Friday, November 28, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Note: I would like to dedicate the parashah study that I did for this week in the zechut (merit) of a community friend who has fallen ill; please pray for her speedy and complete recovery: Chava Blima bat Nechama Yenta.
Happy Thanksgiving (today) and Happy Rosh Chodesh Kislev (tomorrow)!
I guess that it is appropriate that parashat Toldot coincides with Thanksgiving on the secular calendar this year. This parashah that deals with the berakhot bestowed on our ancestors—blessings of sustenance and greatness, abundance and offspring—gives me the opportunity to reflect on the berakhot of love, family, community, etc. that have been bestowed on me (for which I am profoundly thankful).
For this Shabbat, lentils will take center stage for Friday night dinner to recall the lentil porridge that Yaakov bartered for Esav’s birthright: lentil soup with herbed sour cream, lentils and rice, and a lentil salad of some sort, using green, brown, and black lentils will accompany our main dish. I think that (as the sour cream suggested) we plan to have a dairy dinner for Shabbat—and there may actually be an allusion to such a meal in the commentary on the parashah. When exploring why Yitzchak asks Esav in the latter part of Toldot to hunt and prepare food for him, the Kle Yakar mentions that there is merit in a “meat reductionist” diet, because regular carnivorous eating habits can breed cruelty and meanness, whereas meat reduction helps create harmony and peace in the world. (My vegetarian sisters and 9 year old daughter must be so proud!)
The theme for Shabbat lunch will be red. Anyone at the table who wants something to eat can just ask to have the “adom ha’adom hazeh” (“that red, red stuff”) passed to him or her. Hopefully, our guests will have a more discriminating palate than Esav and actually enjoy the red delicacies as they swallow them. Gazpacho, tomato salad, red beans with pickled red onions, red lentil paté, red cranberry relish, and red meat (of course) will round out our menu.
Dessert will take us in a different direction. When Yaakov, disguised as his brother Esav, approached Yitzchak to feed him and to collect his blessing, Yitzchak summoned the use of all his functional senses to determine the identity of the man standing before him; Yitzchak felt Yaakov’s arms, listened to his voice (and his words), and smelled his clothing. Rashi, citing a midrash, explains that the garments that Yaakov was wearing smelled of the fields rather than of the hunt, and more specifically, they smelled of an apple orchard. Using that idea, dessert will be bakes apples.
During the meal we hope to play a cute game that our 5-year-old learned in Hebrew immersion last year: “Tik Tuk Mi Ani?” To play, a volunteer closes his or her eyes and another player knocks on the volunteer’s back, disguises his or her voice, and asks, “Tik tuk mi ani?” (“Tik, tuk, who am I?”). The volunteer then has to guess the identity of the speaker.
Hope you have a wonderful Shabbat!
© Tammie Rapps 2008
Sunday, November 16, 2008
I love this parashah! Chayei Sarah is filled with pathos and romance, from Avraham’s purchase of Me’arat HaMachpelah as a final resting place for his beloved wife, Sarah, to Eliezer’s search for a suitable wife for Yitzchak. The almost uncharacteristic detail in this parashah enriches the stories it tells and fleshes out the personalities of our ancestors in subtle, but meaningful ways. In particular, Rivka captures my attention. I am mesmerized by her vitality and her initiative. A string of verbs describes her actions assisting Eliezer and his camels similar to the language used to portray Avraham’s haste to help his guests in last week’s parashah. She clearly models the same attitude toward chesed (kindness) that Avraham demonstrates and is thus a worthy and appropriate choice as Yitzchak’s wife. She also serves as an amazing example of how one can cultivate his or her own Jewish values (although that term is somewhat of an anachronism) even in the midst of an environment espousing conflicting values.
So, with that introduction, Rivka will be the focus of this week’s Shabbat experience. We will be having Shabbat dinner at home, but are invited out to lunch. The description below is for Shabbat dinner, then.
