Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Paschal Lamb - A Unique Commandment

While most Jews have attended a Passover Seder, no Jew in the last 1,900 years has tasted a Paschal lamb (“Korban Pesach”), the animal offering associated with Passover that shares the holiday’s name. The Paschal sacrifice was offered on the day before Passover and was eaten that evening at the seder - but only when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem. And while no Jew today can offer and eat the Paschal lamb, it is interesting to note that in Temple times, a Jew who deliberately avoided partaking of the lamb was viewed as having denied an essential connection to the heart of Judaism.

One of the most unique aspects of the Paschal sacrifice is the prohibition against breaking any bones of the animal during its roasting or eating.

The anonymous author of the Sefer Hachinuch suggests that the reason for this negative commandment is a lesson on the effects of manners. A person is supposed to eat food with dignity. As breaking and eating bones is the way a dog eats, humans are reminded to rise significantly above that level.

On a deeper level, however, the Sefer Hachinuch stresses how all actions contribute to a person's character. One who regularly does good deeds will become a good person; conversely, one who allows himself to participate in dishonest actions, will eventually be overtaken by dishonesty. It may begin with how we eat, but it translates into how we live. Our actions, even the breaking of bones, mold us and define us.

Fine Dining

When eating out at a restaurant, remember to thank the staff for their assistance (in addition to the tip).

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Passover Story in Brief

On Passover, we commemorate the Exodus from Egyptian slavery. The following is a brief summary:

Jacob’s family came to Egypt to escape a famine in Canaan. Joseph, Viceroy to Pharoah, settled his family in the land of Goshen, apart from the Egyptians.

Joseph’s contribution to Egyptian society was forgotten after his death, and the new Pharaoh, feeling threatened by the success of the Israelites, enslaved them with cruel and bitter labor.

Alerted to a prophecy that the Israelites would be led to freedom by a boy yet to be born, Pharaoh ordered all newborn Jewish boys cast into the Nile. Yocheved set her newborn son (Moses) adrift in the Nile in a basket, where he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him.

Years later, Moses came upon an Egyptian beating an Israelite. Outraged, Moses slew the Egyptian, but then fled Egypt for fear that his action would be discovered. Moses took refuge in Midian with Jethro and married Jethro's daughter, Tziporah. While shepherding Jethro’s sheep, Moses came upon a burning bush which was not consumed, from which God instructed him to go back and lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

Moses, joined by his older brother Aaron, went to Pharaoh and demanded the release of the Israelites. Pharaoh repeatedly said no--nine times. Each time he said no, another plague (blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts and darkness) struck Egypt. Finally, God struck dead all the Egyptian first born. After this final tenth plague, Pharaoh finally said “yes” and the Jews left Egypt, matzah in hand.

Pharaoh changed his mind and chased the Israelites, who were eventually trapped between the Egyptian army and the Sea of Reeds. But the Sea miraculously split and they crossed safely while the Egyptians drowned in the returning waters. Only Pharaoh survived.

The Israelites then continued their journey to Mount Sinai, where they received the Torah.

Food Drive

Donate your chametz (leaven) to a local food bank or soup kitchen.

Friday, March 27, 2009

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.

Something Special

Set aside something special, something that makes you feel regal, to wear to the seder.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Oh My Gosh...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 come in contact with water for 18 minutes or longer (without kneading or manipulating). To be considered chametz, the food must be edible (defined as something that a dog would eat).

To eliminate the chametz, it is necessary to clean one’s home, office and even one’s car. 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 chametzstatus to “ready-for-Passover” use, and vice-versa after the holiday. “Turning over the kitchen” includes changing dishes and cookware to those reserved for Passover use and covering counters and table tops, which come in direct contact with chametz.

All food items that are actually chametz must be consumed before Passover, given away, thrown out or sold. In instances of significant monetary loss, it is customary to sell chametz through a rabbi to a non-Jew (e.g. unopened economy size boxes of cereal or bottles of scotch). 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.

For a look at the deeper meaning of chametz, please read Demystifying...Bedikat Chametz (The Search for Chametz), an article on NJOP’s Passover Writings page.

