Archive for the ‘Parsha Project’ Category

Parshat Devarim: “Where We Are, Where We Are Going”

August 1, 2014


Last week, my nephew, Rabbi Roy Feldman, gave a drasha entitled, “Where We Are and Where We’re Going: Reflections on Life in Israel.” It was on Mas’ei, but I think it is relevant to this week’s parsha, as well (which is also a summary of events). In any event, it is well worth sharing. I’m going to give a summary of it, but you really need to follow the link and read the whole thing.

About a month ago, my niece and nephew were in Paris. There, they had the opportunity to visit Synagogue de la Victoire, which, unsurprisingly, is under heavy security. Rabbi Feldman began his drasha with a Hasidic tale that was told over to him by the rabbi of the Paris synagogue, Rabbi Moshe Sebbag.

One Friday eve, in shetl in Czarist Russia, a Rebbe was stopped by a police officer, who demanded to know where the Rebbe was going. The Rebbe replied, “I don’t know.” The infuriated police officer warned the Rebbe to answer or be dragged off to prison. The Rebbe repeated, “I don’t know where I am going,” and was dragged before the local chief of police.

“’How could you say you don’t know where you are going? It’s Friday evening and you’re a rabbi, surely you were going to the synagogue!’

The Rebbe looked up at the police chief and said, ‘When I began my walk this afternoon, headed in the direction of the synagogue, in no way could I have possibly predicted that this evening I would end up in prison. And so you see, chief, we only know where we are, but we never really know where we’re going.’”

Rabbi Feldman points out the relevance of this tale to Parshat Mas’ei, which recounts the travels of B’nei Yisrael in the Midbar. Rashi says that the purpose of this list is to show Chasadav Shel HaMakom (“the kindnesses of the Almighty” ) in that it illustrates that that B’nei Yisrael were not overly burdened during their travels with many short encampments. The list of travel is a “reflection of Hashem’s love for B’nei Yisrael. Even though He punished the people as a result of the sin of the spies and made them travel about the wilderness for 40 years, He nevertheless showed them care and concern throughout this period.”

“But what Rashi doesn’t acknowledge is that at every stop, at each station, no one, including Moshe himself, had the slightest idea of how long the stop would last. Are we here for one year, or for one hour? Should we unpack and build a new tent, a new camp? Or is it advisable to just live out of our luggage and be ready for the next move? It’s an exhausting state of dependence and of reliance. Even more than the rebbe in the story, B’nei Yisrael knew where they were, but they had no idea where they were going.”

It is at this point of the drasha that Rabbi Feldman turns his attention to the Israel, which is where he traveled after leaving Paris. Once in Israel, He was reminded of the story of the Rebbe who knew where he was, but didn’t know where he was going. When he originally planned the trip, he had no idea he would come in a time of war. He then proceeds to describe what is was like to spend Shabbos in Holon, south of Tel Aviv, with sirens constantly going off. (I can’t begin to summarize this–you have to follow the link and read this for yourself.)

Rabbi Feldman also describes how Israelis are pulling together in this crisis. His cousin’s bakery in Giv’at Shmuel ran out of challah mid-day Friday (usually they have challahs leftover at 4:00 closing time) because so many people were hosting friends and family from Ashdod and Ashkelon for Shabbos, to give them respite. Even after the bakery ran out, people kept pouring in hoping to find challah.”We may not know where we’re going, but we know where we are,” notes Rabbi Feldman.

“The outpouring of chesed in Israel to the families affected by the rockets and the soldiers involved in both the Iron Dome system and later the ground invasion in Gaza is unimaginable and unparalleled.” The hospital he visited in Petach Tikvah had received so many donations cake for wounded soldiers that even after giving it to the soldiers and to the rest of the patients, they still had too much.  Going to donate blood–on the same day a call went out asking for donations for wounded soldiers at Beilinson Hospital–he found out that the appointments for giving blood were booked through to the next week.

Rabbi Feldman concludes by observing that “We know where we are, we don’t know where we’re going” is the way to “sum up the feeling in Israel during this war.”

