Fall Holidays: Feasting and Reading

Sukkot: Stuffed Zucchinis

Sukkot: Stuffed Zucchinis

Greetings from Tel Aviv! I want to share my latest Haaretz piece about addressing the serious hunger and poverty crises in both the US and Israel.

And, I want to share with you some of my recipes for the remaining fall holidays. Sukkot is the ultimate “farm-to-table” holiday, celebrating the bounty of Fall harvest. On Shemini Atzeret we transition to saying a prayer for rain— so needed right now in Israel and the West Coast.
Sukkot:
Stuffed Zucchinis
Perennials Roast
Shemini Atzeret:
Nopales and Tomatillo Sauté
Simchat Torah:
Eggplant-Quinoa Rounds
Chag Sameach!

 

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Nitzavim: Choosing Life

Nitzavim: stuffed zucchini rolls

Nitzavim: stuffed zucchini rolls

This week, before Rosh Hashana, we read Nitzavim during which all of the Israelites establish a covenant with God. Entering into the covenant is stepping into a concrete process in this world. “For the mitzvah which I command you this day, it is not beyond you, nor is it remote from you. “It is not in heaven . . . It is not across the sea . . . Rather, it is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart, that you may do it” (30:12-14).

This is not about just accepting “I am Jewish” but embracing and living Jewish beliefs and values. While we are a few thousand years removed from the Israelites at Mount Sinai, their journey and experience is as relevant today to each of us. Rabbi Shai Held explains, “One of Judaism’s central projects is to maintain a living connection to our foundational moments: to remember that no matter how much time has passed, Exodus and Sinai have always only just taken place.”

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Shelach: Fear or Trust?

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Shelach: Milk and honey rice pudding

In this week’s parsha, Shelach, Moses sends the 12 spies to scout out the land of Canaan. Upon their return, they recount that the land does flow with milk and honey. But, they also were fearful of its inhabitants, explaining that they cannot conquer them. They tell Moses that it is a land filled with people that “devours its settlers. All the people we saw in it are men of great size. . . and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them” (13: 32-33).

The Israelites are crushed and wish that they had never left their enslaved lives in Egypt. Only Caleb and Joshua are unwavering in their faith that God can deliver them to the land. God is enraged by their lack of faith, fear: How long will this people provoke Me? How much longer will they not believe in Me after all the signs I have performed in their midst?(14:11). God declares that none of this generation of Israelites (except Caleb and Joshua’s families) will enter the land.

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Bamidbar: Centering in the Wilderness

Bamidbar: bourekas and greens

Bamidbar: bourekas and greens

Bamidbar is both the name of the fourth book of the Torah (referred to in English as Book of Numbers) and this week’s portion. After receiving the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai, Bamidbar/Numbers tells the Israelites journey through the wilderness.   A wild landscape conjures images of unrefined, undeveloped, unknown. Our own journeys might have similar descriptions: intimidating, challenging, mysterious. During the Israelites journey, “we will see much adventure, crisis and turmoil take place in the darkness of the wilderness,” writes Yael Shy.

Despite their years in the wilderness, though, the Israelites have a guide to center and direct them: the Tabernacle that they transport. It is always placed in the middle of the Israelites as they walked and camped. Etz Hayyim commentary notes, “The tabernacle was the first thing one saw on leaving home and the first thing one looked for on returning home” (p.774). Continue reading

Shemini: Integration

Shemini: Couscous and tomato stew

Shemini: Couscous and tomato stew

A version of this originally appeared on the Joy of Kosher
In this week’s parsha, Shemini, on the 8th day Aaron (reluctantly), and his sons become Kohanim.  After Aaron’s sacrificial offering, he and Moses “bless the people; and the Presence of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces.”

Thereafter, Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu proceed to offer a sacrifice to God, but bring “alien fire.” Thus, “fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them: thus they died at the instance of the Lord.” After their deaths, Aaron was instructed by Moses, “you must distinguish between the sacred and the profane, and between the impure and pure; and you must teach the Israelites all the laws which the Lord has imparted to them through Moses.” Continue reading

Tzav: Sharing with Others

Tzav soup

Tzav soup

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.”

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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

Mishpatim: We are all strangers

Mishpatim

Mishpatim

In Mishpatim, twice God tells the Israelites not to oppress a stranger because they were strangers in the Egypt. (22:20 and 23:9). This is central to Jewish identity. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, “To be a Jew is to be a stranger.”  Rabbi Shai Held writes that, “since you know what it feels like to be a stranger, you must never abuse or mistreat the stranger.” 

Indeed, the Israelites experience as strangers in Egypt and throughout the diaspora provides the imperative that we not only support the strangers in our midst but stand in solidarity. Rabbi Held continues, “Empathy must animate and intensify your commitment to the dignity and well being of the weak and vulnerable. And God holds you accountable to this obligation” Continue reading

Beshalach: From Fear to Action

Beshallach: challot

Beshallach: raisin challot

In this week’s parsha, Beshalach, the Israelites begin their journey from Egypt to Israel. There are moments when the Israelites question their exodus and God’s ability to protect them. Although they are liberated, their lives are filled with uncertainty and they still carry some of their slave-like mentality from Egypt.  While being chased by Pharoah, the Israelites complain to Moses,“Let us be, for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness?” (14:13). Just after this moment, God splits the Sea of Reeds, allowing the Israelites to safely pass to dry land. But, their complaints continued. They later said to Moses and Aaron, “For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death” (16:3). Rabbi Shai Held comments that in Beshalach, “the Israelites will need to discover, however slowly and painfully, that they have agency, that they can act in ways small and large to determine their own fate.

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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