Archive for the ‘Parsha Project’ Category

Shemot: Moshe B’Tayva Cookies

January 11, 2012

In Israel, hot dogs in puff pastry are called Moshe B’Tayva, referencing Moshe in the little basket floating in the Nile river. This is good for an appetizer, but not for a dessert. Instead, I decided to make cream horns, also known as clothespin cookies, because you can use round clothespins as the mold instead of the usual metal tubes.

Four kinds of molds for cream horns: (1) lady lock molds, which are conical; (2) cannoli molds, which are hollow tubes; (3) mini cannoli molds; and (4) wooden clothespins, wrapped in nonstick foil.

Why did Moshe’s mother put him in the Nile in a basket? According to Rashi, Pharoh’s astrologers predicted that someone would be born who would save the Jews, but that person would be brought down by water. So Pharoh commanded baby boys to be cast in the Nile.  Moshe’s mother put him in the basket in the Nile so that Pharoh’s astrologers would think that he had already been cast into the river (Midrash Rabbah). As a result, the astrologers claimed that their predictions have come true, and Pharoh recalls his decree (Shemot Rabba 1:25; Sotah 12 b)

Did Pharoh’s daughter try to reach for the tayva, or did she send her maid to fetch it? There is a Midrash that she reached for the tayva, although it was out of reach, and her arm miraculously extended to be able to get it. The Kotzker Rebbe asks why she would extend her arm if she knew the tayva was beyond reach. Often, when a situation seems beyond our control, we resign ourselves to inactivity, the Kotzker Rebbe notes. “There is a profound lesson here for each and every one of us . . . .  Pharaoh’s daughter heard a child’s cry and extended her arm. An unbridgeable distance lay between her and the basket containing the weeping infant, making her action seem utterly pointless. But because she did the maximum of which she was capable, she achieved the impossible. Because she extended her arm, G-d extended its reach, enabling her to save a life and raise the greatest human being ever to walk the face of the earth.”

Trust me when I tell you, these cookies are not beyond reach, or even that much of a stretch. They are really easy, even though they look hard.



Vayechi: Fish Cake

January 4, 2012

When I asked my children what they wanted to do for a parsha project, my son said he wanted to do something connected with Ephraim and Menashe. He wanted a chocolate cake, and I suggested one decorated like a fish. When Yaacov blessed Ephraim and Menashe he said “may they multiply abundantly like fish, in the midst of the land.”

Why fish? Rashi says it because fish proliferate hidden from view of the “ayin harah.”

Rabbi Edlestein explains: fish are protected from the evil eye because they live hidden from our view. They do not inspire jealousy because people are not aware of what goes on in their world. The message is that Jews should model themselves after fish in this regard, living in a separate spiritual environment, modestly, without the ostentation that would attract envious attention. “In the midst of the land” means that Jews should also be part of and contribute to the larger world.

Other ideas:

Just as a fish cannot live without water, so a Jew cannot live without Torah. (Chabad)

A fish cannot lose its kosher status if it is kosher; other kosher animal can become unkosher if they slaughtered properly or if there is some defect. Yaacov’s blessing was therefore that Ephraim and Menashe never lose their pure status. (Partners in Torah, Rabbi Meisels)


Vayigash: World of Illusions

December 28, 2011

“Alma D’Shikra”is a mystical concept that means that the world is full of deception and illusion. The Ishbitzer Rebbe (R. Mordecai Yosef Leiner of Isbitza, 1801-1854) in The Mei Hashiloach, applies the idea of Alma D’Shikra to Vayigash and the dramatic turn of events that takes place when Yehudah confronts Yosef.

Rabbi Tvi Leshem has an excellent drasha explicating this, and, in another article, Rabbi David Fine explains the same concepts from the Ishbitzer Rebbe with a slightly different emphasis. Dixie Yid offers a short vort on this, which give yet another perspective on what the Ishbitzer Rebbe is saying about Vayigash.

The Ishbitzer Rebbe’s insight into Vayigash is that Yehudah’s confrontation of Yosef had an illusion at its foundation. Yehudah thought he was confronting a hostile, powerful Egyptian who posed a threat. He did not realize that he was facing his own brother and was not really ever in danger.

Similarly, the Ishbitzer notes, “when haShem will save us and redeem us, then He will show us that we were never in exile and no nation ever ruled over us, only haShem Himself.” It is an illusion that we are at the mercy of powerful people, whether they be government bureaucrats, despots, or employers. Ultimately, Hashem is in control and we only need worry about answering to a higher authority.

I wanted to do a parsha project that expressed this theme of illusion, so I made a dessert that looks like eggs, feels like eggs, even has the mouthfeel of eggs, but is something entirely different. This parsha dessert demonstrates that we live in a world of illusion, where our perceptions can deceive us.



