Parshat Shoftim

In this week’s Parsha, Sefer Devarim/Deuteronomy 20:19 we learn a commandment about trees, fruit, and the material things of this world.

When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them, for you may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. 

The apple tree in our back yard. It never really took off but for some reason it's full of apples.

The apple tree in our back yard. It never really took off but for some reason it’s full of apples this year.

This prohibition is about a lot more than fruit trees and wartime. This commandment applies during times of peace and is  known as Bal tashchit gratuitous destruction and unnecessary wastefulness.

Talmud Bavli provides numerous examples of  Bal tashchit, including purchasing overly-expensive foods, unnecessary tearing of cloth, wasting oil or fuel, using furniture for firewood, and the killing of animals.  

Rambam says that we are forbidden to “smash household items, tear clothing, demolish buildings, plug a spring, or destroy food items.” The Medieval sage, Rabbeinu Yerucham spoke against wasting water. 

The Torah is very clear about not engaging in wanton destruction and waste. But why?

In Sefer Chorev, Rabbi Shimpshon Raphael Hirsch explains that Bal tashchit is a reminder of God’s dominion over Creation, that all objects and creatures are His property. Objects beneath mankind are meant to be used “for wise human purposes, sanctified by the word of [His] teaching.”

According to Rav Hirsch, God is telling us, “I lent them (objects) to you for wise use only; never forget that I lent them to you.”

So here is what it comes down to: The physical world is a manifestation of the spiritual one. Therefore our stewardship of the physical world, is an expression of our relationship to God.

The care and protection of the environment is good and holy precisely because it is not an end to itself. But rather it’s a vehicle for our function as ‘tselem Elokim’  (man is created in the shadow/image of God) and the fact that every physical thing on this planet is His creation that we must use according to His will. The Torah (and Talmud and commentaries) gives us a very strong message about protecting the environment, but ultimately we do not worship the environment. We worship God. God gives us the gifts of this physical world and through the Torah instructs us on their stewardship. And in that way we serve Him.

And on that note….this week’s recipe is inspired by fruit–specifically the fruit that are in season now. Fresh blueberries and peaches. Yum. 

Devarim 20:19: When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them, for you may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down.

Devarim 20:19: When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them, for you may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down.

Peach Blueberry Crisp

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups peeled sliced fresh peaches
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Topping:

  • 1 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 5 tablespoons margarine
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

  • Place fruit base in casserole dish.
  • Mix topping and cover fruit base.
  • Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. (I put a loose piece of foil on top so it doesn’t harden.)

B’tayavon and have a great Shabbos!

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Parshat V’etchanan

In this week’s Parsha, Moshe exhorts the Israelites to observe the statutes and judgements, (הַחֻקִּים וְאֶל הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים) exactly as they are given without adding or subtracting from them. Then we come to this Pasuk: Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:11

And you approached and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire up to the midst of the heavens, with darkness, a cloud, and opaque darkness.

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky asks an interesting question. If Moshe has already emphasized the importance of observing the Mitzvot why is he now focusing so heavily on the scene at Sinai. Moshe says (2:9) But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart, all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children and to your children’s children. 

What’s more important? The content of the message (living a holy life in the image of God) or the manner in which the message is conveyed (the spectacular scene at Sinai)? One would think that the answer would be simple. But Rabbi Kamenetzky answers that it’s not necessarily the case.

He tells the story of a great Rosh Yeshiva whose son left the fold for more secular pastures, whereas the sons of the simple secretary of that same Yeshiva became devoted Torah scholars. When asked why that happened, the Rosh Yeshiva answered, “One thing I can tell you. At my Shabbos table I was discussing questions on Maimonides writings and Talmudic difficulties. He was singing zemiros (songs of faith and devotion).”

Rabbi Kamentzky explains, “the intellectual analyzing, even actual observance, is, of course , of utmost importance. But nothing supersedes simple faith.”

Rav Yosef Ya’avetz, a renowned rabbi who was among those expelled during the Spanish Inquisition, wrote that those whose observance was based purely on intellect ‘withered’ under Torquemada’s torture. But those who had ‘Emunah Pshutah‘ – simple faith – remained committed to their spiritual roots.

It’s obviously critical in the Torah tradition to examine, study, and  analyze. But Moshe is teaching us “to watch ourselves and our souls lest we forget what really happened some 3,300 years ago. Because when we look for the bottom line, it’s at the bottom of the mountain.”

