Living With The Times | A Slice of Life | What's New | Insights
Customs | A Word from the Director | It Once Happened | Thoughts that Count
Advertising agencies would like us to believe that you can tell a lot about people from the--fill in the blank--cars they drive, clothes they wear, liquor they drink, credit cards they use, etc., etc., ad nauseam.
What about food? Can you tell anything about a person, or more specifically, about a Jew's very essence, from the food he eats?
In honor of Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for Trees, let's take a look at the seven "fruits" with which the Torah praises the Land of Israel, "A land of wheat and barley and grapes and figs and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey." We'll see how these fruits--whether or not you eat them--can tell a lot about who you are, or who you can be. For, these seven fruits are symbolic--according to the mystical teachings of Judaism--of seven aspects of our spiritual growth.
Wheat is described by our Sages as "food for humans." It refers to the part of ourselves which is uniquely human--the G-dly soul. Food taken into our bodies must be assimilated for us to remain healthy. Similarly, the Divine spark in each of us needs to be assimilated into our beings and into every aspect of our lives--even our most mundane activities.
Our Sages refer to barley as "food for animals" and this refers to our more base desires which, according to Chasidic philosophy, come from the "animal soul." Thus, those parts of us which would fall into the category of "animal instincts" need to be elevated and permeated with purpose.
Grapes make wine which, according to the Talmud, makes "G-d and man glad." Interestingly, the Talmud uses the word "anashim," rather than one of the other words for "man" in this instance. Chasidic philosophy says that anashim refers to people who are on the lowest spiritual rung. Gladness and happiness are indeed a form of spiritual service, one which can be attained by individuals who are not involved in lofty, spiritual pursuits.
The G-dly service associated with grapes indicates not only that we ourselves should strive to be joyful at all times, but that our joy should be infectious and we should influence others to have this positive approach to life and G-d.
The Torah relates that fig leaves were used to make the first garments worn by people--Adam and Eve. Afterwards, G-d gave people "leather garments." "Leather" in Hebrew is "ohr" and is spelled with the Hebrew letter ayin. The Hebrew word for light is also "ohr" though it is spelled with an alef. In the Talmud, Rabbi Meir refers to Adam's and Eve's clothing as garments of ohr with an alef, meaning garments of light. This means that each of us should endeavor to spread the light of the Torah to those whom we meet.
Jewish teachings explain that even the simplest Jew is as filled with mitzvot as a pomegranate is filled with seeds. For, G-d created the world in such a way that it is virtually impossible for a person to go through life without performing mitzvot at every turn. The fact that each seed in the pomegranate is a separate entity indicates that each mitzva has its own unique importance.
Olives are bitter. This implies that, though a Jew's life must be charac-terized by sweetness, and that his primary approach must be one of joy, still, when evaluating spiritual achievements, he must come to a state of bitterness. (Warning: bitter-ness is not depression. Chasidut deals extensively with the differences be-tween bitterness and depression and the detrimental effects of depression, but that's another article!)
Dates are referred to in the verse above as "honey." Honey is the Torah's mystical aspect. The study of the mystical aspects of Torah strengthens the inner dimensions of the Jewish soul, the essence of our being which controls our lives.
Through developing all of these aspects of ourselves and by encouraging others to do the same, we will merit to go to the Land of Israel where we will enjoy not only the actual fruits with which the Land of Israel is praised, but also the fruits of our labor during the long exile.
This article is based on a talk of the Rebbe, shlita.
After the miraculous Splitting of the Red Sea in this week's Torah portion, Beshalach, Moses leads the Jewish men in singing their praises of G-d, and Miriam, the prophetess, leads the women in their song of thanks.
The Torah tells us that the joy experienced by the women was far greater than that of the men. "And all the women went out...with tambourines and dances."
In fact, the Midrash relates that when the heavenly angels wanted to add their voices to the "Song of the Splitting of the Red Sea," G-d told them that they must wait until the women had finished.
The exile in Egypt was much harsher for the Jewish women than for their husbands. Of all Pharaoh's decrees against the Children of Israel, the most pitiless was the one that broke every Jewish mother's heart: "Every son that is born you shall throw into the river." The pain and suffering experienced by the Jewish women was more intense than the hardships the men were forced to endure, and when salvation came, the joy they felt was therefore greater as well.
The stories in the Torah teach us lessons which apply in all generations. Pharaoh's decrees against the Jewish people have appeared again and again, throughout history, in various forms. Their aim, however, has never changed. The Egyptian Pharaoh sought to kill Jewish babies by drowning them in the Nile; later despots sought to destroy Jewish souls in ways equally dangerous, although not always as obvious.
