Wednesday, April 30, 2014

You Don't Say That!

The Torah (Leviticus 24:10-12) records the story of a nameless youth whose mother was an Israelite and whose father was Egyptian. The Torah later identifies the boy’s mother as Shelomith the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.

One day, the young man got into a fight with another man and blasphemed “the Name [of the Lord]” and cursed. The fateful words, once uttered, could not be withdrawn. The blasphemer was brought before Moses and his fate was communicated directly by God--death by stoning.

Living in an age when people can, and do, say whatever they wish, sometimes using the most offensive language, it is difficult to understand why, exactly, blasphemy is regarded in the Torah as a capital offense.

First, the term blasphemy should be clarified. According to Dictionary.com, the general definition of blasphemy is “an impious utterance or action concerning God or sacred things.” However, the definition of blasphemy according to Jewish law includes only the act of cursing using the unutterable name of God. (One violates other prohibitions when cursing without articulating God’s sacred name.)

One can look at the story of the blasphemer and imagine that the child of an Egyptian father would have a difficult childhood among the Israelite slaves. Egyptian father or not, the boy was part of the Children of Israel. Along with all the Jews, he was protected from the plagues, traveled safely through the Sea of Reeds, received the Torah at Sinai and survived by eating the miraculous manna in the Wilderness. All of these were Divine acts that kept him safe and sound, and yet, he dared to curse God, an act of absolute ingratitude.

Today, the chances of actually perpetrating true blasphemy are rather slim. Nevertheless, one must be constantly cautious about one’s language, especially with the proliferation of certain common, modern phrases of swearing.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

In Gratitude

When faced with a challenging situation, find a way to see the good and something for which to thank God.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Righteous Americans

Given that the Holocaust was, on the whole, a European event, it is not surprising that there are only three Americans listed as the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Memorial. It is, however, because these Americans chose to put themselves in Nazi territory or in close proximity, that their heroism deserves to be acknowledged.

Martha and Waitstill Sharp, a social worker and a Universalist minister, arrived in Europe in 1939 to help the Universalist community in Czechoslovakia. The Sharps helped anyone they could. Their efforts in Prague were cut short, however, when Waitstill was denied re-entry into the city, after leaving the city for a trip. Martha remained for one more week before fleeing. That same week, the Gestapo sought to arrest her.  Thankfully, the Sharps were already on their way back to the United States.

Deeply affected by the injustices that they had witnessed, the Sharps decided to return to the beleaguered continent to help more people escape. Initially, they wished to work from France, but the French quickly surrendered to Hitler and the French Vichy government allied itself with the Nazis. Instead, the Sharps established themselves in Lisbon, Portugal. From there they were able to help thousands of refugees escape -- Jews, political dissidents, and others. Martha was particularly eager to help children and, in one of her better known missions, managed to gather all of the necessary documents for 29 children and 10 adults to leave Vichy, France.

The Sharps worked closely with Varian Fry, an American journalist in Marseilles and the other American honored as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. Fry is credited with the rescue of some 2,000 people. He was particularly involved in rescuing artists, writers and academics. Among those saved by Fry and the Sharps were Marc Chagall, Max Ernst and Lion Feuchtwanger. Fry was expelled from France in September 1941. He passed away in 1967.

After the war, the Sharps divorced but both remained social activists. Waitstill passed away in 1984, Martha in 1999.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

Activist

Don't hesitate to be an activist for causes that benefit humankind.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Remember

The Jewish nation has a long historical memory. Jewish history is replete with accounts of those who attacked Jews and Jewish communities, and the records of countless victims. On the other hand, the Jewish calendar also records dates commemorating the defeat of those who sought to destroy the Jewish nation. There is even a Biblical commandment to remember how the nation of Amalek tried to destroy the Jews by attacking the weak and the stragglers as they marched in the wilderness. The mitzvah is known as Zachor, which means remember.

A generation of Jews is now coming of age that is, in truth, the first generation who will need to be educated and, in effect, commanded, to remember the Holocaust. Those who survived the Nazi horrors are all too quickly becoming part of history themselves...and those who wish to distort history have gained strength as the number of eyewitnesses rapidly diminishes.

