I had approached a recent 10 day summer holiday in Scotland with a bit of trepidation, expecting endless cold rain and being stuck in pubs eating chips for lack of any other food. Instead, it was unexpectedly filled with mostly sunshine and great vegan food. Except for having to eat a potato chip sandwich and cashews during a 17 mile hike, I found vegan food everywhere–even in a tiny town with only one pub. Another memorable hike was one with endless wild blackberry bushes; those berries not eaten instantly were picked and turned into jam that evening and enjoyed for the remainder of the trip on crackers. And, best of all, Glasgow was crowned with the glorious title of being the vegan capital of the UK.
I’m a bit late in posting for the month of Av which includes the day of mourning, Tisha b’Av, and Tu b’Av, often called the Jewish Valentines Day. The dichotomous holidays take us through a range of emotions from sadness and sorrow moving towards comfort and joy, as we start to prepare for the high holidays. In fact the month is often called Menachem Av, which means comforter or consoler. Literally, as we move through the day of Tisha b’Av, we gradually move to a more hopeful emotional state and towards one of more comfort. We go from sitting on the floor, as is customary with mourners to sitting in chairs. Emotionally, despite the pain of Tisha b’Av, we also have hope. In Judaism, because of our history we always carry narrative of pain and sorrow but are never defeated by it and always look for redemption in even the darkest places. We are steadfast in our optimism.
The letter of Tevet is “ayin” which also means eye. “The month of Tevet is the month of the rectification and nullification of the ‘evil eye.’ The word Tevet itself comes from tov, “good,” referring to tov ayin, ‘the goodly eye.'” Indeed, celebrating the remaining days of Chanukah during the beginning of Tevet is an opportunity to see good in the world, as revealed in the burning of the holiday’s candles. “We need the power of the light of Chanukah, especially the light of the last day of Chanukah. . . to help us rectify the “Evil Eye” and to reveal the good (Tov – Tevet) in whatever exists.”
In Israel, we begin saying the prayer for rain at the start of the month of Cheshvan (saying the prayer starts later outside of Israel). Rain is desperately needed in Israel and California, which has the worst drought on record. The primary ingredients in this soup require little water to be grown. They are also sowed in the ground and dark places, reflective of the shorter days as we approach winter. With the cooling weather, we start to stay inside more and perhaps become more insular and reflective in our nature. The month–which has no holidays–is sometimes referred to as “MarCheshvan.” Mar means bitter and the parsley leaves on top are symbolic of this bitterness.
This week’s parsha, Tzav, includes more details about sacrifices, including the Korban Todah (Thanksgiving offering). Again, I wrestled this week about what the sacrifices mean to me and how to translate the parsha into a recipe (though the Korban Todah “consisted of forty loaves of bread”)?
Dr. Tali Loewenthal on Chabad.org explains that this offering “was brought as expression of thanks to God by someone who experienced any of four specific kinds of danger: a captive who was freed; a person who crossed the sea; one who traversed the desert, and someone who has recovered from an illness.“ And, none of it could remain until the following day.
Rabbi Brad Artson, in The Bedside Torah, comments that “the Korban Todah is a celebration of life and its wonder.”
Toldot shows us the darker dynamics that can occur between loved ones, especially when one negotiates in less-than-transparent ways. Rebecca and Jacob’s prayers for a child are answered with the birth of her non-identical twin boys, Esau and Jacob.
A famished Esau encounters his brother Jacob enjoying lentil stew. Esau pleads with him to give him some stew in exchange for his birthright, to which Jacob agrees.
We are living in an era now where a different type of deceit happens for people’s birthright–farm land–through land grabs. There’s a lot at stake. The global food economy is a $6 trillion/year system. “The world produces more than 1 1/2 times enough food to feed everyone on the planet.”
Seventy percent of our world’s food is grown by family farmers on 25% of the world’s farmland. Despite this being the UN declared, Year of the Family Farmer, land grabs continue to happen around the world, including here in the United States. When small farmers enter into negotiations with large corporations they are doubly disadvantaged. They don’t always understand what they are transacting, and they are sometimes made to believe that selling their birthright is the only option open to them. Similarly, Esau didn’t understand the value of his birthright and Jacob had leverage over his brother. When farmers today realize they lost their birthrights, they are upset like Esau. Continue reading
We start again this Shabbat at the beginning with Bereshit. The universe is created out of nothingness by God. “The earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water.” God creates light and dark, sky and earth, water and land, humans and all of the plants, animals insects, birds and others creatures of our planet, six days and Shabbat. The preciousness and chaos of the complex universe that God makes comes forth from separations, distinctions , enumerations and accountings. In our biosystems, and particularly our humanity, there is great diversity.
Rabbi Shai Held of Mechon Hadar writes, “among other things, then, the biblical creation story is like a hymn to biodiversity, which is seen as unambiguously good in its own right. For the Torah, then, creation is precious in its own right.”
This story is not about dominion over the earth but our being accountable for stewardship of all that God created. Rabbi Held continues, “the meaning of ‘but the earth He gave over to humanity’ is that the human being is God’s steward (pakid) over the earth and everything that is on it, and she must act according to God’s word.”