This week’s recipe is inspired by Mount Sinai. It’s called ‘Bombe’ and it just looks like a mountain to me. I made life very difficult for myself by making my own sorbet (without even having an ice cream maker!). You can buy ice cream, take it out of the freezer to warm up for fifteen minutes and then put it in the bowl. Do yourself a favour. I considered making Aseret HaDibrot (Ten Commandment) cookies because I certainly have the cookie cutter for it, and putting one on top but that seemed a little too…obvious.

Anyway, here’s the recipe:

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And you approached and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire up to the midst of the heavens, with darkness, a cloud, and opaque darkness.

Mt. Sinai Bombe

  • chocolate cake or brownies
  • ice cream or sorbet
  • chocolate icing

Directions:

  1. Line a metal bowl with plastic wrap
  2. Squish cake or brownies along the insides of the bowl. Put another smaller bowl to hold the cake in place and then freeze.
  3. Place softened ice cream or sorbet on the bottom and sides next to the cake layer. Freeze.
  4. Put another flavour of softened ice cream or sorbet. Freeze.
  5. Invert.
  6. Pour icing or chocolate on top.

I used strawberry-lemon sorbet from the fabulous Kosher on a Budget blog.

Strawberry-Lemon Sorbet (this recipe is incredible, check out the blog)

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 cups water
  • 3/4 – 1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (approximately 3 medium lemons)
  • 1 – 2 cups fresh hulled strawberries
  • 1 1/2 cups ice

Directions:

  1. Heat sugar and water in a sauce pan over medium heat until the sugar is fully dissolved.
  2. Remove from heat and add fresh lemon juice.
  3. Pour lemon liquid into blender. Add strawberries and ice, and blend until fully mixed. You’ll have to do this in two batches – it’s very wet and messy
  4. Freeze in a pan for five hours and then put in blender again.
  5. You can try putting in some vodka to prevent it from freezing rock solid hard.

The other sorbet I made was Mango-Peach-Banana.

Fruit Sorbet (from Food.com)

  • 4 cups prepared fruit, pieces
  • 2 -4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 small lemon, juice of
  • 1/2 small lime, juice of

Directions:

Freeze any combination of fruit. Puree in blender with rest of ingredients. Again, test for amount of sugar. It depends on the fruit. You can also try putting in a tablespoon of vodka so it doesn’t freeze too hard.

The combination that I did (peach, mango with some banana) was awesome. Make life easier for yourself and just buy sorbet. (Although we’re going to really enjoy this tonight, it was a lot of work.) That being said, I think I’ll be making sorbet now.

B’tayavon and have a great Shabbos!

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Tisha B’Av 5773

Today is the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av; the most tragic day in the Jewish year when both the First and Second Temples were destroyed, launching millenia of exile, death, and persecution for the Jewish people. It is a day of mourning which began last night when we ate our final meal before sundown, then went to Shul (Synagogue) to hear Megillat Eicha (the Book of Lamentations). It’ll end tonight and until then we won’t eat, drink, wash or bathe or wear leather shoes.

I posted this video last year but I love it so much I’m putting it up again. There are so many reasons to despair: Jew-loathing,  Israel-hatred, nuclear weapons, emboldened terrorists… let us pray that the God will deliver the final redemption to the Jewish people and all of mankind soon.                                                                       

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ ונשוב (וְנָשׁוּבָה), חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם

Eicha/Lamentations 5:21 Turn Thou us unto You oh Lord, and we shall be turned: renew our days as of old

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Parshat Chukat

In this week’s Parsha, the Israelites are attacked by Canaanites from Arad. Bnei Yisrael prays for God’s help and the Israelites subsequently experience a military victory over their attackers. They continue their journey but “the soul of the people was discouraged along the way.”

Once again they complain to God and Moshe, demanding to know why they were brought out of Egypt.

Right. Glorious, glamorous, luxurious Egypt.

Sometimes Parsha can get downright depressing.

Anyhoo, Hashem sends venomous snakes, and many of the people die from their bites. A classic Teshuvah (repentance) ensues and Moshe prays on their behalf. The response?

Bamidbar 21:9  Moses made a copper snake and put it on a pole, and whenever a snake bit a man, he would gaze upon the copper snake and live.

In  Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 29a, the logical question is asked. Did the brass serpent actually cure the snake bites? The answer is – of course not. The snake is a symbol for mankind to look upward to our Father in Heaven, for it is He who heals.

Another question remains, though. Why would a serpent be a symbol of repentance? 

