Friday, October 02, 2015

The blood moon over the sukkah
An unusal addition to benching occurs solely on the holiday of Sukkoth. We add in "Harachaman hu yakim lanu eth sukkath David hanofales" Why do we refer to the sukkah of David to indicate a return to the kingdom rather than beis [the house of] David? In the shiurim prior to the holiday, Rav Goldwicht explained that when a house is taken down, it is a ruin and is not rebuilt so much as a replaced. The house that is built on the site of the previous house is a new house, not the same one. In contrast, a sukkah is always called a sukkah. It is still called that even when it is down and folded. When it is put back up, it is not a new structure but the same sukkah.

It's the same concept we see in the renewal of the moon, which is why we say, "David melech Yisroel chai vekayam" during kiddush levana.   It's always the same moon, though sometimes it is in a waning state, or even in an eclipsed state as it was on the first night of Sukkoth this year. But it is still there, and we know it will re-emerge.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Scaling the mountain: thoughts on Yom Kippur

This is something I posted a few years ago. 

I though of the Gemara about the difference in perspective on one's evil inclination, and by extensions, one's deeds.  I mentioned it to me my son, and he said it was the subject of ashmooze [talk] at his yeshiva (in Queens), and his menahel [principal] actually interpreted it the same way I did  while thinking  about it.  Consider, who has a bigger inclination for evil -- a good person or a bad person?  One would think it is obvious that a bad person has a greater inclination for bad.  But here the Gemara surprises us with the revelation of the future.
  The source is  Sukkah 52a.  It says: "In the future, G-d will slaughter the yetzer hara [desire for evil] bring it before the righteous and the wicked. To the righteous, the yetzer hara will appear as a mountain and they will say, 'How did we conquer that great mountain?' To the wicked, the yetzer hara will appear as a hair and they will say, 'How did we fail to conquer that hair?'"
My son's menahel explained that the wicked consider the bad deeds to be no big deal.  They see violating ethics, morality, and trust  as no  more consequential than a hair.  The righteous, on the other hand, view bad deeds as monstrously huge -- more than a big deal.  That attitude  is what keeps them from sin.  This attitude is one we see in people.  There are people who view  breaking their word or trampling on the feelings of another as nothing. 
"You're reaction is all out of proportion," they may say to the person they've hurt' "you're making a mountain out of a molehill!"  But the people who are truly good and trustworthy know that it is, in fact, a mountain -- a matter not to be overlooked.  They appreciate the fact that breaking their word or hurting someone else's feelings or compromising the beliefs they espouse is a major deal.   They  realize that the hurt caused to another is not something to be brushed away as a matter of no consequence.   So their merit is reflected in the moutainous size of their yetzer hara.

Kreplach recipe

In addition to the mitzvah of fasting on the day of Yom Kippur, there is a mitzvah to eat on Erev [the eve of] Yom Kippur, and a festive meal called seduas hamafsekes is eaten in the late afternoon. A traditional menu for that meal consists of chicken -- not too spicy so that one would not become thirsty later -- and accompaniments. Chicken soup typically precedes the main course. Instead of matzoh balls or noods, the soup accompaniement for this occasion is kreplach -- a type of wonton. Part of the reason for this custom is the similarity of name of the food: kreplach has the same letters as Kippur.
It is a bit of a patchken to make from scratch because you have to make a dough and roll it out, so if you are short on time, you can buy it ready or in frozen form. But homemade is usally best. Here's the recipe I make.
1 lb. flour
1 extra large egg
8-12 oz. warm water
1 lb. ground beef
1 small onion diced small
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tablespoons oil (if you fry) I now just put it straight in a Teflon pan
It makes sense to make the filling first, as you would want the meat to cool down before putting it in the dough. Also you can prepare it ahead and freeze it, allowing time to defrost before putting it in the dough.
Brown the onions and ground beef in a pan. You can do this with oil to fry, or eliminate some fat by putting it all straight into a coated pan.
Mix all the dough ingredients together. I do this in a Kitchen-Aid with the dough hook. Mix until the dought is smooth. Form a ball that you roll out as flat as you can. Cut out circles with a glass of the size you want to use.
Assemble the kreplach by placing one spoonful of the meat filling in the center of each circle and folding it over. Seal the edges. Bring a pot of salted water to boild. Drop in the kreplach. They are done when they float up to the top, which takes 4-5 minutes of cooking. Remove and place them into soup a short while before you're ready to serve it.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Baking and cooking with honey

