Monthly Archives: February 2012

Parshat Terumah – February 25, 2012

On Building a Mishkan – Some Assembly Required

This week’s Torah reading focuses on the construction of the Mishkan (tabernacle), with Moshe getting detailed instructions on Har Sinai. Fifteen materials, including gold, silver, and copper, are solicited from the Israelites toward its construction. According to Midrash HaGadol, each of the donated materials correspond to a particular aspect of a human being. Gold represents the soul, silver is the physical self, copper is voice, blue veins, etc.

Tremendous detail is given to the construction and materials used in the Mishkan. This is also true when it comes to Korbanot (sacrifices) which we read and study with similar fine detail. Studying Parshas that are more esoteric to the modern mind recalls a talk given by Reb Shlomo Carlebach in connection to Purim. Since today is Rosh Chodesh Adar I thought I’d quote one of the most beautiful lines from this talk. Although he’s referring to female prophecy in the Torah, I always thought this line aptly described the love of learning Torah. 

When I get a business letter, the words are important, the letters aren’t. When I get a love letter, everything is important. I look at every letter a thousand times.

The first recipe is based on Pasuk 27:6, 7. This Pasuk explains the poles for the altar made out of a soft pliable wood – acacia. These poles are inserted into rings. Recipe Number One? Yummy onion rings.  

26:6,7 And you shall make poles for the altar, poles of acacia wood, and you shall overlay them with copper. And its poles shall be inserted into the rings, and the poles shall be on both sides of the altar when it is carried.

Onion Rings

(adapted from

  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 large onions, sliced with rings separated
  • 1/3 cup flour (for dredging the onions)
  • oil for frying


  • Mix egg, oil, and soy milk in a mixer.
  • Add dry ingredients  until all the lumps are gone and consistency is creamy.
  • Dredge the onions in flour.
  • Cover with batter.
  • When oil is hot (not before!) drop in the onion rings. Cook until lightly browned on both sides.

Recipe #2:

The Mishkan was a complex and elaborate structure. According to the Lubavitcher rebbe:

It included hundreds of foundation sockets, wall sections, pillars, tapestries and furnishings; a work crew of several thousand Levites assembled the Sanctuary at each camp and dismantled and transported it when the Divine command would come to move on. Yet the “Tent of Meeting” was erected at every encampment–even if only for a single day!

The image of thousands of Levi’im assembling the Mishkan is an incredibly powerful one. Thousands of men hammering, building, sawing, measuring, and constructing this complex edifice. And imagine…all of these guys were Jewish. We’re talking tradesmen. But maybe that’s the power of the Holy Land – it brings out our inner contractor.

In any case, I do imagine beauty in the co-ordination and application of skills to the highest service of the Mishkan.

And as I contemplate this, another strange thought crosses my mind. Have you ever tried assembling furniture from a box? Does the word “Billy” strike fear in your heart? Or something that sounds like medbådetvätthörna?

I’m thinking of a certain furniture store:

It gives one an appreciation for the unbelievable co-ordination and skill involved with the Mishkan. And on that note, inspired by the concept of ‘some assembly required’ I bring you this week’s second and very Swedish recipe.


In English known as Eau d’Ikea – the scent of cinnamon buns when you enter our favourite Swedish furniture store.

DISCLAIMER: For these cinnamon buns to be honest Kanelbullar, the dough should really include cardamon. I personally left it out because I don’t have the most adventurous taste-buds and frankly, I prefer my Kanelbullar to taste more like cinnamon buns and less like Havdallah.

The dough is simple: use part of your Challah dough recipe. To make a 12 x 16″ (approximately) rectangle of rolled-out dough, you’d be using the equivalent of 1 1/2 cups of flour. So if your Challah recipe calls for six cups of flour, you can cut off less than a third to roll out your rectangle.  You’d do this stage after the original Challah dough has risen to double in size.

  • 2-3 tablespoons margarine, melted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, or a mixture of brown and white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • egg (for egg wash)
  • crushed sugar cubes and/or almond slivers
Melt margarine and spread all over the rolled-out dough, leaving 1/2 inch of the edge (length-wise and on one side only) un-egged.
  1. Mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the egg.
  2. Roll up jelly roll style and seal the long end.
  3. Cut into 18-20 pieces and place each one in a paper muffin holder.
  4. Cover and let rise until double in size. (Approximately 45 minutes.)
  5. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle on crushed sugar cubes/almond sliver.
  6. Bake at 425 degrees for seven minutes or until golden brown.

