Archive for November, 2011

Parsha Challah: ladder and stone

November 30, 2011

For Vayeitzei, a pull apart challah for the stone on which Yaacov laid his head, and a ladder challah (fougasse) for the ladder in Yaacov’s dream.

To make the ladder, make a rectangle that is 8″x4″ and cut slashes for the rungs. When you stretch out the rectangle to a longer length (16″) you make space between the slashes for the rungs of the ladder.

I got the idea for using a pull apart challah from Parshah mom, who has some other really great ideas. For example, she hands out cards, each with a word that has the same gematria as Sulam (ladder) according to Ba’al Haturim and asks the person who gets that card to explain the metaphor (e.g., “a ladder is like money because . . . .”).

Rabbi Frand explaining how ladder (sulam) is like money (mammon).
Rabbi Kahn, gematria of sulam as the same as Sinai and kol (voice).
Sedra Selections: gematria of sulam the same as oni (poverty), tzome (fasting) (also how fasting, voice, and money equal teshuvah, tefillah and tzedaka, which are done on earth, but reach the heavens). has a complete discussion of this topic.

Cool Parsha Site of the Day: “Best of Challah,” Michael DiPlacido’s Picasa Album

November 29, 2011

I stumbled on this and was really amazed. Michael DiPlacido makes (or at least at one point made) parsha themed challot for Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, MO.  Here is a picture of him making bread.

What you really need to take a look at is his Picasa album of challot.

For inspiration for this week’s parsha, take a look at image 16, which has a ladder on top of the challah.


Vayeitzei: Rock Cakes

November 28, 2011

In the beginning of this parsha, Yaacov leaves Be’er Sheva and goes to Haran. He stops at “the place,” sleeps, and has a dream of a ladder extending to heaven, with angels going up and going down.  Hashem appears and tells Yaacov that he and his descendants will be given that land upon which he is lying, that his “seed shall be as the dust of the earth,” and that Hashem will provide protection.

Before Yaacov goes to sleep, he places stones around his head, but,  when he awakens, he takes the stone (singular) that he had placed at his head. He anoints it with oil, making it a monument (matzeiva).

At the end of the parsha, Yaacov and Lavan use stones to erect another matzeiva, to commemorate their truce.

See here for a shiur by Rabbi Berman that points out that Yaacov erected four matzeivot. The third is erected at the site where Yaacov had the dream when he returns there. The fourth is to mark the kever of Rachel.

Rabbi Berman explains how the four are all related to the dream and its promises of land, children, and protection:

“The first commemorates the dream itself, the second the protection of God, the third the promise of the land, and the fourth, tragically, the blessing of children. The presence of God in Yaacov’s life (‘nitzav alav’) and the ensuing sanctification (‘ve-rosho magia ha-shamayma’) are symbolized by Yaacov’s matzeivot and the annointing in Beit-El, the ‘gate of heaven.””

Why matzeivot? Rabbi Berman points out that the root for matzeivah appears twice in the dream. The ladder is mutzav, or set, upon the ground. Hashem is nitzav, standing, over Yaacov.

(Rabbi Berman also puts forth the following question: “There is only one other matzeiva in the Torah (not including the idolatrous ones of the nations of Canaan) and that is during the giving of the Torah. Moshe erects twelve matzeivot at the foot of Mount Sinai. What is the connection between Mount Sinai and Yaakov’s ladder?

I don’t know if this is the complete answer, but the Midrash points out that the word for ladder, sulam, and Sinai both have the numerical value of 130.  Rabbi Kahn has a discussion of this. He mentions other parallels between Sinai and ladder (both part of revelations, both were “conduits” to heaven). He adds that the word for voice, kol, has the numerical value of 130, as well, which ties in the power of prayer.

According to the Midrash (explained at Shirat Devorah), Yaacov’s dream includes a vision of Matan Torah, with the ladder being Har Sinai and the angels being Moshe and Aaron.

Getting back to stones, the word for stone, even, is seen as  a contraction of av (father) and ben (s0n). The Midrash says that Yaacov gathered twelve stones that became one, which foreshadowed the twelve tribes.)

