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.