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?
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.
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.
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 →
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
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.
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
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 →
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.