In our days, when most Jews, thank G-d, live in relative safety and security, the decrees of Pharaoh imperil the spiritual existence of the Jewish people. "Pharaoh" rears his head in the guise of popular culture and the winds of arbitrary and capricious conventional wisdom, which threaten to sever the Jewish people from the eternal and timeless values of the Torah. "Pharaoh" seeks to immerse and drown the minds of impressionable Jewish children in the waters of whatever is, at the moment, trendy and fashionable.
The threat is not all that different from the one faced in Egypt, because Jews cannot exist for long without their faith in G-d and the study of Torah. Jewish children need a solid Jewish education to ensure the continuation of our people.
Today, just as in Egypt, the main responsibility--to safeguard our greatest national treasure, our children, from negative influences--lies with the Jewish mother. Jewish women have, throughout the generations, been granted the power to set the proper tone in the home and make it a place where their children will flourish and grow up to be good Jews.
In this way Jewish women will see true satisfaction from their children and merit to sing G-d's praises at the Final Redemption, speedily in our days.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
RECIPES ADD SPICE
by Pessy Leah Lester
"Keeping kosher doesn't have to mean giving up fine dining," says Chaim Reisner of Morristown, N.J. And he should know. Mr. Reisner is a fellow of the Culinary Institute of America, a former member of the Vatel Club (a French culinary association), and friend of some of the world's most renowned chefs.
Turning traditionally non-kosher dishes into Jewish kosher traditions has been Reisner's secret passion since he became a baal teshuva (returnee to Judaism) over 15 years ago. If you live in New Jersey's Metro West area, you may already have enjoyed Chaim's famous chili at the Rabbinical College of America's (RCA) Jewish Renaissance Fair or his delicious Onion Soup served up at RCA's "Cafe Devorah."
Reisner's interest in cooking started early. "My father passed away when I was 10 years old, so I often helped my mother cook meals. By the time I was 17, I was going to restaurants and asking the chefs how they prepared their dishes," he recalled. "When Leah and I got married, we used to travel a lot, seeking out the best restaurants and trying their specialties. At home, we could spend all day duplicating those meals."
In 1976, Reisner started "Interlude," a gourmet society that met once a month at different restaurants. At one of the club's favorite restaurants, Reisner was as much a regular in the kitchen as in the dining room. Recognizing Reisner's talent, the owner and chef of the restaurant invited him to join the Vatel Club, a French culinary association founded in 1913.
"I was flattered," Reisner recalled. "After all, the Vatel Club is among the most prestigious gourmet societies in the world, open to only the most worthy restaurants. I was the only non-professional member in the history of the club." Vatel membership opened many doors for the amateur chef, including a fellowship at the Culinary Institute of America in New Hyde Park and the opportunity to learn from famous chefs.
But man does not live by bread alone. When the Rabbinical College of America moved into Morristown, yeshiva students paid a visit to Chaim (then Howard) in his office furniture- interior design showroom. "They wanted to put tefilin on me. I threw them right out." Though he didn't realize it, his involvement was destined to grow.
Rabbi Herson, the Dean of the Rabbinical College, asked Reisner for help designing office space, and Reisner found himself spending more and more time at the yeshiva. "Often when I was there I would get into deep discussions with the students. Sometimes I wouldn't even make it back to the office because I was arguing with them all day. Eventually I realized that I didn't know enough about my own religion to argue intelligently, and I began reading up on the subject. One day a Morristown family (Sara and Shlomo Greenberg) invited me for Shabbat lunch. I was always interested in food, but there was nothing like this in the world. A spiritual lunch that lasted all afternoon. The wine, the home- baked challa, the salads, the cholent, with words of Torah and singing between each course, it opened me up to a warm feeling toward Judaism," he recalled.
"My wife was also becoming interested. Little by little, mitzva by mitzva, we progressed. We traveled to Shabbatons, we sought out lectures, we bought out shelves of books. We painstakingly learned the Hebrew alphabet in order to pray in Hebrew. Everything in our lives was slowly changing," Reisner recounted.
A difficult change for the gourmet family was the shift in their eating habits. "There weren't many kosher restaurants at the time," Reisner recalled. "We used to cry for a place to eat." With all the kosher products on the market, Reisner could not understand why no one was able to prepare the foods he used to love in a way that was kosher. So he decided to do it himself.
