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February 8, 2016 / conservadox

Dvar Torah – Terumah

This week’s Torah portion is about the Mishkan (Tabernacle) that God commands Moses to build.   Arama suggests that all the details are symbolic of something else; for example, the thirteen materials in the Mishkan are symbolic of the planets and of the elements of the Earth.  Eliyahu Munk (who edited the volumes of Arama’s insights) deletes much detail about this matter.

But there is one thing Munk doesn’t delete that grabbed my attention.  Arama notes that despite the Tabernacle, God is not of course bound by place.

But he poses the question: why does the kedusah prayer then say “blessed be God mi-mekomo” (usually translated as “from God’s place”)?

Arama says that this does not mean “from God’s place” but “because [God] is the foundation of, basis of all.”  In other words, Arama makes the kedushah make more sense by retranslating “place” as “foundation”.  The prayer then might mean “Blessed be God, the foundation of all” which certainly seems to make more sense.

February 8, 2016 / conservadox

shabbos without wine

How do you make shabbos in a non-kosher house with no kosher wine/grape juice, and no kosher utensils (other than kleenex)?  I found out Friday night.

When I go to my home town, I usually spend shabbos with my brother’s family (which is roughly as observant as I am).  But I threw up in mom’s car a couple of hours before shabbos, and my brother’s family understandably did not want to be infected by whatever bug I was carrying.  So it was off to bed for shabbos.

Candle lighting wasn’t a problem: I know the drill from staying in hotel rooms.  I lit up one lamp plus a family flashlight.

Fortunately, I did have matzoh.  So shabbos dinner was matzoh, and I said kiddush over the matzoh (because when there is no wine that’s what you do on Friday night).  (Halachic details at this Aish Hatorah site)* Thankfully, I was able to keep the matzoh down, because by then the worst of the sickness had passed.

Even though I’m not picky about such things during the week, I didn’t feel comfortable using mom’s non kosher cutlery on Shabbos and didn’t want to bother mom by asking her to look for paper ones, so I turned some kleenex into a de facto plate.

Same deal for Shabbos lunch, except you do have to use a liquid other than water for kiddush (as the abovementioned Aish site notes).  So I found a tea bag and made (dreadful) tea, then more matzoh.   Ditto for the third meal and havdalah (though I used almond milk for havdalah because I was sick of tea).

So now I can eat again- plus one adventure, though I was sorry to have to miss a full day of kiddush for the first day since my dad died.  At least I made it through shloshim.


*I note that the site says one thing that, although not technically wrong, is misleading.  They use the term “challah” which in context obviously means any bread.  But a casual reader could misinterpet the term to mean that only the braided bread often used by Ashkenazi Jews is OK, since most people use the word “challah” that way in modern America.  However, any bread is OK).


January 31, 2016 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Mishpatim

“You shall not tolerate a sorceress.”  (Exodus 22:17).

Why not? Is the Torah afraid of witchcraft?

Arama has an interesting argument.  He suggests that the Torah is writing for a world in which magic and idolatry are intimately intertwined, in that both are attempts to manipulate forces of nature.

But in that case, why isn’t the prohibition of idolatry enough?  It seems like this is a kind of “fence around the law” argument- that one could lead to the other.

January 29, 2016 / conservadox

Shabbos dinner

The portion says not to worship idols of “silver and gold” (Ex. 20:20) so I am trying a mix of silver and gold foods

  • salmon skin with pumpkin
  • waffles with oreo instant pudding (not that good, wouldn’t repeat)

Also, an attempt at a cream cheese calzone- it was really supposed to be a mountain (because of Matan Torah at Mt. Sinai) but wouldn’t rise enough.

and for no reason, pizza salad (romaine lettuce, pizza sauce)

And I’m going making a small mountain out of Cool Whip.

January 25, 2016 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Yitro

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Moses’s father-in-law Jethro urges Moses to start delegating his judging authority to other Jews.  Arama poses the question: isn’t this just common sense?  And if so, why didn’t Moses figure this out on his own?