Two major images from the Rivka story will take center stage at our Shabbat table. The first image: Gems and gifts to commemorate the beautiful jewelry Eliezer brought to Rivka to woo her on Yitzcahk's behalf. Again, this time of year on the secular calendar proves a boon to a parashah mom who seeks inexpensive jewels and such. The crafts store has tons of pearl garlands, gold and silver beaded garlands, and glittery “holiday” picks that look like gift boxes. I will string the garlands around the table and then I will use the holiday picks to form napkin rings. I also have a bunch of large faux jewels that can decorate the table. The jewelry motif would not be complete without Paskesz candy necklaces and bracelets. Too bad they don’t make nose rings!
The second image will inform several of the menu items for this Shabbat. Rivka exhibits her tremendous chesed and z’rizut, alertness and initiative to do a mitzvah, by running and drawing water from a well for Eliezer and his caravan of thirsty camels. The well serves as a powerful metaphor for life, vitality, and, ultimately, for Torah, What a great challenge for our Shabbat table! I will try to form a well out of a challah roll and fill the well with a vegetable dip and/or hummus. I will try to do something similar with thick crusty rolls to serve soup. As a side dish, puff pastry shells (a.k.a patty shells) will play the well role, filled with a mixture of sauteed vegetables. The well will reappear at the end of the meal in the form of a small watermelon cut to look like a well. I found a web site that gives step by step instructions for one of these. I plan to make mine a bit less elaborate, but I'll follow the general strategies. To accompany our well, we will have camel shaped cookies. (We’re also bringing a batch of camel cookies to our hosts for lunch along with some silver chocolate coins, as a nod to the 400 silver shekel that Avraham paid for Me’arat HaMachpelah.)
Finally, to reinforce Rivka’s traits of chesed and z’rizut, I’m devising a few friendly competitions for the Shabbat table (who can set the table the quickest, who can serve the most items, who can clear her/his place setting first, etc.).
And for next year, G-d willing, when we revisit this parashah, I have the challenge of thinking about Me’arat HaMachpelah (and why caves and wells seem to be inversions of each other), Kiryat Arba, Yitzchak’s davening in the fields, and Rivka entering Sarah’s tent. I could also prepare "Sheva Brachot" for Rivka and Yitzchak. Some food for thought!
Have a Shabbat Shalom!
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
This week our shul is encouraging a Shabbat orchim, a Shabbat of guests, in which families invite others not in their usual circle of friends. This initiative emulates Avraham’s hospitality in this parashah, when he greeted his guests with enthusiasm and energy, even while recovering from his circumcision. We are not faced with the same challenges as he was, but we strive to follow his example the best we can.
I hope our guests are willing to sit on the floor!
Our dining room will undergo a transformation this week. It will become Avraham and Sarah’s tent; I have a few tension rods that I can hang in the doorways with tab curtains attached. We also have multiple tablecloths that can serve as interesting fabrics that might have adorned Avraham’s tent. On the floor I will place some big pillows for seating and some low tables for the meal. All will be covered with more cloths in deep, rich, exotic colors.
The Torah maps out the meal pretty well based on what Avraham and Sarah served the angels/guests. I think I can translate their cakes, breads, spreads, and meats into modern fare. When Avraham orders that a young, tender calf (which sounds to me like, veal) be cooked for his guests, Rashi explains that Avraham was really preparing “leshonot v’chardal,” tongues and mustard, which must have been delicacy either in Avraham’s day or Rashi’s. I have no desire (nor do I have the knowledge of how) to make tongue (or veal for that matter), but we will have a chardal/mustard taste test with a variety of mustards available for the event (most purchased at the National Mustard Museum in Mt. Horeb, WI this summer!). As for the meat, I think we will nod to an event later in the parashah—the fate of Lot’s wife as she peered back at the burning S’dom—by eating salt beef (the Brits’ name for corned beef). The rest of the meal will include wine (an allusion to Lot’s daughters) and Middle Eastern cuisine.
For dessert, I have begun searching for a horn shaped basket (i.e., cornucopia), a perfect stand in for a ram’s horn to remind us of the binding of Yitzchak. I haven’t yet decided what will go into the cornucopia, but I still have a say or two to think about it. Again, suggestions are welcome!
