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 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.”
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.
This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, contains several teachings about the treatment of animals. It includes the prohibition against taking eggs or baby chicks from a nest while the mother is there, which has become the basis for the prohibition of cruelty against animals (tzaar baalei chayim). Indeed, for the person who does this, it is written “it should be good for you, and you should lengthen your days.”
Indeed, the notion of preventing cruelty to animals was, until recently, unheard of, except in Torah. “‘Until the nineteenth century,’ wrote historian Cecil Roth, ‘cruelty to animals was nowhere illegal, except in Jewish law'”. (The Jewish Contribution to Civilization, pp. 343f). Rabbi Gershon Winkler, in commenting about the mother hen and baby chicks passage, argues, “The Torah is not interested in teaching you to feel compassion, but rather how to live compassionately.”
Rabbi Jill Jacobs writes, “Beyond simply prohibiting cruelty to animals, Jewish tradition associates care for animals with righteousness.” She cites (Proverbs 12:10): “A righteous person knows the needs of his beast, but the compassion of the wicked is cruelty.”
In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, it is written, “‘I will eat meat,’ because your soul desires to eat meat, you may eat meat, according to every desire of your soul” (12:20). Follows is a list of animals that cannot be consumed and the commandment not to “cook a kid in its mother’s milk.“
Further along in the Torah portion, it is written, “If there will be among you a needy person. . . you shall not harden your heart, and you shall not close your hand from your needy brother” (15:7).
In our current society, what is the connection between eating meat and people living in poverty? The people in the US who are raising animals for food consumption are needy people. Continue reading
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).
I received a basket of enormous, homegrown onions from a family friend. Layers of thick dirt muted the rich golden tones of the onions. Each one had just been picked and a mass of dried out, dusty stalks, like wild hair, was sprouting from the bulbs. I wasn’t sure what to do with so many onions until I read this week’s parsha, Matot-Massei. I prepared a simple roasted onions side dish. These concentric circles of onion are delicate, rich in flavor and easy to prepare. This week I offer many different thoughts about the onions and how the dish relates to themes in the parsha. Continue reading
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).
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)
Our nation is enslaved to an industrial food system that is making us sick and fat. It abuses workers (with many cases of modern day slavery), is inhumane to animals, pollutes our drinking water with manure and pesticides, and contributes to climate change. Eating is a religious act. These foods do not reflect Jewish values of humane treatment of animals, workers rights, protecting the environment and human health.
This Passover, we can liberate ourselves from this system by supporting farmers that grow food more sustainably. Below is a list of suggestions for your seder and throughout the year. There’s so much more that can be done, so please share your ideas in the comments section, at the bottom of the post. Continue reading