The result is a 15-year-old collection of classic recipes, with slight changes in ingredients to make them kosher and in technique to make them faster to prepare. His favorite kosher conversion, he confided, is paella, a traditional Spanish dish made with a variety of meats and seafood, many of which are not kosher. The handwritten recipes are in high demand among the growing ranks of observant Jews and kosher restaurants in New York and New Jersey, and Reisner hopes one day to publish them.
"There's no reason being kosher can't be fun," he concludes. "Just make sure to make a blessing!"
A Sampling of Chaim Reisner's Recipes
Chaim's Fish Paella--serves 4
- Heat 2 tbs oil in pan, brown beef and drain oil.
- In separate pot, heat oil on high heat. Add onions, peppers, and spices. Cook for three minutes on medium heat.
- Add tomato sauce, beans and vinegar. Simmer for 45 minutes partially covered.
EXILE TO REDEMPTION
Hot off the press is the long-awaited "From Exile to Redemption" compiled by Rabbi A.E. Friedman and translated by Rabbi Uri Kaploun. In short essays and excerpts from longer articles, topics on Moshiach and the Redemption are discussed. Available at Jewish bookstores or by sending $15 (plus $2 postage) to Sichos In English, 788 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213.
Adapted from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
The theme of the Convention--"Roots"--is meaningful in many ways, reflecting the vital functions roots have in the world of plants--by way of an instructive analogy to our Jewish "roots," which, as our Sages declare, are our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the founders of our people. To mention some of the most basic functions of roots:
The roots are, of course, the source of vitality for the plant, from the moment of its birth when the seed takes root, and thereafter, bringing it to fruition and constantly nourishing it throughout its life with the vital elements of water and minerals, etc., from the soil.
While the roots must work also for their own existence, growth, development and strength, their main function is to nourish the plant and ensure its full development, as well as its regenerative powers through the continual production of fruits. At the same time the roots provide a firm base and anchorage for the plant, and prevent its being swept away by strong winds and other elements.
It is in the sense of these basic functions of physical roots that we can understand our spiritual roots.
The "primary roots" of our Jewish people are, as mentioned above, our Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as our Sages declare: "Only three are called Avot (Fathers)." On the maternal side, our primary roots are our Mothers, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. Each of these founders and builders of the House of Israel contributed a distinctive quality, which, blended together, produced the unique character of our Jewish people.
Most typical--and original (in the sense of parentage), is Abraham, of whom it is written, "One was Abraham," for he was the only one in his generation who recognized the oneness of G-d. It was he, who with complete self-sacrifice, proclaimed the Unity of G-d (pure monotheism) to a world steeped in polytheism and idolatry. His progeny, the Jewish people, a small minority in a world which has many gods, is still unique in carrying on his work. It is from Abraham that we inherited, and derive strength from, the quality of self-sacrifice. We also have the supreme obligation to pass on our heritage to our children; for it was his greatest merit in his devotion and total dedication to G-d that "he bequeathed to his children and household after him to keep the way of G-d."
By referring to our Avot as "roots," our Sages indicate a further essential aspect of roots that goes beyond the role of parents. To be sure, parents give birth to children and transmit to them some of their own physical, mental and spiritual qualities. But children are not directly dependent on their parents for survival; they can move away from their parents and from their parental home, and continue to thrive even after their parents are gone. This is not so in the case of a plant and its roots. The roots are absolutely indispensable to the plant's existence and their vitalizing influence must flow continuously to keep the plant alive and thriving. In the same way our parents must always vitalize and animate our own lives.
Every Jew should realize that he or she is an integral part of the great "root system" that began with our Patriarchs and Matriarchs and continued to thrive through the ages, nourishing and sustaining our people, whom G-d calls, "a branch of My planting, the work of My hands, to take pride in them."
Yet, sad to say, there are some Jews who, for one reason or another, are not aware of their roots, and some whose roots have become so atrophied as to be in danger of becoming completely withered, G-d forbid. It is therefore up to the healthy plants and roots to work that much harder to revive and strengthen the others, and help them rediscover their identity and place within the root system of our unique people.
In this life-saving work, the role of the Jewish woman is of crucial importance, since she is the Akeret HaBayit--the foundation of the home--who largely determines the character and atmosphere of the household and the future of the children in particular, as has often been emphasized. In the same vein, there can be no greater fulfillment for a Jewish girl than to prepare herself for her vital role of keeping alive the Jewish people. As indicated above, it is a dual process: actively pursuing one's own growth and development, and at the same time, working for the preservation and growth of our people, through spreading and strengthening Judaism in the Jewish community at large, particularly in areas where Jewish women contribute most, such as Kashrut, Taharat HaMishpocha [Jewish marriage laws], candle-lighting, etc.
