A Peek into Traditional Jewish Matchmaking

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Named a top book of 2014 at My Full Bookshelf and Words of Mystery.You really need to read this book.

Playing with Matches is a coming of age comedy about an 11th grade student who becomes an inadvertent and anonymous Internet matchmaker within the traditional Jewish community. As she juggles her double life as student by day and matchmaker by night, her life spirals out of control with some hilarious and moving results.

Here are some highlights from a review at My Full Bookshelf.

Warning: I gush in this review. A lot. (What can I say? I had some serious love for this book.)

Have you ever read a book that made you laugh so much you cried and then made you cry just because it was so touching the very next moment? Very few stories I’ve read have fit that description. But I can add Playing With Matches to that short list now, because that is exactly what this book did to me.

The first thing you need to know about Playing With Matches is that is is extremely, extremely, extremely funny. Usually when people go, “this book is so funny” in reviews, I don’t take it to heart, because I seldom find humor in books as funny as everyone else. But TRUST me; this book is hilarious. The predicaments Raina gets herself into are outrageous.

Raina is an awesome main character. Her sense of humor is great. I could relate to her emotionally, because, while being a really fun character, she is also really emotionally fleshed out. And, hello, she’s a matchmaker, which is a) totally unexplored ground in YA literature and b.) is actually really, really interesting!

I usually do not think the romance in YA is the best part of a book…but in this case it definitely was! Probably because it wasn’t with the main character and some random hottie. Also, it wasn’t focused on just one relationship…it was a bunch of relationships where the reader had no idea if they would work out or not, which made it even better.

In fact, there were a lot of themes in here that I wouldn’t have expected from a book like this. When it starts, it does seem like it will be kind of fluffy. A good sort of fluffy, but still fluffy. But it ended up being so much more than that; the end was extremely touching (I cried) and I think that’s what truly makes this book so awesome.

Playing With Matches was amazingness in book form. If you need any more proof that I liked it, I have read 213 books this year. This is only the twelfth book that I have rated 5 stars. So basically, you should read it.

To purchase follow the links to Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.

 

 

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Parshat Vayeitzei

And he encountered the place (Bereishit 28:11)

Here’s a very short vort for the Parsha. Why it’s so short…it’s a micro-vort!

Yaakov leaves Bersheva and travels to Charan, where his uncle Lavan lives. En route, he encounters “the place” – Mount Moriah. The Pasuk describing the place, is one of the sources for Maariv, the evening prayer.

According to Rabbi Joshua ben Levi in Midrash Rabbah, the patriarchs established our three daily Tephillot (prayers).

Avraham instituted Shacharit, the morning prayer, because in Bereishit 19:27 it says, “And Avraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before God.”

Isaac instituted Mincha, the afternoon prayer, because it says in Bereishit/Genesis: 24:63) “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening.”

Jacob instituted Maariv, the evening prayer, as it says , “And he encountered The Place… because the sun had set.”

Here’s a dish with three vegetables.

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Three Salad

  • 1 lb green beans
  • 4 red peppers
  • 1/2 lb mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Trim green beans. Cut peppers in strips and slice mushrooms in half.
  2. Drizzle oil and spices on the vegetables and bake in the oven at 400 F for 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

B’tayavon and have a great Shabbat.

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Parshat Toldot

In this last week’s Parsha, (I’ve had heavy-duty technical problems with the blog that kept eating up my posts) Yitzchak has become tremendously wealthy. He’s dug up some of his father Avraham’s wells that had been stuffed up by the Philistines who eventually become so jealous of his success that they ask him to leave. Yitzchak then re-settles in the Gerar valley where his servants dig two new wells. The ownership of those wells are contested by the Philistines so they dig a third well which was uncontested. Yitzchak calls the well ‘Rechovot.’ “He named it Rehoboth, and he said, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land.”

According to the Ramban, those first two wells allude to the first two Temples, which were destroyed by Israel’s enemies. The third well represents the future Third Temple which will be established without hostility and strife. “G-d will then broaden our boundaries and all nations will serve Him in unison.”

The image of Rechovot and fruitfulness conjures up an image of the modern Israeli city of Rechovot – where my brother and sister-in-law live.  Although it is apparently not the same location as Yitzchak’s well, it reminded me of an image I had of the city the first time I visited it. The main boulevards were covered with rows of orange trees that were bursting with fruit.

