Monday, April 22, 2019

Chol Hamoed

Most holidays in Western society last for a single day, which is often extended into the weekend. And while most people are aware that Chanukah is celebrated for 8 days, many people are surprised to learn that both Sukkot and Passover are also week-long holidays. The Torah explicitly states (in Leviticus 23) that these two holidays shall be observed for seven days. (Note: The holiday[s] following Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, are independent of Sukkot.)

The first two days of Sukkot and Passover (only the first day in Israel) and the last two days of Passover (only the seventh in Israel) and the Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah festival that immediately follows Sukkot (observed as one day in Israel, two days elsewhere) are observed as Yamim Tovim, Festival Days. Yamim Tovim are observed in the same manner as Shabbat except that one may cook (using a pre-existing flame) and carry in public areas. The remaining days in between are known as Chol Hamoed--weekday of the festival.

During Chol Hamoed, it is customary to continue the holiday spirit and avoid unnecessary work. Mundane chores such as laundry are postponed. If possible, people do not work and avoid shopping except for essentials for the holiday. In synagogue, the Torah is read and Hallel (festive Psalms of praise) and Mussaf (the additional service) are recited.

On Sukkot, the requirements to dwell in the sukkah and the mitzvah of the four species continue throughout Chol Hamoed. On Chol Hamoed of Passover, one maintains the prohibition against eating chametz (leaven) but is not required to eat matzah.

During Chol Hamoed, people offer special greetings to each other by saying either “Gut Moed,” which is Yiddish for “Good Festival,” or “Moadim L’Simcha,” which is “Holidays for Happiness,” or “Chag Sameach,” which is Hebrew for “Happy Holiday.”

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Can You Count to 49?

There is a commandment (Leviticus 23:15) to count the 49 days that immediately follow the first night of Passover and, on the 50th night, to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. This period of time is called Sefirat Ha'omer, the Counting of the Omer, because the counting begins on the night before the barley offering (omer) was brought to the Temple, which was on the second day of Passover.

The connection between Passover and Shavuot: The departure of the Jews from Egypt was only the beginning of the redemption. The Exodus actually culminated with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is commemorated by the holiday of Shavuot. This connection is clearly marked by Sefirat Ha'omer, the Counting of the Omer.

How to Count the Omer: Each night, starting with the night of the second Seder, a blessing is recited and the new day is counted. The blessing is as follows:

Baruch Ah'tah Ah'doh'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu Melech Ha'olam, asher kideshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzeevanu al sefirat ha'omer.

Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world, Who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us, regarding the Counting of the Omer.

The blessing is followed by the actual counting of the day. For example: "Today is day one of the Omer"...."Today is eight days, which are one week and one day of the Omer." The formal counting of the day is followed by a prayer for the restoration of the Temple: "May the Compassionate One return to us the service of the Temple to its place, speedily in our days. Amen, Selah!"

If a person misses the counting of a complete day, counting may be resumed on subsequent nights, however, the blessing is no longer recited.

This year, the Counting of the Omer begins on Saturday night, April 20th.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make Sure to Count Up to Shavuot

Create nightly reminders to count the 49 days of the Omer from Pesach to Shavuot.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Setting the Seder Table

Before beginning the Seder, it is important to make certain that everything necessary is available. No Seder table is complete without the following:

1) Three Unbroken Matzot (Kosher for Passover) -- Many have the custom to use shmura 
(specially supervised) matzah for the Seders.

2) Wine/Grape Juice (Kosher for Passover) and Wine Glasses -- All participants should be given a glass or cup (minimum size of 3.3 ounces) from which to drink the required four cups of Wine/Grape Juice.

3) The Seder Plate -- It is traditional to place the following items on a special Seder plate:

--Bay'tza / Roasted (hard-boiled) Egg, symbolic of the cycle of life because of its round shape and representative of the Jewish character - the more you boil them, the harder they get. The egg also represents the missing chagiga sacrifice that was offered on Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot.

--Z'roa / Shank Bone (of a lamb or the bone of another kosher animal or fowl), representing the Passover lamb offering that we cannot bring today because of the absence of the Temple.

--Maror / Bitter Herbs (often horseradish), reminding participants of the bitterness and pain of slavery.

--Karpas / Vegetable (usually a piece of celery, parsley or potato), which is dipped in salt water as part of the Seder ritual.

--Charoset, a tasty mixture of chopped walnuts, wine, cinnamon and apples, representing the mortar the Jewish slaves used to build Pharaoh's cities (recipes may vary by community).

--Chazeret / Bitter Vegetable (like romaine lettuce), which starts out sweet but becomes more bitter the longer it stays in the ground.

4) Salt Water -- The karpas (vegetable) is dipped in salt water as a reminder of the tears of the Jewish slaves. Usually, the salt water is not placed on the Seder Plate, but near it.

5) Elijah's Cup -- This cup, filled with wine, is used to invite Elijah the Prophet, the harbinger of the Messianic age, to come to the Seder, and hopefully, begin our final redemption.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Biur - Burning

The night before the Passover seder, the home is thoroughly searched for any remaining chametz. The chametz found is then set aside to be burned in the morning. Biur Chametz, the destroying of the chametz, is the final step of pre-Passover preparations.

Why is the chametz burned? Burning is considered the ideal means of disposing of one’s chametz. The Mishna cites Rabbi Judah, who said, “There is no removal of chametz save by burning.” The sages, however, maintain, “He [a person may] also crumble and throw it to the wind or cast it into the sea” (Pesachim 21a).

On the morning before the seder, chametz may be eaten until the fourth halachic hour of the day.* Biur Chametz takes place before the end of the fifth halachic hour of the day.* In larger Jewish communities, there is frequently a designated location for Biur Chametz, often in conjunction with, and overseen by, the local fire department.

All of the chametz thrown into the fire is burned so completely that even a dog would not eat it. While burning is the ideal way to destroy the chametz, if one is unable to do so due to timing or other limitations, one may pour a chemical disinfectant such as cleaning fluid on them so that the chametz become unfit to be consumed even by a dog. One may also flush the chametz down the toilet.

After all of the chametz has been destroyed, a decree of renouncing ownership is recited, fulfilling the biblical mitzvah of ridding oneself of chametz: “Any chametz or leaven product that is in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have observed it or not, whether I have removed it or not, shall be considered null and ownerless as the dust of the earth.”

