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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 Ki Tavo

This Parsha opens with the mitzvah of Bikurim (bringing the first fruits to the Kohen/priest

(Devarim 26:2) you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring from your land, which the Lord, your God, is giving you. And you shall put them into a basket and go to the place which the Lord, your God, will choose to have His Name dwell there.

Then in Pasuk 11 it says:

Then, you shall rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household you, the Levite, and the stranger who is among you.

There’s an important concept here – Hakarat Hatov – acknowledging good.  Rabbi Yissocher Frand quotes a Medrash from Bereishit that draws an equivalency between ingratitude and ‘kefira b’Ikar’ – a ‘fundmanetal theological denial of the Almighty.’ He tells us that the person who is lacks gratitude towards other humans will ultimately lack gratitude toward God. “One who is an ingrate to his boss, his friends, his spouse, his parents, and his neighbor will eventually come to deny the favors of the Almighty,” Rabbi Frand writes.

Gratitude is what we learn from the joy that we are instructed to experience when bringing the first fruits to the Kohen. I’ve been doing so many dessert recipes that I decided to use fruit in a different way this week. So for this week’s recipe I’ve got Moroccan spicy chicken with fruit – apricots and prunes.

Devarim 26:2 you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring from your land, which the Lord, your God, is giving you. And you shall put them into a basket and go to the place which the Lord, your God, will choose to have His Name dwell there.

Devarim 26:2 you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring from your land, which the Lord, your God, is giving you. And you shall put them into a basket and go to the place which the Lord, your God, will choose to have His Name dwell there.

I was always grossed out by the idea of chicken with fruit. YUCK. But my taste buds must have grown up, because I found this dish to be scrumptious. Especially eaten with the fruit!

Spicy Moroccan Chicken with Apricots and Prunes

(from Food.com http://www.food.com/recipe/spicy-moroccan-chicken-with-apricots-and-prunes-low-fat-251477)

  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2/3 cup pitted prune
  • 2/3 cup dried apricot, halved
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, halved

Directions:

  1. Combine ingredients in a casserole dish or pan.
  2. Mix it all up so the chicken is covered. Chill overnight.
  3. Bake chicken, uncovered, in 400 degree F oven for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is no longer pink. You can  broil it for five minutes to make it brown.

B’tayavon and have a great Shabbos!

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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 Behar-Bechukotai

Quick!

What does this:

have in common with this:

The answer is an inscription cast into the Liberty Bell that comes from  this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra /Leviticus 25:10: 

Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants there

This quote comes from the agriculturally based laws of the ‘Shmittah’ (Sabbatical year) in the Torah that teach about slavery. Vayikra/Leviticus 25:3-4 explains that in the seventh year the land must have a complete rest – a “Sabbath to the Lord” – in which the land can not be sown, tilled, or harvested.  After 7 Shmittah cycles we come to the Big One – Year 50. That year is called HaYovel – the Jubilee Year. The Torah calls Yovel  קֹדֶשׁ – holy and commands us to sanctify the 50th year.

In 25:25 the Torah teaches laws relating to slavery, prohibiting subjugation with hard labour and teaching owners to treat  them as employees. The  slave and his family are ultimately freed during the Shnat HaYovel. (Jubilee Year)  

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, otherwise known as Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth, has an incredibly beautiful insight into the Torah’s attitude toward slavery.

The terms of the passage are clear. Slavery is wrong. It is an assault on the human condition. To be “in the image of G‑d” is to be summoned to a life of freedom. The very idea of the sovereignty of G‑d means that He alone has claim to the service of mankind. Those who are G‑d’s servants may not be slaves to anyone else. At this distance of time it is hard to recapture the radicalism of this idea, overturning as it did the very foundations of religion in ancient times.

So even if the terms of treatment are relatively humane, (not working on Shabbat, freedom in the Shmittah Year) why didn’t the Torah just ban slavery altogether?

Rabbi Sacks answers this question by citing the Rambam (Moses Maimonides) in The Guide for the Perplexed in which he explains that in all major transformation, time is a necessity. When we think of a fetus in the womb, or the maturation of the child, growth is a slow process and that all  processes in nature are gradual. The Rambam states that “it is impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other. It is therefore, according to the nature of man, impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed.”

