Modesty

I happened to see a short segment on Asian Muslim women creating fanciful hijabs. I started to think about Jewish modesty, which requires married women to cover their hair and all females to dress modestly — skirts well below the knees and arms and shoulders covered.

Many liberal women, Jewish and non-Jewish, view this and related practices as expressions of a patriarchal culture. I’ve never seen it that way.

One of the things that is immediately apparent in reading Hebrew scripture is that the first chapters of Genesis present an ideal world, a world which doesn’t even require taking life in order to survive. All of creation is vegan. With a catastrophic human decision in that environment, death enters the world, and every creature is possible prey. The rest of the text works out a plan, with several revisions along the way, for how to live in the real world. With regard to food, the minute meat-eating enters the world, proscriptions enter along with it, showing how to navigate on some basis other than impulse and opportunism.

I’ve formulated several different opinions about modesty along my own path through Judaism, but this morning, this occurred to me: what if female dress simply recognizes a reality and mandates a way to negotiate it, through practices that protect men from their impulses and women from abuse? What if these mandates are simply a bow to evolutionary and biological realities? This view of it is consistent with my understanding of the basic orientation of Hebrew scripture.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Torah Ecology: Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

The book of Numbers continues to elude me structurally. Neither an overall structure nor micro-structures within certain passages have revealed themselves yet.

There are so many dramatic passages like the Sotah (wife accused of acting unfaithfully), Naziriteship, consecration of the Levites to the Lord instead of the first-born, the second Passover, the marching order, the unrest of the people over “flesh” to eat and the quail that rains down upon them, Miriam and Aaron’s rebellion, the report of the spies and the ascendance of Caleb and Joshua, preliminary skirmishes with the Amalekites and Canaanites, a stoning of a man who gathers sticks on the Sabbath, the rebellion of Korach, the story of Zimri and Cozbi, the Midianitish woman, the daughters of Zelophehad. Threaded through it all are the murmurings, the plagues and judgments, the food theme, the numberings and namings and allocations. The structural mechanisms that support the texts of Leviticus and Genesis don’t seem to be present in this book, though.

Perhaps Numbers is more of a flow, a fitful movement forward, directed to forging the Children of Israel into a mission-focused marching force. One of the strongest clues to this overall direction is the phrase in Num. 15:39, when G-d commands fringes on the corners of Israelite garments so “you do not go about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you used to go astray.”

Numbers, then, is a book about forging a people with a mission, a single-minded purpose, to remember and do all the Lord’s commandments and be holy to their G-d (Num. 15:40).  The Children of Israel must develop the strength and sense of mission they will require to enter the Land of Israel. The time of wandering is coming to an end. Restiveness and distraction are luxuries they cannot afford.

Perhaps this urgency explains in part the horrific story of Numbers 25, when the people “go astray” after the daughters of Moab and then are further lured into worshiping their gods. G-d instructs Moses to hang the chiefs of the people up in the face of the sun, and Moses instructs his flock to kill those around them who went astray. Can we imagine the scene?

And then “one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting” (Num. 25:6). What could possibly have inspired this action in the context of what was already occurring? Certainly it was not a casual act but rather an action springing from rage or despair.

The action stirs Phinehas to grab a spear and go “after the man of Israel into the chamber” where he “thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly” (Num. 25:8). Even more startling, Phinehas’ rage and the action that results from it are rewarded as G-d recognizes him for saving his people.

Following a communal purging, a command to smite the Midianites with whom the Israelites recently fraternized, a recount of the people, the episode with the daughters of Zelophehad which asserts the importance and birthright of every part of the remaining community, and the appointment of Joshua, when all is in place for the next step — there is a section on sacrifice, described like this: “My food which is presented unto Me for offerings made by fire, of a sweet savour unto Me, shall ye observe to offer unto Me in its due season.” This thematic element is important, and I am noting it here to follow-up with on another occasion. The Midianites “called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods; and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods” (Num. 25:2). Phinehas acts so that G-d does not consume the Israelites. The imagery of food and eating is central to the meaning, but this requires a separate analysis.

