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Moshav Me'or Modiim, Israel
Rabbi Avraham Arieh and Rachel Trugman have over thirty years of experience in the field of Jewish education.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Pesach Egg Noodles!

Rebbetzin Rachel's Recipes...

Mix well:
1 egg 
1 C water 
2 T potato starch 
2 T matzo meal (or 2 T more potato starch for non-gebrochs) adjusting to have a thin batter depending on egg size. Add 1/2 t  salt 
1/4 t each black pepper & ground ginger (my little secret) to taste.  

Heat 1 T olive oil oil in frying pan, pour into batter, fry thin pancakes by pouring small amount of batter with a ladle into the hot pan and swirling the pan quickly to coat the bottom - cooking till the edges come away and slightly brown on the bottom. When you tip the pancake out of the pan onto paper towels you make this clickety clack sound which is part of our pre-Seder background percussion music. When cool enough to handle you have to taste a few just to make sure they came out all right, and with whatever is left roll up and slice for noodles. 
You can also fill the pancakes for blintzes! 

Chag Kasher V'Sameach!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rosh Chodesh

On the cusp of the moon,
a cupped hand gathers
precious drops of dew,
cascading from a waterfall of new blessings
to the sound of a secret tune.

In a time between day and night,
between ebb and flow,
a new month announces itself
and quickly takes flight.
In the beginning is enwedged the end,
where  first thoughts
are nurtured and grow.

The wise see the birth
and look in the mirror
of their deepest hopes and fears.
King David arises at midnight
and plays on his harp
the song of the soul;
a full moon of joy
and the waning tide of tears.

A new month,
another kindled flame;
one more gate
leading to the palace of the King.

Creation, Israel, and Humility

On the Torah’s first verse, Rashi makes the following comment: “Rabbi Yitzhak said: ‘The Torah should have started with ‘this month will be for you the first of the months,’ because this was the first mitzvah commanded to Israel.” In essence Rabbi Yitzchak seems to be stating that the Torah should not have begun with the creation story, but with the story of the Jewish people as they received their first mitzvah and, in so doing, “officially” became a nation. Since the purpose of the Torah is to give instruction (the word “Torah” stems from the Hebrew root meaning “to instruct”), Rabbi Yitzchak is proposing that it should have started with the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people and not the account of creation. Rashi explains that the Torah did in fact begin with the creation account in order to teach the nations of the world that God has the right to give the Land of Israel to whatever nation he wishes. The same God who created heaven and earth decided to take the Land of Israel from its former inhabitants and give it to the Jewish people in perpetuity. Thus the Torah ultimately begins with the account of creation so that no one can claim that the children of Israel stole the Land.
     Rashi’s explanation solves the apparent dichotomy between the Torah’s beginning with the universal creation story and continuing with the particular story of the Jewish people. Furthermore, in light of the Talmudic opinion that the world was not actually created until Rosh Chodesh Nisan, both the universal act of creation and the particular birth of the Jewish people occurred on the very same day. This confluence profoundly alludes to a very deep truth: Israel’s birth as a nation is intrinsically connected to the creation of the world. This understanding is explicitly voiced by the Midrash which reports that when God “thought” to create the world “the thought of Israel arose first” (Bereishit Rabbah 1:4).
    This correspondence between creation and Israel’s birth and redemption is also unveiled in other ways by the mystical tradition. Israel’s slavery in Egypt (a county whose name in Hebrew connotes a sense of narrowness or constriction) is analogous to the tzimtzum preceding creation, while the exodus corresponds to the primordial ray of light piercing the void (see “The Small Alef in Vayikra” above). Israel’s redemption begins on Rosh Chodesh Nisan and finds its ultimate expression on Shavuot with the Giving of the Torah and the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are themselves intrinsically linked to the ten utterances of creation, thus an even deeper fundamental connection between “the day of the ten crowns” – the day that God invites Moses to enter the Tabernacle and gives Israel its first mitzvah – and creation is manifest.
      The alef, written especially small in the word “vayikra” in traditional Torah scrolls, also connects creation and Israel’s birth, as mentioned in the first section of Vayikra. However, it furthermore alludes to the fact that Moses, who originally felt inadequate to fulfill the mission of redeeming Israel, was truly humble, so much so that the Torah testifies that Moses was “the most humble person on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). According to the Midrash, when God told Moses to write the word “vayikra,” Moses objected to God couching his invitation in endearing language and asked that the word be written without an alef, so that it implied that God only by happenstance invited Moses. God told him that this was impossible as the heathen prophet Balaam would later be addressed in the Torah in that manner. A compromise of sorts was reached and God allowed Moses to write the word with a small alef, to illustrate his humbleness (Tosafot Harosh).
     In some deeper sense, the small alef also alludes to God’s humility; for when God invited Moses to enter the Tabernacle, he could not because God’s glory filled the entire structure. God, as it were, humbly contracted His infinite presence – alluded to by the small alef – to allow Moses to enter. This contraction on God’s part to permit Moses to enter the Tabernacle mirrors God’s initial act of tzimtzum which created space for finite reality to come into existence. For this reason the Talmud states: “In every place you find God’s greatness there you will see His humility” (Megillah 31a).     
    The paradox of the small alef, as discussed throughout this portion, is in fact related to all of the mitzvot, each of which allows us to experience God’s infiniteness within finite time and space. It is as if every mitzvah contains a contraction of God’s infinite essence into a time and space bound action. One who performs a mitzvah with a pure heart and proper intent thus connects not only to God but to the very purpose of creation.