Holocaust Memorial Day, known in Hebrew as Yom Hashoah, literally “The Day of the Conflagration” is observed on the 28th* of Nisan. Today, people around the world recalled those who perished and the world that was lost. It is vitally important that time be set aside for each and every Jew (indeed, each and every person) to stop and ponder...What if I had been there? What if it had been me?

Just two weeks ago, at the Passover seder, Jews read the following statement from the Haggadah: “In every generation, they rise up against us to destroy us. But, the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands.”

Zachor, Remember! Each and every Jew must remember the uniqueness of the Jewish nation. Our remembrance of Jewish tragedies affirms our survival and victory. Hitler may have wanted to eradicate the Jews, but instead, the Jews stand tall and continue to REMEMBER.



*Although Yom Hashoah's official date is 27 Nisan, it is observed on the 28th when the 27th is a Sunday.  

This Treat was last posted on May 2, 2011.
Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

Positive Rememberance

Do something to symbolize your recognition of Yom Hashoah to help publicize the importance of remembering the horrors of the Holocaust.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Tribe of Benjamin

As ancestors of the Tribes of Israel, the lives and personalities of each of the twelve sons of Jacob significantly impacted the history and the behavior of the tribe members who descended from them.

The Midrash relates that Benjamin was one of the few completely righteous individuals to ever live. This righteousness appears to be acknowledged in the blessings that Moses bestowed upon the tribes of Israel just before they entered the Promised Land: "Of Benjamin he said, 'the beloved of God shall dwell in safety by Him, He covered him all the day and He shall dwell between his shoulders (Deuteronomy 33:12). Given this blessing, it is not at all surprising that the land settled by the tribe of Benjamin included the holy City of Jerusalem.


Despite being righteous, the blessing that Benjamin received from Jacob was "Benjamin is a wolf that ravages; in the morning he divides the spoil" (Genesis 49:27). This is understood by some as referring to Benjamin's military skill. Indeed, Benjamin is one of the five tribes praised by Deborah for joining the battle against Sisera. Perhaps their military prowess came from emulating the famed  Ehud, the second judge of the people of Israel, who used his left-handed swordsmanship to take out the Moabite king, Eglon.


In Judges 20, it is cited that among Benjamin's warriors was a special troop of 700 men trained to fight left-handed, who used slingshots with incredible accuracy. Unfortunately, this detail is noted during a tragic episode that resulted in the near-demise of the entire tribe of Benjamin. This all began when a mob of Benjaminites raped the concubine of a traveling Levite. The Levite let all the other tribes know of the treachery that had been committed. When the tribe of Benjamin refused to punish the rapists, a civil war began. At the end of the war, only 600 Benjaminites remained.*

  
Benjamin was now the smallest tribe of Israel. However, it was the tribe of King Saul, the first king of Israel, as well as his descendant Mordechai.

*This is a simplified summary of a very complicated event in Jewish history. 


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

There's A Key In My Challah

It's a fact that many people spend much time thinking and even worrying about par'nassah (livelihood).

Jewish tradition teaches that different seasons have different spiritual strengths. Certain times are regarded as propitious to pray for rain, while other times are considered appropriate to petition for forgiveness. (Of course, these things may also be prayed for at other times of the year!) So too, our spiritual leaders have noted that there are certain times on the Jewish calendar when it is propitious to focus on praying for par'nassah. One such time is the Shabbat immediately following Passover, when it is a custom in some Jewish communities to make what is known as shlissel (Yiddish for key) challah.

There are a number of reasons suggested for this custom. Due to space limitations, Jewish Treats will present only a few:

1) A "key" serves as a symbol to remind us that our prayers have the power to open the Gates of Heaven.

2) The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 2:2) states that on Passover the world is allocated its grain harvest for the coming year.


3) The Jews celebrated Passover just before entering the land of Canaan, at which point there was no more manna (the heavenly food of the wilderness). Henceforth, the Jewish nation needed to generate its own par'nassah.