It is difficult for us to connect with the violence, even intra-communal violence of this text. Imagine living with a close-knit community of people for forty years, sharing the joys and tragedies of life with them, births, deaths, hardships and celebrations. You are at a resting place prior to entering the promised land and face formidable obstacles, possibly death, before you will rest again.

Your young people in particular want moments of enjoyment and relaxation before embarking on this final thrust into an unknown future. They party. They enjoy sexual liaisons. They share food. They relieve themselves of the burden of a mission and let their minds wander. Ultimately they lose any sense of purpose and mission. Suddenly the community is in the vortex of a bloodbath, one act of rage or despair stimulating another act of rage followed by a community turned on itself to eradicate the purposeless activity that threatens to destroy it.

I imagine an intense mix of emotions in this situation, but most of all I imagine being shocked into the strong sense of purpose and mission that the coming days will require. And immediately G-d commands another census, numbering all those of the Children of Israel twenty and older “able to go forth to war” (Num. 26:2). Those in the count are the most mission-focused of their people, the strongest and least susceptible to distraction. They are a chastened and hardened fighting force gathering in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho at the edge of the Land.

While it seems tragic that Moses is denied the opportunity to enter the Land with his people, Moses doesn’t dispute the decree but asks that the Lord appoint a man over the congregation, a man appropriate to lead the people on this segment of their mission. Joshua, a man who already demonstrated his commitment to the task before them, receives the commission.

The conscious choice theme of earlier chapters in the story of the Children of Israel has become a sharpened, mission-specific theme focused on entry to the Land. There the Children of Israel are expected to fulfill the most difficult task of all, remaining true to their covenant and establishing right relationships with their neighbors, the rest of their world and their G-d within the borders of the Land.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

My favorite time of year…no, my other favorite time of year.

Published this week in my CSA Newsletter, Bob’s Fresh and Local.

This is my favorite time of year, when all the beautiful summer veggies come from the fields into my kitchen. Oh, wait, I think I said that about early spring and the first greens. OK, ok, I just love the whole year in any year that I can have a part in bringing beautiful veggies into the world.

So let’s talk about this particular favorite time of year. Summer squash. Early cucumbers. Cabbage. Broccoli. Cauliflower. And of course that beautiful kale (hasn’t Farmer Bob’s kale been gorgeous this year?)

I saved my summer squash from last week, so with what’s coming in this week, I’ll have plenty to make a soup to share. This squash soup is a lovely recipe with a very slight sweet flavor.

SUMMER SQUASH & CORN SOUP

Ingredients
• 1 pound yellow summer squash
• 2 ears corn
• 3 large shallots (or use some of the leeks)
• 2 large garlic cloves (or use some garlic scapes)
• 1 fresh jalapeño chile
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
• 2 1/2 cups water

Instructions
1. Cut up summer squash into cubes, and cut corn kernels away from the cob. Mince the garlic and finely chop the shallots or leeks.
2. Add some extra virgin olive oil to the bottom of a soup pan.
3. Saute the garlic and shallots or leeks.
4. Add the veggies and water to just barely cover, no more than 2-1/2 cups.
5. Return to simmer, add seasonings (I usually bump them up).
6. When done, pulse soup in a blender, preserving texture.
7. Pour back into the pot, check and adjust seasoning, and hold warm.
8. At serving time, garnish with jalapeno slices and/or sour cream or yogurt. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the surface.

I originally found this recipe at loveandoliveoil.com. I’ve used it many times with groups, and it always gets great reviews! I usually at least double it and bump up the seasonings a little.

We’ll enjoy cucumbers again this week as well. Of course, anything you don’t use right away can be pickled. Last week I pickled the rainbow chard stems along with a garlic scape (if you love garlic flavor, these scapes deliver a powerful punch). Can’t wait to see how that comes out! The cucumbers this week can also be pickled — just use the recipe I provided for refrigerator pickles.

But here’s another way to try them, and it’s delicious! A Hungarian friend shared her recipe with me many years ago — would you believe more than 40? It dropped out of my recipe repertoire somehow because I’ve just been doing vegan recipes. Sadly, I will have to wait on this one until Perfect Day perfects its milk, which they promise will have all the properties of cows’ milk but without using a cow. I’ve already translated most of my former cafe recipes.