That is the reason that God didn’t expect the Israelites to suddenly abandon everything that they were familiar with in Egypt.  “G‑d refrained from prescribing what the people by their natural disposition would be incapable of obeying.” God did not choose to transform the nature of the Israelites, although he could have if he had so wished. But as the Rambam says, “If it were part of His will to change the nature of any person, the mission of the prophets and the giving of the Torah would have been superfluous.”

Rabbi Sacks goes on to explain:

In miracles, G‑d changes nature, but never human nature. Were He to do so, the entire project of the Torah—the free worship of free human beings—would have been rendered null and void. There is no greatness in programming a million computers to obey instructions. G‑d’s greatness lay in taking the risk of creating a being, homo sapiens, capable of choice and responsibility—of obeying G‑d freely. G‑d wanted mankind to abolish slavery, but by their own choice, and that takes time. Ancient economies were dependent on slavery. The particular form dealt with in Behar (slavery through poverty) was the functional equivalent of what is today called “workfare,” i.e., welfare benefits in return for work. Slavery as such was not abolished in Britain and America until the nineteenth century, and in America not without a civil war. The challenge to which Torah legislation was an answer is: how can one create a social structure in which, of their own accord, people will eventually come to see slavery as wrong, and freely choose to abandon it?

Because this week’s discussion centred on the Torah’s attitude to slavery, I’ve got a recipe from the rich ‘soul food’ tradition of African American slaves in the south. (My kids went crazy over this recipe – it was quite delicious.)

Fake Fried Chicken – ‘Soul Food’

And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom [for slaves] throughout the land for all who live on it. It shall be a Jubilee for you

Vayikra 25: 10 And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom [for slaves] throughout the land for all who live on it. It shall be a Jubilee for you

Ingredients:

  • 1 chicken, cut into 1/8’s
  • Oil to cover bottom of a large roasting pan
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed corn flake crumbs (depending on the size of your chicken)
  • 1/2 cup pareve soy milk
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder

Directions:

  • Preheat over to 430 degrees and place large pan (with oil covering the bottom surface of the pan) on bottom rack.
  • Place flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl.
  • Rinse chicken, pat dry, and dip in flour mixture.
  • Dip the floured chicken in the soymilk, mustard, and spice mixture.
  • Crush cornflakes in food processor or plastic bag rolled over with a rolling pin. Place in a dry bowl. Dip chicken in crushed cornflakes.
  • Place the chicken in the heated dish in the over. Cook for 20 minutes and then lower temperature to 375 degrees for another half hour. 
  • Enjoy! B’tayavon and Shabbat Shalom. 

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Parshat Pinchas – July 7, 2012

In Numbers 27:1-11 the five daughters of  Tzelaphchad – Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah – approach Moshe, Eleazar, and the other leadership of the Israelites. Their father has died and although they are daughters, they wish to inherit their father’s inheritance. Moshe consults with God who tells him that the daughters ‘speak justly’ and their father’s inheritance should indeed be transferred to them.

Rabbi Benjamin Yudin discusses the contrasting opinions of two commentators. The Yalkut Shimoni states that this incident took place in the second year of the desert, immediately following the sin of the spies. Another opinion holds that it took place in the 40th year following the death of Aaron the Kohen. According to Rabbi Yudin:

Following Aharon’s demise, they [Israelites] started traveling in the opposite direction, away from Israel back towards Egypt… what is most exemplary on the part of these five righteous women is that at a time when the popular tide and trend of the nation was “let us appoint a leader and let us return to Egypt” (Bamidbar 14:4) they requested an inheritance in the Land of Israel. 

The Yalkut derives a most important principle from the above: one who lives in a society that is practicing evil, but has the integrity and commitment to buck the system and do what is right, not only receives his due reward, but also all the potential reward and blessings that could have been accrued by the generation. Thus the daughters of Tzlofchad not only received their reward for their love of the Land and pining, but received the reward that was potentially awaiting the rest of the generation.

The women’s request for their father’s inheritance leads to a series of guidelines from God to Moshe on this issue. The story of these righteous women is truly an inspiring story.

This week’s recipe simply had to honour the five daughters of Tzlaphchad.

