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Zos Chanukah

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This year I observed that the 3 letters that make up the word for oil shemen also correspond to the root of the word shmone, the number 8. My husband then added that oil floats on top of water, just as the eighth level is lema'ala min hateva [transcends the natural order]. That's what Chanukah is all about, which is why we call tonight and the last day, Zos Chanukah -- this is Chanukah.

  This is the only single holiday that is celebrated for eight days.  While both Pesach and Sukkoth are celebrated for 8 days outside of Israel, they are, in essence, 7 day holidays with one day added on for those in exile.  Chanukah is eight days all over the world with no additional day added. Eight is a highly significant number in Jewish thought.  It represents a level of spirituality that rises above nature.  That is why a brith [circumcision] is performed on the eight day.  

The small jug of pure oil that should have sufficed only for one day burned for eight days to allow enought time for …

Chanukah and Rosh Chodesh

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Today is both the sixth day of Chanukah and the last day of the month of Kislev.   Tomorrow, the seventh day of Chanukah will also be the first day of the month of Teves. Both today and tomorrow are designated as Rosh Chodesh the celebration of the new month. Rosh Chodesh is always a semi-holiday.  The morning prayers include a recitation of "half" Hallel and the additional prayer called Musaf that recalls the additional offerings designated for that day at the time of the Temple.  On these days of Rosh Chodesh, we say full Hallel, for we do so all eight days of Chanukah in recognition of the miracle that lasted for eight days.

Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday that extend through two months and encompassing the days of Rosh Chodesh, so it extends from the moon's waning phase to its waxing phase, as each Jewish month begins with the "rebirth" of the moon.  The Jewish people are compared to the moon, which is always renewed and comes back into full glory even w…

Latke ditty

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A few years ago,  I posted some snatches of latke ditties on my blog and asked if someone had the full text.  I got a response from the grandson of the songwriter: The Bicycling Barrister said... Ben Aronin (my grandfather) wrote these and other wonderful latke ditties many decades ago (and the pesach "classic" ballad of the four sons / clementine)... Mrs. Maccabeus (by Ben Aronin, z"l, of Congregation Anshe Emet in Chicago) (to the tune of "O Chanukah")
Each Chanukah we glorify brave Judah Maccabeus
Who had the courage to defy Antiochus, and free us,
Yet it is not fair that we should forget
Mrs. Maccabeus, whom we owe a debt.
She mixed it, and fixed it
She poured it into a bowl
You may not guess, but it was the latkes
That gave brave Judah a soul.
You may not guess but it was the latkes
That gave brave Judah a soul. The Syrians said: "It cannot be that old Mattathias
Whose years are more than 83 will dare to defy us!"
But they didn't know his secret, you see

Marriage models: one type does not fit all

Is there a single ideal model for marriage? Consider that the Torah presents us with a variety of models in the interactions we see between the avos [patriarchs] and the immahos [matriarchs]. Rivka [Rebecca] does not relate to Yitzchak [Issac] in the same way as Sarah relates to Avraham, and the conversations between Rachel and Yaakov [Jacob] follow a third, distinctive relationship pattern. While you may prefer the model of, say, Avraham and Sarah for your own marriage, that does not mean that the other models would not work for couples with different character traits.
Dr. Gottman is well-known for his ability to predict with 95% accuracy whether the couple is fated to divorce or remain married to each other after observing them for as little as 5 minutes. This feat is not a parlor trick but a combination of accurate readings of facial expressions and body language combined with years of research into what triggers the failure or success of a marriage. What we feel about another perso…

Apple cake that's perfect for Yom Tov

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With apples in season and holding a starring role for Rosh Hashana, why not pick up a few more to use in a cake? This is my adaption of a recipe I tried that originally called for more sugar and oil. It's perfect to make in advance of Yom Tov because it actually tastes better on the second day. Should you decide to make it for a regular Shabbos, bake it on Thursday rather than on Friday. The recipe  meets my standard criterion for recipes: it is delicious, fairly easy to prepare, and it requires no outlandish ingredients or equipment. Ingredients 1 2/3 cups sugar 3/4 c. canola oil 2 eggs 1 tsp. vanilla 2 cups sifted all purpose flour 1 tsp. baking powder 1/2 tsp. salt 2 tsp. cinnamon 4 cups peeled and thinly sliced apples *optional 2/3 cup walnuts, chopped (would be omitted for Rosh Hashana when we traditionally abstain from nuts)  Preparation: Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9x13-inch pan with Pam or equivalent or grease it to prevent the cake from sticking to the sides. Combine all …