Darling Dishes

Get ready for Passover by purchasing new dishes specifically for Passover use.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Jews of Ethiopia

In May 1991, Operation Solomon transported 14,500 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. This was the third great rescue mission of the Ethiopian community (Operation Moses, 1984 and Operation Joshua, 1985).

The origins of the Beta Israel, as the Ethiopian community is known, are subject to debate: The lost tribe of Dan? The descendants of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba? Ancient converts to Judaism? What is agreed, however, is that their community, and its isolation, goes back to the time of the First Temple.

A Very Brief History: The Beta Israel lived in relative peace in the Gondor region of Ethiopia and were semi-autonomous until the early 1600s, when they were fiercely persecuted and denied the right to their own land. In the 1970s, dictator Colonel Mengitsu Haile Mariam’s Marxist policies led to an increase in both poverty and anti-Semitism. In response to these events, rescue efforts began, ended and began again with the above-mentioned operations.

The Acceptance of the Beta Israel: A great many questions were raised about the authenticity of the Beta Israel’s Jewishness. Having been separated from the greater Jewish community for so long (before the codification of the oral law in c.525 C.E.), their observances varied from traditional Jewish practice, yet were still recognizable. Citing the 16th century Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Avi Zimra's (Radbaz) statement of firm belief in the authenticity of Ethiopian Jewry, Israel’s then Chief Rabbis (Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef - Sephardi, and Rabbi Shlomo Goren - Ashkenazi) declared the Beta Israel to be Jews and were thus entitled to come to Israel under the Law of Return.

Not all religious authorities, however, are in agreement, and it has become customary for the Beta Israel to undergo a symbolic conversion --with immersion in a mikvah and a declaration of acceptance of traditional rabbinic law.

Spring Cleaning

When doing your spring cleaning, donate unwanted clothes and items to a local homeless shelter.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shah! The Evil Eye!

“Oh, what a beautiful baby!” a woman says to another.

Kayn ayin harah,” the mother replies, “There shouldn’t be an evil eye!”

What a strange reaction this is! Wouldn’t “thank you” be sufficient and proper?

There is a part of Jewish tradition that believes firmly in the power of ayin harah (the evil eye). There are a number of varying opinions about what exactly is an ayin harah. Some believe it is a curse that a person may put on another--for instance a curse against a wealthy person that his business should fail. Others define it as an emotional or psychological state. All sources, however, agree that ayin harah draws its power from envy and jealousy.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (1892-1954, England/Israel) once explained that the purpose of ayin harah is to instill humility in each person. One must recognize that the things with which one has been blessed are gifts from G-d and no one should flaunt their gifts, lest it cause pain to others.

To protect themselves and their loved ones from the evil eye, many people will add the phrase "bli ayin harah" (without the evil eye) to statements they make about their own fortunate situations (number of children, wealth, age, etc) or will respond "kayn ayin harah" (against the evil eye) to statements of praise made to them by others. This is sometimes accompanied by “spitting” three times (poo, poo, poo) over the left shoulder!

Amulets and charms against the evil eye were common in centuries past, and several have remained common talismans to this day, such as the hamsa. Recently, it has become popular to wear (around one’s left wrist) a section of a red string that had been previously strung around the tomb of the matriarch Rachel. More often than not, however, these red strings have never been within 10 miles of Rachel’s Tomb!

Accentuate the Positive

Think positively about every person you meet.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mezuzah: Complete Fulfillment

A mezuzah on the doorpost is a public sign of a Jewish home. If you open the decorative container of the mezuzah you will find a piece of parchment with two sets of Hebrew verses from Deuteronomy, hand-lettered in black ink. The first set opens with the words: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (6:4-9). The second begins with “And it will be if you will listen diligently to all my mitzvot” (11:13-21). Both verses contain the commandment to “write these words on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,” the very mitzvah that is fulfilled by attaching these verses to one’s doorway.

On the back of the parchment, the scribe writes the Hebrew letters shin, daled and yud, one of the seven names of God that is also an acronym for the words Shomer Daltot Yisrael, He guards the doorways of Israel. But the mezuzah is not supposed to be regarded as a good luck charm. Rather, the mezuzah is meant to serve as a reminder of what is written on it--that there is one God and we have a relationship with Him--so that we might cultivate our awareness of Him and walk in His ways.