An orange tree on a Rechovot street. Photo courtesy of Stephen Epstein.

An orange tree on a Rechovot street. Photo courtesy of Stephen Epstein.

The closest thing I’ve seen to a public fruit tree here in Canada, is a chestnut tree at the entrance to our local park. I tried baking those chestnuts one year and they were completely bitter.

In any case, the image of fruit and fruitfulness and the memories of Rechovot inspired me to do an orange-related recipe. So here it is – Orange Cranberry Muffins.

Bereishit 26:22 22. And he moved away from there, and he dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rehoboth, and he said, "For now the Lord has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land."

Bereishit 26:22 22. And he moved away from there, and he dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rehoboth, and he said, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land.”

Healthy-ish Orange Cranberry Muffins

  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 3/4 cup Splenda (or if those chemicals give you the willies, use 1 cup brown sugar)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 cup almond or soy milk
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cranberries (not Craisins)

Place batter in paper-lined muffin tins and bake at 400 F for 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Enjoy!

B’tayavon and I hope you had a great Shabbos.

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Parshat Chayei Sara

In this week’s Parsha, a tremendous amount of real estate – 67 Psukim! –  is spent on Avraham’s servant Eliezer and his journey to find a bride for Yitzchak.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe has a beautiful vort on this episode. He points out that the first marriage in the Torah is  Adam to Eve. “Theirs, of course, was a marriage wholly made in Heaven: G‑d Himself created the bride, perfumed and bejeweled her, and presented her to the groom,” says Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

The story of Avraham’s servant Eliezer’s search for a wife for Yitzchak (Rivkah) however, represents the first time that the Torah relates a marriage that is the result of human endeavor.  The Torah details the story of the Shidduch (match) which involves very familiar elements of a traditional match; a matchmaker (Eliezer), assessment of the bride’s character, her family background, and the dowry negotiations.

The Rebbe points out that the Torah is often economical in its wording. A single word can be the source for myriad laws and guidelines. The lavish attention to detail in this story however, with its unusual repetition (Eliezer re-telling the story to Rivkah’s parents) offers an important guide to our own approach to marriage, as the Rebbe points out “both in the conventional sense as the union of two human beings, and in the cosmic sense as the relationship between G‑d and man.”

For this week’s recipe, I drew (!) on Eliezer’s test for a bride of character – at the well. He davens to Hashem that if he asks the right girl for water she’ll immediately offer to feed his camels too. Rivkah appeared immediately. The recipe? Water!

Bereishit 24:14 And it will be, [that] the maiden to whom I will say, 'Lower your pitcher and I will drink,' and she will say, 'Drink, and I will also water your camels,' her have You designated for Your servant, for Isaac, and through her may I know that You have performed loving kindness with my master."

Bereishit 24:14 And it will be, [that] the maiden to whom I will say, ‘Lower your pitcher and I will drink,’ and she will say, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels,’ her have You designated for Your servant, for Isaac, and through her may I know that You have performed loving kindness with my master.”

Bereishit 24: 13 Behold, I am standing by the water fountain, and the daughters of the city are coming out to draw water.

Bereishit 24: 13 Behold, I am standing by the water fountain, and the daughters of the city are coming out to draw water.

Water Infusions:

For the first combination I used one lime, one clementine and a sprig of mint. Use a wooden spoon to ‘grind’ it a bit on the bottom of the pitcher in order to release the flavours.

For the second combination is used five strawberries, half a lemon, and a sprig of mint, grinding some of the fruit to release the flavours.

Add ice cubes. Be creative. Add rosemary, cucumbers, grapefruit, or whatever catches your fancy. 

Enjoy!

B’tayavon and have a great Shabbos.

 

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Parshat Vayeira

In this week’s Parsha God appears to Avraham as he sits at the entrance to his tent (Bereishit 18:1). Before Avraham gets a chance to react, he see three men (angels, actually) at the tent, who he welcomes with extraordinary hospitality.

Flag, Blue, Map, Symbol, Game, Playing

So what happened to his interaction with God?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks offers a truly incredible insight here  by suggesting that in Pasuk 3, Avraham is not actually addressing the guests when he says, “My lords, if only I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass on from beside your servant,” but he’s talking to God.