There are different ways to perform this custom. Some people bake an actual key (scrubbed clean or wrapped in foil/parchment paper) into the challah, while others mold their challah into the shape of a key. One custom mentions using a key to knead the dough, and there are still other customs as well.

Whatever one’s custom, it is hoped that the symbolic message will reach its proper destination and have the desired beneficial effect on one’s livelihood.

This Treat was last posted on April 5, 2013.


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

Challah Time

Enjoy your challah on the first Shabbat after Passover.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Curse You - Not!

In a perfect world, one would never feel such intense anger at another person that one would actually wish them harm. Alas, we do not live in a perfect world.

When emotions run high, some people are able to maintain their calm, while others may take action against the perceived enemy. Somewhere in the middle of these two responses is the reaction of uttering a curse on the other party.  While “uttering a curse” sounds very much like magic and voodoo, a curse is simply the opposite of a blessing. Whereas a blessing is a prayer that good things befall others, a curse is a prayer that harm to befall them.

Curses, known in Hebrew as klalot, are mentioned several times in the Torah. God even warns the Jewish people of the curses that shall befall them if they turn from the Torah.

On a personal level, the Torah twice prohibits cursing: (1) “You shall not curse judges, and a prince of your nation you shall not curse” (Exodus 22:27) and (2) “You shall not curse a deaf person” (Leviticus 19:14).

Why specifically judges and princes? Perhaps because when a person loses a judgment in a court of law, the only outlet for the personal disappointment and anger is to blame the judge or, in certain cases, the local ruler.

Why specifically a deaf person? Cursing a deaf person appears to be a safe, seemingly harmless, way of blowing off steam. However, words have power, whether they are heard or not. In truth, most people curse others under their breath or well out of hearing range. Thus, we are taught that proximity, or the ability for the curse to be heard, really has nothing to do with the negative energy released by the prayer that has already been uttered.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

Positive Energy

Try to think kindly of other people, even when they upset you.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What Not To Buy

The joyous holiday of Passover is now over. While one’s instinct might be to immediately run out to the supermarket and restock the pantry shelves with bread, snacks and all the desserts that were missed over the holiday, it is important to be aware of the issues that apply to buying and selling chametz (leaven products) that might have been owned by a Jew over Passover.

The Torah’s instructions for the celebration of Passover state: “Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses” (Exodus 12:19), which is understood to mean that Jewish homes must be free of all chametz prior to the holiday. This can be achieved by either eating the chametz, destroying it, throwing it out or selling the chametz to a non-Jew. The sale of chametz is a specific process that is generally handled by a rabbi well-versed in these specific laws. After the holiday, the buyer sells the chametz back. The sale is completely legitimate and the non-Jew may, theoretically, take ownership of the purchased chametz on Passover or after the holiday by  paying the full value of the chametz (although this has rarely, if ever, occurs). The sale of chametz can be done for both individuals and businesses.

Since chametz owned by a Jew during Passover is prohibited by the Torah, buying chametz products after Passover becomes an issue. Small, Jewish-owned stores that cater to the Jewish community generally take care to properly sell their chametz. Large supermarkets, however, are often owned by larger corporations or conglomerates. If the ownership is at least 51% non-Jewish, there is no problem purchasing chametz immediately after Passover. However, if the majority ownership is Jewish, one is advised to wait for the average length of time it takes for the product inventory to turn-over (times may vary by product) and be restocked. Local rabbis can generally provide the necessary information for their communities.

This Treat was last posted on April 3, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

Cautious Shopping

Be careful in choosing the foods you purchase immediately after Passover.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Mimouna

Jews rejoice on Passover to celebrate their redemption from slavery in Egypt. Because of Passover’s connection to redemption, there is much hope that the final redemption will soon be at hand (thus the inclusion of Elijah’s cup at the Seder). At the end of the week-long holiday, on the day after Passover, in order to prolong the rejoicing and, many say, as a means of asserting their faith in the final redemption, Jews of North African origin celebrate a unique holiday known as “Mimouna.”

