Posts Tagged ‘Parsha’

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.

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.


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)


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.