Lots of yummy salads! The Creamy Cucumber Salad is at 5:00 in the right picture.

CREAMY CUCUMBER SALAD

Ingredients
• Cucumbers, 4, washed, sliced in half lengthwise, deseeded, thinly sliced across (thin slicer blade on mandolin or processor)
• Salt, 1 TB
• Garlic, 1 fresh clove (or some garlic scape)
• Sugar, 2 TB
• Vinegar, white, 1/4 cup
• Middle Eastern Labne or Greek yogurt, 3 TB – 1/2 cup

Instructions
1. Mix the deseeded thinly sliced cucumber in a bowl with the salt and minced garlic (or garlic scape).
2. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour, overnight if you wish.
3. Remove from refrigerator and drain accumulated liquid, squeezing it from the cucumbers.
4. Return drained and squeezed cucumbers to the bowl. Mix with sugar and white vinegar.
5. Cover and refrigerate for at least another hour.
6. Remove from the refrigerator and drain accumulated liquid, again squeezing it from the cucumbers.
7. Return drained and squeezed cucumbers to the bowl, and fold in Middle Eastern Labne. Greek yogurt, preferably full fat, makes a good substitute.

Just two weeks ago, our beautiful yellow summer squash was a small yellow flower.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

It’s no use boiling your cabbage twice…Irish Proverb

So let’s just boil the cabbage once or even not at all! Oh, those beautiful cabbages, the red one, the green one. The humble cabbage turns out to be one of my favorite veggies. I make red cabbage slaw, green cabbage slaw, potato and cabbage soup with fresh dill, cabbage steaks with mustard sauce…and tonight I’m making stuffed cabbage rolls. This is an easy recipe as well as delicious. I use this filling in other stuffed veggies as well — grape leaves, summer squash, peppers. It has happened on occasion that the filling never made it into the veggies, but tonight I’m determined.

STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS

Ingredients 

  • Cabbage, one head
  • Brown Basmati rice, 3 cups cooked
  • Mushrooms, sliced and pan roasted, 1 lb.
  • Salt, 1/2 tsp.
  • Za’atar, 1-1/2 tsp. (Za’atar is a Middle Eastern mix of herbs, available in bags at Butera, Garden Fresh and online – substitute with thyme and oregano to taste)
  • Olive oil, 1/4 cup
  • Tomato juice
  • Lemons, juice of 1-2

Directions

  1. Cook 1 cup of dried brown Basmati rice (which will make 3 cups cooked)
  2. Pan roast the sliced mushrooms until the liquid cooks off.
  3. Put the rice, mushrooms, 1⁄4 cup of olive oil, seasonings and lemon juice to taste in the processor, and pulse a
    few times.
  4. The mixture should be gravelly and cohesive.

To prepare the cabbage:

  1. Bring water in a large pot to simmer.
  2. Cut the core out of the cabbage and place the whole head in the simmering pot for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Take the head of cabbage out, remove outer leaves carefully and set aside to use.
  4. Place the remaining head of cabbage back in the pot for a couple of minutes, and again take out and remove leaves. Repeat this process until you have removed all the good-sized leaves.
  5. Chop the remaining cabbage to add to the bottom of your cooking casserole.

To make up the rolls:

  1. You can shave away some of the thick rib to make the cabbage leaves easier to roll.
  2. Place 2-3 Tb of the filling across the base of each leaf, and roll from the stem end up tucking in the
    edges along the way.
  3. Place in casserole with seams down.
  4. Add tomato juice to almost cover the rolls.
  5. Squeeze lemon over the rolls
  6. Cover withfoil, and bake 350°F for 45 minutes.
  7. Garnish with a bit of parsley.

This week we’ll receive kohlrabi again. I’ve tried it now stuffed and as a low carb “potato” salad — and I’ve pickled it. I think my favorite way to eat it is just sliced and used to dip into delicious Middle Eastern spreads like hummus or Muhammara. The bok choy made its way into a delicious stir fry my son made for us — and a soup with soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles. If you make a double batch of the mushroom and rice filling, you’ll be able to stuff the summer squash with them as well. Middle Easterners use an apple corer to hollow out the middle of the squash lengthwise, which makes a very pretty dish. Save up your garlic scapes for more of that pesto recipe I gave you a couple of weeks back. Use lots of basil with it and some summer greens. Speaking of greens, we’re still enjoying our summer chard omelets, and we can’t get enough of those greens like kale and kohlrabi greens — even cabbage and sometimes bok choy — in our morning smoothies. What a wonderful way to start the day!

