Update here- T&V is in Lower East Side/Village section
This coming week’s Torah portion focuses on sacrifices, but also notes that “Every grain offering shall be seasoned with salt.” (Lev. 2:13). Scharfstein notes that when “we have a [ritual meal with bread]…we are obligated to sprinkle salt on the bread.” Speaking of which, I had a halachic question related to ritual meals.
Ideally, a Shabbat meal should have two whole loaves of bread (as opposed to sliced bread), and people should wash their hands before saying or listening to the blessing over bread. They don’t have to be huge, so rolls will suffice.
But what if you are in a place where there is sliced bread but not whole rolls? This question has come up several times for me in the past year- once at someone’s apartment, but often at Conservative shuls where the shul just decides to get two loaves but doesn’t give people time to wash before one person pronounces the blessing on everyone’s behalf.
I had assumed that since this was not the ideal, I should just do the whole bread/full loaves ritual at home after shul (which is what I did today). But I asked my (modern Orthodox) rabbi, and he said that it really isn’t necessary- that is, if you have Shabbat lunch at shul with bread, you have fulfilled your ritual obligation for that meal even if it is with sliced bread. Useful to know (at least for me!)
Is there a broader life lesson here? I suppose it is that Judaism at least occasionally follows the old saying: “Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good.”
I went to someone’s apt for shabbos dinner but ate lunch at home (really, a mini-lunch after a big kiddush).
Because this week’s portion was a repeat of last week’s my meal was pretty similar, with one exception: the portion mentions that priests should wear woolen pomegrantes (Exodus 38:24) so I had pomegranate yogurt (why not the fruit? Couldn’t find one near me, probably out of season).
Also the colors mentioned in the portion ( blue, purple, scarlet, gold )- blueberries, shallots, nectarines, sweet potato fries (with honey to have a double serving of gold!)
I had forgotten in past weeks that the portion mentions silver as well (38:28)- so I had sardines at home (and herring at the shul kiddush as well, which are actually more obviously gray since my sardines were the skinless and boneless kind)
Also, a chocolate coin I left on the heater (just to have something warm- my cholent substitute!)
This coming week’s Torah portion continues to focus on the construction of the Tabernacle, and notes that Moses “blessed the craftsmen.” (Exodus 39:43).
Scharfstein adds that according to mid-20th-c. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (often referred to as “The Rav” by modern Orthodox Jews) the Tabernacle’s work united the nation. He explains that “One person cannot acquire all the skills necessary for the gratification of all his needs; he therefore must exchange services with his neighbors. The exchange of services brings about independence and interaction, which in turn bring about the unity needed to turn individuals into a community and a nation.” The Rav views division of labor as a good thing. And indeed, the U.S. Constitution is in part based on the same idea: that rather than being a confederation of states who block interstate commerce, the U.S. should be a nation of people freely conducting interstate commerce.
Indeed, other portions of the Bible reference trade beyond the boundaries of the land of Israel. Solomon used Lebanese trees (1 Kings 5:6) to build the First Temple.
In recent years, the political Left has began to wonder if the division of labor has gone too far. Division of labor within a city is fine. But should we really be trading so much across the country or across the world? Environmentalists worry about the greenhouse gases emitted in travel, and worry about whether they should be “eating locally” or buying Chinese goods.* (Although in my experience, people who obsess over “sustainable” food or consumer goods rarely seem to have qualms about travel by air or by car). Labor union supporters and other leftists claim that globalization has reduced the American standard of living, because Americans can’t compete with cheap labor from poorer countries.**
Regardless of whether one stands on these issues, I do think it interesting that Judaism has at least something to say about the division of labor.
*Not that there aren’t plenty of other countries Americans buy stuff from, but I think there’s a fairly high level of obsession with China among my left-wing friends. I am not going to bother to psychoanalyze the roots of this attitude
**Though many of the same people who oppose buying stuff made with cheap foreign labor are just fine with importing said cheap Third World labor into the United States, both through allowing more immigration and granting amnesty for illegal immigrations already here.