*The length of a halachic hour of the day is calculated by dividing the actual daylight hours from sunrise to sunset by 12.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make Your Last Chametz Meal for the Week Count!

Many have the custom to eat their last chametz meal early in the morning of the eve of Pesach. Be careful to clean up so that not even the slightest trace of chametz can be found.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Searching for Chametz

On Passover, Jews are commanded to get rid of all "chametz" (leaven) which may be in their possession. To confirm the effectiveness of these efforts, a special search for chametz, called Bedikat Chametz, is conducted on the night before the seder. (*When the first Seder is Saturday night, Bedikat Chametz is performed on the previous Thursday night.)

Bedikat Chametz begins shortly after nightfall. When one is ready to begin the search, a blessing is recited (see below), after which no talking is permitted with the exception of conversation pertaining to the search itself. Traditionally the search is conducted by the light of a candle, in order to enable a thorough inspection of all the nooks and crannies (one may use a flashlight). Among Ashkenazi Jews, it is also customary to use a feather to "sweep" any chametz crumbs into a paper bag.

Sometimes getting into the right frame of mind for the search may be difficult, especially if the house has already been thoroughly cleaned for Passover. In order to be in the right frame of mind and to make certain that the blessing over the search is not said in vain there is a custom, therefore, to have someone else carefully "hide" ten pieces of chametz (for instance 10 pieces of pretzel wrapped in foil) in the rooms which will be searched. The search will thus be more diligent, and will not conclude until all the rooms have been checked and the 10 pieces found.

When the search is over, one makes a general declaration stating that any unknown chametz is hereby declared ownerless. The chametz in the bag is set aside to be burned the following morning. One may, however, put aside chametz to eat for breakfast (and Shabbat meals when Passover begins Saturday night), making sure to clean up any leftovers and to add them to the chametz bag afterwards.

Please note that there are many situations (for example, someone who is renting a room in a house that is not being cleaned for Passover), where it would be best to consult with a rabbi to determine how to proceed.

The Prayers of “Bedikat Chametz

Blessing before the search:
Ba’ruch ah’tah Ah’do’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu melech ha’o’lam, ah’sher kidishanu b’mitz’vo’tav v’tzee’vanu ahl Bee'oor chametz.

Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world, Who sanctifies us through His commandments and commanded us concerning the removal of chametz

Annulment of Ownership of Unknown Chametz (recited after the search is concluded):
Kol chameera va’chamee'ah, d’eeka veer’shootee, d’lah cha’zee’tay, ood’la vee’ar’tay, ood’lah y’dah’nah lay. lee’bah’tayl v’leh’heh’vay hef’ker k’aphra d’arah.

"Any chametz or leaven that is in my possession which I have not seen, have not removed and do not know about, should be annulled and become ownerless, like the dust of the earth."

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fast of the Firstborn

There has always been a lot of pressure on firstborn children, as they were often expected to care for the family property or business in order to ensure stability within the community. Even in modern society, the firstborn usually receives the most attention, the most responsibility and makes the most mistakes.

For all those reasons (and more, we're sure), the final plague, the Death of the Firstborn, was the most devastating (even though people had died in, or as a result of, the other plagues). The Death of the Firstborn was also the first plague during which the Israelites needed to take an active role in order not to be affected (marking their doorposts with blood).

While Passover is a commemoration of the story of the Exodus, there is also a special Fast of the Firstborn, which is observed on the 14th of Nisan, the day before the first seder.* It is observed only by the firstborn. This includes minors--except that, halachically, minors (under the age of bar/bat mitzvah) are not supposed to fast. Therefore, it has become the accepted practice that the firstborn’s father fasts instead.

It is interesting to note that the Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 18:3) infers that Egyptian women/girls also died during the Death of the Firstborn, and therefore there are different opinions as to whether firstborn women/girls should fast as well (one should follow the custom of the community).

The Fast of the Firstborn begins at sunrise and ends at nightfall (with the start of the seder). It is customary, however, for those obligated to fast to attend a seudat mitzvah (the feast of a mitzvah) such as a brit milah (circumcision) or, most often, a siyyum (celebration of the completion of studying a section of Torah or Talmud), which cancels the fast.

*unless it coincides with Shabbat

*This Treat was originally published on April 17, 2011. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Set Your Alarm Clock and Start the eve of Pesach early

There is much to do on erev Pesach (the eve of Passover). If you are a first born, you should participate in a celebratory meal (after a brit milah, pidyon haben or a siyum, the completion of a Talmudic Tractate of study) that will exempt you from fasting. Contact your local synagogue to see if they will have a siyum on the morning before Passover.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Why Laban is in the Haggadah

In honor of the upcoming holiday of Passover, it is time to review the important narrative featured in the Haggadah...the story of Laban. Many Jewish Treats readers are, perhaps, scratching their heads and wondering not only what Laban has to do with Passover, but just exactly who he was.

The longest section of the Passover Haggadah is Maggid, the retelling of the Exodus, and the largest section of Maggid, begins with the words:

“Go and learn what Laban the Aramean tried to do to our father Jacob. While Pharaoh decreed death only for the newborn males, Laban tried to uproot all of Israel...”

Laban was Jacob’s father-in-law, the father of both Rachel and Leah. When Jacob left his parents’ household, he went to his Uncle Laban, in Padan-Aram, where he remained for over 20 years -- thus Laban is called an Aramean. Laban was a cheater and a thief  -- accumulating wealth was his obsession. When Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, Laban indentured him for seven years, and then at the wedding switched Rachel for Leah. When Jacob discovered the treachery, Laban allowed Jacob to marry Rachel as well, but at the price of another 7 years of labor. When Jacob and his family decided to leave Padan-Aram twenty years later, his father-in-law was greatly angered, yet feigned being hurt by Jacob’s desire to take away his grandchildren (when all he really wanted was Jacob’s wealth).

The Haggadah mentions Laban before describing the Jewish enslavement and redemption in order to underscore the cycle of history. Laban sought to use Jacob for his own purposes, to keep him in Padan-Aram for his own benefit, with false words. So too, Jacob’s descendants were lulled by kind words into a false sense of security and ultimately, into slavery in Egypt.