According to Rabbi Mordecai Kamenetzky Moshe experienced a terrifying incident in his first meeting with God. Moshe threw down his staff which then transformed into a snake. Hashem then told Moshe to ‘confront the snake and grab it’. As Rabbi Kamentzky says,

Miraculously, it conformed back into a very benign stick (Exodus 4:1-5). Moshe now teaches that very lesson to Klal Yisrael. It is easy to run from your fears and horrors. Sometimes you may be running from the very monster that bit you. But if you confront the monster with fire in your eyes and sincerity in your heart, then you have nothing to fear. For with the right frame of mind, the very animal that took control of you is not only harmless, it becomes a source of strength.

This week’s recipe is inspired by the snake on the stick. Think ‘flesh’ on a stick – a kabob stick, to be exact.

Bamidbar 21:9  Moses made a copper snake and put it on a pole, and whenever a snake bit a man, he would gaze upon the copper snake and live.

Bamidbar 21:9 Moses made a copper snake and put it on a pole, and whenever a snake bit a man, he would gaze upon the copper snake and live.

Grilled Chicken Kebab

Ingredients:

  • 9 skinless, boneless, chicken thighs
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon hot sauce (depending on your taste)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder

Directions:

  • Cut each thigh down the middle and pound as flat as possible.
  • Mix remaining ingredients in a bowl.
  • Place chicken in bowl to marinade. The longer the better! (Try for at least an hour.)
  • Thread two pieces of chicken along the kabob sticks, one after the other.
  • Spray bar-b-q with Pam or oil spray.
  • Bar-b-q until brown.
  • Enjoy!

B’tayavon and have a great Shabbat!

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Parshat Shelach

In Bamidbar 15:38-39 God says to Moshe:

“Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of sky blue [wool] on the fringe of each corner.  This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them.”

First of all, lets take a look at Tzitzit. (fringes or tassels)

 Rav Kook has a beautiful vort about the connection between Tzitzit and the soul. He explains that the soul functions on three levels: a) the actual soul, b) the soul’s character traits (compassion, tolerance, humility, etc) and c) the soul’s actions and conduct.

The deepest level is the actual soul. It’s completely removed from the physical world and can only be seen through the second two levels, characteristics and actions. The character traits act as the soul’s ‘clothing’ or ‘garment’ and indicate the deeper nature of the soul.

The last level of the soul are our actions. Our actions and behaviour are reflections of our character traits, and like the Tzitzit that emanate from the four corners of a garment, they represent endless variations and possibilities.

One thing we must remember, just as people judge us based on the choice of clothing, we are evaluated based on our traits. Like clothing though, they are external and can be changed.

Let’s talk about  Techelet, the dyed sky-blue thread which is a the stunning shade of indigo. According to the most recent research, the  source of the ancient Techelet dye was the murex trunculus snail.

According to Rav Kook the colour is reminscent of the sublime; the oceans, the sky, and God’s Holy Throne (Sotah 17a):

Sky-blue is the background color of the universe. The techelet thread connects us to the very Source of life, from whom all forces flow. Together with the other threads, which correspond to the color of the garment and represent the diverse range of human activity, the techelet thread complements and completes the function of the tassels.

The Torah teaches that the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit corresponds to all 613 mitzvot:  By wearing a garment with these special tassels, we envelop our souls in the Torah’s magnificent fabric of values and deeds.

Here’s a recipe that’s inspired by the colour blue, although this colour obviously does not come close to the sublime nature of  Techelet.

Bamidbar/Numbers 15;38 Speak to the Israelites and tell them to to make tassels (tzitzit) on the corners of their garments for all generations. They shall include a thread of sky-blue [wool] in the corner tassels.

Bamidbar/Numbers 15;38 Speak to the Israelites and tell them to to make tassels (tzitzit) on the corners of their garments for all generations. They shall include a thread of sky-blue [wool] in the corner tassels.

The dressing is such a beautiful colour, plus Merav really enjoyed it! (Hello, Merav!)

IMG_6396

Spinach  Salad with Blueberry Poppy Seed Dressing

Spinach Salad:

  • 1 bag of spinach
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 package enoki mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, or blanched almond slices
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup blueberries

Layer above ingredients in the order of the recipe.

Blueberry Poppy Seed Dressing:

  • 1/3 cup sugar, (next time I’m going to try this with Stevia/xylitol. If you’re interested in the results leave a comment or shoot me an email)
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup  oil
  • 1/4 cup blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds

Puree ingredients in food processor. Drizzle on salad and enjoy!

B’tayavon and have a great Shabbos!

IMG_6449

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Parshat Bahalotcha

Two short vorts and two recipes for this week’s Parsha:

From the day the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was dedicated, it was covered by a cloud during the day, and a fire by night. When the  cloud lifted, it was an indication that God wished the Israelites to follow the cloud and continue  their journey until the cloud rested in a new location. The subsequent stays could last anywhere from one night to many years.