After the past to weeks, I've realized that because our parashah meals are somewhat labor and imagination intensive, they may have to be limited to one per shabbat, so that's why this week is a bit scaled down.
© Tammie Rapps 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
SPOILER WARNING: If you are one of my sisters or brother-in-law who is coming to spend Shabbat with us this week, please do not continue reading! We don't want to spoil the fun!
I love that this blog has encouraged me to review the parashah early in the week. I feel that studying the text has given me a powerful focus for the week ahead of me... and given me countless ways to fill an already busy schedule and brain!
This week the Torah reading shifts from the global experience to the more particular Jewish experience narrated through the treks and trials of our ancestors Avram and Sarai (who at the end of the parashah have the letter "hey" added by Hashem to their names and they are transformed into Avraham and Sarah).
The parashah is filled with promises that God makes to Avram/Avraham. One of these promises--expressed in the parashah in two different ways--will be the basis of our Friday night Shabbat dinner. On two separate occasions, Hashem reiterates the promise to create a great nation from Avraham. In Bereishit 13:16 Hashem says, " And I will make your seed as the sand of the earth; so that if a person can count the sand of the earth, then shall your seed also be counted." Similarly, God promises Avraham, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if you are able to count them....So shall your seed be" (Bereishit 15:5). Sand and stars are powerful metaphors with which to work. I can't wait!
Stars are the easy part. At this time of year, there are a multitude of shiny star items available in craft stores and grocery stores. Our Shabbat table will be set with silver coasters laden with stars and star-shaped place cards; metallic star garlands will be draped from our chandelier; and we will serve parts of the meal in silver boxes adorned with stars and a silver star-shaped basket. (BTW, the coasters and the silver boxes were dollar store purchase.) I also have a large fabric remnant on which my daughters and I have begun painting stars with both glitter fabric paint stars and glow-in-the-dark fabric paint. This will be the table cloth for the meal. I'm planning to set our Shabbat clock so the lights go out around dessert time and the stars on the table will (or should) glow brightly.
For the meal itself, our salad will have vegetables cut with star shaped cookie cutters (great for peppers) and I will make kugels in star shaped foil pans I found. Family Fun magazine also has a recipe for star shaped watermelon "pops."
Sand will be featured in the meal as well. Couscous is grainy and sand-like and will certainly play that role on Shabbat in our house. Besides, no one can count the grains of couscous that my toddler can drop on the floor--a clear allusion to God's promise. Sand will also be the guest star for dessert; I'm working on adapting a sand dessert recipe that uses vanilla wafers and pudding to create a sandscape.
Shabbat lunch will highlight Hashem's command to Avram to get up and go to the Land of Canaan and to walk the length and breadth of the country. I found some footprint confetti which should look nice on the table and I have printed up a bunch of footprints on which I will write up some riddles about the land of Israel that will be scattered around the dining room. I plan to showcase foods related to the land of Israel, foods that Avraham himself might have enjoyed as he trekked through the land that God promised his offspring: dates, olives, wheat, barley, pomegranates, figs, grapes, milk, and honey. (We have vegetarians coming for shabbat, so I have some latitude here.)
Last year, I found acrylic plates shaped like flip-flops (probably not so far off from our ancestors' footwear) that we will use to serve the meal. I'm not sure what I'll do with the holes that are meant for drink glasses. Hmmm.
I'm also still contemplating what to serve for dessert. I'd like to re-purpose an idea from Sesame Street and have dessert brought to us by the letter ה/hey, but I haven't come up with anything too exciting for that yet. Not many Hebrew foods start with that letter. So far all I have is cardamom, which doesn't make for an exciting dessert (or Hebrew language refresher).
I'll probably add a thought or two to this week's entry as I work on it some more over the next day and a half.
If not, though,
P.S. Note to self for next year:
Bris food and decor (bagels, lox, etc.) with Mazel Tov, Avraham signs
Suitcases and packing lists.... Hmmmm
copyright Tammie Rapps 2008