You don't have to just dip your challah in honey; you can put honey directly into the dough. Honey is also a great ingredient to have on hand for glazing chicken. Here are some recipes: 
Challah with a touch of honey
The following is a favorite challah recipe of mine. It eliminates the extra step of dissolving the yeast  and also doesn’t require an excessive amount of time for kneading. You do have to some kneading, but the dough hook attachment takes the work out of that step. The entire batch fits into a standard Kitchen-Aid bowl. The honey enhances the texture, though you could substitute sugar for the sweetness. As dough rises more rapidly at higher temperatures, you cut down the rising time on a warm day. Also if you place the challahs in the oven without preheating, the challahs will have more time to rise in the warmth of the oven before they start to actually bake. If you need to slow the rising process, say if you want to make the challah dough in the morning and only bake it in late afternoon, place the dough in the refrigerator, so that it won’t rise too much.
Note that the amount of flour here is not sufficient for saying the bracha, though it would require that the hafrasha be done. If you want to say the bracha, you can simply make a double batch to have the amount required. If that produces more dough than you can use in one week, you can freeze what you don’t need to use another time. Or you can use the extra dough to make cinnamon buns. 

10-12 c. all purpose or high gluten flour
5/16 oz. dry yeast (that’s one packet of Hodgson Mills or the equivalent)
2 ½ c. warm water
¾ c. honey. or ¼ c. honey plus ½ c. sugar
½ c. oil
1 tbsp. salt
2 extra large eggs
egg for coating (optional)
Place the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast, honey (and sugar), and water, followed by the rest of the ingredient. Attach the dough hook to the mixer to mix and then knead for 7-10 minutes. Add more flour if the dough is too sticky, though it should be somewhat sticky to the touch. Once the kneading is complete, you can take off challah without a bracha  and follow the directions for burning above. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to prevent the dough from drying out while it rises. Allow it to rise for 2 hours, then punch it down and allow it to rise again.
Form challahs and place them on baking sheets to rise before baking. I use silicon mats on the baking sheets to eliminate sticking and burnt bottoms. You have the option of brushing the challah with egg for a shiny crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. If your oven has 2 racks, place on the bottom rack for optimal results. This would yield 3 to 4 challahs..

Adding honey to a glaze for chicken  adds flavor and nice color. These recipes are particularly quick easy to put together because the require no chopping, pre-cooking, no marinating time, and no basting.
Honey Chicken
1 chicken, cut in 1/8s
1/4 c. honey
¼ lemon juice
1/8 c. orange juice
dash of pepper and curry, optional
Spread the chicken out in a single layer in a pan. Combine everything else and spread evenly over the chicken. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 11/ 4 hours. Serve warm.

Chinese Chicken
1 chicken, cut in 1/8s
¾ c. ketchup
¼ c. honey
2 Tbs. soy sauce
Combine the last 3 ingredients and spread evenly over the chicken. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 1 1/4 hours. Serve warm.

Monday, September 07, 2015

A sweet,new beginning

 During aseres yemei teshuva, first days of the new year, which begin with Rosh Hashan and culminate with Yom Kippur, it is customary to take on extra chumros  [stringencies]. People take on practices that are beyond the strict letter of the law even if they do not keep up such practices during the rest of the year.   It is not a matter of pretense.  G-d is not taken in by a temporary act.  Rather, it is a matter of trying to focus on improvement during these days that should be a time of introspection and spiritual growth. 

Browning said, "A man's reach must exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for."  The antithesis to growth is a sense of complacency.  We break out of out standard routine during these days to remind ourselves that we should not settle in as beynonim -- people who are in between good and bad -- content with mediocrity.  Based on the principle ofhadam nifal kefi peulathav [a person is shaped by his actions] we take action to heighten our spiritual sensitivity. 
Doing more than it is just required is also a sign of love.  Just as a parent who loves a child will do more than the bare minimum, G-d does more than the bare minimum in providing for His creature.  And we strive to emulate the Divine example in doing more and demonstrating our love.  Achieving the level of love, rather than just fear of consequences,  enables a person to attain the ultimate level of tshuva [repentance] as explained in  Doing more is a sign of love and chesed, attributes that sweeten thedin [judgement] of Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment, one of the 4 names of Rosh Hashana.