Rabbi Yitzchak Levi points out that the cloud  accompanied the people of Israel from the exodus from Egypt until the time that Moshe passed the leadership on to Yehoshua (Joshua). (Devarim/Deuteronomy 31:15) The cloud was an expression of God’s continuous presence among humanity. 

“In other words, the cloud expresses the revelation and resting of the Shekhina on Israel in the framework of God’s direct and unmediated miraculous governance of Israel that is characteristic of the period of the wilderness. When Israel follows after the cloud, they are in essence walking in the footsteps of God.” 

Here’s a recipe to commemorate that cloud.

Bamidbar/Numbers 9:15 On the day the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was erected, the cloud covered the Mishkan, which was a tent for the Testimony

Bamidbar/Numbers 9:15 On the day the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was erected, the cloud covered the Mishkan, which was a tent for the Testimony

Strawberry Cloud

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups strawberries
  • 3/4 cup canned coconut cream (this is the ingredient that makes it awesome)
  • 2 1/2 cups crushed pineapple and pineapple juice (any combination is okay) 
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • whipped cream, optional for garnish

Puree crushed pineapple in blender and then add remaining ingredients. 

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This week’s Parsha discusses the ‘Chatzotrot’ the trumpets that Moshe was commanded to make. They were to be blown on various occasions such as holidays, assembling, and war. Shlomo Katz discusses the two distinct sounds that the trumpet makes. Teruah is a broken sound – like crying. Tekiah is a long continuous sound. For war time, the Torah tells us that the broken sound is made. According to the Gemara, however, any time the Teruah sound was made, it was preceded by the Tekiah, the long continuous sound.

Katz quotes Rabbi Mordechai Rogov (1900-1969):

Teruah is the sound of a groan and a wail, while tekiah is the sound of triumph and happiness. Our teruot are always accompanied by tekiot. Even when the sounds of wailing and groaning are heard in the camp of Yisrael, there is never total despair. At the same time, the tekiot are heard – the sounds of hope and trust. This is what the Torah is teaching us. When the oppressors come to our gates, we should sound the teruot together with tekiot. 

Here’s a trumpet recipe that is so delicious, I highly suggest doubling it.

Bamidbar 10:2: Make yourself two silver trumpets; you shall make them; they shall be used by you to summon the congregation and to announce the departure of the camps.

Bamidbar 10:2: Make yourself two silver trumpets; you shall make them; they shall be used by you to summon the congregation and to announce the departure of the camps.

Here’s a peak at the King Trumpet Mushrooms: I bought these in Korea Town. I imagine they’re widely available where Asian foods are sold.
IMG_6342

Roasted King Trumpet Mushrooms with Wine and Rosemary

  • 5 King Trumpet mushrooms, cut diagonally in 1/4 ” slices
  • 1/2 lb. smoked turkey, cut into cubes
  • 2 tablespoons, minced garlic
  • 6-8 chives, chopped
  • handful of fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup dry  wine (white or red is fine)
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 500 degrees. In a large pan sprayed with Pam, place mushrooms, turkey, garlic, chives, rosemary, salt and pepper. Roast 10 minutes. Gently mix up the pan and then roast another 10 minutes. 
  • Add wine for approximately five minutes. 
  • Add fresh parsley before serving. 
  • It’s delicious hot or room temperature. Adapted from Martha Stewart
  • B’tayavon and have a great Shabbos!

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Shavuot – cheesecake!

Are you wondering why I’m posting a recipe for Shavuos when Shavuos is a mere…year away? It’s because of a little tragedy that occurred in our house. My beautiful cheesecake plunged to the floor of the kitchen on the first morning of Yontiff. (And no, it could not be salvaged.) So for Shabbos I recreated the cheesecake but this one was even healthier.

It was like a Tikkun on the cheese cake.

I’m posting this recipe so that I don’t forget it. A healthier version of the typical cheesecake, without flour, gluten, or sugar, but really, really awesome.

IMG_6280

Healthier Cheesecake

Ingredients:

For the Crust: 

  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Cheese Part:

  • 1 1/2 pounds cream cheese (three bar packages)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon stevia (liquid)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup xylitol (to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Melt coconut oil and mix with remaining crust ingredients. Pat into bottom of sprayed 8″ spring form pan.

Mix remaining ingredients and pour on top.

Bake at 375 F for 25 minutes. Turn off oven and leave inside for additional 30 minutes.

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