To help us remember God at all times, the mezuzah is affixed to the doorpost at the entrance to every room in our home (except for the bathroom). Although synagogues and study halls do not require a mezuzah because both already have their own innate sanctity, nevertheless mezuzot are often hung at these locations, but without a blessing. Also, we do not affix a mezuzah to a non-permanent structure, such as a sukkah. The presence of the mezuzah elevates the atmosphere of our homes and reminds us of what truly matters.

A Plan

Plan to put a mezuzah on each doorpost of your home (except bathrooms).

Friday, March 20, 2009

Kiddush Wine

Kiddush is one of the primary components of the commandment to “Remember the Sabbath Day” (Za'chor et Yom Ha'Shabbat- Exodus 20:8), which is the “umbrella” commandment for all of the positive mitzvot of Shabbat. Kiddush is recited over a glass or cup of wine,* as the Talmud (Pesachim 106a) states: “Remember the Sabbath day and sanctify it. ‘Remember' the day over wine.”

The “fruit of the vine,” as wine is poetically called, is a rare synthesis of nature and Judaism's philosophy of free will. Everything in a person's life can be used for good or for bad. For instance, wealth can be hoarded or used to help others. This is exactly the reason that wine is used for Kiddush. Through drunkenness, wine can easily lead one away from Godliness, so instead we bless it and use it to sanctify God's name. In moderate amounts, wine leads to pleasant happiness. In excess, however, wine can lead to anger, the total loss of inhibition, depression, etc.

From a less philosophical perspective, the mitzvot that fall into the category of Za'chor et yom Ha'Shabbat (Remember the Sabbath Day) are all meant to enable a person to fully enjoy Shabbat. Psalms 104:15 notes that “Wine gladdens a person's heart” and Talmud Pesachim 109a states that “There is no joy unless there is meat...there is no joy unless there is wine.”

*Wine is the ideal. However, if one does not like wine or may not drink wine, grape juice may be used. For the daytime Kiddush, one may also use other beverages such as whiskey.

Try some kiddush wine or grape juice at your local Shabbat Across America/Canada location, TONIGHT!

If you can't attend tomorrow night, here are ways to do Shabbat At Home!

For Kiddush Sake

To honor Shabbat, buy a special bottle of kosher wine or sparkling grape juice.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Parasha of the Month

This Shabbat is Shabbat 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 (Deuteronomy 12:1-20). Parashat HaChodesh is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nissan, or on Rosh Chodesh itself.

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” (Deuteronomy 12:2).

When God first commanded that the Israelites count 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 ten plagues had already struck Egypt. The land was decimated, all the livestock had perished, and the 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 Pharoah was still refusing to let the Israelites leave.) Beginning a calendar process, 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 and mark their doorposts with the lamb’s blood on the night of the 15th, when God would strike the Egyptian firstborn and the Children of Israel would finally leave Egypt.

Don't miss Shabbat Across America/Canada - Friday night March 20, 2009, when synagogues across the continent will host Jews from all backgrounds who wish to celebrate their heritage, to join in with the community and to reconnect with their spirituality.

Calendar Check

Own at least one Jewish calendar to keep track of the Jewish months and holidays.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More Than Shabbat

Ahad Ha'am (Asher Ginsberg, poet and Zionist ideologue: 1856-1927) is quoted as saying, "More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews."

This statement is part of the key to the great puzzle of our generation: how to keep Jews Jewish? We have survived exile and genocide, only to find that assimilation and a lack of Jewish knowledge have become an even greater threat.

The Talmud (Shabbat 10b) states that Shabbat was God’s precious and guarded treasure, which was given to the Jews as a gift. It was His day of rest, and He shared it with the Jewish people. Shabbat was the day to be dedicated to building a relationship with the Divine, and reconnecting with the spiritual after a week of toiling in the physical world.

One of the greatest benefits of Shabbat has always been family and community. On Shabbat people attend synagogue together, mingle with their neighbors, pray together and connect with each other.

As Jews began to assimilate and the world became more “savvy,” the idea of a day of rest fell out of favor. Either people were too busy with their work, too busy with their play or too worried about being different or missing something.