Shana tova umetuka!

New Beginnings and Yom HaZikaron

The following is an extract from a post I put up last year. 
Anyone who suggest that "forget and forgive" is what the month of Ellul is about completely distorts the way things work. 

 The spiritual work of attaining forgiveness calls for a person to remember and then to forgive. We have to remember what we've done, not call upon others to forget it to feel exonerated. This is clear from the prayer service.  There is a special prayer to be said on the eve of Yom Kippur in which a person declares s/he forgives everyone. However, those who think they can relax because the person harmed will make this blanket statement are specifically excluded, as are those who still owe the individual a debt.
One of the names of Rosh Hashan is Yom Hazicharon, the day of remembering.  The prayer services are divided into sections devoted to kingship, shofar, and remembering.  We try to focus on remembering the good things, but we know that we can't simply forget about the past that was not all it should have been.  This is not a morbid idea but one of facing the truth and resolving to improve for the future.  Included in that is the necessity for a spiritual accounting of how we've treated other people.   Putting things out of our own minds does not necessarily put it out of the minds of those we have hurt.  What we are supposed to do is remember and take what steps we could to remedy the situation and attain forgiveness.
  Each year is a new beginning, but it is built on the past.  Remembering allows us to fix the past to prepare for a better future.  We should have cleared any bitterness to truly appreciate the sweetness of the honey on Rosh Hashana.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Hiding at your wedding

So someone actually wrote some advice for introverts getting married under the title,
Can I hide at my wedding? It includes this paragraph:
Wherever you decide to have the wedding, there’s nothing wrong with scoping out a place in the venue where you can escape for a breather when you need to (the bathroom may or may not work, depending on the likelihood of running into doting friends or relatives in there). Halfway through their wedding, one couple I spoke to for Introverts in Love slipped off to the kitchen for a break while the catering staff, too busy to pay them any mind, bustled around them. (I assume they weren’t in anyone’s way. Or maybe they were, but it was their wedding, so that’s the way it goes.)
It struck me as very amusing, for Jewish weddings actually fit the couple hiding away into the ritual. 

The Ashkenazic custom is for the couple to enter into a private room by themselves for yichud [seclusion] right after the chuppah. It is not merely to give them a few (usually 10 -15) quiet minutes together and to break their fast before joining their guests. The seclusion of the couple is necessary to complete chuppah, and, according to some views, is even the definition of chuppah. Prior to marriage, a single man and woman avoid situations of intimacy in which they will be closeted together out of view of anyone else. Their seclusion for a time period that would suffice for intimacy is a sign of their married state. Some people even designate witnesses for this step; they make sure the room is free of all other occupants before the bride and groom enter.

While the yichud part of the wedding is a very special time for the bride and groom, they are usually summoned out all-too-soon for their liking. That is because the photographers want them present for pictures, and they also have to bear in mind that their guests await their return to the hall to begin dancing in front of them in fulfillment of the mitzvah of being mesameach chasson vekallah, [gladdening the groom and bride].

The convention of staying away from guests for long periods of time for the sake of photography can also be used as an excuse for the introverted bride or groom who wants to get away from the crowd. You can always claim you need to be in the picture or to freshen up for the picture.

Related posts:

Friday, July 31, 2015

What is Shabbos Nachamu?

Today is the Tu B'Av. As it falls out in this year's calendar, it is immediately followed by Shabbos Nachamu. Even those who know it by name don't always understand what it is really about.
What is Shabbos Nachamu? A teacher at a post high school Jewish study program for young women related the answer one girl wrote to that question on an entrance exam: "It's the Shabbos when everyone goes to the country." Obviously, this student was a New Yorker.
While some New Yorkers seem to consider it a mitzvah to spend the whole summer in the country, there are those who have jobs or other obligations in their hometowns and cannot get away that long, though they do like to go up to the mountains for weekends, particularly this weekend. The reason this student associated this particular weekend so strongly with going away is that it is the first one after the the 9th of Av. Some people curtail their travels during the 3 Week and 9 Days period, so this would be their first weekend free of such restrictions.
However, the teacher was not pleased with the student's answer because it described what people but did not explain why this Shabbos, like a few others, is distinguished by name. Like the Sabbath described in that posts, this one is named for the Haftorah, which is also drawn from Yeshayahu [The Book of Isaiah]. While last week's reading foretold destruction, this week's reading promises consolation for the suffering of exile. It is signifcant that the ultimate vision of devastation and the ultimate vision of consolation both come from the same source -as Rabbi Akiva indicates in his reaction to the vision of the churban described in A Sabbath of Vision.