For the parsha, I baked rock cake (also known as rock buns)(digression: I think a stone is technically a rock fragment, but most people use the words stone and rock interchangeably). This is a classic British tea time treat that is so easy to make, it is often one of the first recipes taught to school children (here is a recipe especially written for kids). They are so named because of their craggy, lumpy appearance–not their texture. The exterior is crispy and the interior is moist and tender–like a cake-ey cookie or a cross between a cookie and a scone. Only over baking will make these treats hard like rocks (well, that and letting them go stale. Although, there is little chance of that happening. My rock cakes are already almost all gone. I will have to bake again for Shabbos.)


Toldos: Lentil Pottage

November 25, 2011

What did Esav mean when he said “Behold, I am going to die; so why do I need this birthright?”

Did he really think that he would die unless he got the lentil soup? Was he justifying selling his birthright as pikuach nefesh? Was this hyperbole to rationalize satisfying his animal impulses? What did he mean?

In “Parshat Toldot, What is So Important about the Soup,” Rabbi Fox, OU Torah lists a some other explanations.

Rashi: The birthright involved priestly service, and violations of restrictions on service were punishable by death.
Esav’s reasoning: If I will die from inevitably violating those restrictions, what good does the birthright do me?

Nachmanides: Because of his violent lifestyle, Esav believes that he is destined to die, possibly before he can inherit the birthright.
Esav’s reasoning: If I die before Yitzchak, what good is the birthright to me?

Targum Yerushalmi: Esav did not believe in the afterlife and the resurrection of the dead. He was only interested in the material “here and now” world, not the eternal and spiritual.
Esav’s reasoning: if divine service through the birthright only provides reward in the world to come, and only this world exists for me, what good is the birthright to me?

Rabbi Weisz points out that Esav’s descendants do believe in the world to come, but believe that man is born into a state of sin and depend on divine salvation. He suggests that Esav’s statement about death might have been an allusion to Edom’s notion of original sin.

According to the Midrash, this was the day that Avraham died, and Yaacov was making lentils as mourner’s food (The roundness of lentils symbolizes the circle of life).

Esav’s reasoning: Sin leads to death. Because of Adam’s sin, man must die. Even a person as free from sin as Avraham is not spared death. What is the good of divine service through the birthright if it will not spare me from death?


Sephardic Shake and Bake Chicken or Tofu

November 22, 2011

My sister got this fantastic chicken recipe from her mother-in-law (who, in turn, got it from someone she knows). On the advice of my brother, I also tried it with tofu with excellent results.

It replicates supermarket chicken breading, but it is quite a bit spicier. It is so intensely flavorful that it makes even bland tofu taste like a little like chicken (flavor, not texture).


Thanksgiving Recipes (wild rice salad, cranberry relish, green bean casserole, stuffing and dessert)

November 20, 2011

Here are some of my favorite recipes for Thanksgiving:

Wild Rice Salad (from Connecticut eatery Anna’s Temptations, as printed in Bon Appetit, 2006): this is always a hit. It features golden raisins, walnuts, grated carrots, scallions, dill and a delicious Dijon dressing. I leave out the chicken from the recipe, but I have also tried it with seitan “chicken,” which makes it handy if serving vegetarians. I don’t use sherry vinegar. Red wine vinegar or balsamic is fine. If you don’t use the chicken, you will need less dressing.

Another Wild Rice Salad that I love–and also a handy recipe for vegetarian guests–features chickpeas, golden raisins and a curried honey Dijon dressing.  I leave out the ham or add cubes of soy “ham” (veggie cold cuts). This recipe, oddly enough, comes from a dessert cookbook, The Pastry Queen. It was featured in 150 Best American Recipes.  The recipe comes from Paula Disbrowe and was also featured in Food and Wine Magazine.

It is nice to serve a warm bread. I love this recipe for crescent rolls which came from the 2005 Thanksgiving issue of Good Housekeeping Magazine. That issue featured Dr. Phil on the cover ( “Change your life for good! Seven decisions that will make everything better”). GH product analyst Nate Benforado contributed the recipe, and making these rolls was a decision that certainly made my Thanksgiving better. I use either water or dairy-free “milk” and oil or margarine to keep these pareve. These lovely rolls always make me think happily of the Pillsbury Dough Boy and those enticing advertisements for canned rolls.