The Creation of the World, the Ten Crowns, and the Ten Utterances

A new perspective on the connection between the small alef of Vayikra and Rosh Chodesh Nisan, discussed in the precious section, emerges if we place it in the context of the Talmudic debate over which month the world was created in: Tishrei, the month in which Rosh Hashanah, the New Year of years falls, or Nisan, the month in which Pesach falls and which is the New Year of the months (Rosh Hashanah 11a). Both sides make numerous arguments, but the Talmud reaches no definitive conclusion. Rabbeinu Tam, a later commentator, explained the underlying unity of both opinions: the world was created in potential in Tishrei and in actuality in Nisan. This sheds a totally new light on the significance of Rosh Chodesh Nisan, as according to this explanation the erection of the Tabernacle occurred on the same day in the calendar that God created the world!
    Indeed, Rosh Chodesh Nisan’s “ten crowns,” the ten rituals first performed on the day the Tabernacle was erected, are a manifestation of the ten utterances through which God created the world. (See “The Ten Divine Utterances of Creation” above.) This correspondence is alluded to by Vayikra’s (“and He called”) being, quite literally, an utterance. Serving God gives us the strength and creative ability to renew ourselves again and again, thus connecting our service of God with the power of creation itself.
     Furthermore, building on this confluence between creation and the Tabernacle, the mystical tradition teaches that the Tabernacle’s construction and contents were intended to reflect the upper spiritual worlds. On Rosh Chodesh Nisan, God clarifies the offer He made at Mount Sinai: “And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). At Mount Sinai, the Jewish people were passive, but in the Tabernacle, they took an active role in partnering with God in the creation and maintenance of the world, and even in influencing the upper worlds. The service that God invited Moses and all Israel to partake in on the day the Tabernacle was inaugurated is reflected in the prayer we recite every morning: “In His goodness He renews daily, perpetually the work of creation.” By serving God we assist Him in this endeavor.

