Ki Tisa: Anxiety and Desire

Ki Tisa: Smashed potatoes with turmeric

Ki Tisa: Smashed potatoes with turmeric

In this week’s parsha, Ki Tisa, an epic moment occurs when Moses descends Mount Sinai with the tablets inscribed with the 10 Commandments and finds the Israelites worshiping the Golden Calf. He throws down the tablets, shattering them.  How can one understand the Israelites creation and worship of the Golden Calf? Were their actions actually predictable and expected?

Yael Shy of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality describes the Israelites feelings then as “The Fire of Anxiety.” She writes, “When Aaron throws the gold in the fire, the people are filled with terror and anxiety. Moses has been gone for over a month. They are terrified of being abandoned, of being alone.“ Continue reading

Advertisements

Terumah: Tzedakah and Transformation

Terumah

Terumah

Terumah describes the construction of the Tabernacle, a holy place where God dwells. Initially, the parsha seems rather dry: tiny details for lengths, colors of fabrics, types of materials and so forth. But a deeper read illuminates so much about the Israelites, their relationship to each other and to God through the construction of the Tabernacle.

God says Moses to “bring me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him” (25:3). Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook asks: “Why did God command Moses to take the donations? The

Blueberries. La Cienega Farmers Market, Los Angeles

Blueberries. La Cienega Farmers Market, Los Angeles

verse should read that they must give an offering!” He continues, “So why did God command that these gifts for the Tabernacle, the first act of tzedakah (charity) on a national level, be donated solely out of sincere generosity?”

He explains that God asked for donations instead of offerings because, “By donating our time and money, we express our inner qualities of chessed and kindness in a concrete and tangible manner. The act of tzedakah actualizes our traits of generosity and contributes toward our own spiritual growth.” The Israelites acts of tzedekah were spiritually transformative. Continue reading

Tu B’shevat: New Year for trees: Savor fruits of the earth, consider their journey

Lemons and limes. La Cienega Farmers Market

Lemons and limes. La Cienega Farmers Market

This was originally published in the print and online editions of the Jewish Journal

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.

Continue reading

Bo: Liberation

Bo. Photo by Eli Ungar-Sargon

Bo. Photo by Eli Ungar-Sargon

This originally appeared on the Joy of Kosher website.
This week, in Bo, the remaining three plagues—locusts, darkness and the death of first-born sons–-are inflicted upon the Egyptians. While Egypt was shrouded in darkness, “all Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings” (Bo, 10: 23).  How, despite the plagues and the continuing hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, did the Israelites live at the precipice of freedom and eventually gain freedom?

The Sefat Emet teaches that “God had already placed in Egypt hidden treasures that Israel had to take out. . . . When they clarified the lights that came out of such a place, they would go on to live [and shine] throughout the generations.” (The Language of Truth, Translated by Arthur Green, pgs 93-94).

Led by Moses, they embodied light and strength for both their liberation and the birth of the nation of Israel.  According to R. Levi, Israel was “no more than a heap of barren rocks. But, after they left Egypt, they became like a flourishing orchard of pomegranates.” (Sefer Ha-aggadah, p.71). The recipe that I created for Bo is inspired by the concept of finding light and strength in darkness, as well as the Israelites transformation. Continue reading

Vayechi: We are Family

Vayechi: 12 + 1 vegetables roast

Vayechi unified vegetables roast

Bereshit (Genesis) is fraught with familial fighting and divisions. Vayechi, the final parsha (Torah portion) in Bereshit, ends this strife as it is a story of unity and redemption of the 12 tribes of Israel before they begin their exile. Diane Bloomfield teaches that their patriarch Jacob, embodies the quality of emet (truth), even in Egypt, a world of constriction and exile. Jacob’s 17 years of living in Egypt prepared the Israelites for their exile: he passed the seeds of discernment to them to discover and reveal his world of emet and echad (oneness).

Underwood Family Farms, Culver City, CA Farmers Market

Underwood Family Farms, Culver City, CA Farmers Market

In Vayechi, Jacob gathers his 12 sons to his deathbed, and says “come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come.” Chana Kroll writes on Chabad.org that at this moment, “the twelve individuals became one unified soul. They said the Shema prayer before their father Jacob, thus reassuring him that the principles of serving G‑d and recognizing His absolute Oneness would be lived and taught by them as well. One family, with one heart and one soul.”

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

Vayeshev: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Stew

Vayeshev: Technicolor Stew

Vayeshev: Technicolor Stew

In Vayeshev, Jacob returns to his home to “settle.” But, there is not any internal or external settling for him. Jacob’s sons are upset by the arrogance of his favorite son, Joseph. The brothers strip Joseph of the elaborate tunic Jacob had given him and throw him into a pit. Rather than letting him die, though, Reuben convinces the other brothers instead to sell him into slavery. But, the brothers lie to their father that his beloved Joseph was killed by presenting his bloody tunic.