This Treat was last posted on April 17, 2016.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

You Are Royalty

Passover is known as the festival of freedom. And who is more free than royalty? At the Seder, all Jews are supposed to consider themselves royalty. Some of the ways we demonstrate this are:  

LEANING - As a sign of royalty, the Sages taught that one must lean to one’s left while drinking the wine and eating the matzah. In the time of the Mishnah, it was customary for royalty to eat in a lounging position. (Think of pictures of Roman nobles eating.) In many Jewish homes, people cover the pillows upon which they lean, with fancy, decorated pillowcases. In fact, decorating Passover pillowcases is a great way to involve the children in preparations for the holiday.

RED WINE - While wine connoisseurs around the world may argue over white versus red, sweet versus dry, etc., Jewish tradition strongly recommends that the wine at the Seder be red. Why red? In ancient times, wine merchants sometimes watered down the white wines, making it cheaper both in price and quality. Thus, since we Jews live as royalty for this evening, red wine is recommended. Additionally, red wine reminds us of the blood of the Jewish people slaughtered by Pharaoh. (However, if you strongly prefer white wine, by all means, drink it.)

POURING THE WINE - Would a king or queen pour their own wine? Not likely. It is therefore customary at the seder that one does not pour his/her own wine. However, since the wine cups must be refilled, and most of us do not have a wait staff at the seder, it is customary that each person fill the glass of the person next to him/her at the table.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.  

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

New or Freshly Laundered Clothes for the Seder

Since at the seder we must see ourselves as free and aristocratic, it is only appropriate to wear new or freshly-laundered formal clothing.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A Holiday for Kids

Why is this night different from all other nights?

Ask the kids! Or better yet, let the kids ask you.

It might surprise you to know that Passover, more than any other Jewish holiday, is focused on the children. The retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt to the next generation is actually a Biblical commandment. “And you shall tell it to your child on that day saying: ‘This is done because of that which God did for me when I went out of Egypt’” (Exodus 13:8).

The essence of the commandment to retell the story of the Exodus is fulfilled by educating the children. The method for doing so is set out in the Talmud and is built into the framework of the Haggadah itself. (Thus the Four Questions about eating matzah and bitter herbs, dipping vegetables and reclining, as well as other special Passover seder rituals, are included in order to inspire the children’s curiosity.)

One of the best known and most interesting sections of the Haggadah is the section concerning the Four Children: the wise child, the wicked child, the simple child and the child who does not even know how to ask. This section helps us understand that at the seder, we must all view what is going on as if through children’s eyes: with awe, wonder and, most importantly, with questions. The Haggadah thus provides four questions, the Mah Nishtanah, with which to begin!

This Treat is reposted regularly in honor or Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

OMG! Passover is Coming

The intensive physical and emotional preparations for Passover come from one seemingly simple commandment: "Seven days you will eat only matzah, but on the first day you shall have put away chametz from your houses..." (Exodus 12:15). Therefore, by the beginning of the holiday of Passover, no chametz whatsoever may be in one's possession.

What is chametz? Chametz is defined as leaven, any product in which wheat, oat, barley, spelt or rye has come in contact with water for 18 minutes or longer. To be considered chametz, the food must be edible (defined as something that a dog would eat).

To eliminate chametz, it is necessary to rid one's home, office and even one's car (any personal place where chametz may have been brought). It is especially important to be particularly thorough when cleaning the kitchen and dining room areas, where food is generally found.

Once the house has been cleaned, it may be "turned over "-- the kitchen converted from chametz status to "ready-for-Passover" use. "Turning over the kitchen" includes changing dishes and cookware to those reserved for Passover use and covering counters and table tops that come in direct contact with chametz.*

All food items that are actually chametz must be consumed, given away, thrown out or otherwise removed 
before PassoverChametz may also be sold through a rabbi to a non-Jew. For more details, please consult your local rabbi.

Any item that does not contain chametz, but is not specifically labeled Kosher for Passover, should be stored in a cabinet for the duration of the Passover holiday, and the cabinet taped closed.

Please note that this is a very brief overview. For more detailed information on Passover preparations, including the search for and burning of chametz, please visit NJOP's Passover Preparations page.

*Certain items, depending on the material, may be kashered or may not need to be covered.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Pace Yourself with Passover Preparations!

Make sure you take plenty of time to prepare all that is needed in order to celebrate an inspiring and kosher Passover. The earlier you begin, the easier it will be.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Four Cups of Wine

Like almost all festival meals, the Passover Seder begins with Kiddush, the sanctification of the day. On Passover, however, the first cup of wine is followed by three more mandatory cups. The requirement of four cups of wine at the Seder is derived from the four stages through which God promised to redeem the Jews from the Egyptian slavery (Exodus 6:6-7): “Therefore say to the Children of Israel: ‘I am God and 1) I will take you out (v’ho’tzay’tee) from beneath the burdens of Egypt, and 2) I will save you (v’hee’tzal’tee) from their servitude, and 3) I will redeem you (v’ga’ahl’tee) with an outstretched arm and great judgments, and 4) I will take you (v’la’kach’tee) for Me for a people...’”

While the four cups of wine remind us of the four phrases of redemption, each of the four cups has an independent function at the Seder:

The First Cup is designated for Kiddush.

The Second Cup is consumed after the section of the Haggadah known as Maggid, in which we tell the story of the Exodus, as a way of praising God. The blessing on wine is made a second time, because significant time has passed since the first cup was blessed.

The Third Cup is blessed after Birkat Hamazon, the Grace After Meals. It is customary that after reciting Birkat Hamazon as a group, a single cup of wine or grape juice is blessed, and consumed by the person who leads the prayer. At the seder, however, all present bless and drink their own cup of wine.

The Fourth Cup is consumed at the conclusion of Hallel, the section of Psalms praising God, and marks the conclusion of the food part of the seder.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Development of the Haggadah

On Passover night we are commanded "v'hee'ga'd'ta" and you shall tell, the story of the Exodus. (Notice the shared root of hee'ga'd'ta and Haggadah.) The Passover Haggadah serves as a step-by-step guidebook for telling the story of Passover.

Before the destruction of the Holy Temple, most Jews traveled to Jerusalem to offer the Pascal lamb. Because the entire lamb had to be eaten before midnight, it was the common practice for several families to purchase a lamb and partake of the festive meal together while retelling the Exodus story, discussing the Midrashim (legendary commentary on the Torah) describing the Exodus, and reciting the ten plagues. These early Seders also incorporated the other basic mitzvot of the Seder: eating matzah and maror (bitter herbs) and drinking four cups of wine.