I decided to look for a recipe that combined women and Israel. “How to Cook in Palestine” written in 1936 is considered the first Israeli cookbook. Unfortunately it’s out of print. But I did find something fantastic, written by Lady Judith Cohen Montefiore in 1846 called The Jewish Manual: or Practical Information in Jewish Modern Cookery, with a Collection of Valuable Recipes and Hints Relating to the Toilette, edited by a Lady. The best part of this book is that it’s available digitally for free through Project Gutenberg.

Sir Moses Montefiore was an outstanding Jewish philanthropist who became Torah-observant after his first visit to Eretz Yisrael in 1827 and even traveled with his own personal Shochet. (ritual slaughterer)

I’m a bit of an afficionado for historical ‘ladies’ magazines. I love Good Housekeeping from the 1940’s “Oh my, how will I ever become a bride living with the pain of halitosis!”  Lady Montefiore’s cookbook is fascinating even though it’s completely impractical.

Here’s an example:

DIET-BREAD CAKE.

Beat together five eggs and half a pound of white sugar, then add six ounces of flour well dried and sifted, a little lemon-juice and grated lemon-peel; bake in a moderate oven.

See what I mean?

  • ingredients aren’t really measured
  •  ingredients are limited (butter, milk, almonds, flour, basic veggies) and sometimes…strange
  • No oven temperatures: just put things ‘on the fire’
  • The entire animal is used ‘take the head of a calf’
  • Pheasants, pigeons, partridges, venison, galore!
  • butter, butter, and more butter!

There’s a recipe for apple sauce for goose in which she says, ‘the acid of the apples is reckoned a corrective to the richness of the goose.

Okay, that’s just plain yuck. 
Here’s an example:

DIET-BREAD CAKE.

Beat together five eggs and half a pound of white sugar, then add six ounces of flour well dried and sifted, a little lemon-juice and grated lemon-peel; bake in a moderate oven.

The beauty trips are great too. (how to remove a tan – let’s just say that it involves lots of cucumber, you can also learn how to remove freckles, etc.)

Here’s this week’s recipe taken straight from 1846! (I used bar-b-q turkey and beef)
ITALIAN SALAD.

Cut up the white parts of a cold fowl, and mix it with mustard and cress, and a lettuce chopped finely, and pour over a fine salad mixture, composed of equal quantities of vinegar and the finest salad oil, salt, mustard, and the yolks of hard boiled eggs, and the yolk of one raw egg, mixed smoothly together; a little tarragon vinegar is then added, and the mixture is poured over the salad; the whites of the eggs are mixed, and serve to garnish the dish, arranged in small heaps alternately with heaps of grated smoked beef; two or three hard boiled eggs are cut up with the chicken in small pieces and mixed with the salad; this is a delicate and refreshing entrée; the appearance of this salad may be varied by piling the fowl in the centre of the dish, then pour over the salad mixture, and make a wall of any dressed salad, laying the whites of the eggs (after the yolks have been removed for the mixture), cut in rings on the top like a chain.

B’Tayavon and have a great Shabbos!

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Parshat Naso – June 2, 2012

Bamidbar 6:5  he shall allow the growth of the hair of his head to grow wild.

In this Parsha, the Torah discusses the status of the ‘Nazir:’ the individual whose desire to separate from the physical world and cling to God takes a vow of abstinence from wine/grapes, cutting their hair, and becoming ritually impure. He’s referred to as a sinner but also as ‘Kodesh’ (holy). Rambam explains that a person should seek moderation in their ways and not choose extremes. According to Rabbi Yakov Haber striking a balance is the ideal.

Partaking of the physical pleasures of the world within moderation for the purpose of nurturing the body and providing the necessary physical happiness to serve as the backdrop for ‘avodas Hashem is the approach the Torah advocates for most. 

Here’s a recipe that gives homage to the Nazir (as ‘Kodesh’ of course) and his uncut hair – as symbolized by spaghettini.

Bamidbar 6;5 …and he shall allow the growth of the hair of his head to grow wild

Spaghettini with Grilled Chicken 

  • 2 cups cooked spaghettini
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
Marinaded and Bar-b-q’ed Chicken Breasts
  • 4 pieces skinless/boneless chicken breasts
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Mix cooked pasta with soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar. Top with chicken marinaded in soy sauce, ketchup, and honey and then grilled. Add sliced scallions and peppers and sesame seeds.

 

 

 

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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 Food.com)

  • 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

Directions:

  • 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.

B’Tayavon!

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