Finally, to pursue the analogy from roots to one more significant point--one does not look for flashing color and external beauty in roots, nor are the latter concerned with what some people might say about their external looks, roots do their work humbly and modestly, indeed for the most part hidden from view altogether. Such is also the way of Jewish women.
In a world where fashion and vogue hold sway, and where expediency often takes precedence over eternal values and principles, Jewish women are not concerned with what some neighbor or passerby might say about how they conduct themselves and their homes in accord with the laws of our sacred Torah and mitzvot. If these appear "old-fashioned" to the onlooker with his "modern" ideas of "new morality," and the like, we Jews take pride in our old-fashioned, yet always new and eternal roots of our Jewish people, whom G-d designated as a "Kingdom of G-d's servants and a Holy Nation."
Why do we say blessings after we eat?
In the Torah (Deut. 8:10) we read, "And you shall eat and be satisfied and you shall bless G-d, your G-d, for the good land which He has given you." This commandment was given to the Jews prior to entering the Land of Israel, after they wandered in the desert where G-d sustained them with the manna. The blessings help remind us that our sustenance comes not only through our efforts, but through G-d's mercy.
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shira, when we read the Torah portion about the song--shira--of praise the Jews sang after crossing the Red Sea. Our Sages taught that the "Song of the Sea" hints at the Redemption. For it says, "Then Moses will sing with the Children of Israel..." From this verse our Sages derive the principle of the Resurrection of the Dead in the Messianic Era, when Moses and all the Jewish people will arise and sing G-d's praise.
However, the song we will sing will differ from the Song of the Sea as related in the fol-lowing Midrash: "It will be said on that day: 'Behold, this is our G-d in whom we put our hope... this is the L-rd for whom we hoped...'"
We say "this" when something is standing before our very eyes, when it is revealed. When the Jews said, "This is my G-d," after the Splitting of the Sea, it was because they actually saw G-d, as it were. They were able to see with their eyes and point to Him and say, "This is my G-d." But in the future, there will be an additional revelation, therefore we will sing "this" twice.
At the Red Sea, there was a revelation of G-d's miracles--of G-d's unlimited power--and a supernatural event took place. But this type of revelation has a deficiency; the world could not contain it. It was possible only be-cause G-d created a situation at that instant in which His unlimited power could be revealed. Thus, when the revelation and the miracle passed, the world had not changed at all.
But there is a second type of revelation, when the world's essence is revealed for what it truly is--G-d's energy. G-d reveals that the laws of nature themselves, and even the entire material world--are pure G-dliness.
The advantage of this kind of revelation is that it is within the limitations of the world, it is the truth of the world itself. When this truth is revealed, it is like solving a mystery. For, as soon as the mystery is solved, it is no longer a mystery. Similarly, once the G-dliness intrinsically within the world is revealed, then it can no longer be hidden and everyone sees that G-d directs and fills the whole world.
This type of revelation, the uncovering of all that is hidden, will take place in the future redemption. Then, the world will become a vessel for the revelation of the truth that everything is only G-dliness. This will come together with the first revelation--the revelation of the highest levels of G-dliness.
On one of the Skuler Rebbe's visits to Reb Boruch of Medzibuzh, he told Reb Boruch the following story:
"Once I was sitting together with the Baal Shem Tov when two strangers entered the room. The more distinguished-looking of the two men approached the Besht and spoke: 'We have come to ask the advice of the tzadik,' he said. Then he continued with his story: 'I am the rabbi of a small town in this district and I have come to ask the Baal Shem Tov if I should make a match between my daughter and this man's son.'
"The Baal Shem Tov looked closely for a full minute at the speaker and then shifted his penetrating glance to the other man. Then he replied without hesitation, 'Why not?'
"The rabbi looked surprised at the response and began speaking rapidly and nervously, explaining his situation. 'You see, Rebbe, this man is a simple person, not at all learned--in fact, he had been water carrier when fortune smiled on him and he became a wealthy man. Then, he got it into his head that he wanted to make a match between his son and my daughter. Of course, he realized I would never entertain such a proposition so he approached my children's teacher with an offer: He would pay the teacher fifty rubles in advance if he would come to me every day and ask me to arrange the marriage between my daughter and the water carrier's son.'