After the Second Temple was destroyed (70 C.E.) and the Jews dispersed, the oral law was written down (Mishna and Talmud) in order not to be lost to future generations. By the year 200 C.E., the basic outline of the Passover Haggadah had been set, including the order of questions and discussion (Mah Nishtana - the Four Questions).

The oldest existing Haggadah that we have today is from 8th or 9th century Palestine. While there have been modifications and additions over time (as people have added prayers of devotion and songs of praise), the basic form of the Haggadah has not changed. With the advent of the printing press in the Middle Ages, the Haggadah text was set, based on the prayer book of Rav Amram Gaon, who headed the Babylonian Yeshiva of Sura between 856-876 C.E. While certain parts of the Haggadah, such as Chahd Gad'ya ("One Kid"), were not added until much later, the basic text of the Haggadah has remained the same to this day.

*This Treat was published on March 22, 2010. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prepare the Haggadah Prior to the Seder

The Haggadah is meant to serve as an orderly guide to effectively convey the story of the Exodus to those who will be joining together for a seder. The more insight one gleans from the Haggadah commentaries, the more effective the task will be. There are literally hundreds of Haggadot sold today, each one offering a unique approach and its own insights.

Friday, April 12, 2019

“If These Walls Could Talk”

The cryptic spiritual dermatological disease of tza’ra’at differs from a medical malady in that Jewish tradition teaches that one becomes infected via sin, not pathogens, and one goes to the priest, the spiritual leader, for diagnosis and palliation, not a doctor. This week’s parasha, Metzorah, and that of last week, Tazriya, focus almost exclusively on diagnosing and curing tza’ra’at.

Yet the Torah describes two additional forms of tza’ra’at: clothing infected with tza’ra’at (Leviticus 13:47-59) and tza’ra’at in one’s home (Leviticus 14:33-57). The Torah describes how these forms of tza’ra’at are identified and removed. House tza’ra’at may even cause the walls of one’s home to be razed. While these two additional forms of the spiritual malady clearly demonstrate that tza’ra’at is not a physiological phenomenon, what purpose can there be for infected clothing or a contagious domicile?

Rashi (Leviticus 14:34), based on the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 17:6) suggests that the purpose of tza’ra’at in one’s house actually, in his words, is “good news” for the owner. If one’s walls need to be knocked down, they will find the golden treasures the Amorites (Canaanite inhabitants of homes prior to the Children of Israel’s conquering the land) hid in the walls of their homes. Maimonides, however, lists the three paradigms of tza’ra’at as a purposeful sequence. His coda to “The Laws of the Ritual Impurity of tza’ra’at (16:10)” states that diseased clothing and homes clearly point to supernatural phenomena. Maimonides advances that when one transgresses the laws of proper speech, the consequences of which are tza’ra’at, first experiences tza’ra’at on the walls of his home. If the illicit speaker does not resolve to improve his speech, tza’ra’at afflicts their furniture, then their clothing, and only as a last resort, their bodies, which leads to their expulsion from the Jewish camp, forcibly separating them from the gossip and socialization that caused the tza’ra’at in the first place.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Great Shabbat

The Shabbat immediately preceding Passover is known as Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat. It is best known for being the Shabbat on which the rabbi of the community (or another leading scholar) gives a detailed sermon that is often a review of the laws of Passover. While it has been suggested that these sermons are the source of the title "HaGadol" (gadol means both great and large), there is an actual historical significance to this Shabbat.

In the year that the Israelites were redeemed from slavery, God commanded the Jewish people that on the 10th of Nisan, each Israelite household (or combination of households) must take a lamb to use for a sacrifice (Exodus 12:3). Choosing a lamb for a sacrifice might not seem like a big deal, but the Egyptians viewed sheep as holy animals. (Having lived among the Egyptians for so long, many Israelites had assumed the false belief that sheep have special spiritual significance.) By taking the sheep and preparing it for slaughter, the people displayed defiance of their Egyptian masters and rejected any religious significance for the sheep itself.

Shabbat HaGadol is marked in synagogue by the reading of a special haftarah from the book of Malachi (3:3-24). Some people connect the concluding line of this reading to the term Shabbat HaGadol: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great (hagadol) and awesome day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers..." (3:23-24).

Passover is the holiday on which Jews celebrate redemption, and Elijah the prophet will be the harbinger of the final redemption, the coming of the Messiah. The ultimate redemption cannot come, however, until the Jewish people do teshuva (repent). Some scholars, such as the
 Chatam Sofer, have commented that this is the true meaning of Shabbat HaGadol - that when the Israelites began their preparations for the exodus by taking a lamb into their house, they were doing teshuva for having followed the ways of their Egyptian neighbors.

This Treat was last posted on March 22, 2013.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Watch What You Say

Today we do not receive physiological reminders to guard our tongues, as did those living in the Biblical period, but we must be careful to only speak properly.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Crown of Israel’s Jezreel Valley

Today the city of Afula, with a population of 49,000, sits as the crown and virtual capital of the Jezreel Valley in north-central Israel. Many identify modern day Afula with the Israelite town of Ofel mentioned in Scriptures, home of the Judge Gideon (Judges chapters 6-8) and in connection to the prophet Elisha, found in Kings II (5:24). Excavations in modern day Afula indicate continuous habitation in Ofel since the time the Israelites inhabited it in Biblical times. An 1887 population list indicates that 630 Muslim inhabitants were living in “El Afuleh.” Reports from 1900, when the Jezreel Valley railway was being built, described Afula as having 50-55 huts with 20 inhabitants.

With the return of Jews to pre-State-of-Israel Palestine in the early 20th century, Yehoshua Hankin initially purchased 10 square kilometers (10,000 dunams) of land in Al-Fuleh, where two moshav settlements, Merchavia and Tel Adashim, were established. During World War I, British General Edmund Allenby’s 4th Cavalry Division of the Desert Mounted Corps captured Afula from the Ottoman Turks during the Battle of Sharon in September, 1918. The 1922 British census identified 563 inhabitants of Afula, mostly Muslims, and a few dozen Christians (62), Jews (28) and 2 Bahai. 

The modern city of Afula was founded on March 31, 1925, corresponding to the 6th of Nissan, when the American Zionist Commonwealth purchased the Afula valley from the Sursuk family of Beirut. About ¼ of the Arab families accepted compensation for their land and voluntarily relocated. The rest were evicted. Jews began moving in there in large numbers as continued development occurred. By 1931, the population increased to 874, 786 of whom were Jews. By 1945, Afula consisted of 18,277 dunams and its population of Jews grew to 2,300 with 10 Muslims.