Why is Jacob unable to have tranquility in his life after everything he’s been through? Yanki Tauber writes, “many are content to live this lie: to forget what happened yesterday, avoid thinking about what will happen tomorrow, ignore the sadness in a neighbor’s eye, the poverty on the other side of town and the bombs in the other time zone.

While one may look at a farm and see a tranquil, lush landscape, agriculture is anything but calm. Rather, it is the epicenter of global fights for human rights, land sovereignty and the survival of family farmers. This Wednesday, December 10, is Slow Food’s Terra Madre Day–a global celebration of local foods. The Terra Madre network in 160 countries supports food sovereignty–local communities control over the growing, production and eating of food. It is also about preserving indigenous food cultures and traditions in the face of threats from international agriculture and food homogenization that eliminates food diversity, hurts

Purple Yams. Pureland Farms. La Cienega Farmers Market, Los Angeles

Purple Yams. Pureland Farms. La Cienega Farmers Market, Los Angeles

small farmers and devastates communities. Part of Terra Madre’s commitment to preserving food diversity is through it’s Ark of Taste which has already 2,000 foods from around the globe that are at risk of disappearing.

It’s also Human Rights Day on December 10. While the family farmers of Terra Madre fight off threats from industrial agriculture, tens of thousands of industrial farmworkers are fighting for their human rights.  The Los Angeles Times has an incredible story about farmworkers in Mexico picking tomatoes at “mega-farms” for the US market. They live in “squalid conditions, trapped for months at a time  [and] camp bosses illegal withhold [of] wages.” 

One worker said, The real truth is that we’re work animals for the fields. Continue reading

8 Ways to Make Your Chanukah More Sustainable

From foods to gifts, there’s many ways to add sustainable practices to your Chanukah celebrations. Please share your ideas in the comments section at the bottom!

Black Rock Orchard. DuPont Circle Farmers Market. Washington, DC

Black Rock Orchard. DuPont Circle Farmers Market. Washington, DC

1. Organic apples and potatoes
Apples and potatoes are ranked #1 and #12, respectively, on Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of produce with the highest levels of pesticide residue. Take pesticides out of Chanukah and prepare your latkes and applesauce with safer, healthier and tastier organic apples and potatoes.

2. Wooden dreidels
Plastic is forever and we are literally drowning in it. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a massive floating vortex, comprised mostly of plastic, that stretches from the West Coast of the US to Japan.  It doesn’t need more spinning plastic dreidles!

3. Fair Trade gelt
More than half the world’s cocoa is grown in the Ivory Coast where children are forced to work on farms without pay or safe conditions. Go guilt-free gelt, instead! Choose kosher certified gelt, produced only by adults at a democratically-run fair trade cooperative in Ghana. Continue reading

Vayishlach: Wrestling to Righteousness

Vayishlach: Roasted potatoes, apples and leeks

Vayishlach: Roasted potatoes, apples and leeks

In Vayishlach, Jacob wrestles with an unknown force in the night. At dawn, Jacob’s foe wants to leave. But, before letting him go, Jacob  demands a blessing from him. He replies by asking Jacob his name and responds, “your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.”  Afterwards, Jacob realizes he had been wrestling with God. So, “Jacob named the place Peniel, meaning, ‘I have seen a divine being face to face, yet my life has been preserved.'”

Black Rock Orchard. DuPont Circle Farmers Market. Washington, DC

Black Rock Orchard. DuPont Circle Farmers Market. Washington, DC

Prior to this event, Jacob was dishonest and deceptive.  The wrestling is transforming, not just in name but spiritually.  Rabbi Brad Artson writes in The Bedside Torah, “through the process of introspection, remorse and a commitment to confront his own failings, Jacob is able to make himself into a better, more empathetic individual.” This is also about Jacob doing the “right thing.” The Sefat Emet taught, “this may be an account of Jacob’s wrestling with his conscience, torn between his human tendency to avoid an unpleasant encounter and the divine impulse in him that urges him to do the difficult but right thing.”

Jews wrestle with moral questions including those about food and agriculture issues. For example, what does or should kosher mean in the 21st century? Is junk food worthy of a hecksher (kosher certification)?  Should an animal raised under inhumane conditions but slaughtered by a shochet (ritual slaughterer) be deemed kosher? Why aren’t all GMO crops considered treyf (not kosher)? Continue reading

Vayetzei: Sunset to Sunrise

Vayetzei dish

Vayetzei dish

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)

La Cienega farmers market. Pomegranate

La Cienega farmers market. Pomegranate

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.

Continue reading