night Torah study is generally fueled by cheesecake, blintzes, ice cream and lasagna. There are many explanations as to why we eat dairy foods on Shavuot. One is that the Torah is like milk and “just as milk has the ability to fully sustain the body of a human being (i.e. a nursing baby), so too the Torah provides all the “spiritual nourishment” necessary for the human soul.”
However, eating dairy foods on Shavuot is a custom, not a law. But, there are lots of delicious ways to enjoy Shavuot without eating dairy.One way is with the the vegan blueberry ice cream recipe that I created for the holiday.
Nisan is the first month of the Jewish calendar, a celebration of the beginning of Spring (Chodesh Ha-aviv) and Pesach. Unlike Rosh Hashana, which is a new year for the creation of the world, Nisan established the nation of Israelites. G-d instructed Moses, “This month shall be for you the head of months, the first of the months of the year.” (Exodus 12-2).
One is instructed to say a blessing during Nisan for blossoming fruit trees. With the celebration of Spring in Nisan, one can visit a park or other natural setting to let one’s senses enjoy the colors, scents, sounds and beauty of this time of year. On my little balcony, I’m immersed in an array of flowers, pots overflowing with herbs and a cacophony of birds chirping (of course there is also the regular sounds of drivers honking their car horns). My neighborhood is alight with bougainvellia in vivid oranges and pinks, cascading over tree tops, walls and bushes.
Happy New Year of the Trees! I hope you have a delicious, fruitful Tu B’shevat. Below is a round-up of articles and recipes I wrote for the holiday. And if you need any other fruit recipes, search in the “fruit” category on the website. B’tayavon!
The month of Shevat begins in a few days. The holiday of Tu B’shevat is a New Year celebration for trees. It’s definitely the locavore and environmental holiday of the Jewish calendar that marks the age of trees for tithing. It is customary to eat a new fruits and/or one of the seven species of Israel: barley, wheat, grapes, pomegrantes, olives, figs and date (or date syrup) on the holiday. Inspired by a Kabbalistic tradition, it has become commonplace to celebrate the holiday with a seder–guests enjoy an array of tree grown nuts and fruits as well as discussions about environmental issues we face today. While enjoying fruits this month, consider planting a tree or donating to a tree fund. the US. Also, check out Fallen Fruit, which maps and harvests fruits in public urban spaces.
I prepared three jams with fruits purchased from the farmers market at the Tel Aviv port and from trees in my neighborhood. Unlike most jam recipes that call for large quantities of sugar, these recipes are fairly low in sugar. Enjoy with fresh, warm bread. Continue reading
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.
We enter the fifth and final book of the Torah, Devarim (Deuteronomy). In this week’s Torah portion, also called Devarim, the Israelites are on the precipice of entering the Promised Land. Moses begins to recount the laws, teachings and events of the Israelites 40 years in the wilderness.
We are–individually and collectively–on journeys to the Promised Land. It’s our spiritual journeys. And, it’s about our responsibilities to our world by pursuing tzedek (justice) and tikkun olam (repairing the world). And though, like Moses, we won’t necessarily reach the Promised Land, we are obligated to act for ourselves and future generations. It is taught, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either” (Ethics of the Fathers 2:16).
In this week’s Torah portion, we read about rebellious Israelites, led by Korach. While his complaints about the status of Moses and Aaron might seem like the words of an early democratic activist, his intentions were actually self-serving. He is “the arch-demagogue, lusting for power to inflate his own prominence, not to serve the people” (Etz Hayim, p. 860). He led a group of Israelites in opposition to not only Moses and Aaron but “that of Torah, and ultimately, God.” (Etz Hayim, p. 860). Rabbi Samuel Barth notes, “The sin of Korah was in thinking of himself as “outside the community”; he betook himself and his followers from being part of the People of Israel, and they became a faction, catalysts for further factionalization.”
Rabbi Moshe Bryski, on Chabad.org writes that Korach lived his life yearning for a different one, jealous of others. He comments that “A person who sees the essence of life as serving the will of His Creator does not expend useless energy craving places where the grass is greener. He finds meaning, purpose, joy and fulfillment in the place where the grass is greenest of all: his own.”
Tu B’Shevat, which translates literally as the 15th day of the month of Shevat, is the Jewish New Year for Trees. Mentioned in the Talmud, the holiday marks the tithing of fruits grown in Israel.
In the 16th century, Jewish mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria and his disciples developed a seder for the holiday that focused on the symbolism of the fruits and trees of Israel. Like the Passover seder, the Tu B’Shevat one includes four cups of wine, each representing a different sphere in kabbalah. The first glass of wine is all white; the fruit is inedible on the outside and edible inside. The second glass of wine is equal parts white and red wine; the fruit is edible outside and inedible inside. The third glass wine is mostly red and some white; the fruit is completely edible. The last glass of wine is all red; the fruit is “spiritual sustenance.”
The celebration of this holiday has experienced resurgence recently, celebrated as a Jewish Earth Day.
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)
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.