Afula has been a dangerous hotspot, due to its proximity to the populous Arab towns of Nablus (Biblical Sh’chem) and Jenin. Jewish militias in 1945, 1946 and, shortly before the 1948 war, sabotaged the railway, disabling travel from Nablus and Jenin into Afula. Only in 2011 was a train restored connecting Haifa to Beit She’ean, with a station at Afula. Passengers were able to make the trip on Israel Railways beginning in October of 2016. Subsequent terror attacks have occurred in Afula, and and Hezbollah rockets twice hit Afulah in July of 2006, during the Israel-Hezbollah war.

Israeli air conditioning behemoth Tadiran has its factory base in Afula, as do plastic manufacturers Keter Plastic and StarPlast. HaEmek Medical Center was the first regional hospital in the country and continues to serve the Afula population and beyond. Afula also serves as the home town for a professional Israeli basketball and football (soccer in the US) team as well.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Visit Afula

On your next trip to Israel, visit Afula and the Jezreel Valley.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Spying: Take Two

The Book of Joshua begins with God appearing to Joshua, Moses’ prime disciple and successor, and informing him to prepare to lead the Children of Israel into the Land of Israel. Joshua instructed the nation to prepare to cross the Jordan River three days later, thus finally entering the elusive Promised Land. Joshua’s next act was to dispatch two unnamed scouts to survey the land, and to visit the first city they will need to confront: Jericho. Tradition teaches that the two scouts sent by Joshua were Caleb, the son of Yefunah, and Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the High Priest. Caleb, husband of Miriam (and brother-in-law to Moses and Aaron), had served along Joshua as one of the twelve scouts that Moses had previously sent to explore the land of Canaan. The 40-day sojourn of the 12 scouts ended with the other ten scouts reporting only negative information about the land, in an attempt to scare the nation. Despite Joshua and Caleb’s protests, they succeeded and their report and the Jews embrace of it, caused God to punish them severely. As a direct consequence of hearing and accepting the report of the 10 wayward scouts, the male adult Israelites of that generation were not granted entrance into the Promised Land. God forgave them for the sin of the Golden Calf, as well as their incessant complaining about food and other failings, but He did not forgive their acceptance of the scouts’ report.

Joshua clearly learned from some of the challenges that faced the first scouting mission about 40 years earlier. Instead of sending surveyors from each tribe (Joshua represented his tribe of Ephraim when he went), he only sent two individuals whom he inherently trusted. Caleb had proven his trustworthiness decades earlier, and Joshua asked Pinchas to join him. Pinchas, who famously ended a plague brought upon the Children of Israel by publicly killing a sinning Jewish prince, was a great nephew to Caleb. The two spent but a few days in Jericho and her environs and immediately returned back to the Israelite camp, where they told Joshua, “Truly the Lord has delivered to our hands all the land; for all the inhabitants of the country faint because of us” (Joshua 2:24). Compare that to the report of the previous scouts who intimidated the people by saying: “Nevertheless, the people, who live in the land, are strong, and the cities are walled, and very great; and moreover we saw the children of the giant there...” (Numbers 13:28-29). According to tradition (see Rashi to Joshua 2:1) the Jews would cross the Jordan after the month-long mourning period for Moses. It was on the 5th of Nissan that Joshua dispatched the scouts.

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Adaption is a Sign of Wisdom

The wise make appropriate changes to transform failure into success.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019


Young girls often wish for fairies, and brash youth dream of dragons. There is a delightful allure to the legends of fantastical creatures. But, according to the Midrash, not all such creatures are borne of the imagination. The Midrash discusses Leviathan, a great sea monster, and places the Phoenix on Noah’s ark.

So what are we to make of the most popular mythical creature of all - the unicorn? 

In the commandments to construct the Mishkan (Tabernacle), Moses was instructed that the tent be covered with ram’s skin and the skin of a “tachash,” an animal whose correct identity was lost even to those who transcribed the Oral Torah.

It is written in the Talmud: “Rabbi Elai in the name of Rabbi Simeon bar Lakish, Rabbi Meir used to maintain that the tachash of Moses’ day was a separate had one horn in its forehead, and it came to Moses’ hand [providentially] just for the occasion, and he [Moses] made the [covering of the] Tabernacle, and then it [the tachash] was hidden” (Talmud Shabbat 28b).  Furthermore, the tachash was particularly unique because it had a many colored pelt (Shabbat 28a).

Other opinions suggest that the re’em, another species whose exact identification is also unknown, was a unicorn. However, according to the Talmud, the re’em was no dainty and delicate creature (as fantasy often imagines the unicorn), but rather an enormous creature so large that it could not fit on Noah’s ark and survived the flood only because its horn was tied to the ark (Zevachim 113b). 

April 9th is celebrated world-wide as “Unicorn Day.” Unicorns have been a fantastic component of world literature for millennia, and recently, in C.S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle,” Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

This Treat was originally posted on February 26, 2014. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Explore the Vast Literature of the Oral Tradition

The Oral Tradition, that accompanied the written Law, possesses a wide array of opinions, accounts and views. Explore the Oral Tradition: You never know what you will learn!

Monday, April 8, 2019

A Jewish Treats Guide to Visiting the Zoo

Throughout the world, April 8th is celebrated as “Zoo Lovers Day.”

The first zoo of record was built in 1752 at the behest of Emperor Francis I in Vienna, Austria. Although it was built initially for the private viewing of the royal family, it was opened to the public 13 years later. The next zoo opened in 1775 in Madrid, Spain, and then in 1795, in Paris, France. Having a zoo became a badge of pride for countries. Today we see the very same competition among cities.

Aside from the fun, education and excitement associated with a trip to the zoo, there are some important Jewish lessons as well that one can appreciate when visiting the zoo.

First of all, there are special blessings that the rabbis ordained at various times, that are to be recited when utilizing one the different human senses, and when performing certain acts, as well as blessings as a form of gratitude. The Talmud (Brachot 58b) instructs those who encounter beautiful creatures (and trees) to say, “Blessed is He [God] Who has such things in His world.” The commonly accepted practice is to recite the blessing on the first such animal that one sees. The Talmud also mentions a specific blessing to be recited when seeing elephants, monkeys and a third animal whose identity is no longer known. The text of the blessing over these animals is, “Blessed is He [God] Who makes strange creatures.”

