Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Hail to the Chief

“A blessing for the czar? Of course. May God bless and keep the czar... far away from us.” So jokes the rabbi of Anatevka during the opening number of Fiddler on the Roof. This was a real feeling among Jews, for many of their rulers were cruel to them.

And yet, there is an interesting law stated in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) requiring that a special blessing be said upon seeing a gentile king: Blessed are You, Lord, our God, Who has given from His glory to flesh and blood [man]. (Baruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai, Elo-heinu melech ha'olam, sheh’natan mee'kvodo l'vasar vah'dam.)

Not only is one supposed to recite this blessing, but a person is supposed to go to great lengths to be able to do so, even traveling long distances to see a gentile king.

Western democratic society in the 21st century is, for the most part, far-removed from the concept of royalty. Those countries that still do have a royal family view them more often as celebrities or figureheads rather than as leaders. Relating to the concept of a powerful monarch is therefore difficult, particularly for Americans who have never had a king or queen.

In fact, America’s lack of a monarchy makes the idea of running to see a king even more important. We are all subject to the ultimate King: God. Upon seeing a mortal king or queen, we can, perhaps, enhance our personal appreciation of God, the King of kings. And that is why the blessing states that God gave of His glory to flesh and blood. God allows these select men and women to radiate the glory of royalty so that everyone might better understand God’s own Divinity.

On April 30, 1789, George Washington took the presidential oath on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City, officially becoming the first president of the United States. 

This Treat was last posted on January 20, 2009.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Reverence for Democratically Elected Leaders

While democracies loathe kings with unlimited power and authority, democratically-elected officials must still be honored and respected for their exalted position.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Manna from Military Aircraft?

Is there a connection between “Manna,” the food from heaven that sustained the Children of Israel in the Sinai wilderness, and a World War II humanitarian military operation?

On the verge of an allied victory in the European theater of World War II, air squadrons, representing the air forces of Great Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Poland, carried out humanitarian food drops to the starving citizens of German-occupied Holland.

Dubbed “Operation Manna,” the food drops began on April 29, 1945 by Royal Air Force planes, prior to the declaration of any ceasefire. The cargo was dropped from altitudes of 120-150 meters, as parachutes were not deployed for this mission. Since the allied pilots could see the German anti-aircraft guns following their trajectories, the allied planes flew at “roof level,” which was less vulnerable. A few days later, the Americans joined the operation, dubbed “Chowhound.” Operation Manna continued until May 7th, while Chowhound continued one more day. Operation Manna delivered 6,680 tons of food to the 3 million Dutch citizens under German occupation.

The timing of Operation Manna is interesting, since, according to Jewish tradition, it was, at this time of year that the manna ceased to fall for the ancient Israelites.

The book of Joshua (chapter 5) claims that prior to entering the land of Canaan, Joshua circumcised all of the Hebrew males. The Children of Israel encamped in the plains of Jericho in a place named Gilgal (Hebrew for cycle or roll), named because God “rolled away” the shame of Egypt from them. The Jews celebrated the paschal offering there, at its appointed time (14th of Nisan), and offered the omer offering at its proper time, two days later. Scripture then reports (Joshua 5:12): “And the manna ceased on the next day after they had eaten of the old grain of the land; nor had the people of Israel manna anymore; but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.

Rashi, however, claims that the manna ceased falling upon the death of Moses, 5 weeks earlier on the 7th of Adar. Miraculously, the Children of Israel were able to eat manna that remained in their vessels until the 17th of Nisan, when all the reserve manna was entirely consumed.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Help the Hungry

Providing food for those who do not have, is the greatest of human endeavors. If you are not in a position to provide food directly, you may support the many worthy organizations that feed the hungry.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

What is Isru Chag?

The day after vacation is often a time of distraction and disorientation. The same is true of the day following a religious holiday, especially after one of the week-long holidays (Passover and Sukkot) during which one focuses for an entire week on spiritual, rather than mundane, matters. 