“No one has any idea how or when this will end– I remember on the fifth day of the operation, every commentator on every major news channel in Israel was saying ‘we are closer to the end than we are to the beginning.’ Obviously, they were wrong, but they had no idea. Nevertheless, the feeling in Israel is clear. By the end of our trip, the restaurants in Tel Aviv were full again, if not by tourists, by Israelis. We have to continue living our life, and we have to give tzedakkah to and do chesed with those who are most significantly impacted by this situation. Even though we don’t know where we’re going, at the very least, we need to know where we are.”

Parshat Balak: Ma Tovu Ohalecha, Yaakov

July 4, 2014


“Mah tovu ohalecha, Yaakov, mishkenotecha, Yisrael!” (How goodly are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling places, Israel!)

The bright spot these past few weeks has been the display of achdut (unity). In this week’s parsha, there appears Bilaam’s famous words about the tents of Yaacov, the dwelling places of Israel.

Why was it that Bilaam was forced to praise the Jewish people in this manner instead of cursing them as he intended? Rashi says that it was because he saw that the openings of the tents did not face each other. This indicated that Bnei Yisroel did wish to look into each others tents. This in turn reflected a sense of unity without jealousy and with respect for individuality and privacy.


Vayeitzei Challah

November 8, 2013


My kids were home from school and wanted to do a parsha project. This is the challah idea they came up with: challah shaped like a ladder resting on challah shaped like rocks fused together into one large rock (okay, really pull apart challah, but use your imagination).

I took some extra challah dough, pressed it into a rectangle, and added a chocolate filling (coconut oil spread over the dough, sprinkled with pareve Israeli Nesquik and chopped bittersweet chocolate). After folding the dough in half, I slit the dough to make it look like a ladder. I baked it at 375 degrees for 20 minutes and, presto: chocolate ladder danish.

Lemony Red Lentil Soup with Fried Shallots

October 31, 2013


We get a magazine from a local hospital and a recent issue had an article about healthy soups. One of the best was this recipe for Lemony Lentil Sup with Fried Shallots, which was reprinted from a Williams-Sonoma cookbook by Kate McMillan, Soup of the Day.

Did you ever wonder why Esav asked for “red stuff” when even red lentils turns yellowish when cooked? Could it be that the lentils were still raw?


Mabul Bars

October 4, 2013


This is Leora’s parshat Noach pun: marble cake (or whatever) for mabul or flood. The bars are Mrs. S’s recipe. I used part brown sugar instead of all white and added a little vanilla extract.

Prior Parshat Noach desserts:

Mabul Cupcakes

Rainbow Cookies

Lech Lecha Sand Trifles

October 26, 2012

In a discussion about Lech Lecha, Rav Kook noted that Hashem promises Avraham that his descendents will be as numerous as the stars. Later, Hashem will promise Avraham that his decendants will be as the sand on the seashore.  Why sand and stars? The metaphor of stars emphasizes the importance of each individual Jew: “Every soul is a universe unto itself, as the Sages wrote: “One who saves a single soul of Israel, it is as if he has saved an entire world” (Sanhedrin 37a).” On the other hand, the importance and power of sand lies not in any individual grain, and the metaphor of sand alludes to the collective purpose of the Jewish people.

Over at Parsha Post, Rabbi Neil Fleishmann brings up the observation of the Kli Yakar that there are actually three similes for Avraham’s descendants:  sand, stars and dust. The stars represent us at our height of greatness, the dust represents us at our lowest, and the sand represents our ability to endure.

For this parsha dessert, I went with something super easy. Just crush vanilla cookies or tea biscuits and layer them with a vanilla mousse made with Tofutti “cream cheese,” Rich’s Whip, almond milk and vanilla pudding mix. Very easy to make right before Shabbos with your kids.


Mishpatim: N’aseh V’Nishmah Cake Crowns

February 17, 2012

“R. Simla lectured: When the Israelites gave precedence to ‘we will do’ over ‘we will hearken,’  six hundred thousand ministering angels came and set two crowns upon each man of Israel, one as a reward for ‘we will do,’ and the other as a reward for ‘we will hearken’.”

Shabbos 88a

The Slonimer Rebbe on “we will do and we will hear”:

Ari at Learning and Davening for Zack Englander:

“The Nesivos Shalom on naaseh v’nishmah says something unbelievable. He explains that by klal yisroel saying naaseh v’nishmah, they were telling Hashem that we accept you Hashem with whatever it is. That when we see You clearly , we accept you, and davka when we don’t see You , through the darkness, through the troubled times, we accept You then just as much.”