The rabbis identify certain behaviors with specific animals. The Talmud claims (Eruvin 100b) that had there not been a Torah, we would learn modesty from the cat, work ethic from ants, spousal fidelity from the dove, and proper intimate conduct from roosters. Cats display modesty when they cover up their waste, no ant takes from the winter food storage of its fellow ant, doves remain loyal to their mates and roosters act lovingly toward their partners before and after mating. The Bible identifies snakes with sin, lions with leadership, and even a spider saved King David’s life when he questioned why the world needs these arachnids.

Perek Shirah is an ancient Jewish text (it is first mentioned in the 10th century CE). It describes the Creation and how each element thereof sings God’s praises, using Scriptural verses that identify various creatures and their specific songs. This text also provides great insight into the animal kingdom and their role in the world.

There is one final matter to keep in mind when visiting a zoo. In the context of inappropriate sexual behaviors, Maimonides states that, with the exception of professional animal breeders, people should avoid watching animals mate (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Inappropriate Relations 21:19).

Enjoy your next visit to the zoo and remember to thank God for creating such a beautiful, rich and fascinating universe!

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Visit Your Local Zoo

Enjoy your next trip to the zoo and marvel at the creations of the Creator.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Parasha of the Month

This Shabbat is Parashat HaChodesh, the Sabbath of “The Month.”

The Torah portion that is read as the Maftir (additional reading) after the conclusion of the reading of the regular weekly Torah portion, commands that the Jewish people declare Nissan to be the first month of the lunar calendar and instructs the Children of Israel to prepare for the Exodus (Exodus12:1-20). Parashat HaChodesh is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nissan, or on Rosh Chodesh itself. If Parashat HaChodesh falls on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, a third portion is read (Numbers 28:9-15) prior to the reading of Parashat HaChodesh.

The reading begins, “And God spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year” (Exodus12:1-2).

When God first commanded that the Israelites mark the new month, they were still in slavery. As slaves, time was something over which they had no control. This command, however, was God’s way of gradually empowering the people to take hold of their own fate.

The command also promises a future. At this point in time, nine out of the ten plagues had already struck Egypt. The land was decimated, almost all the livestock had perished, and the Egyptian people themselves were scared and desperate. The Israelites, who had remained unharmed by the plagues, became increasingly concerned about the pent-up anger of the Egyptians. (Not to mention that Pharaoh was still refusing to let the Israelites leave.) Beginning a new calendar, however, underscored that they would have a future.

Having been reassured and empowered, the Israelites were able to obey Moses’ instructions to take a lamb on the 10th of the month of Nissan and mark their doorposts with the lamb’s blood on the eve of the 15th, when God would strike the Egyptian firstborn and the Children of Israel would finally leave Egypt.

This Treat was originally posted on April 8, 2016. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prepare for Passover

With the advent of the Hebrew month of Nissan tomorrow, Passover is around the corner. It is time to begin preparations such as making plans for seders, purchasing a new Hagaddah, or learning about how Jewish homes are properly transformed for Passover.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Honoring King

“The Hebrew prophets belong to all people because their concepts of justice and equality have become ideals for all races and civilizations. Today we particularly need the Hebrew prophets because they taught that to love God was to love justice...The Hebrew prophets are needed today because decent people must be imbued with the courage to speak the truth, to realize that silence may temporarily preserve status or security but to live with a lie is a gross affront to God...The Hebrew prophets are needed today because we need their flaming courage...”

These were the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King spoken on the night of December 5, 1965, when he accepted the “Judaism and World Peace Award” from the Synagogue Council of America. The award, which was established in 1960, had previously been presented to, among others, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and President John F. Kennedy.

Created in 1926, the Synagogue Council of America was an umbrella organization that encompassed the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Rabbinical Council, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, United Synagogue of America, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations. While the member organizations originally tried to find consensus on religious problems, by the 1960s the Synagogue Council had become a political face for the North American Jewish community and was involved with sponsoring several national conventions focused on social welfare and inter-religious issues. The Council itself ceased operating in 1994.

The Synagogue Council presented the award to Dr. King two years after his famous “I have a Dream” speech. Dr. King was presented the award for his “personal courage, responsible leadership and dedication to Prophetic ideals.”

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN on April 4, 1968.

This Treat was originally posted on January 20, 2014.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Recall the Heroic Actions of Martyrs

On a date marking the death of a hero, it behooves one-and-all to study their actions, and learn from their lives.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Last King of Judah

When Mattaniah, the son of King Josiah, was 13 years old, his brother King Yeho'yakim (who had succeeded Josiah) of Judah died after an open rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Eight years later, Mattaniah’s nephew, King Yeho'yachin (son of Yeho'yakim) offered himself and his family as a prisoner to Nebuchadnezzar in order to end the siege brought on by his own rebellious acts (aligning himself with Egypt). When Mattaniah was 21 years old, the King of Babylon placed the crown upon his head and declared his new name to be Zedekiah.
One would think that having witnessed the exacting revenge of the Babylonians on those who rebel, Zedekiah would have passively accepted Nebuchadnezzar’s dominion. Indeed, at first Zedekiah played the perfect role of a puppet monarch and swore (upon the Torah , no less!) that he would not rebel.* It was a promise that did not last long.

While Zedekiah wanted to assert himself as more than a puppet king, the prophet Jeremiah warned him time and again that Judea’s subjugation to Babylon was part of God’s plan and that the people would suffer from any further instigation on Zedekiah’s part. Zedekiah responded by imprisoning Jeremiah.

Nine years after elevating him to the throne, Nebuchadenezzar had had enough of Zedekiah. The brutal, final siege of Jerusalem began. Two years into the siege, Zedekiah and his family were captured as they attempted to escape the city. Nebuchadnezzar forced Zedekiah to watch as he killed his ten sons, after which Nebuchadnezzar blinded Zedekiah with hot iron pokers. Taken in chains back to Babylon, Zedekiah was left to rot in the dungeon for 25 years until six days after the death of Nebuchadnezzar, when Nebuchadnezzar’s son,  Evil-Merodach, released both Yeho'yachin and Zedekiah from jail. On that same day, the 27th of Adar, Zedekiah passed away.