By abandoning Shabbat, people relinquished their precious connection to their community (and to the Divine). And without a connection to their community, Jews increasingly disappeared from the Jewish radar.

This is the power of Shabbat Across America/Canada - celebrated this year on Friday night March 20, 2009. Synagogues across the continent are readying themselves for this grand evening by inviting Jews from all backgrounds to come celebrate their identity, to join in with the community and to reconnect with their spirituality.

One by One

Commit yourself to doing at least one thing to honor Shabbat each week.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Irish Jews

The exile of the Jewish people has taken them to every corner of the earth. Jews have lived in and built communities in Europe, China, India, Central Asia, Africa, South America, North America, Australia, etc. Today, Jewish Treats presents highlights of the Jews of Ireland:

The first royal recognition of a Jewish presence in Ireland was in 1232, when King Henry III gave Peter de Rivall the office of Treasurer and Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer, the king's ports and coast, and also "the custody of the King's Judaism in Ireland." However, in 1290, all Jews were expelled from the English kingdom, which included Ireland.

By the end of the 15th century “Anousim” (Jews forced to hide their Judaism because of the Spanish Inquisition) began to settle on the Emerald Isle. In 1555, William Annyas, a Jew, was elected mayor of Youghal, County Cork.

One of the most famous Jews of Ireland was Robert Briscoe (1894-1969), who became the Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1956. Active in the IRA and Sinn Féin during the Irish War of Independence, Briscoe was a nationalist who was adamant that being a "Hebrew" did not lessen his Irishness. Since 1993, the New York based Emerald Isle Immigration Center sponsors the annual Briscoe Awards, which honors Jewish leaders for their work in bettering the lives of Irish immigrants to the U.S.

An Irish Jew who became a leader to the Jewish people through his distinguished career in the Israel Defense Force (and previously in the British army) was Chaim Herzog (1918-1997). The sixth president of the State of Israel was born in Belfast and raised in Dublin, where his father, Rabbi Isaac Herzog, who later became the second Chief Rabbi of Israel, was Chief Rabbi of Ireland.

Flu Season

Call up or e-mail a co-worker who is out sick and wish them a refuah sh'leimah (complete recovery).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Judaica Shop

The Shabbat table is customarily set for a grand feast and adorned with one’s most beautiful utensils. Beyond beautiful settings, however, there are certain “essentials” that are traditionally purchased to enhance the Shabbat table.

1. Candlesticks: The Shabbat candles are most often placed on or near the Shabbat table. While a minimum of two candles are lit, many have the custom of lighting one candle for each member of the household. Shining silver candlesticks are symbolic of Shabbat (although any candleholders will do.)

2. Kiddush Cup: Kiddush is the blessing of sanctification that declares the Sabbath day to be holy. The cup used for kiddush must contain at least 3 fluid ounces of wine or grape juice. Kiddush cups come in a range of sizes and styles and are most often crafted in silver (although some are glass). Some distribute small amounts of the kiddush wine to family members and guests in mini-kiddush cups.

3. Challah cover: It is customary to cover the challah (braided Shabbat bread) with a special cover during the recitation of kiddush. There is a remarkable range of beautiful challah covers available, with some people preferring a velvet cover, while others choose painted silk. There are even leather challah covers.

4. Challah board and knife: After the blessing of Ha'mo'tzee, the challah is cut and distributed to all present. Challah boards are made from a variety of materials (wood, glass, marble, etc). It is also customary to have a special Challah knife with a decorative handle.

All of the above items can be found at your local or online Judaica store. While it is traditional to purchase silver candlesticks, kiddush cups and challah knives, there is no obligation to do so.

THIS WEEK IS SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA/CANADA ! Find a location near you!

If you can't locate a program in your area, why not try to make Shabbat at home using NJOP's Shabbat Across America/Canada At Home Guide

Gifting

Help a young couple enhance their Shabbat table by giving them Judaica as a wedding gift.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Unlucky 13?

Our culture has planted in our minds that 13 is a particularly unlucky number (Triskaidekaphobia = fear of 13). “Friday the 13th” (Paraskevisekatriaphobia = fear of Friday the 13th) is a particularly inauspicious day to a large portion of the population, and many buildings even avoid having a 13th floor, etc.