Aish, Rabbi Aba Wagensburg, “Three Rewards”:

“The Slonimer Rebbe (based on Me’or Einayim) shares three approaches in understanding what the Jewish people meant when they declared ‘na’aseh v’nishma”

(1) “[T]ruly accepting Torah involves doing the will of God not only when we are feeling confident and secure, but also during difficult and challenging times. This is what the Jewish people meant when they said, ‘Na’aseh v’nishma.’ Their commitment to following the will of God (‘na’aseh’) preceded their understanding of the Torah’s laws (‘nishma’).”

(2) “This commitment demonstrates the eternal love a child has for his parent – the desire to fulfill the parent’s will even when not specifically asked to do so.”

(3) “When the Jewish people declared, ‘Na’aseh v’nishma,’ they implied, ‘We can do even before hearing the will of God, because we have purified our bodies to the point where expressing the Divine will comes naturally.’ This purification takes place only when we are committed to performing the will of God even during the low points in our lives and even when we feel distant from the Divine.”

The project: bundtlets frosted with marshmallow fluff and decorated with jelly beans and sprinkles (can you guess which one was decorated by my daughter?)

Yitro: Har Sinai Cake

February 13, 2012

I have been remiss about posting my parsha desserts. I’ve been making them, but not posting. Here is the cake for Yitro. And here are some other ideas for making Har Sinai cakes:

Challah Crumbs Har Sinai Cake

Hands on the Parsha Har Sinai Cake and also Luchot Cake

ParshaCakes Har Sinai Cake

Babaganewz Har Sinai Cake

What is my cake made from? It is Abby Mandell’s Boule de Neige (chocolate snowball).


Parshat Bo: Night and Day Lava Cakes (Plus Chocolate Lava and Blondie Lava Cakes)

January 26, 2012

In Nesivos Shalom (pp. 73-74, based on the Toldos Yaacov Yosef)  Slonimer Rebbe offers an interesting explanation of choshet, the plague of darkness: what the Mitzrim and B’nei Yisroel was both experiencing was an overwhelming spiritual light. The Mitzrim experienced this as impenetrable darkness–they were blinded by the light. Similarly, the Jews that were not prepared to leave Mitzraim could not handle the light and it killed them. The Jews who were ready to leave Mitzraim experienced it positively and for them there was light.

The analogy is made to the experience of the righteous and the wicked in the afterlife. Heaven and hell can be the same place, but the righteous can appreciate its purely spiritual nature, while the wicked find it excruciating. Why is this so? The Rambam explains that just as a sick person can taste sweet as bitter, those who are spiritually deprived perceive good as bad.

Finally tasting water after being without it for three days, B’nei Yisroel found it bitter. The Toldos Yaacov Yosef says that Torah is the water; having gone three days without studying Torah, B’nei Yisroel had a hard time appreciating its sweetness.

Three in-depth discussions of this:
Rabbi Yitzchok Alderstein, “The Painful Darkness of Light,” Nesivos Shalom, Parshas Bo,

Rabbi Moshe M. Wilner, “Blinding Light,” Parshas Bo, Parsha Encounters, Chicago Community Kollel

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, “Bo,” Parsha Insights,

Rabbi Alderstein adds to this discussion an insight from Rav Moshe Midner: “‘To all Bnei Yisroel there was light in their dwellings.’ Sometimes, the light is too much for any individual to bear. When Jews dwell together, when they band together as a group to bring down Hashem’s light, they are able to jointly receive it. This is why Jews gather and sit with each other in large groups on Shabbos.”


Va’eira: Frogs Here, Frogs There . . . .

January 19, 2012

When I asked my son about the parsha, he and my daughter starting singing the frog song (“frogs here, frogs there . . .”). He told me that there was one big frog, and the Egyptians hit it and it became many frogs.

There is an interesting post at Rationalist Judaism that complains that schoolchildren are taught the above Rashi as peshat instead of derash.  Rashi explains that the use of the singular for frog (“the frog came up and covered the land of Egypt”) has the midrashic interpretation that one frog was beaten and turned into many frogs and the simple meaning that “frog” can mean a swarm of frogs, the way that lice is singular and plural at the same time.