Last week’s Torah portion mentions that the Tabernacle had a goats’-hair cover (Exodus 36:14) so I decided to do something with goat cheese. I decided to make goat cheese pancakes- a little bland even with tomato sauce. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it again but if I did I’d add something sugary.
The portion also mentions the Tabernacle’s gold rings (36:34) and blue, purple and scarlet wool partition (36:35). So I decided to make some blue, purple, scarlet and gold food. In particular:
I added sweet potato fries (gold, sort of) to a salad. Also
red and orange fruit (apples, oranges, peaches)
corn bread with cheese and black beans (also gold sort of, plus it was lying around in the freezer; this was prepackaged not homemade unlike the pancakes- I tepidly recommend it)
a couple of waffles (no reason, just lying around)
matjes herring (again, something red) with onions
blue and purple M&Ms
blue and pink cotton candy
This coming week’s portion begins with a reiteration of the prohibition against working on Shabbat, and adds another prohibition against lighting a fire (Exodus 35:3). Why is fire so special that it gets its own Biblical verse?
Scharfstein writes “Most of the work of humans involves the use of light or heat. It includes lighting a match, turning on an electric light, and all kinds of work in manufacturing products, driving, flying etc.” In other words, Scharfstein sees this rule as a kind of fence around the law to prevent work on Shabbat.
Do I agree? Partially. Certainly, cooking involves heat so that’s one possible melacha (forbidden labor) that the fire prohibition addresses. And today, most technology involves some kind of heat (though not always fire).
But having said that, Scharfstein’s analysis would be a lot more persuasive if the Torah had been given after the industrial revolution, when the activities he mentioned became common. But in pre-industrial societies, lots of activities forbidden on Shabbat did not involve fire in any sense: for example, carrying burdens, sewing, plowing.
In addition, its not at all clear that electricity really is fire. Even though (within Orthodoxy anyhow)* poskim universally believe turning on electrical appliances is somehow a Shabbat violation, there isn’t any consensus why: some treat it as a fire, but others treat it as completing a finished process or forbidden on other grounds.
Speaking of this prohibition, I’ve heard one interesting policy argument (obviously from a non-Orthodox perspective) for turning off lights on Shabbat: the environmentalist argument that keeping them on is wasteful. This argument may be interesting but I don’t find it persuasive at all. In my apartment, I get by on Shabbat with just one light. With that one light in my main room, I have enough to give just a tiny bit of light to my kitchen and bathroom. (Although my apartment is a studio, I did just as well with one lamp when I had a one-bedroom apartment). It therefore seems to me that if you minimize the number of lights that are on during Shabbat, you may actually save energy by not turning lights on and off. Admittedly, in a bigger house with children you may need more than one light- but you still can get by with fewer lights than you can during the week.
Having said that, many Jews do engage in practices that I think of as kind of wasteful. For example, many Jews (the more frum the more so) are so obsessed with having warm food that they keep an oven or crockpot on for all of Shabbat. I acknowledge that there is a custom of warm food for shabbos lunch- but if you want to be strict about this, you can have a token amount of warm food without turning on an extra applicance. For example you can some bread or chocolate on top of a lamp, or on top of a radiator or heater during the winter, or even in front of a window during the summer so the sun can warm it. (Melted chocolate is delicious!)
*The Conservative position is more complicated- see here for a very detailed discussion.
This coming week’s portion begins with God’s direction to Moses that whenever Moses takes a census, “each one that is counted shall donate a ransom offering … for his life, so that they will not be stricken by the plague” (Exodus 30:12).
Scharfstein states that his ransom is similar to a payment made by an accidental killer, and adds: “The solider who is ready to march into battle will ultimately kill someone. He pays the ransom before going into the front lines, because his killing is a necessary evil.” Of course this begs the question: what does the census have to do with war? Scharfstein does not bother to inform us.