Wait a minute. Avraham is asking God to wait while he serves human beings?

Rabbi Sacks’s explanation is unbelievably profound. He explains that in Avraham’s time, people worshiped the sun, the stars and the forces of nature — God’s creations. Avraham, by contrast, understood that God is beyond nature.

The Torah tells us that out of all of God’s creations, only one was set in His image: the human being.

Rabbi Sacks explains that, “the forces of nature are impersonal, which is why those who worship them eventually lose their humanity. You cannot worship impersonal forces and remain a person: compassionate, humane, generous, forgiving.”

He further explains that “because we believe that G‑d is personal, someone to whom we can say “You,” we honor human dignity as sacrosanct.”

Avraham recognized the Divine in the faces of the strangers. Welcoming them was an affirmation of God Himself. Avraham was honouring God through honouring His image – humanity.

This week’s recipe is inspired by the three strangers that came to Avraham to deliver the news of Sarah’s impending pregnancy. They were messengers from God – angels.

Grilled garlic chicken on angel hair pasta.

Bereishit 18:2 2. And he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground.

Bereishit 18:2 And he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground.

Grilled Garlic Chicken on Angel Hair Pasta

This recipe is ridiculously easy, but oh so delicious.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless, chicken breasts cut into strips 1 1/2″ wide
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons teriyaki or garlic sauce
  • 1  lb angel hair pasta

Directions:

  1. Cut up chicken breasts and marinade in garlic sauce for an hour.
  2. Bake chicken for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F in marinade.
  3. Remove chicken from oven (reserve sauce) and place on grill (if you don’t have a bar-b-q, you can broil it) for five minutes.
  4. Pour the sauce on top of the cooked pasta, adding another 2 tablespoons of garlic sauce. Place chicken on top of the pasta.

Enjoy!

B’tayavon and have a great Shabbos.

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Parshat Lech Lecha

In this week’s Parsha, Avram enters Canaan, a region of city-states that’s been embroiled in conflict  for the previous quarter century.

For twelve years four kings led by King Chedorlaomer of Elam subjugated and terrorized five kings in the Sodom Valley.  The five kings finally rose up against their oppressors in a rebellion that lasted thirteen years until Chedorlaomer and his alliance decided to crush the five kings once and for all. The four kings won battle after battle across the Sodom Valley (Rephaim, Zuzim, Emim, Hori, Amelik, Emor, Sodom.)

Avraham’s nephew Lot was taken captive.

When Avram was informed, he mobilized his 318 servants and pursued the four kings with their armies all the way Chova, just west of Damascus. He was victorious, redeeming Lot and recovering the property and the other prisoners. The king of Sodom offered the recovered property to Avram who refused it.

Bereishit 14:22-23 And Avram said to the king of Sodom, “I raise my hand to the Lord, the Most High God, Who possesses heaven and earth. Neither from a thread to a shoe strap, nor will I take from whatever is yours, that you should not say, ‘It was I who made Avram rich.’

In Talmud Sotah (17a) it says that the reward for Avraham declaring “not a thread or a shoe-strap” was B’nei Yisrael meriting the mitzvot of tzitzit and tefillin.

Avraham’s response to the kings offer of spoils was clear: let it be obvious that the miracle of his tiny band of servants prevailing against the four kings came directly from God. Avram had no connection to the battle, but only waged it to redeem his nephew. He acted solely for the mitzvah and was unwilling to put a monetary value on that.

I find it hard to visualize what these kings looked like. Did they wear robes? Crowns? Were they related?

Here’s a more recent specimen:

File:Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger - Portrait of Henry VIII - Google Art Project.jpg

Henry VIII  lived from 1491 to 1547 and was primarily known for two things – his six wives, and the English Reformation. He was an extraordinarily charismatic man of many talents. He was an intellect and scholar who played the lute and organ, composed music,  read and wrote English, French, and Latin, and excelled at jousting and hunting. On the flip side, he executed 28 people including two of his wives, destroyed the economy, and squandered his father’s fortune. Just your basic garden variety tyrant. 

Greensleeves is a classic English folk song that is reputed to have been written by King Henry VIII. There are millions of versions on YouTube, but I liked this one that includes the nyckelharpa, a traditional Swedish musical instrument.

