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December 10, 2016 / 10 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘commandments’

Sweet Potato, Pomegranate and Pumpkin Seed Salad

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

I love to make this salad ready for when you come home for Yom Tov dairy lunch in the sukkah. I have mixed an unusual selection of vegetables to create a dish, with strong, vibrant color and full of varied interesting textures and flavors. Pomegranates are particularly popular around the autumn Jewish holidays. It is claimed that the fruit has 613 seeds, the same number of commandments – although I have never counted them!
 
Pomegranates are quite seasonal but can sometimes be found out of season in ethnic supermarkets − these stores may import a supply of out of season produce all the time that differs from what the larger stores may feature.


The taste of pomegranates can range from very sweet to very sour or tangy, depending on their variety and their state of ripeness. Be careful when you remove the white outer casing of the pomegrante to retrieve the red seeds, as the juice does stain!
 
Preparation Time: 20 minutes; Cooking Time: 25 minutes.  Serves: 6 people
 
Ingredients
2 pounds sweet potatoes (approx 2 large potatoes) – peeled and cut into cubes
1-Tablespoon olive oil
½ pound watercress
1 large pomegranate – halved and deseeded
 ⅓ cup pumpkin seeds
1-cup goat’s cheese − crumbled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
 
Dressing
4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1-teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon mustard – of any variety
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper – to taste
 
Method
1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 F.
2. Put the sweet potatoes in a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
3. Roast for 20 -25 minutes turning once during cooking.
4. To make the dressing, mix all the ingredients together and season to taste.
5. Put the sweet potato in a bowl with the watercress, pomegranate and goats cheese.
 
To serve the stylish way: Drizzle over the dressing and sprinkle over the pumpkin seeds.
 
 
Denise Phillips, is a Professional Chef and Cookery Writer .She can be reached by Email: denise@jewishcookery.com; Website: www.jewishcookery.com

Denise Phillips

Q & A: Kiddush Levana (Part I)

Wednesday, November 26th, 2003
QUESTION: Why do we say Shalom Aleichem at Kiddush Levana, when we bless the new moon, and why do we do so three times? Is it because we have not seen a new moon for a whole month? Can you explain a little more about this mitzva?
Ira Warshansky
Philadelphia, PA
ANSWER: Indeed you are correct in your assumption that we are pleased to see the moon return, and for good reason, as it is the moon which forms the basis for the Jewish year.In the very first Rashi commentary on the Bible we find the statement that the Torah should have begun from the verse in Parashat Bo (Exodus 12:1), “Vayomer Hashem el Moshe ve’el Aharon be’eretz Mitzrayim lemor, Hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chodashim, rishon hu lachem lechodshei hashana – Hashem said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: This month is to be for you the beginning of months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year”. This is the first mitzva that the Jewish people were commanded as a people. And since the main purpose of the Torah consists of its commandments, beginning the Torah with a mitzva would seem to make sense. (We do find a few commands in the Book of Genesis, such as the command to be fruitful and multiply [peru u’revu], circumcision on the eighth day, and gid ha’nasheh [the prohibition of eating the sinew of the thigh], which could have been included along with the other commandments had G-d so intended.)

Siftei Chachamim explains Rashi’s statement to mean that the Torah did not have to include all the incidents and historical accounts of our forefathers, as these could have been included separately in another volume, just as we have the Book of Joshua and others.

“Hachodesh hazeh” includes the first mitzva (rosh chodesh), a most important one. As we see in both the first and second chapter of Tractate Rosh Hashana, extreme care was given to the proper timing and proclamation of rosh chodesh. Based on witnesses’ testimony, the precise timing of rosh chodesh was crucial for the proper functioning of the Jewish calendar, which is based on the monthly cycle of the moon. Our calendar incorporates another requirement: All the festivals must occur during their proper seasons.

Yet our sages understood that if one were to strictly follow a single set of rules, it would be impossible to satisfy the other requirement. Therefore, a whole formula of calculation was instituted to synchronize the requirements. Ibn Ezra (Shemot 12:1) explains this in great detail.

We know that our festivals are very dependent on the lunar cycle since all biblical references to their yearly arrival is based on the timing of the months. Passover arrives on the 15th of Nissan (the first month), and Shavuot follows 49 days later. Rosh Hashana is referred to as the first day of the seventh month (Tishrei), Yom Hakippurim as the tenth day of that month, and Sukkot comes on the 15th.