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Eat your pesto spread on bread or saucing up a cabbage head…

Published in Bob’s Fresh and Local CSA Newsletter, 7/5/2017

I’m excited to know that we have garlic scapes coming through again this week along with Bok Choi, kale, cabbage and Swiss chard, all favorites among my family and friends.

Garlic scapes and chard

My son makes a dynamite chard omelet for us all every Sunday as part of our traditional shared meal (and why not — he grew up on them!). Last week I made garlic scape pesto, and it was so good I’m looking forward to trying it again this week to slather on homemade bread or mix into pasta.

Bok choi I like to chop roughly, keeping the stems separate from the leaves. I stir fry the stems with loads of onions, green onions if I have them, thin-sliced regular onions otherwise. I add in the leaves for a moment and season. It’s a delicious part of lunch for me. Alternatively I add carrots Julienne to the stir fry and cook up brown Basmati rice to add to the mix with Asian seasoning. The peas coming in this week will also make a nice addition to that stir fry or to salads.

Here’s a delightful kale salad with a light, slightly sweet, slightly salty flavor. This recipe is from Israeli Chef Yotam Ottolenghi, and Palestinian Chef Sami Tamimi, co-owners of stellar restaurants in London and co-authors of some beautiful cookbooks.

Kale Salad with the spelt challot I cook at the shul on Fridays, see what I can come up with to add to Shabbat dinner or kiddush on Shabbat morning…

KALE SALAD

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch Tuscan kale, ribs removed and roughly chopped into ribbons or shreds (about 8 cups)
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely grated (about ½ cup)
  • 1 crisp apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
  • ¼ cup golden raisins
  • ¼ cup sliced raw almonds
  • 3 tablespoons pitted oil-cured olives (about 9 olives), halved
  • Black pepper to taste

Directions

Note: Instead of steps 1 and 2, especially if I am short of time, I make a dressing of the olive oil, juice of the lemon and seasonings, drizzle it over the kale and toss in.

1. In a medium bowl, combine kale and olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Using your hands, massage kale until olive oil coats the leaves and they begin to wilt, about 1 minute.

2. In a small bowl, whisk lemon juice, cumin and turmeric. If you like these seasonings, you can add more, but begin with the recommended amounts. Add mixture to kale and continue to massage the leaves until well combined.

3. Add carrot, apple, raisins, almonds, olives, and toss until just combined. Season with salt and pepper. Let the salad rest for 10 minutes, then serve.

GARLIC SCAPE PESTO

I didn’t have my good camera with me at the shul where I was cooking, and that garlic pesto on the lower right of the pictures doesn’t show up well. We used homemade pita chips to dip in it or just slathered it on the spelt challah in the next picture.

Great to spread on bread, and in thinking up a title, it occurred to me it could make a great “sauce” for cabbage steaks.

Ingredients

  • Any sweeter flavor leaves, 2 very big handfuls (I use spinach when available — this week I used kohlrabi greens
  • Basil leaves, 1 very big handful (I tried it without the basil since I shared it with someone who doesn’t like basil, and it was good, though I prefer it with basil)
  • Pine nuts, 1/3 cup
  • Garlic scapes, woody stems and all, 6
  • Salt, 1 tsp.
  • Pepper, 1/2 tsp.
  • Crushed red pepper, 1/2 tsp.
  • Lemon, juice of one small (about 1/8 cup)
  • Extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup

Instructions

  1. Cut up the scapes and process them briefly in a food processor.
  2. Add all leaves and pulse until even and granular.
  3. Add everything else and pulse, then blend, to uniform texture — but do leave texture.
  4. When plated, top Middle Eastern style with a little additional extra virgin olive oil for garnish.
A few root veggies and some kohlrabi, washed and ready to cut up for dipping in hummus and muhammara. I’ll take a platter to a July 4 party…

If you’d like more information about the CSA, please visit Bob’s Fresh and Local (produce) and All Grass Farms (livestock, chickens, milk and cheese).