"The Besht turned to the rich man and asked, 'Is all this true?'
"'Yes, Rabbi,' he replied. 'I knew that he wouldn't go for the idea right away, but I figured if he were asked every day for a few weeks, he would begin to think about it more seriously, and it might go through.'
"'Yes,' chimed in the rav, 'I can't get rid of this pest. Every day the teacher comes to me with the same story about the rich man's son, until I really can't stand it any more. Nothing will dissuade him, and so I finally agreed to come to you and accept whatever verdict that you give. If you say I should arrange the match, it's as good as done; if you say to forget it, he has agreed to leave me alone.'
"'All right, then,' replied the Besht, 'tell me, is this man a G-d-fearing person? Is the family known to be engaged in good deeds and charity? Are they honest, good people?'
"The rabbi could only answer in the affirmative to all the Besht's questions, for the rich man and his family were known to be fine, upstanding people and no one had ever had a bad word to say against them. 'If that's the case,' said the Besht, 'let's arrange the marriage now. There's no reason to delay.' They sealed the agreement, l'chaims were poured, and happy mazal-tovs were exchanged all around. The two men shook hands and seemed to be satisfied with the arrangement.
"When the men departed, the Besht turned to me, and said," 'That man would make a good matchmaker in the world of clowns.' He chuckled to himself and seemed to be amused at something I couldn't understand.
"I had no idea what he meant by that odd remark, but I intended to find out, so I left and followed the two men to the local inn where I knew they were staying. When I found the rabbi I related the Besht's statement to him in hopes of receiving some explanation which would illuminate the mysterious remark of the Besht.
"The rabbi listened incredulously and then with great excitement, cried out, 'Now I understand where I was in my dream! Let me explain. You see, not long ago I dreamed that I was traveling around in my district to receive payment from my congregants as I usually did, in the form of all sorts of farm produce. I arrived in one village and entered the study hall where I overheard a discussion which was taking place between the men seated around a long table. They were having a heated argument about some scholarly topic which, to me, seemed an easy question to resolve. I ventured to explain it in a simple fashion when suddenly I heard a loud voice from the back of the shul saying, "How dare this man offer an opinion in such matters? Why he's nothing but an ignoramus!"'
"'In the next part of my dream, I was in a different village where the same scene repeated itself. Then, I went to another village where it happened yet again. In each town I entered a study hall, overheard a learned dispute, and ventured my opinion, only to be derided and shamed.
"'In the last part of my dream, which was similar to all the others, an elderly rabbi approached me and said, "This ignoramus still doesn't want to marry his daughter to the son of the rich man?" I woke up completely upset and confused.
"'Now that you have told me the words of the Baal Shem Tov, I understand the meaning of these dreams. In the world of dreams I had been made sport of so that my pride would be broken and I would agree to the match between my daughter and the rich man's son. Now I understand that the marriage has been ordained in Heaven.'"
And G-d led them not by the way of the land (Ex. 13:17)
The manner in which G-d led His people through the desert was above the limitations of the laws of nature. The natural way of the world is for rain to fall from the sky and bread to be sown from the earth, but for forty years, the opposite held true for the Jews: their bread fell from the sky, and their drinking water was provided by a well that traveled with them.
And G-d led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although it was near (Ex. 13:17)
The path taken by the Jews throughout history, whether in the direction of the Land of Israel or toward the Final Redemption, was never smooth. Whenever our ultimate goal appeared at hand, the next second it seems to move further away. Yet when we have nearly despaired of reaching our destination, suddenly we see that it is indeed within reach.
And the Children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt. And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him (Ex. 13:18,19)
With what were the Jewish people armed? With the bones of Joseph, in whose merit the Jews were protected from harm. "Tzadikim (the righteous) are even greater after their deaths than during their lives."
And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him (Ex. 13:19)
While the rest of the Children of Israel were busy collecting the spoils of Egypt in preparation for the exodus, Moses was busy doing a mitzva. Moses knew that gold and silver are only temporary acquisitions, but every mitzva a person does accompanies him to the hereafter.
Shortly after the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, issued his call, "Immediately to repentance, immediately to Redemption," he asked his son-in-law, the present Rebbe, shlita, about the reaction of the Jewish community. At first the Rebbe, shlita, declined to answer. But when asked again he replied, "People are saying that the Lubavitcher Rebbe wants to declare himself the Moshiach."
The Previous Rebbe answered, "Nu-nu, at least they're talking about Moshiach."