In Judaism, however, the number 13 has positive associations and is significant in many ways. At 13, a boy becomes Bar Mitzvah. God has “13 attributes” of mercy. Maimonides lists 13 principles of faith. Talmudic law and logic was reduced by Rabbi Ishmael into 13 principles. There are 13 months in a Jewish lunar leap year. The Purim victory celebrated by Queen Esther took place on the 13th day of Adar.

That’s not all. In the Talmud, there is an abundance of portentous 13s mentioned: in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem there were 13 charity boxes, each with a different phrase etched onto it (Temurah 23b), 13 partition curtains (Yoma 54b) and 13 tables (Tamid 31b); Rabbi Oshiya suggests 13 categories of damages that can be litigated in court (Kritut 2b); Israel will one day be divided into 13 tribal sections instead of the original 12 of Joshua (Bava Batra 122a); 13 covenants were sealed between God and the Jews through the brit milah (circumcision covenant) (Brachot 49a); and when tying the strings of a talit (prayer shawl), the maximum number of knots permitted is 13 - symbolic of the 7 heavens and the 6 air spaces between them (Menachot 39a).

In Judaism, the number 13 is definitely not unlucky. In fact, it is quite significant!

The Red Heifer

Read about the significance of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) in honor of this week's extra reading, Parashat Parah.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Shabbat Shabbaton - Complete Rest

In Exodus 31:14-17, the Torah once again reminds the Jewish people to keep Shabbat. In this section, however, Shabbat is referred to as Shabbat Shabbaton, which is translated as a complete rest. According to the great Biblical commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki - France, 1040 – 1105) as understood by the Sfat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter - Poland, 1847–1905), this means that “rest” on Shabbat is not supposed to be a rest because one has nothing else to do, but a deliberate rest during which one refrains from even thinking about the mundane activities of the week.

Hey, great! A deliberate period of “chilling out.” In truth, however, the state of rest described by the Sfat Emet is not easy to attain. After all, a person’s professional life is often intricately tied up with a person’s self--and talking business is second nature.

To help you create a Shabbat Shabbaton, Jewish Treats presents five tips for resting:

A) Spend time with those who have no business cares – kids. Enjoy time with your own children, nieces/nephews, grandchildren or the children of your friends.

B) Get together with one friend on a regular basis (every Shabbat or every other Shabbat) and talk about something you find spiritually uplifting.

C) Choose a special book to read or study on Shabbat that has nothing to do with your weekday life.

D) Play a game with friends, but keep it light and keep out the competitive edge. Play for the sake of playing.

E) And of course, one can always enjoy a Shabbat nap.

Prepare for Shabbat Across America/Canada (March 20, 2009) by finding the participating location in your community.

Overload

Donate your extra Mishloach Manot candy and baked goods to a women's shelter.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Purim! Again...

Unique to the Jewish calendar, Purim is actually observed on different days depending on location.

The majority of the Jewish people celebrate Purim on the 14th of Adar (yesterday). However, Jews living in the city of Shushan (now the city of Shush, Iran) and all cities that had walls at the time of Joshua's conquest of Canaan, celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar (today).

The delay in the Purim celebration is based on Esther 9:16-17.

And the rest of the Jews in the states [not Shushan] of the king grouped together, protecting their lives, and were relieved of their enemies...on the 13th of the month of Adar, and they rested on the 14th, making it a day of feasting and joy. But the Jews in Shushan grouped together on the 13th and 14th, and rested on the 15th, making it a day of feasting and joy.

The majority of the Jews were able to stop defending themselves on the 13th, and so rested on the 14th. In the capital city, however, where Haman’s evil plot had aroused greater hatred, the Jews were forced to defend themselves through the 14th as well, and rested on the 15th.

Mordechai and the great sages of the time felt that it was important to separate Shushan’s celebration from that of the rest of the people. Because they were still in exile, however, the sages wanted to make certain that the people remembered the holy city of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. It was therefore declared that, in addition to Shushan, any city that was surrounded by a wall at the time of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan would celebrate Purim on the 15th.