Fortunately, other sources solve the problem. Yeshivat Har Etzion, in discussing one census taken by Moses, explains that this census took place right before the Jews were supposed to enter the Land of Israel, and adds:
However, entering the land entails conquering the land, and conquering the land requires an army. Consequently, the Rashbam (1:2) interprets the census as a matter of military preparation. The census fundamentally constitutes a draft and an organization of the able bodied for war. According to the Rashbam, the term, “kol yotzei tzava,” used repeatedly by the Torah to define the criteria of the census, should be understood in its modern usage, as those who “go out to war,” or more colloquially as those capable of bearing arms. This interpretation may be supported by a brief look at the story found in II Shemuel of the census conducted by King David. King David demands of Yoav, his commanding general, and the other “sarei ha-chayil,” officers of the army, that they conduct a census of the people (24:2-4). Apparently, a census constitutes a military matter, conducted by military leaders for military purposes. In this light, we no longer need to wonder about the need for the desert census and the numbers problem raised earlier. The census is not really about the numbers. The numbers are already more or less known. Rather it is about organizing for war, part of the normal way of preparing for battle and a necessary part of the process of preparing for entering the land.
Scharfstein inexplicably assumes that we know all this- but once we know what’s going on, we should see his point. If the Census is preparation for war, and troops need a “ransom” before going to war, it appears that war really is something of a necessary evil, something to be expiated with a sacrifice.
By an odd coincidence, today I saw a talk on religious Zionism and its changing relationship to war. The early religious Zionists thought that war would not be necessary for Jews to enter Israel, and thus argued that the Jews were in a time where militarism was no longer necessary. After the state of Israel was formed and had to go through numerous wars, the religious Zionists became great hawks. The Torah’s perspective seems to be somewhere between the two, combining a willingness to go to war (even aggressive war) with a realization that there is something inherently unholy about it.
This week’s Torah portion mentions that the high priest shall wear robes with pomegranates (Exodus 27:33) so I decided to have a salad with pomegranate seeds (as well as the usual lettuce and tomatoes). (Also pomegranate lemonade!)
It also mentions an ordination sacrifice of a “young bull” and “two perfect rams” (29:1) so I am having beef sausage from Pitopia and lamb. I made the lamb in a kind of stew with diced tomatoes and black beans.
Because the sacrifice includes matzoh and olive oil I used matzoh instead of challah.
Also, the high priest’s robes shall be “of gold thread and blue, purple and scarlet wool.” (Exodus 27:15). So I will have blueberries with honey (blue and gold), and guava (sort of scarlet) for dessert-
also a guava juice pancake I made with flour and juice from the guava can. (I got canned sweeted guava so I’ll have both the juice and the guava). (The wine takes care of the purple).
Finally I had avocado sushi just because it was on sale.
In this coming week’s Torah portion, Moses instructs the Jews about the proper clothing for the High Priest. Scharfstein notes that because the High Priest is a representative of God, “his regalia must reflect his position of honor and dignity.”
Somehow, many Americans have lost the connection between clothing and dignity- I can’t quite figure out why. I can’t tie it to some general erosion of morality, since crime has been going down for twenty years.
But I do my best to reverse the trend- I always wear a tie (and usually a suit) to class when I teach.
I just saw a cute parody of “sixteen going on seventeen” and I thought I would adapt it to my dating in NYC:
Listen, young lady you are that age
When all your friends have children
You’ll be the only one
Who’s be barren
Till in the next world you turn one million
You are 38 going on 39
Baby its time to think
Better be aware, be fearful and careful
Baby you’re on the brink
You are 38 going on 39
Soon you won’t have a chance
Prettier girls all over the world
Die barren even if they have romance
Totally alone are you
In a world short of Jewish men
Lonely and sad and scared are you
This chance won’t come again
You need someone older and wiser
Who might be interested in you
I am 50 going on 51
But I’ll go out again with you
(not, of course, that I would actually say this to anyone!)