While some have suggested that the name Mimouna derives from ma’amoun, the Arabic word for wealth and good fortune, others connect it to the Hebrew word emunah, faith. Taking the latter opinion one step further, the name may be an Arabic adaptation of the phrase, “Ani Ma’amin” (I believe).

Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, Rambam, 1135-1204) set forth the Thirteen Principles of Faith, each of which begins with the phrase “Ani Ma’amin.” The twelfth statement of faith is: “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and even though he may tarry, nonetheless, I wait every day for his coming.” The connection between the Thirteen Maimonidean Principles of Faith and Mimouna is further confirmed since Mimouna is celebrated on the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Maimon ben Joseph, the Rambam’s father (a great scholar in his own right).

The Mimouna holiday, which is most often associated with Moroccan Jews but is customary among many North African communities, has no specific halachot (laws). The customs, however, reflect the community’s exuberant, joyful nature. Tables are decorated, often with symbols of luck and fertility (golden rings hidden in bowls of flour, items set out in sets of five, and sometimes live fish in bowls). Sweet delicacies (made of chametz) are served, particularly mofletta, a special pancake served with honey.


This Treat was last posted on April 27, 2011.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

Seven Days to the Sea

The Passover celebration lasts seven days (eight days, outside of Israel. For more information as to why, please click here). The first day (and second, outside of Israel) is a Yom Tov, festival day, on which the seder is celebrated. However, the Torah also explicitly commands “and in the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation to you” (Exodus 12:16).

The Seventh Day of Passover (and eighth, outside of Israel) is the only Jewish festival that is distinctly not distinct. This is most noticeable by the fact that on every other Yom Tov (festival day), the special Sheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing, which praises God for keeping us alive and allowing us to celebrate the holiday again this year, is recited either when one lights candles or following the recitation of kiddush (the blessing of sanctification over wine/grape juice).

The simplest explanation that Sheh'heh'cheh'yanu is not recited on the Seventh Day is that the offerings of the day were no different than those on the interim days of Passover. However, it should also be noted that the Seventh Day marks the anniversary of the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, an event that was already praised during the seder. After Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, he followed God’s directions “that they turn and encamp before Pi-Ha'chirot, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-Zephon: you shall encamp before the sea” (Exodus 14:2). By the time they encamped before the sea, Pharoah had changed his mind about freeing the Israelite slaves and led his army after them. At the moment of greatest peril, Moses stretched his staff over the waters, and God sent a strong east wind to split the sea, enabling the Israelites to cross on dry land. When the Egyptians tried to follow them, the watery walls crashed down upon them and the entire Egyptian army drowned. Since the entire holiday is a celebration of redemption, the story is not retold again in any grand ceremony on the Seventh Day. But, because of its importance, God gave His people the gift of an extra day of Yom Tov and elevated the day in commemoration of that glorious event. The additional festival day acknowledges that seven days after they left Egypt, the Israelites were once again miraculously redeemed and that the entire Passover holiday is a time of redemption.


This Treat was last posted on March 31, 2013.


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

Matzah Makin'

Be creative with your remaining matzah during the last two days of the Passover holiday. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Song of Songs

"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your love is better than wine. Because of the fragrance of your goodly oils, your name is ‘oil poured forth.’ Therefore, the maidens loved you. Draw me, we will run after you...” (Song of Songs 1:2-4).

And people say the Bible is boring...

Shir Ha'shirim, The Song Of Songs, the Biblical love song attributed to King Solomon, is understood by the rabbis to be a prophetic allegory about the relationship of God and the Jewish people.

The poetic work describes a beautiful maiden who loves, and is loved by, a handsome youth. When he pursues her, however, she sends him away with various excuses, only to realize too late that he was her true love. Devastated at the thought that she has alienated and probably lost him, she wanders through the city streets looking for her lost lover and, in the process, suffers shame and embarrassment. Finally, the lovers are reunited and are joined by their sincere love.