NOTE: I like to place a loose foil ‘tent’ on top of any yeast dough when I bake it to prevent the top from hardening too much. You can try that for the first four or five minutes and then take off the foil for the remainder of the baking time.

Have a great Shabbos and B’Tayavon!


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Parshat Mishpatim – February 18, 2012

This Parsha, which immediately follows revelation at Mount Sinai,  includes 53 laws. Twenty three are positive commandments and thirty are prohibitions. This part of the Parsha is immediately followed by (Shemot 23:20 – 33) a promise that God is sending a “malach” (angel) to guide the Israelites to the promised land of Eretz Yisrael. The juxtaposition of a large amount of mitzvot with settling Israel is obviously intentional.

According to Rabbi Menachem Leibtag:

This conclusion points to the purpose of the entire unit. Bnei Yisrael must accept these laws that will shape their character as God’s special nation. If they obey them, God will assist Bnei Yisrael in the conquest of the Land.

Rabbi Eliezer Breitowitz has said that the Torah is prescription for a Utopian society, to be practiced ideally in Eretz Yisrael. The connection between the Torah, the land, and the people is a complete one and very much alluded to in these psukim. This promise still comes with an earthly effort – ‘hishtadlut’. Conquering the existing nations is part of the uncomfortable process of fulfilling God’s promise.

Here’s a recipe that is popular in Israel – and the surrounding region.

Jeannine’s Awesome Middle Eastern Inspired Beef with Chummus

(I’ve made a few changes, Jeannine, in case you don’t recognize some of the ingredients.)

(BTW, Jeannine is an awesome cook, artist, and potter – look at this mug she made for me!)

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds chopped beef (this is flexible – can add more)
  • 4-6 teaspoons minced garlic – more if you’re very garlic-friendly
  • 1 teaspoon curry
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (more to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Sautee onion until translucent and add garlic.
  • Add beef and spices and brown. Cover pan and cook for an additional 20 – 30 minutes on a low heat.
  • Break up meat into chunks with a potato masher.

I know these ingredients aren’t exact but it’s a very forgiving recipe – trust me!

Chummus  (Hummus) (adapted from – thank you Sarah for finding this awesome recipe!)

  • 1 can chick peas (approximately 15 ounces)
  • 1/8 cup tachina (tahini)
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 4 tablespoons water from the chick pea can (makes the chummus extremely light and cream)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Place ingredients in the food processor and blend for a minute until creamy.

Recipe Number 2:

Among the 53 laws that are taught in this parsha, one addresses the liability that occurs from digging a pit, leaving it uncovered, and causing an animal to fall in and die.

Shemot 21:33-34 And if a person opens a pit, or if a person digs a pit and does not cover it, and a bull or a donkey falls into it,the owner of the pit shall pay; he shall return money to its owner, and the dead body shall be his.

(Kind of like ‘you broke it, you bought it,’ at Pottery Barn.) But why the repetition? Rashi asks why ‘a person digs’  is included in the Pasuk if we already know that a person has opened a pit. He answers that a person may have dug a pit that was capable of trapping an animal, but anybody who enlarged it is the liable one. Also, in 34, the ‘owner’ of the pit refers to anyone who dug the pit – even if it’s in a public space. The person who made that whole is responsible. Bulls and donkeys are examples – the liability refers to all domestic animals and beasts. This is a a fascinating concept because we learn that we are responsible for public spaces as well as private ones.

This recipe was inspired by the concept of an animal enclosed or trapped in a small space. An animal that wouldn’t have seen the pit and once inside, might not be seen himself. In other words — chicken balls.

And if a person opens a pit, or if a person digs a pit and does not cover it, and a bull or a donkey falls into it,the owner of the pit shall pay

Chinese Chicken Balls
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 – 2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups cold water
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • eight chicken breasts cut up into cubes
  • a few shakes of Mrs. Dash
  • oil for frying


Mix all of the ingredients (except chicken). When the lumps disappear add the chicken and toss to coat. Fry in hot oil until crisp and brown. Yumm!

Serve with a sweet and sour sauce.


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Parshat Yitro – February 11, 2012

In 19:10-11 Moshe is instructed by Hashem to tell the people to spend two days preparing to receive the Torah. According to Rabbi Meyer Twersky, an encounter with holiness warrants preparation.