Rashi (ad loc.) explains, quoting the Mechilta (Shemot Rabbah), that G-d actually showed Moses the exact shape of the moon that one must see to determine that a specific viewing constitutes a new moon.

The Gemara (Menachot 29a) explains that a Tanna of the school of R. Yishmael taught that three matters remained difficult for Moses until G-d specifically showed them to him with His finger. All three include the word zeh (this): the menorah in the Holy Temple, as it says (Numbers 8:4), “And this is the workmanship of the candelabra”; rosh chodesh, as it says (supra), “This month is to be for you …”; and sheratzim, creeping creatures, as it says (Leviticus 11:29), “And this shall be for you unclean…” Others add even a fourth, the laws of ritual slaughtering, as it says (Exodus 29:38), “And this is what you shall offer upon the altar.” Rashi (Menachot 29a) explains that in all these cases Moses was not able to discern on his own precisely how it had to be done.

The mishna (Rosh Hashana 24a) tells us that based on what Moses saw, and what was subsequently handed down from generation to generation, R. Gamaliel fashioned a picture of the moon in its various phases and would ask the witnesses to a new moon, “Did you see such or did you see such?” as a means of ascertaining whether it was indeed a new moon.

Thus we see that the mitzva of the sanctification of the month is one of such exacting specifications that only after it was shown to Moses by G-d did Moses fully understand it.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 42a) teaches us another mitzva associated with the new moon – Kiddush Levana. The Gemara quotes R. Acha b. Chanina who said in the name of R. Asi in R. Yochanan’s name: “He who blesses the new moon in its due time welcomes, as it were, the Holy Presence, for it states in our verse (supra), ‘This month is to you …’ and it says in yet another verse (Shirat HaYam, Exodus 15:2), ‘… This is my G-d, I shall glorify Him….'”

It was taught in the school of R. Yishmael that had Israel merited only to greet the Presence of their Father in Heaven but once every month, that would have been sufficient. Rashi explains this to mean that even if this had been their only mitzva, in and of itself it would suffice to sustain us. Abaye says that therefore we must recite that prayer while standing.

The Gemara then quotes R. Yehuda, who would bless the new moon with the text that we recite today, as quoted both by Rambam (Hilchot Berachot 16) and by the Tur and R. Yosef Caro (Orach Chayyim 426, Hilchot Rosh Chodesh). The Tur and the Mechaber add extra verses quoted from Tractate Soferim (20:2), which also quotes the Gemara in Sanhedrin: “Siman tov etc.,” three times, “Baruch yotzrech etc.” three times while “dancing” (rising on our toes), “Keshem she’ani ro’ked etc.” three times, “Tippol aleihem etc.” (May Your fear and dread fall upon them etc.) stepping three times forwards and three times backwards,
and “Shalom aleichem” three times.

Our present text includes some variations of extra prayers that we have added over time.

But why are these various pesukim said three times? The Perisha (O.C. 426) explains that we say Shalom alecha (actually we say Shalom aleichem) three times because we previously cursed our enemies with “Tippol aleihem.” Thus we are assuring our friends that we do not wish this upon them, but rather peace (shalom).

One may find it rather odd that the Perisha does not explain why the other verses are said three times, including “Tippol aleihem,” which is the reason for saying “Shalom aleichem” three times.

(To be continued)

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

Wake-Up Call

Wednesday, October 1st, 2003
A basic tenet of our faith is that there are no random occurrences. The Hebrew word “mikreh” – something that happens coincidentally, also spells the words “karah me’HaShem” – happened by the will of G-d. To be sure, we never know definitive reasons for occurrences – they are beyond the scope of our human minds. But one thing is certain – nothing, but nothing, happens capriciously. It therefore behooves us to at least make an attempt to listen and try to discern the meaning of the messages that HaShem is sending us.

The blackout that hit New York came and passed, and people dismissed it as yet another indication of human error and mishap. No doubt it was all that, but the very fact that our high-tech society experienced a breakdown befitting a third world country should give us all pause. It should make us conscious of our vulnerability, and compel us to acknowledge “Eyn od milvado” – “There is no power except for G-d.”

From time immemorial, our sages taught us “ma’aseh avos, siman labanim” – “Whatever happened to our forefathers is a sign to their children.” This means that Jewish history is one big re-play. “K’yemei tzescha m’Eretz Mitzraim arenu niflaos” – “As in the days when you left the land of Egypt, I will show you wonders” (Micah 7:15).