Shir Ha'shirim is one of the five megillot (scrolls of canonical works) from the Ketuvim (Writings) section of the Bible. On the Shabbat of Chol Ha'moed* Passover, it is customary for Shir Ha'shirim to be read in the synagogue.

Shir Ha'shirim was chosen as the Passover reading because the story of the Exodus demonstrates God’s patience with His beloved--the Jewish people, as represented by the maiden. Despite having witnessed the many miracles that God performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, the Jews strayed from their commitment to God. Eventually, God withdrew His favor from the Jews (Hester Panim), and they have since wandered the world trying to make amends for the damage caused to the relationship. The reunion of the lovers is a prophecy for the Messianic era, yet to be fulfilled.

*Passover is an 8 day holiday. The first two days and last two days are Yamim Tovim - days that are observed like Sabbath (except that one may cook on an existing flame, and carry in public areas). In Israel, Passover is only 7 days, and only the 1st and 7th day are Yamim Tovim. The in-between days are known as Chol Ha'moed - weekdays of the festival. If there is no Shabbat Chol Ha'moed, Shir Ha'shirim is read on the 7th day of Passover.

This Treat was last posted on March 29, 2013.

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 it 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 was previously published on September 22, 2013.

Good Everything

This Shabbat, wish others a "Shabbat Shalom and Mo'adim l'simcha."

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chag Ha'matzot

The name of the holiday “Passover,” is an allusion to God’s passing over the Israelite households during the plague of the firstborn, a critical element in the events of the Exodus. The name "Passover," however, may be derived from an English convolution of the Hebrew word Pesach, the Torah’s term for the Pascal lamb sacrificed on the holiday.

The Torah refers to Chag Ha’pesach, the Holiday of the Pascal Lamb, only as the actual seder feast. In almost all other cases,* the Torah refers to this springtime holiday as Chag Ha’matzot, the Holiday of the Unleavened Bread: "The feast of unleavened bread shall you keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread" (Exodus 34:18).

In honor of Chag Ha’matzot, Jewish Treats presents a little bit of information on matzah:

To guarantee that matzah is Kosher for Passover, no more than 18 minutes may pass from he moment the water and flour come in contact with each other, until it is removed, fully baked, from the oven. The entire working area (and the workers’ hands) is scrubbed between each 18 minute process.

Special Matzot
Many Jews will only eat shmura matzah (especially during the Seder). Literally "guarded matzah," shmura matzah has been carefully supervised from the time the wheat was cut until it was baked so that it remained perfectly dry until being deliberately mixed with water (lest it become chametz). This practice is based on the verse in Exodus 12:17, "And you shall guard the matzot..."

Egg matzah is "enriched matzah." Since it is more extravagant, it fails to fulfill the requirement of "lechem oh’nee," bread of affliction (poverty). According to Jewish law, egg matzah may only be eaten on Passover by someone who is physically infirm, very young or very old, and has difficulty digesting regular matzah.

Depending on how they are prepared, flavored matzot (such as garlic and onion or grape) may or may not be Kosher for Passover. Please check the box for proper Kosher for Passover supervision.

*It is also referred to as Chag Ha’aviv, the Holiday of the Spring.


This Treat was last posted on March 28, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

Singing Praises

“...The prophets of the Jewish people ordained that the Hallel be recited on special occasions and celebrations [like Yom Tov], and at times of national deliverance from peril, in gratitude for their redemption” (Pesachim 117a).

The prayer of Hallel, which is recited before the Torah reading on the holidays of Sukkot, Chanukah, Passover and Shavuot,* is actually the recitation of Psalms 113-118. According to tradition, the Book of Psalms, which contains 150 poetic expressions of devotion to God, were mostly authored by King David. The six Psalms of Hallel were selected for holidays and days of redemption because, as it says in Pesachim 118a, they contain fundamental Jewish beliefs: the Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Torah, the resurrection of the dead and the coming of the Messiah.

While the Book of Psalms is attributed to King David, who was a known scholar, pietist and musician, it is understood that a handful of the psalms are actually much older. These psalms had been passed down through the generations until David included them, along with his own writings, in The Book of Psalms. An excellent example of these psalms that pre-dated King David are those psalms that open with a dedication (authorial note) of the sons of Korach.