Here’s a recipe called Maids of Honour from the Tudor era. It’s believed that Henry VIII discovered these cakes when they were being eaten by Ann Boleyn and her maids of honour (ladies in waiting). The king tasted one and was so delighted that he insisted that the recipe remain a secret and be stored in an iron box to be locked up at Richmond Palace. There he goes again, our Henry.

Bereishit 14: 22-23 And Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I raise my hand to the Lord, the Most High God, Who possesses heaven and earth. Neither from a thread to a shoe strap, nor will I take from whatever is yours, that you should not say, 'I have made Abram wealthy.'

Bereishit 14: 22-23 And Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I raise my hand to the Lord, the Most High God, Who possesses heaven and earth. Neither from a thread to a shoe strap, nor will I take from whatever is yours, that you should not say, ‘I have made Abram wealthy.’

Maids of Honour – a Tudor Pastry

Puff Dough Base

Just buy the puff dough!

Okay, so maybe you can’t. Or if you’re like me and just didn’t feel like driving to the supermarket to get the puff dough tonight, you can  put together this slightly healthy recipe in my Kitchen Aid:

  • 1/2 margarine (I used Earth Balance vegan cooking and baking stick)
  • 1/2 cup white flour
  • 1/2 cup + 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 tsp  salt
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • oil and flour for greasing and dusting muffin pan

Filling:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 8 oz. container Tofutti pareve cream ‘cheese’
  • 1 teaspoon Amaretto or almond liqueur
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 Splenda (or sugar)

Whipped Topping

I used Mimiccreme, non-dairy, vegan, whipped topping made from cashews and almonds. It whips up into delicious awesomeness.

Instructions:

  1. Mix puff dough in electric mixer until it forms a ball.
  2. Roll out approximately 3/8″ thick and cut out circles.
  3. Oil and dust muffin pan (this recipe made 10) and press in puff dough circles.
  4. For filling, beat eggs with cream ‘cheese’ until liquidy.
  5. Add remaining ingredients and pour into the puff dough shells.
  6. Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes. Remove and when cooled, pipe on whipped topping.

B’tayavon and have a great Shabbos.

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Parshat Noach

Among other items, this Parsha includes the famous story of Noach, the ark, and the rainbow. As it says in Bereishit/Genesis 9:13.

אֶת קַשְׁתִּי נָתַתִּי בֶּעָנָן וְהָיְתָה לְאוֹת בְּרִית בֵּינִי וּבֵין הָאָרֶץ

My rainbow I have placed in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Myself and the earth.

Bereishit 9:13 My rainbow I have placed in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Myself and the earth.

Bereishit 9:13 My rainbow I have placed in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Myself and the earth.

“Keshet B’anan” literally means a ‘bow’ in the ‘cloud.’ Many Meforshim (commentators) explain that the word ‘keshet’ throughout Tanach (Bible) means ‘bow’ as a weapon. Ramban points out that it lacks a bowstring and that the shape points Heavenward, showing that God will not aim it at us again.

Rav Amnon Bazak points out that the word קֶּשֶׁת keshet in the Parsha is not mentioned without עָנָן cloud and this combination of words is mentioned three times in Parshat Noach. He explains the combination of the bow with the cloud signifies the covenant. Since clouds throughout Tanach are mentioned as a screen, the bow is hiding in the cloud. Rav Bazak explains that Hashem is covering one of His weapons, like “returning a sword to its scabbard,” and His promise is that the bow will be ‘covered’ and will not be used against all flesh.

This week’s recipe is a rainbow-inspired spinach salad.

Bereishit 9:26 And it shall come to pass, when I cause clouds to come upon the earth, that the rainbow will appear in the cloud.

Bereishit 9:26 And it shall come to pass, when I cause clouds to come upon the earth, that the rainbow will appear in the cloud.

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Rainbow Spinach Salad

Salad Ingredients:

  • 1 package spinach, washed, checked, and cut
  • 1/2 yellow pepper
  • 1/2 orange pepper (use carrots if you’re stuck)
  • 1/3 cup red tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced
  • 1/4 cup blueberries,
  • 1/2 cup snow peas, cut in half, (if you have avocado that would be delicious)

Dressing:

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup red wine vinegar (to taste)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Lay out the salad ingredients in order the colour wheel. Mix dressing ingredients well and dress right before serving.

Enjoy!

B’tayavon and Shabbat Shalom.

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