If I Forget Thee...

Take a moment to pay homage to the holy city by checking out any one of the many virtual tours available online!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Purim Drinking

"A person should drink on Purim up to the point where they cannot tell the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai' and ‘Cursed is Haman.' (Talmud Megilla 7a)

What does the Talmud mean by the phrase that one "cannot tell the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai' and ‘Cursed is Haman?'"

On a simple level, it is just a description of a level of intoxication, a point at which one has trouble making clear distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad. On a more philosophical level, when ‘Blessed is Mordechai' and ‘Cursed is Haman’ become indistinguishable, one has grasped a higher concept that even negative things that happen are good, that they come from G-d and, in the end, make us better people.

Why do we drink on Purim?

When reading the Purim story, one sees that wine plays an important role in events that unfold:

* King Achashverosh is drunk when he calls for Vashti and when he orders her banished/killed (there are differing opinions as to her fate).

* Esther invites the King and Haman to a banquet, which the Megillah refers to as a wine-banquet.

* The Megillah describes the 14th and 15h of Adar as days of "feasting and joy," inferring that the Jews celebrated with feasts of wine.

IMPORTANT NOTICE
*While drinking on Purim is a mitzvah, risking one's life is not. Whether host or guest, it is important to be responsible: 1-DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE 2-Beware of underage drinking. While Purim is a religious holiday, and underage alcohol consumption is allowed for religious occasions, adults are still responsible for minors. Please do not give young people any alcohol beyond the bare minimum of wine, if at all. Remember, our children are deeply influenced by our own behavior.

For a more information on the holiday of Purim, please visit NJOP’s Purim pages.

L'Chaim

Make a L'chaim (toast) in honor of Purim and share one interesting fact you've learned from our Purim Treats!

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Purim Story in Under 300 Words

At the end of a 180-day feast, the Persian-Medean King Achashverosh executed his wife, Vashti, for refusing to appear at his banquet. Achashverosh staged an elaborate beauty contest to find a new queen.

Esther lived with her uncle, Mordechai, in Shushan, the capital city. She was chosen for the contest because she was particularly beautiful, and was selected to be queen. Mordechai instructed her not to reveal her Jewish identity.

Achashverosh’s new Prime Minister, Haman, asked for and received permission to destroy the Jews. A royal edict was issued saying that on the 13th of Adar, the Jews in all 127 provinces were to be killed and their property kept as plunder.

Mordechai told Esther of the plot and asked her to seek mercy from the king. Esther agreed, but requested that all the Jews fast for three days and repent for their sins while praying for the heavenly decree against them to be reversed.

Esther, welcomed by Achashverosh, simply requested that Achashverosh and Haman join her for a private feast--at which she requested that the three of them return for a second feast on the next day.

After the first feast, Haman went home and built a gallows on which to hang Mordechai.

That night, reminded of how Mordechai had revealed an assassination plot, Achashverosh instructed Haman to reward Mordechai by immediately leading him through town, dressed in royal robes, on the royal steed.

At her second feast, Esther explained to the king that Haman’s evil plan for the Jews included her.

Haman and his 10 sons were hanged and Mordechai became Prime Minister.

The Jews celebrated with great feasts, and Mordechai codified all the practices of Purim for future generations: the reading of the Megillah, the festive meal, gifts of food and charity to the poor.

For a more detailed synopsis of the Book of Esther, please visit NJOP’s Purim pages.

Boo!

At tonight's Megillah reading, don't forget to drown out the name of Haman, but also remember it's a mitzvah to hear every word of the Megillah.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Sabbath of Remembering

This Shabbat is Shabbat Parashat Zachor, the Sabbath of “Remembering.”

The Torah portion that is read as the Maftir (additional) portion after the conclusion of the regular weekly Torah reading, commands that the Jewish people remember that the nation of Amalek attacked the elderly and weak of the Jewish people shortly after the Jews crossed the Red Sea (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) and that there is a mitzvah to destroy Amalek. Zachor is always read on the Shabbat before Purim.