*According to Pesikta Rabbasi

This Treat was originally posted on February 27, 2014.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn from History

While there are many lessons to be learned from the actions of those mentioned in the Jewish Scriptures, some of those enduring messages teach us what not to do.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Children of the Children of Israel

April 2nd, the birthday of the famed Danish author of children’s books, Hans Christian Andersen, who was born on that date in 1805, is celebrated as International Children’s Book Day. The day encourages children to read. The benefits of youth literacy are fairly self-evident, especially in a culture where texting and emailing have become, for better or for worse, a primary form of communication.

As the “People of the Book,” Jews ensure their national literacy by nurturing Jewish children to become the “Children of the Book.” This process, of course, begins with a child learning the Hebrew alphabet. Although the Mishnah (Avot 5:21) claims that formal education begins at the age of five, there is a tradition that children begin to learn to read at the age of 3. Some even have the custom of taking a chart of the Hebrew alphabet, and placing honey on the letters for the children to lick, to stress the sweetness of the Hebrew letters and encourage further study. Some associate this practice with a verse in Psalms (119:103): “How sweet are Your [God’s] words to my palate, sweeter than honey to my mouth.”

Within the culture of an oral tradition, Torah was transmitted from one generation to the next, and children were educated by parents, or by a surrogate for the parents. In the 1st century BCE, Rabbi Joshua ben Gamla ordained, well before the notion of public education for all, that each locale provide formal education to its youth. Establishing and enforcing this tradition assured a literate youth.

The Talmud declares (Shabbat 119b) that the casual statements (literally, “vapors from the mouth”) of the schoolchildren have the power to sustain the world, and that even the opportunity to rebuild the Temple does not supersede the education of Jewish youngsters; their education takes precedence. In the Selichot (special penitential prayers for fast days and the days of repentance prior to Yom Kippur) recited on the Fast of Esther, the author relates a story based on the aforementioned Talmudic aphorism. When word spread that Haman, Persia’s Prime Minister, selected a day to annihilate the Jews of the Persian kingdom, Mordechai purposely knocked at the door of a school and, while wearing sackcloth, a traditional garb of mourning, he sat on the ground and prayed for salvation along with the Jewish children, whose prayers are more powerful. The poem continues relating that God Almighty asked “Moses, what is this praying I hear?” and Moses responded that it was the “little ones” praying for their lives. At that moment, God’s compassion was stirred, and salvation was assured.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Support Jewish Education for Children

Whether enrolling one’s children, tutoring other children, or donating to a school for Jewish children, there are few worthier causes in the pantheon of Jewish philanthropy than Jewish education.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Jokes On Us

“Knock. Knock”
“Who’s There?”
“Jewish Who?”
Jewish Treats”....Ok, not so funny, but, when you get to the bottom of it, April Fools Day (or All Fools Day) is hardly a Jewish holiday. Wait, perhaps you are wondering how a day for jokes and laughter can not be a Jewish day, after all, so many stand-up comedians and comedy writers are Jewish?

Jews like to laugh, it’s true, and Jews like to make others laugh. Indeed, making people laugh is considered a great mitzvah. Once, the Talmud tells us, Rabbi Beroka was walking in the market with the Prophet Elijah. Rabbi Beroka wished to know who in the crowd had a share in the world to come. When Elijah pointed out two men, Rabbi Beroka asked them: “‘What is your occupation?’ They replied, ‘We are jesters, when we see men depressed, we cheer them up. Furthermore, when we see two people quarreling we strive hard to make peace between them’” (Taanit 22a).

Making others laugh is a wonderful thing, but not when it is at someone else’s expense. A good practical joke is one in which the teller, listener and subject all laugh together. Practical jokes are problematic on two accounts: they either embarrass someone or cause someone to be frightened. Embarrassing someone is equated by the rabbis to killing them: “He who publicly shames his fellow is as though he shed blood” (Baba Metzia 58b). So too, Choshen Mishpat, the section of the Code of Jewish Law that covers business law, notes that frightening another person is forbidden.

The purpose of a practical joke is almost always to frighten (even mildly) or embarrass another person. Therefore, practical jokes are best avoided. That does not, however, mean that comedy isn’t an acceptable Jewish art form... Happy April Fools Day!

This Treat was originally posted on April 1, 2014.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make Sure Your Jokes Are Funny

Practical jokes are only funny when they don’t hurt, harm or embarrass anyone. Make sure your jokes are truly funny and desired.

Friday, March 29, 2019

How Now, Red Cow

Every year, on the first or second Shabbat following Purim, a special reading from Numbers 19, is added to the regular Shabbat Torah reading. Known as Parashat Parah, the Torah reading concerns the special purification ceremony of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer), one of the most intricate and mysterious laws found in the Torah.

The process of purification via the Parah Adumah is complex and difficult to understand even for those who have spent years studying the Torah. A simple explanation is that a pure red heifer (cow) is sacrificed, and its ashes are mixed with holy water. The mixture is then sprinkled on those who seek spiritual purification. Most famously, the ashes of the Parah Adumah “cleanse” a person from the ritual impurity of coming in contact with a dead body. The precise process is described in Numbers 19 and in Mishnah Parah.

Since Jews would be required to come to the Temple to offer their paschal offerings in just a few weeks, this Torah portion is reviewed at this particular point. Only those cleansed of ritual impurity could enter the precincts of the Temple and offer their paschal sacrifices. While some forms of spiritual impurity can be cleansed with water, and others by immersion in a mikveh, coming in contact with human remains requires seven days of purification and sprinkling with the water of the ashes of the red heifer.

For the Parah Adumah, however, any-old red cow just won’t do. The animal must be a cow that is preferably three or four years old (but older than two years) and has never been mounted by a bull. Additionally, it should never have been yoked or have been engaged in any physical labor like most other domestic animals normally do.

Physically, like all sacrifices, the red heifer must be blemish free, both internally and externally. The most critical factor, however, is the definition of “red.” In order to be considered an actual Red Heifer, the animal may not have more than two hairs of a different color on its entire body!

Finding the exact specimen was so difficult that the sages recorded only eight red heifers from the time of Moses to the end of the Second Temple period: “Moses prepared the first, Ezra prepared the second,... Simon the Just and Yochanan the High Priest each prepared two, and El'y'ho'aynai ben Hakkoph and Cha'nam'ayl the Egyptian each prepared one” (Mishnah Parah 3:5).

This Treat was originally posted on March 17, 2017.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Attend Synagogue to hear the Special Torah Reading

Since the Torah can only be read in the presence of a minyan (quorum), make sure to go to synagogue in order to hear this special Torah reading.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Passover Spitting

In honor of the annual “Something on a Stick Day,” Jewish Treats will discuss a timely and famous Jewish ritual food that is roasted on a stick: the Korban Pesach, the Paschal Offering.