Rosh Chodesh Nisan and the Small Alef in Vayikra

In Hebrew, the book of Leviticus is called Vayikra, which means “and He called.” The book of Leviticus begins with the word “vayikra,” as God calls to Moses from the Tabernacle inviting him to initiate the Tabernacle service, the model or template for all future Divine service. God’s call to Moses on Rosh Chodesh Nisan (the first day of Nisan) is related to the Sage’s statement, “Who is the wise one? One who sees that which is born” (Tamid 32a). In context, the answer refers to one who comprehends the birth of the new moon, but in a broader sense, it refers to one who discerns what consequences an initial act may lead to.
     The Midrash calls Rosh Chodesh Nisan “the day of the ten crowns,” a phrase alluding to the ten rituals that were performed for the first time on this day, for it was on this day that Moses erected the Tabernacle in the desert and the cohanim began performing the Tabernacle service on Israel’s behalf (Bereishit Rabbah 3:12). Parenthetically, this service was also performed in the Temple and even became the basis for synagogue prayer after both Temples were destroyed. (For further elaboration, see “The Tabernacle, the Temple, and the Synagogue.”)    
    Rosh Chodesh Nisan is also significant for several other reasons. The first mitzvah the Jewish people received as a nation was to establish Nisan as the year’s first month and to set up the Jewish calendar according to the secrets that God taught Moses. This first mitzvah is publicly recited once a year before Rosh Chodesh Nisan as part of Parashat Hachodesh one of the four special portions read between the new moon of Adar, the last month of the year, and Pesach, which occurs in the first month of the year, in Nisan. We learned above that the ability to become masters of time, signified by being in tune with and realizing the deep secrets contained in the calendar, was a prerequisite to the redemption from Egypt. (See “Four Perspectives on Time and the Mastery of Time.”)
      Rosh Chodesh Nisan is also one of Judaism’s four New Year’s days. Kings in the biblical era would count their reigns from this day. Furthermore, according to one rabbinic tradition the world was created on this day (this will be discussed at greater length in the next section). And, finally, the cycle of the three major Pilgrimage Festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot begins in this month. Rosh Chodesh Nisan obviously manifests its importance in many different ways, and therefore we must attempt to determine how all the various aspects of this auspicious day are connected.
     A hint to this connection may be discovered in the letter alef being written especially small in the word “vayikra” in traditional Torah scrolls. The mystical tradition teaches that the 600,000 men between the ages of twenty and sixty who left Egypt represent the archetypal root soul sparks of the entire Jewish nation. As the introduction to this book discusses, these souls are further connected to the 600,000 letters of the Torah, as each Jewish soul spark has its own letter, its very own unique gate or pathway to understanding the Torah. Thus, one might suggest the following: Who is the wise one? One who sees the whole Torah shining through every portion, verse, word, and even letter in the Torah. Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the day on which Moses was called with a small alef, possesses great significance for each individual Jew in every generation, as the small alef represents the service of God to which all Jews ultimately aspire. Furthermore, the small alef, as we will see, alludes to the process of creation, its purpose, and the prospect of human beings relating to an Infinite Creator within the temporal parameters of a finite world.
    The Zohar (2:161b) teaches that “God looked into the Torah and created the world.” The Torah’s depiction of the seven days of creation not only recounts the unfolding of the Divine creative process, but also is the very blueprint that God employed before speaking the world into existence. Just as scientists designate atoms, particles, molecules, and elements as the building blocks of energy and creation, Jewish tradition relates to the Hebrew letters as prototypes of spiritual energy, the building blocks through which the world is constructed and maintained. As we learned in the portion of Bereishit (“Blessed is the One Who Spoke”), God’s speaking the world into existence teaches us the connection between Divine speech and the creative process.
     The first letter in the Torah, a beit, is written especially large in our Torah scrolls, and has the numerical value of two. This is a remez, a hint, to the dualistic nature of the world: infinite and finite, spiritual and physical, soul and body, life and death, day and night, man and woman, sun and moon, and so forth. The question naturally arises: why does the Torah begin with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, beit, and not the first letter, alef?
     The Zohar answers with the following parable or derash (Introduction to the Zohar, 23). When God decided to create the world, all the letters came to Him asking for the merit of being the first letter in the Torah. Each letter, beginning from the end of the alphabet, came before God and argued that it should be first since a certain word with positive connotations started with it. God countered these arguments one by one by explaining that certain words with negative connotations also started with these letters. God disqualified all the letters until the letter beit successfully argued that the people of the world would praise their Creator with the word baruch (blessed). Since the first letter of the alphabet, alef, had still not made its case, God now offered it a chance to argue, even though He had already accepted the beit. The alef, instead of complaining that it had not been given a proper chance, answered that since the beit was already chosen, it would forego making an argument. God replied that since the alef displayed such humbleness, it would merit becoming the first letter of “anochi,” the first word in the Ten Commandments.
      The two tablets containing the Ten Commandments were kept in the ark in the Tabernacle’s Holy of Holies, and later in the Temple’s Holy of Holies in Jerusalem. Even before Moses inaugurated the Tabernacle, God had told him that He would speak to him from between the two cherubs on top of the ark. The Holy of Holies in the Temple represents the central point, the spiritual vortex, around which the entire world revolves. Alluding to the alef’s crucial role, God calls (“vayikra”) Moses on Rosh Chodesh Nisan from this place. The alef instead of appearing at the beginning of the Torah, as the first letter of creation, adopts a central role on this day in the holiest of places.
     The alef being written especially small in the word “vayikra” also alludes to the great secret of tzimtzum revealed by the Kabbalah. When God “thought” of creating the world, an existential problem became immediately apparent. Since no reality can exist beyond (or outside) the infiniteness of God, where could a finite, “independent” world possibly find “space” to exist? The Arizal explains that God “contracted” Himself, as it were, in order to create, a “vacuum” or womb-like space in which a finite world could then be created. Into the “vacuum” God shone a ray of light and the world came into being. The letter alef, which has the numerical value of one, represents the oneness and unity of God, while the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, beit, signifies the duality of the world and God’s seeming act of contraction to make “space” for the world. (See “One Becomes Two in Order to Become One” above.)
     The act of tzimtzum, which allowed the world to come into existence, is the sod, the foundational secret, of the Temple in Jerusalem. Just as God contracted Himself in order to allow the world to come into existence, He likewise contracted His infinite presence, as it were, in order to allow the Jewish people (and the world) to perceive Him in a finite place. The small alef alludes to our ability to actually experience and comprehend this paradox.
     In a sense, we spend our lives trying to live within the paradoxical context of God both revealing and hiding Himself in the world. Jacob called the ladder – stretching from the earth to the heavens, in the very place where the Temple was eventually built – the “gate to heaven” (Genesis 28:10-17). A Jew must constantly be a ladder between eternal and temporal time, between infinite and finite space. “Who is the wise one? One who sees that which is born.” The small alef, representing the paradox of creation, beckons us to connect ourselves to the mystery of all life.