Friday August 30, 2019 – Av 29, 5779
Torah Portion Re’eh
Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbos
Begin sounding the shofar daily on Sunday
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses mentions some very crucial mitzvahs for the Jewish people, among them our kosher dietary laws. Doesn’t get much more physical than that.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the National Jewish Retreat. I gave a cooking demonstration highlighting my new cookbook The Big Jewish Mama’s Cookbook. That was in the afternoon. In the evening I was part of another session for young college students who also attended the retreat.
They are the Sinai scholars, so named because they are, for the most part, secular students in university studying about Judaism in their respective Chabad houses. From each group, two students are chosen to come to the retreat, all expenses paid.
One of the sessions for the students was about ten different mitzvahs such as tefillin, mezuzah, family purity and the one I gave, kosher. The 150 students were divided into groups of 8 and they had 8 minutes at each station. If you do the math, that meant I spoke about keeping kosher eleven times. Part of my shpiel also included making something kosher that they could eat. We decided on hummus so…I made eleven batches of hummus, one every 8 minutes.
One of the messages I tried to impart to them was that you are what you eat. It’s not just a cliché, it’s the truth.
It’s also not random that the kosher laws lay out specific requirements. The Torah is telling us that we can learn different things from these laws.
If we take a look at the kinds of animals G-d deemed kosher, for example, deer, sheep and cows, we find that they are naturally timid, modest, non-predatory, quiet animals. The birds which are kosher are those which are not birds of prey. We see that at the simplest level the characteristics of kosher animals are those that we would seek to emulate — peaceful, modest, non-predatory, and civilized.
There are two signs to look for on a kosher animal: they chew their cud and have cloven hooves.
The lesson of chewing their cud, is as just an animal chews its cud over and over again, we don’t always have to say the first thing that comes to mind. I’m sure you all know someone with no filter. What they think they say. Wait, says the Torah. Chew it over before spitting it out, giving some consideration to the consequences of what we are about to say.
The cloven hooves have yet another message for us. A cloven hoof, which is split, is the lowest part of the animal, hitting the earth with every step. The earth represents our physical world, the separation in the hoof – the split – teaches us how we are to approach that world.
Yes, we have to be involved in the material, but we also always have to remember that there is another part – the spiritual, meaning that there is a higher dimension to everything in our material world.
As I told the students, much of our life revolves around food. It’s the same message as in my cookbook. You’re going to eat anyway, the food literally becomes a part of you, you’re a Jew, so try to eat kosher.
It’s not always easy, but the feeling of pride at even trying to follow one of the mitzvahs that
G-d bestowed upon us makes one feel somehow very connected.
Here’s the link to my cookbook. It’s for sale and I’m ready to get out there, speaking and doing cooking demos.
Here's the link to the podcast:
Listen yourself or share it with someone else.
Friday August 2, 2019 –
Menachem Av 1, 5779
Matos – Masei (Double portion)
The Nine Days
The first nine days of the month of Av, and also the morning of the tenth until noon, are days of acute mourning for the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples. This year Tisha B’Av actually falls out on Shabbos so it’s pushed off till the next day. That’s called a nidche.
As this is considered a time of mourning, there are many restrictions. I’m not listing all of them, just the ‘biggies’ which are: We don’t eat meat except for Shabbos, no haircuts, no nail cutting etc no buying new clothing unless it’s a great sale. This is because the Temple was set ablaze on the afternoon of the ninth of Av and burned through the tenth. More on Tisha B’Av next week.
This week’s Torah portion has a very important lesson. We learn that the Jews were in the desert for 40 years and during that time had 42 journeys. While that sounds like about one per year, it didn’t quite work like that.
Eleven of those journeys were during the first year out of Egypt, with a further 11 over the last year before entering Israel. That leaves a grand total of 19 trips over the intervening 38 years. Still quite a bit of traveling.
So how did the Jews know when it was time to move? G-d created a very interesting system.
While they traveled, the Clouds of Glory followed them, protecting them from the harsh desert weather. However, at any time, with almost no warning, the Clouds of Glory that accompanied them could rise into the sky, signifying that they were about to leave.
That means every single day of their sojourn they would have found themselves staring up into the heavens above, wondering what the next day would bring. Would they be packing up and leaving, or staying put? And herein lies the lesson.
The Jews never felt permanent. They never knew when they would be leaving to set up another tent city. It could not have been a very secure life. In fact, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been, never knowing what the next day would bring.
And here’s the lesson of our desert journeys: There are no guarantees in life, and nothing is forever. No one ever guaranteed you permanent residence, and past performance is no indication of future returns. The only one constant is that wherever we travel in life, we are led by G‑d. He is directing our footsteps.
How many times do we see someone who exercised, ate well, didn’t smoke or drink get sick while the guy who ate everything that didn’t get up and walk away from the table, smoked like a chimney and drank himself into oblivion, lived a long life? I did all the right things and yet, wham, I got hit. So, what choice do we really have in life if G-d has really determined what will happen to us?
This is a loaded question but sometimes, as in this week’s Torah portion, we see a glimpse of the answer.
We are taught by the journeys of our ancestors that the choice left to me is how I utilize the time that I have been allotted, and what inspiration and memories I leave behind me when I'm gone.
There are no guarantees in life no matter how prepared we think we are. Jews are a G-d fearing people and know, more than any other peoples in the world how fragile life can be. Make the most of every moment, hour and day. G-d is reminding us to live, not just exist.