In the absence of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, Jews today cannot fulfill the commandment of sacrificing the Korban Pesach (the Passover offering). As a result, for close to two millennia, no one has witnessed the amazing sight of tens of thousands of lambs being slaughtered in the Temple courtyard in Jerusalem in a matter of hours, in three shifts.

The Mishnah in Pesachim (7:1-2) teaches that the slaughtered kid or lamb designated as the “Paschal sacrifice” would be roasted over fire on a spit made of pomegranate-tree wood. The animal would be cooked over fire exclusively, in order to fulfill the Biblical mandate, “roast it with fire, its head with its legs…” (Exodus 12:9). The paschal offering may not be roasted on a metal spit, nor on a gridiron, because, as the Talmud explains (Pesachim 74a), the heat of the metal spit cooks the flesh, which would not be a fulfillment of the Biblically mandated obligation to cook the meat with fire only. The Talmud then asks why is pomegranate wood specifically recommended, not, say, palm, fig, oak, carob or sycamore? The Talmud responds, that palm branches have grooves between the leaves, which emit a small amount of water, and no hydration is allowed in the cooking of the paschal offering as that process would entail cooking, not roasting. Similarly, fig wood is hollow and contains sap that gives off liquid. Oak, carob and sycamore trees possess knots, which must be removed, and the locations of the cuts emit a liquid. When challenged that pomegranate trees also have knots, the Talmud answers that its knots are smooth, and therefore, emit no liquid. Alternatively, the Talmud suggests that a spit made of a pomegranate tree less than one-year old, which does not have any knots, could have been what the Torah recommended for the spit.

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Study the Torah’s Laws whether in Practice or Not

There is great value in studying the parts of the Torah that are not currently practiced, since studying Torah ultimately enables us to appreciate its Divine Author.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Countdown To Freedom

Americans begin preparing for Thanksgiving days or perhaps a week in advance. But when it comes to Jews and Passover, much more preparation time is needed.

Jewish Tradition teaches that we begin preparing for Passover 30 days in advance, by making both physical and spiritual arrangements. Taken literally, this means that on Shushan Purim (which is Purim in Jerusalem and other specific walled cities) we already turn our eyes to the “Festival of Redemption.” The Shulchan Aruch devotes the very first words of the laws of Passover (Orach Chaim 429), the first of 65 very complicated chapters on the laws of Passover, to remind people to prepare funds to donate in order to assure that all Jews have the wherewithal to purchase the necessary ingredients to fulfil the Passover seder. The traditional term for these contributions is ma’ot chittim, literally “funds for wheat, which enables the more indigent to acquire wine, matzah, bitter herbs, and haroset, so they can have a festive meal with one’s family, to celebrate the freedom of our people.

The second chronological point in the countdown to Passover occurs with the advent of the Hebrew month of Nissan, the month in which Passover is celebrated. During this month, we do not recite certain petitional prayers that are omitted on festive days. The sages taught that this is due to the general joyful nature of the entire month, not just the seven (or eight outside of Israel) days of Passover.

During the first twelve days of Nissan, the twelve tribal princes offered lavish gifts at the dedication of the Tabernacle, which took place on the first day of Nissan. The twelve daily gifts represented all tribes except for the tribe of Levi. The tribe of Joseph was therefore split into the two tribes of Ephraim and Menashe, to make 12 tribes. Since each day was a celebration for a particular Tribal prince, the first 12 days of the month of Nissan, unrelated to Passover, express an ongoing sense of joy. Add to those days the 7 or 8 joyous days of Passover, and we find that the majority of the days of the month are festive days. It is a custom for people to read about the gift of the particular prince on the particular day of Nissan that the tribal leader brought his gift. The details of the gifts are described in chapter 7 of the book of Numbers.

Establishing the entire month of Nissan as a month of joy, precludes observing certain public components of grief such as offering eulogies and related memorial prayers. Some have a custom not to visit a cemetery during the entire month of Nissan.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with issues of halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Help Others Prepare for Passover

Donate to a Ma’ot Chittim campaign, to assure that those who may not be able to afford celebrating the festive Passover holiday, will have the ability to feel and re-experience the freedom of Passover.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Ein Gedi

No tour of Israel can be complete without a visit to the Judean desert. Aside from climbing the famed fortress of Masada, you can actually float in the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth, known for its highly mineralized water, which serves as a treatment center for many individuals suffering from skin ailments. All those visiting the Dead Sea basin must also visit the nearby Ein Gedi nature reserve.

The beauty and reclusiveness of Ein Gedi, which literally means spring of the young goat, has been known since biblical times. The most notable Biblical figure associated with the beauty of Ein Gedi is King David, who hid from King Saul in Ein Gedi’s natural reserve.

Scripture (Samuel I end of chapter 23 and chapter 24) relates the famed story regarding David cutting a slice from King Saul’s garment. While hiding in “the fortress of Ein Gedi, in a cave,” with his entourage from King Saul, who sought to kill David, King Saul entered the cave and became vulnerable to attack by David. Instead of killing the king, his pursuer, David merely sliced a piece from his garment. When King Saul left, David, the king’s son-in-law, ran after him, and called out, “My lord the king” and bowed. David related to the monarch how he could have killed him, but opted against it, and showed the king the portion from Saul’s skirt. David’s soliloquy brought King Saul to tears. The king even admitted that David was more of a man than he was, and predicted David’s eventual assumption of the throne of Israel. The king asked David to swear to him that when he became king that he would not destroy his offspring and terminate Saul’s family line. David swore, and Saul went home. Psalm 142 specifically refers to this encounter.

The Ein Gedi oasis sits at the mouth of the Dead Sea, and spreads over 14,000 dunams (3,500 acres), bursting with exotic wildlife, colorful geology and breathtaking waterfalls and springs. Two streams flow through Ein Gedi: Nahal David and Nahal Arugot. It’s interesting, but likely not a coincidence, that Ein Gedi shares the same Hebrew letters as Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). In 1971, the State of Israel declared Ein Gedi one of the most important nature reserves in Israel.

On March 20, 1949, corresponding with the 19th of Adar, the Israeli army captured Ein Gedi, which represented Israel’s final military operation in Israel’s War of Independence.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.