DIY Eruv Tavshilin

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Can you boil an egg? If so, you can prepare an eruv tavshilin, all by yourself. There's no need to spend clost to $4 on a kit that contians a hard boiled egg and a roll and a copy of the blessing you can find here. If you bake your own challos, then you can set aside your own roll for the eruv. If not, you can either put aside a roll from the ones you're buying to be consumed on Shabbos or just set aside a matzah along with the egg. To cover both cooking and baking, we use a representative food for each. It's traditional to use a boiled egg for the cooked item because it's simple and inexpensive. We usually all have a spare egg around. But it's fine to also use a piece of boiled chicken, fish, or meat, as well, so long as you can put it aside where it won't be consumed until the Sabbath day. The same goes for the baked item, which can be a challah or matazh. With upcoming holiday, we will have 3 opportunities to prepare an eruv tavshilin outside of Israel and o…

Transfigured by love: tshuva m'ahava

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What’s love got to do with the power of tshuva? Reish Lakish makes two observations on the power of tshuva [repentance] in Yoma 86B. First he declares: “Great is tshuva, for through zdonos [intentional sins] are transformed into shgagos [accidental actions].” Then he declares: “Great is tshuva, for through it zdonos are transformed into zchuyos [merits].” The first instance refers to tshuva miyira [out of fear], which only subtracts the offense, while the second refers to tshuva m’ahava [out of love], which transforms the offense into a positive addition. The power of tshuva to erase what we regret having done is a great thing. Yet there is an even greater power to it, one that does not just leave a blank in place of the blot of the sin but that turns it into the mark of merit. The key difference is the motivation for tshuva. If one’s tshuva is motivated by fear of the negative consequences for deliberate sins, they are effectively erased by reclassifying the zdonos as shgagos. That …

Remembering on Rosh Hashana

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The whole month of Elul, we anticipate the holiday that marks the Jewish new year.  The shofar is blown at the prayer services throughout the month.  Sephardim have the custom of reciting special prayers late at night or early in the morning for all of Elul, while Ashkenazim begin the week before.  For the whole month through the holiday of Shmini Atzeres, the psalmLeDavid Hashem Ori is added on to the end of both the morning and evening services. People also think about the significance of this time that is designated as preparation for the High Holy Days.  One of the things we work on is earning forgiveness. That is not merely a matter of fasting and prayer. It is also a matter of earning the forgiveness of our friends, neighbors, and relatives because G-d does not offer forgiveness for offenses to other people. Each person has to consider what s/he may have done to hurt someone else and seek out the person to ask forgiveness.  While readily forgiving is the right thing to do, the bu…

The lesson of the beautiful woman

Have you ever heard anyone dismiss certain halachos as "that's for people on a really high level?" I have.  In fact, I read someone's expression of that sentiment quite a number of months back. That's when I thought of this parsha but waited until we came to its weekly reading to write about it.


This week's parsha touches on a unique halacha that seems quite inconsistent with the accounts we read about earlier in the war against Midyan. This halacha of eshes yifas toar permits a Jewish soldier who is smitten by the beauty of one of the women taken captive to marry her. There's a whole procedure that extends for a month to allow her to adjust and be seen as she is without adornment, and after that time, she either becomes his wife or is set free.

It seems so contrary to the Jewish ideal of union, which is supposed to not be a response to mere physical attraction. (See http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2012/07/the-persistent-prostitute.html )There is a my…

Purim in Av

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As I mentioned in my previous post, I had two particular thoughts about the connections between what we are experiencing now and TaNaCh.  This is the second one: the parallels to Purim. Odd, yes, that’s the most joyous of holiday in the month during which we say, mishenichnas Adar marbin besimcha. The whole month of Adar is considered a happy one, quite the opposite of this time of year.
We are coming upon the 9 Days now, the start of the month of Av, about which our Sages say, mishenichnas Av mema’atin besimcha. We don’t hold celebrations during this time and even abstain from meat and wine during the days leading up to the date when the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed. The build up to that began even earlier on the fast day of the 17th of Tammuz. I’m sure that for many people, the feeling of bein hametzarim came even earlier this year, with what has been going on in Israel. We have experienced a great deal of pain and been subjected to naked hate by people around the world who seize th…

Chamas: the broken moral compass

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I've been blogging since 2005 (the same year Israel pulled out of Gaza, forcing its own citizens to leave their homes to clear the land for others). In all these years, I have eschewed politics. But I just cannot remain silent on this. I thought of 2 key connections in TaNaCh for the situation, and here is one of them:

You may have heard that it’s better to have a stopped clock than a broken one that keeps going. The reason for that is that the stopped one is at least right twice a day. Likewise, a broken compass is more dangerous than one that simply doesn’t move because you think you’re going in the right direction when your orientation is all wrong.  If your compass just doesn’t move, at least you know that you’re lost and you’ll have to find some other means of getting on the right track. The same holds for a broken moral compass, which so many are brandishing.
The name Chamas is about more than a terror organization; it’s about utter corruption of justice. That’s the word use…

Cheshbon

This is generally a topic for Ellul and Tishrei , but some incidents that have just come to light made me think of their current application. When it comes to making an account of our sins, we talk about din v'cheshbon. Why the double language? There are various interpretations, including one attributed to the Vilna Gaon  that offers an economic term to understand it. The din is for the wrong that was done, and the cheshbon is the opportunity cost -- the time lost to accomplishing something positive because it was put into a negative action.