Arama explains that because God had not yet revealed God’s laws, “Moses’ personal judgment was essential in arriving at decisions… It would have been impossible for Moses to find a multitude of judges whose objectivity etc could be assumed.”  Moreover, “To win acceptance, Moses needed to explain the reasons for his decisions.”

In other words, Moses didn’t appoint judges at first because the multitude of ex-slaves weren’t really competent yet to judge each other, since they didn’t have any real guidelines.  But on the negative side, the absence of guidelines also meant Moses himself was even more worn out by resolving disputes than he would have been later, since he didn’t have the Torah to justify quick decisions.

So given these concerns, why did Moses even accept Jethro’s advice?  Arama quotes Exodus 18:19, which states “I will advise you, and may the Lord be with you. [You] represent the people before God, and you shall bring the matters to God.”  He then interprets this statement to mean that Moses “accepted the suggestion to ask God for the requisite legislation.” Thus, the actual appointment of judges must have taken place after the revelation of the Torah, because at that point the Jews had some guidelines to help them resolve disputes.


January 25, 2016 / conservadox

Nice essay on Shabbos

Explaining why even things that are not work should be forbidden on Shabbos, at the Mechon Hadar website.

January 22, 2016 / conservadox

Shabbos dinner

This week’s parsha involves manna, so I thought I’d have something vaguely manna like: the manna is supposed to be white, coriander-ish, and fried in honey (Exodus 16:31).

So I made white flour pancakes, mixed with coriander, and pan fried in date syrup.

Also some other white stuff: tofu with bbq sauce (to make it tolerable) and sauerkraut with mackerel (though actually that is more off-white) and rice pudding for dessert.


January 17, 2016 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Beshalach

This coming week’s portion involves, among other things, the miracle of manna.  God provides manna for the Jews as the wander around the Middle East for forty years.  Arama asks: why does the Torah limit the amount that a person can collect? And why every day instead of, say, a week at a time?

He responds that “God was aware of the dangers inherent in wealth… its accumulation is not an end in itself.” Excess wealth creates an incentive to amass fortunes instead of focusing on serving God.  On the other hand, God provided a double portion on the Sabbath to teach that “accumulation of worldly goods is justifed when those goods serve a worldly purpose.”

More broadly, Arama’s comment illustrates Judaism’s ambivalence about wealth: in an ideal world (such as the miracle-filled world of the Torah) we would devote little attention to material needs.  This ideal world is egalitarian; the Torah does not suggest that some would collect vastly more manna than others.  Judaism, unlike Ayn Rand, does not glorify the accumulation of wealth.

On the other hand, accumulation of wealth can be put to good use, and is thus not altogether a bad thing- especially in the flawed, post-Manna world in which we live.  (But that’s a discussion for another day…)

January 16, 2016 / conservadox

I’ve been everywhere

Went to the Shaare Torah early minyan and then to the Reform shul (Temple Sinai) so now I have been to every shul in Squirrel Hill.  Update to my shul page here.

I started my shul hunt with the predisposition that my first choices would be Poale Zedek and Shaare Torah; they still are (though I plan to go to the Partnership Minyan on the days when they meet as well).

January 15, 2016 / conservadox

shabbos dinner

I have been with relatives in my home town the past month- first due to winter break then due to shiva (since my father died the day before I was about to return to Pittsburgh).  So this will be my first shabbos dinner at home in over a month.

In this week’s Torah portion, the Jews have a lamb for the first Passover sacrifice (Exodus 12:21) and are commanded to eat matzoh on Pesach.  So I am having lamb riblets and matzoh of course.

Because the Egyptians suffered the plague of darkness (10:22) I am having black beans.

And because the Hebrews borrowed silver and good (12:35) from the Egyptians, I am having herring (silver) and potato sticks (gold) and colored marshmallows (a bit of gold).


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