Just as a painter in order to achieve maximum results first primes and then paints, so to we must prepare ourselves before an encounter with kedusha.

The concept of preparing for holy activities has existed for some time. Rabbi Twersky points out that  Chassidim Harishonim spent an hour preparing for prayer.

 They would empty their minds of all distractions and focus on their impending audience with Hashem.

Indeed, they succeeded in achieving an extremely high level. According to Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, both Moshe and the Israelites reached an extremely close relationship with God when accepting the Torah:

This can be seen from the striking parallel between the Torah’s descriptions of Moshe’s level of prophecy – “whom God knew face to face” (Devarim 34:10) – and the people’s experience at Sinai – “God spoke to you face to face in the mountain out of the fire” (Devarim 5:4).


How does one empty their mind to prepare for prayer? One method is meditation. Considered standard practice during Temple times,  Jewish meditation is making somewhat of a comeback. Here’s someone who meditates daily and never davens without meditating first. A fantastic internationally known meditation teacher, Chashi has been helping people enhance their power of their Tephillot through meditation. (Right click for a larger image.)

Here’s a fun recipe to commemorate Har Sinai.

Mountain Potatoes

  • 8 potatoes (sorry, I filled up a saucepan, I don’t have an exact amount)
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • one egg
  • Peel potatoes and boil until tender.
  • Drain and add margarine and seasoning.
  • Mash potatoes with a hand masher until the potatoes are smooth.
  • After fifteen minutes add the egg.
  • Place in a piping bag and pipe in a ‘mountain’ shape on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. (Optional, brush with melted margarine.)
  • Bake 15-20 minutes at 400F.

Recipe #2:

In this week’s Parsha, some spectacular events occur. Moshe’s father-in-law Yitro hears of the miracles that G-d has performed for the Israelites. He advises Moshe to implement a justice system of delegated leadership so that Moshe will avoid wearing himself out. The Jews camp at Mount Sinai which fills with smoke, thunder, and lightning as G-d proclaims the Ten Commandments.

Shemot 19:18 describes the entire Mount Sinai smoking like a furnace. Rashi points out that the mountain smoked more than a furnace, and actually blazed with a fire up to the heart of Heaven. But the Torah uses terms that are comprehensible to humans, ‘what the ear is able to hear.’ According to Midrash Rabba, when G-d spoke, no bird chirped, no fowl flew, no ox made a sound, none of the angels stirred a wing, the seraphim did not say “Holy, Holy,” the sea did not roar, the creatures spoke not, the whole world was hushed into breathless silence and the voice went forth: “I am G-d your G-d.”


Shemot 19:18 And the entire Mount Sinai smoked because the Lord had descended upon it in fire, and its smoke ascended like the smoke of the kiln, and the entire mountain quaked violently.

I’ve done “smoked” almonds, or “Smokehouse Almonds” inspired by the spectacular events surrounding G-d’s revelation to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai in a cloud of smoke.

Hot and Spicy Smoked Almonds

  • 2 tablespoons margarine
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon teriyaki sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon basil
  • 1/8 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 1/2 cups whole almonds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt


  • Set oven to 350°F.
  • Mix all ingredients except the nuts and kosher salt in a lasagna-sized pan; mix well.
  • Pop pan in oven, until margarine is melted.
  • Add nuts; toss to coat.
  • Stir ingredients until mixed. Add nuts and toss to coat.
  • Bake until nuts are toasted – approximately 20-30 minutes.
  • Toss with kosher salt
  • Store in an airtight container or freeze for up to 3 months.

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Tu B’Shevat Part 2 – Feb. 8/12

Note: The first recipe for Parshat Yitro will be up Wednesday night Eastern Standard Time. The second one on Thursday.

The Sheva Minim (Seven Species from Devarim 8:8) include the mention of honey. Although the spies described Israel as the land of milk and honey, the honey in the Sheva Minim is generally taken to be date honey. Israel still has a thriving honey industry. Here’s one beekeeper:

Stevy and cousins Linda and Marilyn from Montreal tending the bees.

My brother Stevy (photographer and technical writer) and his wife Alison (graphic designer) are also Israeli bee-keepers. They keep their hives in the fields of a moshav nearby their home in Rechovot. They’ve also branched out into producing soaps and perfumes out of honey and fruits of the land of Israel.