Before latching onto this recipe, I had also tried out a Williams Sonoma recipe for Sally Lunn Herbed Rolls (here, too, I swapped out the milk and butter for non-dairy products). Delicious, sophisticated, and a little less fussy to make. But they don’t make me think of Poppin’ Fresh.

My son learned in school that corn muffins are a must, and I favor this recipe, adapted from AllRecipes.

And, then of course, another must is cranberry sauce.

When I was growing up, I remember cranberry sauce being dumped straight from the can onto a plate and sliced. That was it. It was still in the shape of the can, with the ridges and everything.

Then, we got gourmet and bought the whole cranberry sauce and added stuff to it.


The Rebbetzin’s Butternut Squash Soup

November 18, 2011

This soup recipe came from the rebbetzin. Which rebbetzin? I don’t know, actually.

I got this recipe from someone who saw it demonstrated by someone else, and all I know about the source is that she is a rebbetzin.

Anyway, the recipe is kind of loose, a little of this and that seasoned to taste. You can make the full amount and have a nice amount of soup for today and for some other time.  Or, you can cut it half, like I did, and still have plenty.


Vegan Pumpkin Spice Cake

November 18, 2011

This is a great cake to make if:

(a) a guest/ family member is vegan, has an egg allergy, or dairy allergy;
(b) you need a quick, easy pareve dessert for Thanksgiving; or
(c) you need to make dessert, but you have absolutely nothing in the refrigerator (no eggs, butter or milk).

This the pumpkin version of wacky cake (also known as Amazon cake, Moosewood’s vegan chocolate cake, or witch’s brew cake). You mix flour with spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, you mix pumpkin puree, water, oil and a little vinegar. Wet and dry get mixed together to make a thick, vegan cake batter.

The original recipe calls for topping the moist, dense cake with a cream cheese frosting. The cake is served ice cold from the refrigerator. The taste sensation of cold spicy orange cake and cream cheese frosting is reminiscent of carrot cake. I had no trouble making a dairy-free “cream cheese” frosting with Tofutti “cream cheese,” but you could also leave this unfrosted or pour over a simple glaze.

File this recipe away–it is extremely handy. Not only does it come together in seconds, it relies exclusively on common pantry items (oil, canned pumpkin, flour, sugar, etc.). The only refrigerated item is the Tofutti for the frosting, but you could skip that if needed.

Most people have a fall back super easy chocolate cake, but would you believe that there are people who can’t eat chocolate? Well, there are. And they may end up being your last minute guests. As long as they aren’t also gluten-intolerant, this cake is perfect for them. Just make sure that you don’t have any soy-allergic guests if you go with the Tofutti frosting.


Chayei Sarah: Rings, Bracelets and a Well

November 16, 2011

” . . . and she ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels.”

“Now it came about, when the camels had finished drinking, that the man took a golden nose ring, weighing half  a shekel, and two bracelets for her hands, weighing ten gold shekels.”

Rashi: Eliezer gave Rivka the jewelry, betrothing her to Yitzchak, even before he asks her name, such was his faith that Hashem had led him to the right one. In recounting events to Lavan and Besuel, to make the story more plausible, Eliezer reverses the order, saying that he asked Rivka who she was and then gave the jewelry. “He changed the order . . . that they would not catch him out and say: How did you give her before you knew who she was?”

Why did Eliezer think that Besuel and Lavan would not accept the real order of events?

People tend to project their own traits onto others. Because Lavan knew he could not be trusted, he was a suspicious person.  Lavan would not have understood Eliezer’s level of trust in Hashem.

From this, The Shmuz Blog makes an interesting observation: The better our middos, the better we are able to perceive the goodness in others and the better we are able to connect to Hashem.

Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Beresheit, quotes from Isaac Arama, Aketat Yitchak, to give a different explanation. Eliezer had told by Avraham that ” you shall go to my land and to my birthplace, and you shall take a wife for my son, for Isaac.” In order to present the matter in the most pleasing light to Rivkah’s family, Eliezer tells them that he had been told “you must go to my father’s house and to my family, and take a wife for my son.” If he told them that he gave the jewelry without finding out first if Rivkah was a kinswoman, he would have been contradicting his earlier statement. “This is what Rashi referred to when he stated that Eliezer was afraid that they would catch him out.”