Similarly, it was argued by the sages that Psalms 113-118 were actually written by Moses. Rabbi Jose said, “My son Elazar is of the opinion that Moses and Israel said it [Hallel] when they came out of the Red Sea, but his colleagues disagree with him. They contend that David composed Hallel. But I prefer my son's opinion to that of his colleagues: Is it possible that the Jewish people slaughtered their Passover sacrifices and took their lulav bundles without singing a hymn to God?” (Pesachim 117a).

*During Chol Hamoed Passover and on the last days of Passover (as well as on Rosh Chodesh - the new month) an abridged form of Hallel, known as Half-Hallel, is recited.

This Treat was last posted on September 17, 2013.

Eat It On Matzah

Don't forget to pack your sandwiches using matzah this week.

Monday, April 14, 2014

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, 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 or celery), which is sometimes placed on the Seder Plate to remind us of the bitter lives of the Israelites as slaves.

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 was last posted on March 24, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 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 Tuesday night, April 15.


This Treat was last posted on March 25, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

Enjoy It

Enjoy your Passover Seder.
 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Fast of the Firstborns

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 and the most responsibility.

For all those reasons (and more, we're sure), the final plague, the Death of the Firstborns, was the most devastating (even though people had died in, or as a result of, the other plagues). The Death of the Firstborns was also the only 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 Firstborns, 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 Firstborns 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 last posted on March 24, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 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 was last posted on March 25, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

If You Are Firstborn

Find out if there is a siyyum occurring in your community.

Friday, April 11, 2014

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 © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

The Afikomen

Those who have attended a Passover Seder know that one of the most beloved Seder traditions is the hiding* of the afikomen, a specially designated half-piece of matzah. But what exactly is the afikomen?

The word afikomen is of Greek origin and, while its exact translation has been lost, seems to refer to after-dinner deserts, drinks and entertainment. In reference to Passover, the Mishnah states (Pesachim 119b-120a) that “One may not conclude the Paschal meal [by saying] ‘Now to the entertainment’...it was taught as Rabbi Johanan, ‘You must not conclude after the Paschal meal with dates, parched ears and nuts [desserts].”’ (Don’t eat anything more...)

Initially, the halacha was that the eating of the Paschal lamb marked the conclusion of the seder feast. After the destruction of the Temple (since the Paschal lamb can no longer be brought), the sages ordained that matzah must be the last taste one has at the seder. Since this matzah was eaten in lieu of the afikomen (meaning dessert, drinks and entertainment) it assumed the name “afikomen.”

While the afikomen is involved in several steps of the seder (Yachatz - when the middle matzah is broken in half and the larger piece is set aside for the afikomen, and Tzaphun, when the afikomen is eaten), it is only vaguely mentioned in the Haggadah.

There are many differences in customs involving the afikomen, depending on one’s background. Ashkenazim hide the afikomen (and find it) as a means of keeping the children interested. Iraqi Jews conduct a dialogue while holding it. (“Where are you from?” “Egypt.” “Where are you going?” “Jerusalem.”) Many North African Jews wrap the afikomen in white and carry it around the room on their shoulders.

*an Ashkenazi tradition


This Treat was last posted on April 12, 2011.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Let It Burn

As Passover Eve approaches, Jews around the world work hard to make certain that no chametz remains in their possession. The food in the cupboards is consumed, the house is cleaned from top to bottom and, on the night before the seder, the house is carefully searched. The sages, however, decreed that this was not enough: “Rabbi Judah said: There is no removal of chametz except by burning” (Talmud Pesachim 21a).

On the morning before the seder, one may eat chametz until the fourth hour of the day*. Before the sixth hour of the day, however, any chametz that remains in one’s possession (for which a sale of chametz to a non-Jew has not been arranged), including the customary ten pieces of chametz that are purposely hidden, to be found during the formal search the evening before, are burned to the point where it is inedible even to an animal. In many cities with significant Jewish communities, official sites (at times, supervised by local firefighters) are organized.

