I focus on food because…

What we eat shapes ethical consciousness. It is a key to social and environmental justice and to restoring harmony in our relationships with our world and with G-d. It has the power to dull our senses or stir our sense of joy and gratitude. What we eat contributes to vibrant spiritual and physical health or burdens us with illness and an unnamed heaviness and dread. I focus on food because it’s something I can do. With every mouthful, we have an opportunity to choose life for ourselves and for all sentient beings.

“…choose life, that you may live, you and your children…” (וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים–לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה, אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶךָ).  Deut 30:19

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

I needed this kale and quinoa salad today…

After making soups and soft foods for weeks for Andy, I had a serious longing for something crunchy…and spring made me think of greens and other good garden veggies. A family member served up a wonderful salad yesterday, which I’ll share another time after I make it, but it had carrots, quinoa and chickpeas in it, which inspired my cooking session this morning. When I was at Costco the other day, they served up a quinoa tabouleh that had mung beans in it, which I’ve never cooked with before, and that added a little more inspiration.  Here’s the result:


  • Quinoa, 1/2 cup dried
  • Chickpeas, 1/2 cup dried
  • Mung beans, 1/4 cup dried
  • Carrots, 1-2 good-sized carrots
  • Apricots, 6 dried, organic, unsulfured
  • Olives, Green Mediterranean, 8-10
  • Green onions, 3-4
  • Kale, 6-8 leaves
  • Romaine, 6-8 leaves
  • Red cabbage, 1/8 small head, chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil, 1 TB or less
  • Lemon, juice of 1 to 1-1/2
  • Salt, sprinkling, to taste
  • Szeged hot paprika, sprinkling, to taste


  1. Cook the quinoa, chickpeas and mung beans separately. For 1/2 cup quinoa, I use 1 cup of water and 1/4 tsp. salt, and it takes about 15 minutes. For the chickpeas, I use 1/2 cup chickpeas and 2 cups of water, and it takes about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. For the mung beans, I use 1/4 cup mung beans, 1 cup of water, and it takes about half an hour. You’ll need to keep an eye on these — they should remain firm. These can all be cooked ahead and set aside or refrigerated.
  2. Wash, cut up and cook the carrots until just tender.
  3. Wash the kale, Romaine, red cabbage and green onions and chop roughly. Wash and dry, then sprinkle a little olive oil over them and rub in.
  4.  Chop the apricots and olives, and toss into the greens with the cooked and cooled carrots.
  5. Add the lemon juice, salt and hot paprika to taste and toss again.
  6. Finally add the cooked and cooled quinoa, chickpeas and mung beans, taste, and adjust seasoning.

The salad is a wonderful blend of textures and flavors with the slightest hint of Middle Eastern sweet and salty from the apricots and olives. A lovely entry to spring.

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

Torah Ecology: Shemini (Lev 9:1-11:47)

A Tale of Two Trees (Gen 2:4-3:24)

Relationship, as psychologists tell us, depends as much on separation between entities as it does on connection. The Torah is a story of two trees and three domains. Through the symbolism of the two trees, it tells us how the domains are similar, how they are different and how they relate.

Understanding the domains and relationships set out in the second and third chapters of Genesis is a foundation to understanding the book of Leviticus, in particular the portion this week, Shemini.

In the second and third chapters of Genesis/Bereishit, the Torah identifies three domains:

  • Transcendence/G-d
  • Creation/Nature (earth, air and water and the life in them)
  • Human

The story in these chapters tells us that Transcendence, although part of creation through free choice as when G-d walks in the Garden, is not controlled by the processes of creation.

The story also tells us that human beings become god-like with respect to moral reasoning and decision-making capability — but differ from G-d in that post “exile,” they are part of nature.

G-d tells Adam and Eve that if they eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the middle of the Garden, they will surely die (מוֹת תָּמוּת). Instead, when the human beings eat from that Tree, not only they but all of creation become subject to the processes of nature. This tells us that human beings are like the rest of nature and all of nature, all creatures, every plant and every cell, differs from G-d in this critical way.

Adam and Eve do not eat from the Tree of Life and Death, and the expulsion from the Garden with keruvim (cherubs) guarding the entry against their return tells us they never will. Death is part of the life of every organism.