 That interpretations makes sense for understanding how zdonos  can turn into zchuyos, merits. If one accomplishes teshuva, then the bad action actually led to a good one, and so both the action and the time spent on are transformed into a positive force. As for the lower level of teshuva, the zdonos become shgagos, unintentional actions, mistakes. One erases the bad but hasn't turned it all to the good, so the cheshbon, the time spent beco…

Blueberry cake

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It's blueberry season. Pick up an extra pint of these to use in this cake,  like this recipe, not only because it is easy, but because it is oil rather than butter or margarine based -- even for the crumbs. That means less saturated fat. The following recipes serves 8, for more people, simply double the recipe and bake in a 9 x 13" pan.

Crumb topped blueberry cake 1 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
 1 egg
1/3 c. canola oil
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. milk (for a pareve cake substitute soy or almond milk, or 1/4 c non-dairy creamer and 1/4 c. water)
1 c. fresh blueberries 
1 tbsp. lemon juice
Crumb topping

1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 c. flour
1/3 c. sugar 
2 tbsp. canola oil
1/4 tsp. cinnamon Heat oven to 375 degrees. Sift dry ingredients together. Beat egg. Add milk and oil. Pour into flour mixture and stir until batter is smooth. Turn into oiled 8 x 8 x 2 inch square pan or 8 x 1 1/2 inch round pan. Add lemon juice to blueberries. Scatter over batter. Prepare crumb topping by working …

Decking the bride

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The terms used to describe the veiling of the bride is most often spelled  bedeken, but also occasionally spelled badeken, badecken, or even badekin,  as 
there are no hard and fast rules about the English spelling of Yiddish words. 
 The Ashkenazic custom is for the groom, accompanied by friends and relatives who sing and dance around him, to approach the bride and pull the veil down over her face.    This is one of the key moments that any Jewish wedding photographer knows is a must-have shot.  Remember, the bride and groom have not seen each other for some time now.   They are usually quite happy to meet up, and their joy is reflected in their faces.  The veiling is traditionally followed by the bride getting blessed by her father, mother, and, possibly, grandparents who lay their hands over her head -- another great picture moment. The question is: why go through this public veiling, and why make the groom responsible for it?  The practice goes back to really ancient history.  Brid…

The ideal age for marriage

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Sweeping generalizations are served up by Guy Kawasaki in "If I Were 22: Don't Get Married Too Soon (And Always Make Your Boss Look Good)" Let's just deal with the marriage part. Here's what it says:
Don't get married too soon. I got married when I was thirty-two. That's about the right age. Until you're about that age, you may not know who you are. You also may not know who you're marrying. I don't know anyone who got married too late. I know many people who got married too young. There really is not a one-age-fits-all for marriage, and as his justification for the age is knowing who you are, well, some of us reach that at 19, while others may not do do even at 35. It all depends on the individual.   So settling on a magic number for marriage is absurd, and it as absurd to make it 32 as it is to make it 20. If you click over to the article, you'll find that quite a number of the comments make a similar point, and many report having marrie…

Counting by 12s and Lag B'Omer

I'm sure there are many wedding set for this Sunday, as it is Lag B'Omer For a deeper look at this holiday, see this essay that Rabbi Brown wrote: Sefira, the number 12, and Lag BaOmer by Rabbi Chaim Brown 12,000 pairs of students die during a brief two month period, students of the greatest sage of Torah who studied for two pairs of 12 years, and all that is left is a single great scholar who paired with his son hides in a cave for 12 years. We all recognize the story of Rabbi Akiva and the loss of his students which we mark during the Omer period, the story of his greatest student, R’ Shimon bar Yochai, who was forced to flee Roman persecution and hide in a case for twelve years and whose death we mark on Lag B’Omer, but what of the number twelve? Why is this such a central focus of the events of this period? The Bnei Yisaschar (Chodesh Tishrei Ma’amar #7 as well as other places) explains that the 13 middot of Rabbi Yishmael used to darshen the Torah correspond to the 13 mid…