Even as the plagues brought the mighty Egyptian Empire to its knees, so has 9/11 shattered our confidence. Our omnipotence, our sense of security has been forever shaken. Our lives have become unstable – fear and terror lurk everywhere. Our environment, the land, the sea, the very air have become permeated with danger, calling to mind those plagues of long ago. Certainly, there has been enough blood; certainly we have seen pestilence – bizarre diseases that have stymied our medical experts – from West Nile to SARS, and we were even witness to the plagues of wild beasts. Who can forget the tragedy that took place on a summer morning last year, when a wild bear wandered into a bungalow colony in the Catskill Mountains and boldly snatched a newborn infant from her carriage. When we read about it in the newspapers, we all recoiled in horror. Things like that are not supposed to happen. The police declared that something so bizarre had never occurred in the history of New York.

And now, we were beset by the plague of darkness. The power failure that shrouded so many states in darkness was unparalleled in its intensity, in its scope, and in its duration. Three days passed before light was restored to all the states and communities that had been affected. Paradoxically, the plague of darkness which enveloped Egypt also lasted three days. Coincidence? Happenstance (mikreh) or under Hashem’s direction (koreh m’HaShem)?

Wake up calls come to us not only through national and global disasters – they come in all shapes and forms. Recently, a very popular TV show that reflects the promiscuousness and immorality of our society aired an episode in which the dialogue sent forth a message to the Jewish community. The very fact that such a Jewish focus was played out on this program is in and of itself odd since the show is geared to mainstream America. But HaShem finds His vehicles through which to send us His messages.

In a past column, I already referred to this episode: Charlotte, an elegant Episcopalian WASP, confronts her Jewish boyfriend Harry over dinner and asks why they can’t get married ? to which Harry responds that he can’t marry out of his faith.

“So why did you order pork chops?” Charlotte challenges.

“I’m Conservative,” Harry answers matter-of factly.

This exchange drew many protests from the Conservative movement, but the message was unmistakable. Jews who label themselves Conservative and thereby justify their violation of the commandments were given a wake-up call, as were the leaders of the Conservative movement who had to come to grips with the fact that, willy nilly, they had given this license to breach the commandments.

And now, from the same series, yet another episode emanated. Charlotte converts – and she does it all by the book. She embraces her new-found faith and enthusiastically prepares a beautiful Shabbos dinner, but when Harry comes home, he goes straight to the TV and switches on the Mets game.

Charlotte becomes irate. “I gave up J”C for you, and you can’t even give up the Mets?” she challenges.

Charlotte’s question hangs in the air. Multitudes of Jews who never hear the voice of Torah, never open a Chumash or a Siddur, who never experience the sanctity of Shabbos, but who religiously watch this program, were given a wake-up call. The question that remains of course is – were they listening? Did they get it? Did they hear the call of Shabbos? Did they hear the call of their forebears who, throughout the millennia, sacrificed for the sanctity of Shabbos, or will they continue to watch the Mets game?

How do you awaken a spiritually comatose people from their stupor? How do you make them understand that Saturday is Shabbos?

Perhaps the very fact that it was a sports event for which Harry gave up Shabbos sends yet another message. Ours is a culture that is sports-addicted, so perhaps it is through sports that the “Harrys” of our generation can be made to perceive the tragic consequences of their assimilation.

Even the best of teams will fade away and die if it has only fans but no players. Similarly, those who are only Jewish fans and not players must confront their Jewish mortality. We are Jews by virtue of our Torah, by virtue of our Covenant, by virtue of our faith in HaShem. If the “Harrys” want their teams to win, they will have to become good players who keep in shape through the study of Torah, observance of mitzvot and genuine prayer.

If the “Harrys” wish to live as Jews and impart a heritage to future generations, they can no longer remain mere spectators, but must take to the field.

That is the message of Chodesh Elul that we must all take to heart. We are living in incredible times, times that will usher in, please G-d, the days of Messiah. Let us all rise to the occasion and become great players for our people, for our G-d.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Will Your Grandchildren Remain Jews?

Wednesday, August 13th, 2003

Sometimes, messages come to us from the most unexpected sources. While, Baruch HaShem, there is currently a substantial upsurge in commitment to Torah and mitzvos, and statistics demonstrate that the Orthodox community is experiencing an unprecedented resurgence, sadly, there is also a flip side to this story. Assimilation continues to eat away at our innards, sapping at our vitality and victimizing our youth. Intermarriage and alienation remain deadly scourges, infecting countless of our people.