Three days after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, the Amalekites traveled many miles in order to attack the Jewish people from behind, attacking the weak and the stragglers. The Jewish people miraculously defeated the Amalekites in a one day war. This attack underscores the evil character of the Amalekites. G-d had just performed great miracles for the Israelites and no nation dared attack them, except Amalek, who hit them from the rear.

The nation of Amalek is known for its all-consuming love of self, and reliance on violence to prove its superiority. The Midrash (Sifrei 296) tells us that the wording in Deuteronomy 25:18, "Asher kar'cha ba'derech," literally means that Amalek “happened” upon the Jews. This, the rabbis explain, is an explanation of the personality of Amalek: Amalek represents the belief in chance, of the haphazard dictates of “fate” and “destiny,” which opposes the Jewish belief in Divine providence. Amalek’s philosophy negates the concept that there is a purpose to humanity or to creation itself--again the antithesis of Jewish philosophy.

Parashat Zachor is read on the Shabbat before Purim because Haman was a direct descendant of Amalek. Like his forefathers, Haman was the archenemy of the Jews. He wanted to wipe them out. Neither begging, bribery nor debate would have changed Haman's mind, because he recognized that the Jewish nation represented a spiritual force which he abhorred.

To understand Haman's motives and the commandment of Zachor , learn the history of Amalek--a summary of which can be found at http://njop.org/html/PurimHanging.html

Alert: Monday is the Fast of Esther (Taanit Esther)
The day before Purim is a fast day observed in commemoration of the 3 days of fasting by Esther, Mordechai and the entire Jewish community before Esther approached Achashverosh.

The fast begins at the break of dawn and ends after the Megillah (Book of Esther) is read that night.

Information Please

Find out what time your local synagogue will be reading Parashat Zachor.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Four Mitzvot of Purim

Purim is celebrated on Tuesday, March 10 (beginning at sunset on March 9). Four mitzvot are associated with the holiday:

Megillah Reading - Book of Esther – The Megillah is read twice on Purim, once at night and once during the day. In order to properly fulfill the mitzvah of Megillah, it is necessary to hear every word during the reading. For this reason it is imperative that people not talk to each other during the Megillah reading.

Mishloach Manot/Shalach Manos - Sending Gifts – Every Jew is obligated to give at least one Mishloach Manot gift containing at least two different types of ready-to-eat food items.

Matanot La'evyonim - Gifts to the Poor – Giving to the poor is a mitzvah all year round. However, the mitzvah to do so on Purim is in addition to the general mitzvah of tzedakah (charity). To properly fulfill the mitzvah of Matanot La'evyonim one must give to two poor individuals. Although one may fulfill this mitzvah by giving a very minimal amount of money to each person, the sages noted that the highest form of fulfilling this mitzvah is by giving enough money for a meal, or the equivalent in food. This mitzvah may be fulfilled by donating beforehand to an organization that will distribute the money or food on Purim day.

Seudah - Festive Meal – One is obligated to partake in a festive meal on Purim day. The bare minimum to fulfill this mitzvah requires that one ritually wash (netillat yadayim), eat bread and then recite the Birkat Hamazon , the Grace after Meals.

Drinking at the Purim Meal – "A person should drink on Purim up to the point where they cannot tell the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai' and ‘Cursed is Haman.' (Talmud Megillah 7a and Shulchan Aruch --Code of Jewish Law). On Purim, one is commanded to drink wine to a point of inebriation* – generally, this is interpreted as drinking more than one usually would or enough to make one sleepy.

*While drinking on Purim is a mitzvah, risking one's life is not. Whether host or guest, it is important to be responsible:
1-Do not drink and drive.
2-
Beware of underage drinking. While Purim is a religious holiday, and underage alcohol consumption is allowed for religious occasions, adults are still responsible for minors. Please do not give young people any alcohol beyond the bare minimum of wine, if at all. Remember, our children are deeply influenced by our own behavior.

Alms On Hand

Calculate how much you plan on spending for Mishloach Manot and set aside an equal amount for Matanot L'evyonim.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Five Ways To Prepare

Remember the Sabbath Day (Zachor et yom HaShabbat - Exodus 20:8). This commandment alludes to all the positive mitzvot of Shabbat, such as reciting kiddush, eating a festive meal, etc. But “Remembering Shabbat” also refers to the constant focus of the Jewish people on Shabbat - underscored by the fact that in Hebrew the days of the week are called: The First Day of Shabbat, The Second Day of Shabbat, The Third Day of Shabbat....Shabbat. The days of the week count up to Shabbat, just as Jews spend their week looking forward to and preparing for Shabbat.