If one is in a situation in which one cannot burn the chametz (for instance, in a dorm), it is acceptable for the chametz to be destroyed in a different manner. The sages also mention crumbling it and throwing it to the wind or casting it into the sea. A more modern solution is to make it inedible by spraying it with a household chemical such as bleach, or flushing it down the toilet.

Following the destruction of the chametz, a second nullification of ownership is recited. (The first one is recited on the previous evening immediately following the search for chametz): “Any chametz or leaven that is in my possession, whether I have recognized it or not, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have removed it or not, should be annulled and become ownerless like dust of the earth.”

*This time is calculated using “Jewish” time, hence the exact times vary by location, so please check with your local synagogue or rabbi.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

Searching for Chametz

On Passover, Jews are commanded to get rid of all "chametz" (leaven) which may be in their possession. Weeks are spent cleaning and scrubbing. 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. The search is conducted by the light of a candle, in order to enable a thorough inspection of all the nooks and crannies (if the candle might cause danger, for instance when searching near draperies, 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) 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 applicable), 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 was last posted on March 21, 2013.


Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

A Place To Burn

If you live in or near a large Jewish community, find out if there is a communal location for burning chametz. If you do not live in or near a large Jewish community, think ahead for a safe way to burn your chametz.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How Pharoah Enslaved the Israelites

While reading the Book of Exodus, one might wonder at the swift descent of the Jewish nation from being the privileged family of the Viceroy, Joseph, to becoming downtrodden and abused slaves. Xenophobia, the fear of foreigners, is a common historical phenomenon. But, one would think that transforming a nation into slaves would take generations or result in rebellion.

The sages, however, explain in the Midrash that the Egyptians were cunning and enslaved the Jews through artifice. This is understood from Pharaoh, whose name can be broken up to mean peh rah, which means evil mouth, and can be understood as well to relate to peh rach,soft mouth.

Language is a powerful tool, and even Pharaoh understood this. When he decided to enslave the Jews, he declared a national week of labor during which all good citizens of the realm were to come and help in the building of the great store cities of Pithom and Ramses, with Pharaoh himself in the lead. The Jews, wanting to show their great loyalty to their host country, joined in enthusiastically. Within a few days, however, when the Jews arrived at the building sites, the Egyptians did not join them. Shortly thereafter, the Jews found themselves surrounded by taskmasters who demanded that they perform the same amount of work that they had done on their own volition the day before. It was through soft and cunning words that Pharaoh lured the Jewish nation into slavery.

Not only is this Midrash itself interesting, but it is reflective of the importance that Jewish thought and Jewish law places on the use of words. Obviously, what Pharaoh did was wrong. In fact, Jewish law even forbids the use of words to manipulate another person into paying for lunch (let alone to enslave them).


This Treat was last posted on April 2, 2012.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

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. Twenty years later, when Jacob and his family decided to leave Padan-Aram, 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 3, 2012.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

Say It Straight

Be clear and direct in communicating your needs and expectations of others.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Drama At The Seder

While the basic text of the Haggadah and format of the seder is the same around the world, each community has its own unique customs. One such custom that is pervasive throughout the Sephardi communities is to dramatize the Exodus. Generally this takes place immediately following Yachatz, the breaking of the middle matzah, or after Ha Lachma Anya, the first paragraph of the Maggid section.

The basic script for this dramatization is as follows:

Person holding the afikomen (larger half of the broken matzah) says: "Their remaining possessions tied up in their bags on their shoulders and the children of Israel did as Moses commanded.”

Other Seder Participants: “From where are you coming?”

Afikomen holder: “From Egypt.”

Participants: “Where are you going?”

Afikomen holder: “To Jerusalem.”

Participants: “What are your supplies?”

Afikomen holder: “Matzah and Maror.”

This ceremony varies not only as to when it is said, but also who says it (sometimes only the leader, sometimes one child gets up and knocks on the door before the dialogue begins, and sometimes each participant of the Seder holds the afikomen in turn), and how the afikomen is wrapped and held (in a napkin or a bag, held on the right shoulder or thrown over the shoulder).