Recently, a jarring message came to us from a news article that I picked up in The New York Times. I do not watch TV. I am not familiar with the programs that are currently in vogue, but The Times related a story about an incident that occurred on one of the more popular  salacious TV shows. The program portrayed a young Gentile woman on a date with a Jewish young man. They went out for dinner, during which she brought up the subject of marriage, to which he responded that he could not marry a non-Jew. Absorbing this piece of information, the girl challenged him with a simple question: “So how come you ordered pork tenderloin?”

Without batting an eye, he answered, “I’m Conservative.”

It was only a television show, but his response appears to have ignited a great hullabaloo – so much so that it made The New York Times. A spokesman for the Conservative movement vehemently voiced his objections to the producers of the show, stating that the young man’s rationalization that he is permitted to eat pork because he is “Conservative” was totally fallacious and misleading. The producers responded that the story was based on statistics that demonstrate that the great majority of Jews who refer to themselves as “Conservative” do not adhere to the laws of kashruth.

Now, the purpose of my writing about this incident is not to castigate any one group, but rather, to point out the tragic consequences that accrue when people believe that affiliation with a certain movement endows them with the right to depart from halacha – the laws of our Torah.

Over the years, in my work in outreach, I have time and again encountered this rationale:

“I’m Conservative,” – “I’m Reform,” – “I’m Reconstructionist” – “Therefore, those mitzvos do not apply to me.”

And herein is to be found a major contributing factor to the breakdown of American Jewish life. The average person who joins one of these groups is under the impression that doing so legitimizes his rejection of certain commandments – kashruth being only one of them.

To be sure, there are many Jews who identify with the Orthodox community who are also guilty of disregarding halacha, but there is one fine difference – they recognize that they are in violation of Jewish law, and they do not try to legitimize their lack of observance. They will never claim that they have the latitude to disregard the mitzvot. Rather, they will admit to their weaknesses, keeping the door of teshuva open.

American culture espouses the philosophy that man’s goal in life mirrors the Constitution: “the right to the pursuit of happiness”. Nowhere in the Torah however, is it written that the goal and purpose of our lives is happiness. We have responsibilities and obligations, and even if these responsibilities are in conflict with our proclivities, they nevertheless remain immutable and transcend all cultural, all generational boundaries. Our commitment to Judaism is not based upon vogue or upon that which suits our immediate needs or fancy, but upon our Covenant which was sealed at Sinai – a Covenant that is eternal and non-negotiable. Once you start tampering with that Covenant, however, once you believe that you are not bound by it, and that “labeling” yourself entitles you to declare certain commandments null and void, it is only a question of time until the very structure of your Jewish life disintegrates.

The question posed by the Gentile girl on the show, “If you can eat pork tenderloin, why can’t you marry me?” should make every parent who has come to neglect the observance of mitzvot re-think his or her Jewish commitment. Our Torah and mitzvot as given to us at Sinai have enabled us to survive the centuries, but if we declare them irrelevant, our children will simply abandon all of Judaism, and tragically, that is exactly what we are witnessing today.

I remember over 30 years ago, at the inception of our Hineni movement, I was lecturing in Miami Beach, Florida, when a broken-hearted elderly bubbie approached me. Tears flowing down her cheeks, she related her tale of woe. Her grandson was planning to marry out.

“Oy, Rebbetzin,” she wept. “What did I do to deserve this? I never burdened him with anything. My daughter never asked anything of him. We asked only one thing…. ‘Don’t marry a gentile.’ And now look! Why, Rebbetzin? Why?”

It never occurred to that poor bubbie that perhaps the answer she was seeking was to be found in the very fact that neither she nor her daughter had ever demanded anything of that boy. Her grandson was never challenged, was never charged with his Jewish responsibilities; the yoke of mitzvot was never placed on his shoulders; his soul was never ignited by our commandments, and he never felt the glory and majesty of Sinai. So why shouldn’t he marry out? As the girl on the show asked, “If you can eat pork tenderloin, why can’t you marry me?”

