Re’eh: Meat and Poverty

Re'eh Ratatouille

Re’eh Ratatouille

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).

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks teaches that, “It was through agriculture that the Torah pursued its religious and social programme. It has three fundamental elements. The first was the alleviation of poverty.”

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

Devarim: Towards the Promised Land

Devarim: walnuts, fruit and honey

Devarim: walnuts, fruit and honey

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).

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Matot-Massei: Concentric Circles

Matot-Massei: Roasted onions

Matot-Massei: Roasted onions

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

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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Korach: From Rebellious to Sacred

Korach: Pancakes with strawberry compote

Korach: Pancakes with strawberry compote

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about rebellious Israelites, led by Korach. While his complaints about the status of Moses and Aaron might seem like the words of an early democratic activist, his intentions were actually self-serving. He is “the arch-demagogue, lusting for power to inflate his own prominence, not to serve the people” (Etz Hayim, p. 860). He led a group of Israelites in opposition to not only Moses and Aaron but “that of Torah, and ultimately, God.” (Etz Hayim, p. 860). Rabbi Samuel Barth notes, “The sin of Korah was in thinking of himself as “outside the community”; he betook himself and his followers from being part of the People of Israel, and they became a faction, catalysts for further factionalization.”

Rabbi Moshe Bryski, on Chabad.org writes that Korach lived his life yearning for a different one, jealous of others. He comments that “A person who sees the essence of life as serving the will of His Creator does not expend useless energy craving places where the grass is greener. He finds meaning, purpose, joy and fulfillment in the place where the grass is greenest of all: his own.”

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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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Naso: Blessings and Unity

Naso: Ful Medames

Naso: Ful Medames

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)

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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

Emor: Not Cutting Corners

Emor: Kaleidescope scapes, carrots, garbanzo beans

Emor: Kaleidescope scapes, carrots, garbanzo beans

At the beginning of Emor it is written, They shall not make bald patches on their heads, nor shall they shave the edge of their beard, nor shall they make cuts in their flesh” (21:5).

And, in the middle of a description about the holiday of Shavuot, comes the following: When you reap the harvest of your Land, you shall not completely remove the corner of your field during your harvesting, and you shall not gather up the gleanings of your harvest. [Rather,] you shall leave these for the poor person and for the stranger. I am the Lord, your God.” (23:22).

Both of the facial beard and field corners are called payot.

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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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