In the Yemenite community, there is a slightly different re-enacting of the Exodus. The seder leader rises, throws the afikomen bag over his shoulder like a knapsack and circles the table while leaning on a cane. As he walks about the room, the leader tells the other participants about his experiences and the miracles he witnessed as he came from Egypt.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

Time of Freedom?

The sages refer to the holiday of Passover as zman chay’roo’tay’noo, the time of our freedom. This may seem obvious, since Passover celebrates the redemption of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. But did you know that on several occasions the Israelites demanded to return to Egypt, back to slavery?

Indeed, when they felt trapped at the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea), the Israelites cried out that it would have been better to have stayed in Egypt. While one might justify their actions by stating that they were certain that they faced imminent death, it is important to remember that these were the very same people who had witnessed the miracles of the ten plagues.

Some commentators explain that what the people truly feared, both at the Sea of Reeds and in the Wilderness, was not death, but freedom! Suddenly they were responsible for their own decisions and their own actions.

So what is the “freedom” that we celebrate on Passover?

In Ethics of The Fathers (6:2), Rabbi Joshua ben Levi says: "... And it says (Exodus 32:16): ‘And the tablets are the work of God, and the writing is God's writing, engraved on the tablets.’ Don't read the text as 'chah’rut' (engraved) but rather as 'chay’root' (liberty)--for there is no free individual, except for one who occupies himself with the study of Torah...”

How can Torah learning be equated to freedom--after all, don’t we speak of the “yoke” of Torah and describe Torah as a “burden”?

One certainly might view the mitzvot as restrictive, unless it is understood that without structure and order in the world, without rules and boundaries, there is anarchy and chaos. Only by living by the guidelines of the universe (the Torah), which God gave the Israelites when He gave them the Torah, can one attain true freedom.


This Treat was last posted on March 28, 2013.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

Let Loose

If you host your own seder, feel free to be creative.

Monday, April 7, 2014

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, Jacob's son and the Viceroy to Pharaoh, 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 demographic 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 and then fled Egypt fearing that his action had been discovered. He took refuge in Midian with Jethro and married Jethro's daughter, Tziporah. While shepherding Jethro's sheep, Moses came upon a burning bush that was not being consumed by the fire and from which he heard God's voice instructing 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 all the Egyptian first born dead. After this tenth and final 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.


This summary includes Midrash.

This Treat was last posted on March 12, 2013. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

Cut Off

"...Be as scrupulous in performing a 'minor' mitzvah as a 'major' one, for you do not know the reward given for the respective mitzvot. Calculate the...reward of a sin against its cost" (Ethics of the Fathers 2:1). While we do not know the full reward and punishment for each mitzvah in the Torah, there are some actions that are so severe that God Himself informs us that they are punishable by the dreaded kareit.

Kareit, often defined as excision, is extremely hard to comprehend. In fact, the sages of the Talmud even debate what this punishment is. Many sages and rabbinic leaders have also noted that kareit may have a different effect on people today than it did in the days of the Holy Temple.

Kareit is often translated as being cut-off. It is believed that, in times when our connection to the spiritual realm was more tangible, kareit was actual death. (Not instant death, but rather death at a young age--under 60--accompanied by a lack of further offspring.) But, kareit is also understood as a spiritual excommunication, in which one's soul is cut off from God.

There are 36 transgressions for which one might receive kareit, but only if one is forewarned and purposefully committed the transgression and did not repent for the act. Some offenses for which one is punished by kareit are: incest, eating blood, and consulting ghosts or spirits.

Almost all of the sins for which kareit is a punishment are prohibitions. However, there are two positive commandments for which kareit is the punishment when they are not fulfilled. These are (1) to have oneself circumcised (if not done when a man was a baby) and (2) to offer the Paschal lamb (in Temple times and when one was not in a category allowing for exemption).


This Treat was last posted on March 10, 2010.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved