Balak: Bless or Curse

Balak: Sweet and Spicy Swiss Chard

Balak: Sweet and Spicy Swiss Chard

This was originally published on the Joy of Kosher website.

In this week’s parsha, we read the story of Balaam, who is asked by Balak to curse the Israelis.  Despite his intentions to vilify them, Balaam’s words become blessings. Balaam’s story makes clear that God gave us free will and we have the choice to give blessings or curses in the world.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, in his book, The Everyday Torah, summarizes God speaking with Balaam as “’The choice is yours, human. You are free to decide for yourself. ‘ In the words of the Talmud, ‘A person is led the way s/he wishes to go.’” (p. 263).

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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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Tazria-Metzora: Purification

Tazria-Metzora orecchiette pasta

Tazria-Metzora orecchiette pasta

This week’s parsha Tazria-Metzora, offers a detailed explanation of purification steps for someone who is ritually impure (tumah). It includes the following instruction: And he shall slaughter the guilt offering lamb, and the kohen shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering’s and place it on the cartilage of the right ear of the person being cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot (14:25). Tumah is not bad. As commentary in Etz Hayyim explains: “We can see the notion of tumah, then, as growing out of a sense of reverence for the miraculous nature of birth, the awesome power of death, and the mysteries of illness and recuperation” (p. 649).

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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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Yom Kippur: From Fasting to Juicing

Magical Juice

The anxieties of abstaining from food and water on Yom Kippur (and enduring an expected heat wave in Los Angeles this weekend) start to dance around my head months before the actual holiday. As I try to do the important work of teshuva, I keep thinking: How am I going to prepare for and survive the fast?! How many late summer conversations do I have with my coffee drinking friends about their preferred caffeine withdrawal techniques?

Needless to say, I probably don’t need to remind anyone of the billion plus people worldwide who experience many days like this from lack of access to or fresh water each week, month, year.  Or the 46.5 million Americans who are hungry (21 million children, 7 million seniors). Unlike the daily struggles billions of people endure, this is one day for Jews without food or water.

And even though my mind admittedly will at times be distracted by a visual loop equivalent to the Food Network, Yom Kippur is really a gift. It’s an opportunity to try to move into a deep spiritual realm that is beyond our physical dimensions. Continue reading

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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