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

From the farm. Love seeing all those beautiful greens coming in:

Beets and Kohlrabi and Carrots Oh My

Published in Bob’s Fresh and Local CSA Newsletter, 6/28/2017.

I hope everyone is enjoying the greens of summer as I am. I used every single leaf this week, every green turnip top, every spinach leaf. My husband, Andy, who isn’t big on eating his spinach, looks forward to the greens-packed smoothies I make him every morning. Today I used kohlrabi greens. “Greenies” are our new regular breakfast, and I’m looking forward to greens during the winter from Farmer Bob’s new greenhouse.

This week we’ll see lots of other colors in our Meal Boxes as well: bright orange carrots, purple and white kohlrabi, deep ruby beets. I sampled a beet this past week, and it was the perfect addition to a big jar of Middle Eastern style pink pickled turnips. You’ll find that recipe in last week’s newsletter. I confess it was hard to get enough turnips to fill my jar, though, because I kept nibbling those tender, crispy, spicy nuggets.

Here’s another Middle Eastern favorite, Moroccan Beet Salad. You’ll find some version of it in many Moroccan Jewish cookbooks. I used to serve this one in my cafe, and even those who inexplicably didn’t like beets were addicted to it. I love it because it doesn’t use added sugar, just lets the delightful, sweet natural flavor of the beets come through.

Our beets will be smaller than I originally used with this salad, and we’ll probably have fewer, so adjust the recipe accordingly.

MOROCCAN BEET SALAD
Ingredients

  • Beets, 6 large
  • Red onion, 1/4 large (3 oz.)
  • Lemon, 2 lemons, juiced (about 4 TB)
  • Extra virgin olive oil, 6 TB (if you must refrigerate before eating, use canola oil so it doesn’t solidify)
  • Salt, 2 tsp. (to taste)
  • Cumin, 2 tsp.
  • Szeged Hot Paprika, 1-2 tsp. (to taste)
  • Cilantro, 1/4-1/2 cup chopped

Directions

  1. Place whole, unpeeled beets in water to cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until done. Don’t over-cook, but you should be able to pierce the beets easily with a fork.
  2. Cool the beets in the cooking juices and rub off the skins.
  3. Julienne the beets.
  4. Add olive oil, lemon juice, spices.
  5. Slice onions thinly into the bowl with the beets, 1″-2″ long slices.
  6. Add chopped cilantro to the bowl.
  7. Stir all together gently, adding lemon, salt and hot paprika to taste.

Of course, these young beets at the early end of the season are so sweet and tender that you can just use them raw in salads. The same high-powered blender that makes your delicious greenie will also make an extraordinarily beautiful ruby red soup or smoothie.

Finally carrots, beautiful orange carrots. Another time, I’ll share some great carrot recipes, including Moroccan Carrot Salad. I also like to make a creamy carrot soup without an ounce of cream — it’s amazing what a blender will do!

But I’ll end as I began, with smoothies. Of course, I often use carrots in my smoothies. They actually help sweeten a smoothie in which there’s no added sugar — and straight-up carrot smoothies with some light-colored fruits to retain that bright orange color, maybe a little ginger or cinnamon, will please your kids or kid at heart, like my husband, Andy.

So get ready, get set, here comes another beautiful Meal Box from Farmer Bob thanks to some wonderful, soaking rains…at last.

If you’d like more information about the CSA, please visit Bob’s Fresh and Local (produce) and All Grass Farms (livestock, chickens, milk and cheese).

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Torah Ecology: Chukat (Num. 19:1-22:1)-Balak (Num. 22:2-25:9)

The portions during these last two weeks have been so full and rich that it’s hard to know where to start…and I confess, I’ve been short on time so haven’t been able to give them the attention they deserve.

Taken together, though, these two portions continue the story of shaping a people wandering, often aimlessly, despite the amazing opportunity and mission put before them. A people who “murmur” and complain despite their many reasons for gratitude, a people of fragile faith easily led astray despite the signs and wonders they witness.