More Rashi: the half shekel value of the nose ring was an allusion to the half shekel donated by B’Nei Yisrael for the the Beis HaMikdash, and the two bracelets of ten shekel weight were an allusion to the Shney HaLuchot and Aseret HaDibrot.

Rashi also references how all the other nations, when asked if they wanted the Torah, first asked what it was. Bnei Yisrael said, “Naaseh v’nishmah,” “we will do, and then we will hear/understand.”

At NCYI, Rabbi Boaz Tomsky explains the connection: Eliezer’s giving of the jewelry without asking for more information is like Bnei Yisrael accepting the Torah on faith.

Short Vort offers another explanation from the Maharal: In connection to the principle that “The world stands of three things: Torah, avodah, and gemilus chasidim,” The bracelet is seen as an allusion to Torah (Aseret HaDibrot) and the nose ring is an allusion to avodah (half shekel for Beit HaMikdash). Eliezer saw that Rivkah understood gemilas chesed, but he wanted her to understand the importance of avodah and Torah, as well.

For this parsha: a well (Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake) and jewelry (cookie rings).

For the cookies, I thought it would make sense to go with a Sephardic ring cookies, the kind that is often made for simchas (like weddings).

I used Riva’s recipe for Bischochos, but I also considered graybeh (Aromas of Aleppo, Gourmet) and even ghouribi, although they are not ring cookies (Joan Nathan).

Any cookie dough will work, though.

Just bake cookie rings, glaze with egg yolk, and sprinkle with gold and silver sprinkles, candy pearls, etc. I also make cookie icing and let the kids use that as glue for the sprinkles.

For the cake, I made a very seasonally appropriate pumpkin spice cake (vegan!) and filled the center with the leftover cookie icing,tinted blue.

Here are some other parsha project ideas:

Juggling Frogs (2007): a cave cake, camel cookies, and a well made out matzohs and vegetables and individual wells made out of graham crackers glued together with melted chocolate.

Parsha Project Blog: Make a well out of a milk carton (very cool craft!) as a centerpiece. Also camel cookies.

Parsha Mom’s ideas (2008 and 2009):

Decorate the table with pearl garlands from the craft store and also candy “jewelry” and chocolate coins (for the jewelry given to Rivkah and for the 400 shekels used to pay for Me’arat HaMachpelah).
Use the well theme with food: watermelon basket, puff pastry shells, stuffed pumpkin shells, etc.
Camel cookies

Themed Thinking: “camel” chicken fingers around a well of honey mustard dipping sauce.

Veyeira: Akeida Ram’s Horn Cookies (Mandelhoernschen)

November 10, 2011

There is so much going on in this parsha that it was hard to focus on one thing. In the end, I decided to make ram’s horn cookies. Actually, these are mandelhoernshen, almond horns that have had their shape altered ever so slightly to look more like shofars.

“And Avraham raised his eyes and saw a ram afterwards, caught in the thicket by its horns.”

Why “afterwards?”

According to Pirkei Avos (Chapter 5 Mishna 6), this particular ram had been created by Hashem the first erev Shabbos, at twilight on the 6th day of creation.

According to the Midrash (see Torah Tots and page 11 of The Resurrection Motif in the Midrash on the Akedat Yitzchak) the ashes of the sacrificed ram became the foundation for the Mizbeyach in the Beit Hamikdash, its tendons became the strings of Dovid Hamelech’s harp, it’s hide became a belt for Eliyahu Hanavi, and it horns were made into shofars. The left horn sounded at Har Sinai when the Torah was given. The right horn, the larger one, was set aside for trumpeting the arrival of Moshiach.

Reb Jay (Daf Notes) points out that the Midrash tells us that Hashem creates the cure before the sickness, and so it was with this ram.

Why didn’t Avraham see the ram right away? Reb Jay points to the Midrash that says that Satan was able to hide it until Avraham did Hashem’s will, and then it could be hidden no longer.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (more…)