The question hangs painfully in the air and all those who one day hope to see Jewish grandchildren must grapple with it.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Women’s Issues (Continued From Last Week)

Wednesday, May 21st, 2003
Special Note: In last week’s column I published two letters on questions concerning women’s issues, specifically concerning the role of women in public prayer: why it is that they cannot be counted in a minyan, and why there are objections to women’s prayer groups. The following is my reply:

Dear Friends:

Before responding to your specific concerns, I would like to make some disclaimers: 1) Please bear in mind that whatever reasons I advance in response to your questions will not be definitive. 2) My column is not a forum for halachic discussion – that is in the purview of our rabbis.

Since I am writing to you during this Pesach season, I thought it might be appropriate to respond through the answer that our sages give to the wise son of the Hagaddah. Very often, a person can be defined through the questions that he asks, so let us try to remember that which renders this son wise: a) His ability to distinguish between our various mitzvot and his discernment in recognizing that the Almighty G-d commanded them all and b) While he seeks information and enlightenment regarding them, he nevertheless clings tenaciously to their observance – all the while remaining unwavering in his commitment even if he does not fully understand them.

The answer that the Hagaddah provides for this son is rather puzzling. Instead of being offered the reasons for the various commandments, we are advised to inform him about the laws of Pesach and that we may not eat after the final taste of the afikomen. The afikomen is symbolic of the Paschal offering and teaches us that after all is said and done, the final “taste” that must remain with us is the awareness that our mitzvos are Divine commandments and we need no better reason for their observance than that.

It is that awareness that lends meaning and purpose to our lives; it is that awareness that renders the fulfillment of the commandments our only reality. So while we can advance many reasons as to the whys and the wherefores of our mitzvot and traditions, at the end of the day, there is only one reason, and that is that we do and we observe, because we live by the dictates of our holy Torah.

It is as simple as that. Had we been left to our own discretion, we probably would have opted for something sweet and cool to conclude our heavy Seder dinner, but the Hagaddah reminds us that the last taste that must linger in our mouths is that of matzoh – mitzvos – the afikomen. There is a world of wisdom inherent herein – wisdom that has enabled our people to survive the centuries, for no matter how the winds of time, culture or society blew, no matter what was in vogue or suited our palates, we remained steadfast in our adherence to the commandments, and we have not deviated one iota.

I write this preface before responding to your question so that we may all understand that our mesorah, our traditions, are holy. They have been bequeathed to us from time immemorial, and there is only one definitive answer that describes them, and that is that they are our Divinely ordained way of life. You might of course object, saying “Don’t we have the right to seek reasons for the commandments?” And “Would we not be more committed if we were given reasons for their observance?”

We do not object to searching for their meaning as long as we follow the example of the wise son who remains loyal even as he questions. If and when however, our observance becomes subject to our personal preference and logic, if we become the sole arbiter of the relevance of the mitzvos, traditions and rituals, then we will feel justified in passing judgement on their validity and will discard them when no longer “inspired.” Thus, our sages challenge, “Who is on a higher level? He who observes because he is commanded to do so, or he who is impelled by the inclinations of his heart? Clearly, he whose service is based upon G-d’s command is on a higher spiritual plane, for he subjugates his will. But when it is man’s will that prevails, then in no time at all, our heritage will evaporate. So the argument that you advance on behalf of some people who claim that, since women are in the professional arena the dynamics of their Jewish observance should also change, holds no water.

Our way of prayer, our gender roles, are rooted in our Torah and are therefore immutable. (Parenthetically, we would do well to remember that, from time immemorial, Jewish women have been in the vanguard in the workplace, many of them supporting their husbands while they studied Torah. So there is nothing new about women being out there.) By all means, let us search for added meaning in our observance, but that search must remain independent of our commitment.

Our sages have written extensively on Ta’amei HaMitzvot – reasons for mitzvot. The literal translation of ‘Ta’am” however, is not “reason”, but “taste”. In order to make the observance of commandments more attractive, more precious in our eyes, our sages have made us aware of the many benefits to be accrued by upholding them, so that we might acquire a greater love for them. But again, I must emphasize that these reasons are in no way definitive. It’s like a mother saying to her small child, “Taste this orange sweetheart. It’s so juicy and delicious – you’ll just love it.” Surely that’s not the reason why the mother wants the child to eat the orange. The real reason is that the orange is chock full of vitamins. It’s nourishing and good for the child.

Similarly, when our sages advance Ta’amei Mitzvot” – reasons for mitzvot, it makes us appreciate and desire the many pleasures that are accrued by those who follow a Torah way of life, but the real reasons for their observance remain beyond the scope of human understanding.

(To be continued)

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

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