In recognition of the challenge of transitioning from a religious festival to everyday life, a semi-holiday known as Isru Chag follows each of the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.) Translated literally as "bind the festival," the term Isru Chag comes from Psalms 118:27, which reads "Bind the festival offering with boughs to the corners of the altar." From this verse, the sages determined that, "Whoever makes an addition to the festival by eating and drinking is regarded by scripture as though he had built an altar and offered a sacrifice" (Talmud Sukkah 45b).

In truth, the celebration of Isru Chag has little effect on the day-to-day conduct of most people...unless one is a parent of a child in a religious school (which may be closed for Isru Chag). Isru Chag also affects some aspects of the daily prayer service, in that tachanun (a supplicatory prayer) as well as memorial prayers are omitted, and private fasts are generally not permitted. (Example of a private fast: an Ashkenazi couple who is to wed on Isru Chag will not observe the custom of fasting before the chuppah). 

The idea of Isru Chag is that one draws some of the holiness of the festival celebration into the less spiritually elevated reality of everyday life. Since feasting is one of the ways in which Jews celebrate festivals, it became customary to eat and drink a little something extra on Isru Chag to continue the feeling of celebration.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Isru Chag Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.


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,  which are poetically recited with the opening 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 is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Internalize Passover’s Message of Faith in God

With Pesach behind us, do not forget to assess what you gained spiritually from the holiday, most notably an appreciation for God’s providence in our own lives and in the lives of our ancestors.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

What Not To Buy

The joyous holiday of Passover will soon be ending. 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 rarely, if ever, occurs). The sale of chametz can be done for both individuals and businesses.

Since benefit from chametz owned by a Jew during Passover is forbidden, 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 is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Seven Days to the Sea

The Passover celebration lasts seven days (eight days, outside of Israel). 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 of Passover 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, Pharaoh 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 is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prepare for the Final Celebratory Days of Passover

The Seventh day of Pesach recalls the splitting of the Red Sea. Attend synagogue services where the Torah reading describes this miraculous event.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

How Pharaoh 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 14, 2016.

Copyright © 2019 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” (Talmud 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 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 April 8, 2015.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make Sure to Recite Hallel on Pesach

The joyous Hallel service, helps set the mood for the celebratory Festival of Freedom.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Kitniyot and Gebruchts

Are you Ashkenazi or Sephardi? Hungarian, Yekke (German), Litvak (Lithuanian)?

At no other time on the Jewish calendar is it so important to know your ancestry as it is on Passover. What one does or does not eat on Passover (beyond obvious chametz) is strongly dictated by ancestral customs.* Here’s how it matters:

Kitniyot (Legumes) - During the holiday of Passover, Ashkenazim follow a rabbinic decree not to eat foods containing kitniyot, such as rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds. This rule was established because these products are often stored together with chametz grains, making it difficult to ensure that there is no chametz mixed with the products. Also, when kitniyot are ground into flour, the untrained eye could mistakenly think that this is real flour, giving the impression that such flour is permitted on Passover. The decree only prohibits the eating; products containing kitniyot do not need to be sold with the chametz.

The Rabbinic injunction of not eating kitniyot was not accepted in most Sephardi communities. However, while Sephardim may eat rice, beans, etc., the food must be thoroughly checked to make certain that it is not mixed with chametz.

Gebrouchts (Wet Matzah) - Another custom followed by Ashkenazi Jews from certain regions is not eating gebrouchts. Gebrouchts, which are foods prepared with matzah or matzah meal and mixed in liquid, are avoided out of a concern that additional fermentation may occur when the matzah and liquid are combined. Those who are stringent not to eat gebrouchts will therefore not eat matzah balls, matzah brie, matzah lasagna, etc. Those who refrain from gebrouchts will eat them on the eighth day, since this is an extra day observed only outside of Israel.