In Chukat, we read of the Red Heifer, whose blood causes impurity and purifies. Miriam dies, the people complain they have no water. G-d instructs Moses to speak to the rock and water will come forth for the Children of Israel and the cattle. Instead Moses strikes it twice, saying with some aggravation, “Hear now, ye rebels; are we to bring you forth water out of this rock?” We can almost hear his disbelief.

Aaron is stripped of his garments, which pass on to his son, then dies and the people mourn him even as Moses learns he, too, will not enter the Land with those whom he leads: “And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron: ‘Because ye believed not in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” (Num. 20:12)

Once again we learn that those who journey through the wilderness are tragically flawed as are their leaders. These passionate people show that holiness in the world is aspirational not fully actual. One cannot live life in the real world without treading on it, one can only strive for full consciousness, mission-awareness and faith. Despite “best” efforts, failure brings consequences. Despite failures, they continue to move history forward.

The story told in Balak begins in Chukat and continues into the following portion, Balak. Balak son of Zippor, King of Moab, calls upon Balaam son of Beor to curse the Israelite “hordes”poised to enter the land of Moab. The story repeats a familiar theme: despite human desires and human failures, history moves forward according to G-d’s plan offering those whom G-d chooses the opportunity to participate consciously in moving the plan forward…or to blindly resist it.

Three times Balaam’s ass balks when he sees an angel blocking the path — an angel Balaam himself cannot see. “Even” an ass is more in tune with G-d’s intention than this prophet. Even an ass can see G-d’s messenger in the world.

Three times Balaam plans to curse the Israelites as Balak requires him to do and three times utters a blessing instead. Only with the third blessing does Balak see: “And he took up his parable, and said: The saying of Balaam the son of Beor, and the saying of the man whose eye is opened; The saying of him who heareth the words of God, who seeth the vision of the Almighty, fallen down, yet with opened eyes.” (Num. 24:15-16). What the rest of the creation knows effortlessly, human beings resist.

As it is so often, here again the message is that righteousness is about breaking down the barriers of consciousness, the self-absorption that alienates us from ourselves and the rest of creation, our purpose in life and the flow of history. Three times bested by a humble and patient talking ass who accepts his mission and immediately sees the messenger of G-d that Balaam cannot see. Three attempts, two with 7 altars and the sacrifice of 7 bullocks and 7 rams, an extravagant display…and only on the third attempt, without all the fanfare, does Balaam finally see and accept his purpose.

As history continues its drive forward, each nation in turn swallowing the one that preceded, Balak and Balaam return to their homes unceremoniously. We are left wondering if they, like the Israelites, will return to their blindness and self-absorption, leaving perception and conscious choice to other creatures less encumbered with their sense of themselves.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Torah Ecology: Korach (Num. 16:1-18:32)

The most dramatic moment in this dramatic story of rebellion and punishment comes in verse 16:27 with this poignant image: “…and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood at the door of their tents, with their wives, and their sons, and their little ones.'”

It’s those words, “and their little ones” that rivets our attention and holds it through the following verses when the ground opens her mouth and swallows them up, when Korach, his men, their households and all that pertain to them  “go down alive into the pit.” That image of the little ones standing at the door of their tents with their older brothers and parents lingers as we contemplate the earth swallowing these innocents alive.

It’s a repeat motif, pride, the “murmuring” that spreads fear among the children of Israel, the lack of trust, the failure to embrace a mission, the desperation that results from wandering aimlessly in the wilderness (“We perish, we are undone, we are all undone” – Num. 17: 27).

These are indeed children of Israel, yet they can hardly afford to be children. They are also a subsistence community, on the march through the wilderness, and the actions of some affect all, first with the earth swallowing up those who transgress ethically and everyone and everything associated with them, then with fire that engulfs the co-conspirators and their families, then with plague threatening those who lost their way and their families.

As we saw before, the natural world is permeated with the ethical consciousness that flows throughout creation. It rebels against those whose pride or fear causes them to lose their path and sense of purpose, striking first by swallowing up alive, then with fire and finally with plague. These natural disasters threaten the Israelites as much as they threatened the Egyptians in the land which the Israelites came.