Here's some more insight into what this weekend is about. It is is adapted from a piece written by Rabbi Chaim Brown that appeared in his blog:

Nachamu Nachamu Ami… The Midrash tells us that the Jewish people are doubly-consoled (hence the repetition “nachamu nachamu…”) because they sinned doubly and were doubly punished. Why do we say that they sinned doubly? The 600,000 paradigmatic Jewish souls of the people of Israel correspond to the 600,000 letters of a Torah scroll. Just as if one single letter is missing or defective, the entire sefer Torah becomes pasul [invalidated] so too, if one Jew is defective in his observance, the nation as a whole is deficient. Each sin is doubled -- becoming “kiflayim” -- because each sin affects both the soul of the individual who has acted and the the soul of the Jewish nation.

When we are punished, the punishment is not borne singly, for the pain of each Jew has a doubled effect in creating suffering and weakness in the Jewish nation. “Nachamu nachamu AMI”, [Be consoled, be consoled MY NATION]. A single perfect letter is a pasul sefer Torah, for all its hiddur and beauty, is lacking in kedushas sefer Torah – only when the sefer as a whole is complete is that single letter also endowed with kedusha. And only to the extent that we view ourselves not as isolated individuals responsible only for our own religious fate, but as part of the greater nation of Am Yisrael, can we be receptive to the comfort of Nachamu.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

This year's thoughts on Tu B'Av

This year's thoughts on Tu B'Av. In the space of a less than a week -- 6 days to be exact _- we go from the day of deepest mourning to one of the most joyous days of the year. It really is a 180 degree shift. What's interesting is also the emotions that underlie the polar opposites of the 9 of Av and the 15th of the same month. 

On the 9th we mourn the continued state of destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, which reflects the state of a loss that we feel in our relationship with G-d. While the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed for cardinal sins, the second was destroyed and remains so because of sinas chinam, baseless hatred (see Some like to say that the way to fix is is with ahavas chinam, baseless love. However, the actual term for love that demands nothing in return was already set by Chazal in Pirkei Avoth as ahava she'eyna tluya badavar love that does not depend on any thing.  

With that in mind, it's possible to take a new perspective on what the young women say to the men in the vineyards. The first two groups appeal to love on the basis of beauty or family connections. But the last group ask for love without an appeal to anything external at all. That is true love for the essence of the person and not the individual's physical, material, or social assets.  To see the citations and other interpretations I've written, see the links here.

 I've written a number ofposts on the accounts of Tu B'Av: The first one which gives the origins of the day with the 6 positive historical events is

I wrote another one the next year, in which I wrote:
This year I've been thinking about further ramification for the Talmud's account in Taanis 31a"

The most amazing is that the girls who have the least to offer -- the ones termed outright ugly in the description -- declare that they too have a right to marry. Furthermore, they place the onus of attractions on their husbands-to-be with the assurance that the right jewelery and clothes (as Rashi, I believe, says) would work wonders on their looks.
After seeing some discussions by singles, I have a new angle on what this means. So many people are quick to dump someone after a first date because they were less than impressed by the first impression. What the ugly girls' s argument really consists of is something like this: "So we are not striking beauties but we can grow attractive to you if you invest in the relationship." This truth can apply to traits beyond looks; just substitute whatever striking trait you identify as attractive, ie. sparkling wit, charm, etc. Some people grow on you, but they have to be given the chance, and that takes a willingness to invest the time to allow their positive traits to shine through. And they would prove worthy of the adornments given them.
The daughter of Israel go out and dance in the vineyards. Anyone who lacked a wife went there. . . . Our rabbis learned: The beautiful ones among them would say: "Raise your eyes to beauty, for a wife is only for beauty." The girls who had yichus[well established, reputable families] would say, "Raise your eyes to family, for a wife is only for children." The ugly ones among them would say, "Take what you take for the sake of Heaven, and adorn us in gold jewelry."