This custom was broadly accepted in many Chassidic communities (Hungary, Galicia, Romania). In those communities where mitnagdim (non-Chassidic) were dominant (Lithuania, Germany), it was almost considered a mitzvah to eat gebrouchts food in order to make the point that it was permissible.

*Traditionally, one follows the customs of the paternal line. For example, if a Russian woman marries a German man, she follows his “Yekke” customs, as do the children. Those who cannot trace back their lineage to know their family customs should consult their rabbi.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Rabbi Joseph Ber Soleveitchik

Few personalities have done as much to define the Modern Orthodox Jewish community as Rabbi Joseph Ber Soleveitchik (1903-1993). Not only did “the Rav,” as he is referred to reverently by many of his students, ordain thousands of rabbis in his position as a senior Rosh Yeshiva at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) of Yeshiva University (where he was the Lieb Merkin Distinguished Professor of Talmud and Jewish Philosophy), but he was an original scholar, author, rabbinic leader, supporter of religious Zionism and advocate for a path of religious “synthesis” known as Torah U’Madda (Torah and secular knowledge).

Born in Pruzhany (then Russia), the Rav’s paternal lineage included a number of renowned rabbinic personages (Beit Halevithe Netziv, Rabbi Chaim Volozhin). As a young man, after a strong Torah education, he attended three semesters at the Free Polish University in Warsaw and then moved to Berlin where he was able to matriculate into the Friedrich Wilhelm University. He received his Ph.D. and, in 1932 (shortly after marrying Dr. Tonya Lewit), moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where he served as the city’s Chief Rabbi.

For the next decade, “the Soloveitchik of Boston,” as he referred to himself (there being many rabbinic uncles and cousins), helped build the Boston community. He established the city’s first Jewish day School (the Maimonides School), supervised kosher slaughtering, and delivered lectures on Jewish subjects. 

When the Rav’s father, Rabbi Moses Soleveitchik, passed away in 1941, the Rav assumed his position as head of the RIETS rabbinic school, where he continued teaching until illness (Parkinsons Disease and, later, Alzheimers) made it impossible for him to continue (1986).

The Rav was a genuine and unique talmid chacham (great scholar) who inspired thousands of students. Outside of his teaching, he also authored several highly influential works that presented his underlying religious philosophy. The best known of these were The Lonely Man of Faith (1965) and Halakhic Man (1983). 

The Rav passed away during the Passover holiday on April 9, 1993 (18 Nisan). 

This Treat was last posted on April 9, 2013.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Study the Works and Torah of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

In honor of the yahrzeit of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “the Rav,” study one of his many articles, books, or even listen to a recording of one of his classes.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Chol Hamoed

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Can You Count to 49?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make Sure to Count Up to Shavuot

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

Friday, April 19, 2019

Setting the Seder Table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Biur - Burning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make Your Last Chametz Meal for the Week Count!

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

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Searching for Chametz

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

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

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

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

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

The Prayers of “Bedikat Chametz

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fast of the Firstborn

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

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

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

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

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

*unless it coincides with Shabbat

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Set Your Alarm Clock and Start the eve of Pesach early

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

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Why Laban is in the Haggadah

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on April 17, 2016.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

You Are Royalty

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.  

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

New or Freshly Laundered Clothes for the Seder

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

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A Holiday for Kids

Why is this night different from all other nights?

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted regularly in honor or Passover.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

OMG! Passover is Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Pace Yourself with Passover Preparations!

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

Monday, April 15, 2019

Four Cups of Wine

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

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

The First Cup is designated for Kiddush.

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Development of the Haggadah

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prepare the Haggadah Prior to the Seder

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

Friday, April 12, 2019

“If These Walls Could Talk”

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

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

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Great Shabbat

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

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on March 22, 2013.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Watch What You Say

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

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Crown of Israel’s Jezreel Valley

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Visit Afula

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

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Spying: Take Two

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

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Adaption is a Sign of Wisdom

The wise make appropriate changes to transform failure into success.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat was originally posted on February 26, 2014. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.