But it is that image of the little ones and their brothers and mothers swallowed up along with their rebellious fathers that stays with us reminding us that in addition to nothing new, there is no such thing as innocence under the sun and that the actions of one put us all at risk.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Fridays I like to cook at the shul

Our kitchen at the shul needs a little work, but it’s big and bright and airy, and I like to cook there on Fridays, prepare a little something for our Friday evening dinners, which more and more of our little family on the prairie are coming to enjoy, and Saturday morning kiddush. During the warmer months, I include veggies from my CSA box as much as possible.

Spelt vegan challot are a standard part of what I do, a couple for Friday evening and a couple for kiddush on Saturday. This week, in addition, I made a stir fry with green onions, red onion, lots of good greens, carrots Julienne and topped with a special treat, snap peas — all from the farm.

Somehow I feel as though the path to resolving the many issues that face us in these times is through food justice in all its dimensions. That’s a thought that will need to wait for another moment for unpacking. Right now I’m just immersing myself in the pleasure of planting, nurturing, harvesting and preparing things that are good to eat.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Remembering Pauline

Today I turned off the news and social media to sit outside and watch the clouds drift overhead while I think and write. Once again, Pauline Dubkin Yearwood, עליה השלום, entered my thoughts as she has so often in recent months since she died.

Pauline was Managing Editor for the Chicago Jewish News, where I came to know her. She was also vegan and an animal rights activist long before I considered it. My journey included many detours,  and for years, I wandered back and forth between meat-eating and vegetarianism. Veganism was out of reach for me during most of the years I knew Pauline, an exotic idea somewhere on the fringes of my consciousness.

That is, until it wasn’t, and that is when I really started to appreciate Pauline, her unerring sense of ethics, big heart and impatience with fake news, foggy thinking and peripheral issues. Exploring 100% plant-based eating opened my eyes and consciousness to so much, healed so many mental and spiritual disconnects, that I marvel I didn’t see years ago what I see now. And I miss connecting with Pauline to ask her questions or benefit from her clear-eyed insights.

One day I shared with Pauline a post I had written when Cecil the Lion was killed in a sanctuary. She reminded me that Cecil was one animal, and we cause suffering to and kill billions of animals every day without recognition or comment. When I wondered about eating eggs from backyard chickens, she opened my eyes to the ways in which even backyard chickens happily living out their lives are part of a brutal system.

Pauline always urged me to expand my boundaries of awareness and think more deeply and consciously about the choices I make. At the same time, she never pushed me. Rather, she offered me a friendly, humble but compelling example and responded to my questions directly and with solid information.

I shared another post with Pauline a year after I began a serious exploration of veganism. It was about the mental and spiritual disconnects that happen every day in our lives. I sometimes wonder if full awareness of suffering on the planet might not otherwise overwhelm us.

I first stopped eating animals 45 years ago because I didn’t want to do what was required to put them on my plate. I didn’t want to buy their remains neatly wrapped in styrofoam and plastic, completely removed from the life that was and removing me from conscious responsibility for that death. Then one day after a year of eating only plant foods, I looked down and noticed my leather shoes. How did I miss the fact that my shoes come to me in the same way?

That sudden awareness reminded me how easy it is to put up fences in our consciousness. I thanked Pauline for inspiring me to do the work of breaking down those fences.

Pauline’s compassion was active. She volunteered for a no-kill animal shelter in Evanston, and she was active with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). I follow them for a while, then unfollow them when their often graphic pictures overwhelm me. Pauline’s deep compassion for all creatures rested comfortably side-by-side with her tough realism.

Thanks to Pauline, I gradually expanded the range of what I can tolerate seeing and knowing in this world. Breaking down barriers of consciousness in relation to our treatment of animals generated a similar process in other areas. I read and understand U.S. history differently as I do what I read and see in the daily news. I relate differently to the planet on which I live. Never more than superficially political, I began to understand the profound connection between politics, policy and life on the planet. I read the Torah differently and appreciate more than ever the expansiveness and inclusiveness of its ethical consciousness.

And so as I sit to enjoy this extraordinarily beautiful day, watching the clouds overhead, I think of Pauline and wish she were sitting here on my porch with me so I could thank her face-to-face, ask about her thoughts on the news of the day — and serve her a delicious vegan lunch.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.