Jewish Treats therefore presents five things that you can do during the work week to prepare for Shabbat:

Monday--Dry Cleaning - Sounds mundane, but it is customary to wear nicer clothes in honor of Shabbat. Finding stains on Thursday can add unnecessary stress to the end of the week.

Tuesday--Invite Guests/Make Plans* - Whether you plan to host or to be hosted, it’s good to make arrangements early in the week.

Wednesday--Food - Shopping on Wednesday leaves ample time for special Shabbat food preparation.

Thursday--Parasha Prep - Take a few minutes to review the week’s parasha (Torah portion) so that you will have an interesting D’var Torah to share at the Shabbat table.

Friday--Table Setting - Set the table early in the day so that the aura of Shabbat is apparent to all who enter.

*Look ahead to March 20, 2009, and make plans to attend Shabbat Across America/Canada at a location near you.

Something Special

When you purchase a new article of dress clothes, set it aside and wear it for the first time in honor of Shabbat.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Until 120!

Gertrude Baines, age 114, is currently the oldest living human being. That is quite amazing, and yet, it has always been a custom of Jews to wish each other “ad meah v’esrim” - until 120.

One hundred and twenty years is considered the ideal human life-span, as stated in Genesis (6:3): “G-d said: ‘My spirit shall not abide in a human forever, since a person is also flesh; therefore a person’s days will be 120 years.’”

Adam, the first man, lived 930 years. And Methuselah, seven generations later, is renowned for his extraordinary longevity: 969 years. But by the era of the patriarchs, the normal human life-span had apparently dropped closer to a biblical life-span of 120 years. (Abraham lived 175 years, Sarah lived 127 years, Joseph lived 110 years, etc).

Only one person in the Torah lived exactly 120 years--to the day. According to the Midrash, Moses was born and died on the 7th day of Adar (which is today). Many understand the significance of his death at precisely 120 years to be a statement attesting to the fact that he had, without question, completed his life’s work.

One might ask how this could be true, since Moses did not merit to enter the “promised land.” While entering the land of Canaan was his life’s dream, it was not his life’s work. For the benefit of the Children of Israel and their future generations, it was necessary that the leadership be transferred. Moses, however, had led the Jews out of slavery, received the Torah for them at Sinai and judged and defended them throughout their journey in the wilderness. Through all this, Moses attained a height of communication with the Divine that had never been reached before, and never since. That was his life’s true work.

Return to Lender

Return any borrowed items for which you no longer have a need.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Whole Megillah

Whether it’s a long-winded tale, or a story overloaded with details--it’s called a “whole megillah!”(In “the old country” they would have said “a gantse megillah!”)

So what exactly is a “megillah”?

Technically, a megillah is a rolled scroll. Specifically, the term megillah is used to describe the five canonical works from the Ketuvim (Writings) section of the Bible that are read in the synagogue on different holidays. The five megillot are:

Shir HaShirim - The Song of Songs - written by King Solomon and read on Passover.
Ruth - The Book of Ruth - written by Samuel and read on Shavuot.
Eichah - Lamentations - written by Jeremiah and read on Tisha B'Av.
Kohelet - Ecclesiastes - also written by King Solomon and read on Sukkot.
Esther - The Book of Esther - written by Mordechai and Esther and read on Purim.

When preceded with a definite article, however, “the Megillah,” refers specifically to the Book of Esther. Megillat Esther is the only one of the five megillot which one is obligated to read/hear. In fact, on Purim, one should hear it read both at night and during the day.

As for the catchy phrase “the whole megillah”--according to WorldWideWords.org, it came into the English vernacular in a variety of forms through its use by Jewish entertainers. The specific wording of “the whole megillah,” however, had its first recorded colloquial usage on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In in 1971.

Getting Ready

Review the story of Purim by reading Megillat Esther. If you don't own a copy, order one from your local or online Jewish bookstore.