Even though the ‘land of milk and honey’ is date honey, I’m posting a recipe celebrating bee honey. (Especially the kind from Israel.)

Shemot 3:8 I have descended to free them from the hand of Egypt, and to bring them up from that land to a good, spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey.

Honey Garlic Chicken (adapted from

  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 teaspoons teriyaki sauce
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • Boneless, skinless, chicken thighs (for breasts, cook for 10-15 minutes less than the instructions)
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds


  • Mix all ingredients together, except for sesame seeds.
  • Place chicken in pan and pour sauce on top.
  • Bake 3/4 hour at 350 F, covered.
  • Pour off the sauce and place in a sauce pan. Add 2-3 tablespoons corn starch. Cook on low heat to thicken.
  • Bake the chicken uncovered for another 20 minutes.
  • After 20 minutes when the sauce is thickened, pour on top of the chicken and bake for an additional fifteen minutes.
  • This part is optional, but if you turn off the oven and leave the chicken inside for 15 minutes or so, the chicken will turn a beautiful golden-brown colour.
  • Sprinkle sesame seeds on the chicken immediately before serving.



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Tu B’Shevat – February 8, 2012

At sundown on Tuesday night, the Jewish New Year of the Trees will begin. The 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat is first  mentioned in the Talmud Tractate Rosh Hashana. Tu B’Shevat represents a cut-off date, a bit like December 31st being the last day of your tax year. (In Canada anyway.) Trees that blossom before that day could not be used for tithing after that day.

The Torah compares humans to trees in our need for the four elements – soil, water, air, and sun – to survive. Our connection to the Land of Israel is reinforced on Tu B’Shevat by eating the Seven Species; foods of Eretz Yisrael that are singled out by the Torah for praise. (Deuteronomy 8:8) There are many spiritual parallels between a seed continuously growing throughout its life cycle, and our need to continue to grow in our physical and spiritual observance of the Mitzvot.

Deuteronomy: A land of wheat and barley, and grapes and figs and pomegranates; a land of oil, olives and honey.

Here is a salad that incorporates all of the Seven Species:

Seven Species Salad

  • Croutons, made with wheat flour and olive oil
  • Toasted barley
  • pomegranate seeds
  • sliced fresh fig
  • Dressing with wine vinegar and honey

For croutons:

Once you make your own croutons you’ll never go back to store-bought!

You can use bread, buns, or challah. Both fresh or stale works. Cut bread into cubes. For the equivalent of three buns, drizzle 6 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle on spices to taste. I just shake on spices so I’ll try to guess the amounts: 1/2 teaspoon each salt, pepper, and garlic. Also add one teaspoon paprika or enough to make the bread cubes orange all over. (You can see how dark my croutons are in the photograph.) Optional: Mrs. Dash flavours, chili powder, or Italian seasoning. This recipe is very forgiving so don’t worry about exact amounts.)

Toss until coated and bake at 350 F for 15 minutes. Toss the croutons and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until the croutons are firm. Try not to each them all up before you have a chance to put them on the salad.

Salad Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Roasted Barley:

Cook 1/4 cup barley (one part barley, three parts water) as per instructions. When cooked, toss with salt, pepper, garlic, and paprika and olive oil. Bake in oven set at 350 F for approximately 15 minutes.


  • lettuce,
  • grape tomatoes,
  • sliced fresh fig
  • sliced cucumbers,
  • peppers,
  • pomegranate seeds

Layer the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers right before serving. Top with croutons, seeds, and barley. Toss with dressing right before serving.

Enjoy and B’tayavon!


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Parshat Beshalach – 2/4/12 Part 2 – the song

Both recipes for Beshalach are now up in the post below.

I couldn’t resist posting this video of Aryeh Kunstler singing his version of “Az Yashir Moshe.” This Parsha contains the famous song that Moshe and the children of  Israel sing after they’ve witnessed G-d’s parting of the sea and the destruction of the Egyptians. There are so many tunes for these incredibly beautiful words with their powerful image of joy and connection to G-d. This version for me, is the most beautiful, by far.  (First recipe below, the second one is song-related and will be posted tomorrow morning.)

Shemot 15: 1

Then Moshe and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and they spoke, saying, I will sing to the Lord, for very exalted is He; a horse and its rider He cast into the sea.


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