Vayeishev: Challah Ketonet Passim, Sheaves, Sun and Moon and Stars

December 14, 2011

For this week’s parsha, a challot shaped liked a “ketonet passim,” sheaves of wheat, and the sun and moon and stars. The challah ketonet passim is decorated so that the base of the coat is a sheaf of wheat (with the belt of the coat being the cord tying together the sheaf) and there are stars and a sun and moon on the top of the coat (hard to see after baking, unfortunately).

In this week’s parsha, Yaacov gives Yosef a “ketonet passim.” This is often translated as a “coat of many colors,” but that is not the only possible meaning.

From The Living Torah (as quoted on Chabad, Balashon, and ParshaBlog):

Ketonet passim, in the Hebrew. The word passim can be translated as “colorful” (Radak; Septuagint), “embroidered” (Ibn Ezra; Bachya; Nachmanides on Exodus 28:2), “striped” (Ibn Janach; Radak, Sherashim), or “illustrated” (Targum Yonathan). It can also denote a long garment, coming down to the “palms” of the hands (Rashbam; Ibn Ezra; Baaley Tosafoth; Midrash Rabbah), and the feet (Lekach Tov). Alternatively, the word denotes the material out of which the coat was made, which was fine wool (Rashi) or silk (Ibn Janach). Hence, Ketonet passim, may be translated as “a full-sleeved robe,” “a coat of many colors,” “a coat reaching to his feet,” “an ornamented tunic,” “a silk robe,” or “a fine woolen cloak.”

So, we don’t really know what the ketonet passim looked like, not even if it was colorful, or what that would have meant in the context of that time (although Balashon’s post on this does have a picture of ketonet passim from the Daat Mikra on Shmuel II, and they are colorful).

We do know that the ketonet passim indicated the favoritism by Yaacov that made Yosef’s brothers so jealous. But, why was this garment a sign of favor, what did it signify? As used elsewhere in the Torah, the word ketonet relates to both royal and priestly garments as well as to Adam’s clothing, as Rabbi Kahn notes in “Clothes Make the Man.”

Rabbi Kahn cites the Midrash that the ketonet passim were the original clothes of Adam, passed down to Nimrod, taken by Esav and then used by Yaacov to get the blessing from Yitzchak.  Chabad has a more detailed provenance: the clothes passed down from Adam to Noach, to Noach’s son Ham, then to Ham’s grandson Nimrod. On the day of Avraham’s death, Esav killed Nimrod to get these clothes, which were believed to have conferred great power on Nimrod, making him a skilled hunter and powerful ruler (but not powerful enough to avoid being killed by Esav, apparently).

In his discussion of Toldos, Rav Silverberg offers a very interesting analysis about the relationship between Nimrod, Esav and Yitzchak’s favoritism. Rav Silverberg suggests that Yitzchak favored Esav because he was like Nimrod, the powerful ruler and hunter. At first, it seems like an odd idea, because Nimrod is associated with evil (Migdal Bavel/ Tower of Babel, casting Avraham into the furnace). But Yitzchak saw in Esav someone who could conquer Nimrod, who opposed everything Avraham and his descendants represented. Rivka disagreed, seeing Esav as only lusting after power and not embodying the values of Avraham.

The Midrash that the ketonet passim were the clothes taken from Nimrod is especially interesting when connected to the above. It suggests that Yosef was being designated as a leader, a spiritual heir, which Yosef also prophesied with his dreams of the sheaves and the one of the sun and moon and stars.

Rav Soleveitchik suggests that the two dreams relate to two different kinds of power and leadership. The dream of the sheaves was one of material power, economic and military leadership. The dream of the sun and the moon and the stars was a dream of spiritual greatness and leadership.  Rav Soleveitchik suggests that Yosef aspired to both worldly and spiritual greatness, and “this is the meaning of the ketonet ha-passim—multicolored, not monochromatic, not one monotonous color. If there are many colors, there are many contradictions. Colors clash with one another, and Joseph was the synthesis of alumot and the heavenly bodies.”


Vayishlach: Marble Cupcakes

December 8, 2011

For Vayishlach, marble cupcakes.

A parsha summary from a three year old: “Esav was very angry, so he went to bite Yaacov on the neck, and Yaacov’s neck got very very hard and Esav hurt his teeth and they fell out and he was crying.”

So, there you have it. Even the littlest ones learn the Midrash that when Esav went to kiss Yaacov, he really wanted to bite him, but Yaacov’s neck miraculously turned to marble and Esav hurt his teeth.


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?


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…)