Parshat Chukat – June 30, 2012

Here it is! My first webisode for my series, ‘Burnt Offerings.’

For the first webisode my featured cook is our wonderful friend Chanoch Ephraimson who very generously agreed to share some of his chef’s tips with us. My old friend Allan (literally, since I was 12 years old) assists him. We shot this in my kitchen a couple of decades after I first proposed a kosher cooking show with Allan to a local cable station. (Anyone remember Newton Cable? They said yes, but I was in the process of moving to NYC.)

I decided to do sushi for Parshat Chukat because the parsha opens up with the issue of ‘Tum’at Ha’met’. (Isn’t that sooooo obvious? Tum’at Ha’met: ergo…sushi!) Allow me to explain:

A person who is ritually impure because of their contact with a dead person is purified through the ashes of the Parah Adumah – the red heifer. (Parah Adumah cake here.) A huge chunk of Torah deals with laws of Tumah (impurity) and tahara (purity). According to Rabbi Moshe Grylak:

The truth is that when we talk about tahara, we’re really talking about immortality. They are two sides of the same coin. Tumah is equated with mortality – the natural as opposed to the supernatural, submission to the forces of nature that eventually end all human life.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsh defined Tahara as:

the freedom of the soul even as it is ensconced in an earthly body. Tahara affirms that even on Earth the soul is not bound by the forces of nature, and is completely free.

Tumah on the other hand reflects the reality of those natural forces and their dominion over our lives. The ashes of the young red calf are used as a vehicle to elevate people from tumah to a state of tahara, and according to Rabby Grylak, “in limiting and directing our own natural tendencies, our physical bodies can facilitate tahara as well.”

The yin and yang of Tumah and Tahara, the physical versus the spiritual, the finite versus the infinite; these are the forces that we’re commanded to harness in order to elevate ourselves from Tumah to Tahara.

Sushi is delightful to the palate because it combines distinctive flavours and textures into bite-sized treats. The sensation of biting into a piece of sushi is particularly pleasurable because of the balance of textures. The avocado’s creaminess, the paper-like feeling of the nori, and the chewiness of the rice, come together to create a singular culinary experience. I thought of the Parah Adumah and how it might be represented by the salmon, red pepper, or mock-crab, but really it’s the separateness of the ingredients that reminded me of Tumah and Taharah.

Here are images of Chanoch’s sushi artistry: (thanks to Aliza for these awesome photos.)

I’m not going to write up a recipe since it’s contained in the video. Please do watch it – I guarantee you’ve never seen a kosher cooking show like this one!

Enjoy your sushi.

B’Tayavon and have a great Shabbos!

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2 Comments

Filed under Chukat

2 responses to “Parshat Chukat – June 30, 2012

  1. Thanks Alison. I had so much fun making it. Next webisode should be fun too! Have a great Shabbos.

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