It’s tempting to say that while human beings are like the rest of creation in being subject to life and death, they differ from it in their capacity for moral reasoning. There is evidence to suggest that is the biblical point of view, and it is the ability for moral reasoning that privileges humans over the animal world. The symbolic evidence for this claim is Adam and Eve’s awareness of their sexuality as a moral, not an instinctual, issue.

While death is part of life for humanity, differentiating human beings from G-d, moral decision-making capability symbolized in sexual awareness differentiates humans from the rest of nature, specifically animals.

At the same time, this differentiation isn’t categorical, and an animal, the snake, is also accountable for the transgression in the Garden.  It is, perhaps, best to leave the boundary between humanity and nature less focused, noting only that humanity has a defined role with regard to Transcendence, nature and other living beings, which we discover as we read the rest of the Torah. The Torah describes correct human relationships with these other domains, tested with a local community  (Israelites) after the failure of globalism.

The Garden is an ideal world where all creatures live in harmony, and there is no bloodshed and no death. Adam and Eve share this space not only with the rest of creation but with Transcendence as G-d walks through the Garden. In exile, the boundaries between domains become sharper as relationships intensify and become more complex, centering around life, death, blood, food, sexuality and the capacity for moral reasoning.

G-d is not part of the cycle of life and death, but the rest of nature is; yet there are also divisions within the world of nature. In the new creation post-flood, humans are alienated from their environment, engaging in hard labor to reap benefits from an unyielding earth. Mirroring the divine-human relationship, the relationship with the animal kingdom is defined by life and death and who controls the boundary:

Gen 9:3-4: “And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, and upon all wherewith the ground teemeth, and upon all the fishes of the sea: into your hand are they delivered.  Every moving thing that liveth shall be for food for you; as the green herb have I given you all …” וּמוֹרַאֲכֶם וְחִתְּכֶם, יִהְיֶה, עַל כָּל-חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ, וְעַל כָּל-עוֹף הַשָּׁמָיִם; בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תִּרְמֹשׂ הָאֲדָמָה וּבְכָל-דְּגֵי הַיָּם, בְּיֶדְכֶם נִתָּנוּ. כָּל-רֶמֶשׂ אֲשֶׁר הוּא-חַי, לָכֶם יִהְיֶה לְאָכְלָה:  כְּיֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב, נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת-כֹּל.

Miscellaneous Notes on Genesis/Bereishit 

1) Food and eating (Adam and Eve eat from the Tree) generate the chain of events leading to boundary-setting focused around life, death, blood, food, sexuality and the capacity for moral reasoning.

2) Self-aware sexuality symbolizes the transition to moral reasoning and decision-making capability. Where G-d “creates” life, human beings “beget,” a function of relationship.

3) Humans in the post-deluvian world are permitted ALL living creatures for food. We know from Gen 7:2-3 that these creatures include those that are “impure:”

“Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee seven and seven, each with his mate; and of the beasts that are not clean two [and two], each with his mate…of the fowl also of the air, seven and seven, male and female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth” (מִכֹּל הַבְּהֵמָה הַטְּהוֹרָה, תִּקַּח-לְךָ שִׁבְעָה שִׁבְעָה–אִישׁ וְאִשְׁתּוֹ; וּמִן-הַבְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא טְהֹרָה הִוא, שְׁנַיִם–אִישׁ וְאִשְׁתּוֹ. גַּם מֵעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם שִׁבְעָה שִׁבְעָה, זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, לְחַיּוֹת זֶרַע, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ).

This week’s portion, Shemini, brings in a host of dietary prohibitions related to “impure” creatures in the animal domain (land), the bird domain (air) and the domain of fishes (water). I explain these new instructions by pointing out that the prohibitions are delivered not to all humanity but to a local community, the Israelites, as part of instructions that define not only their relationships with creation and Transcendence but their task in the world.

Shemini Actualizes The Story

Shemini actualizes through regulations in a local community the relationships between domains put forward in the Garden creation story.

Leviticus 9 and 10 deal with the priests, who operate at the boundary between life and death, creation and Transcendence. Leviticus 11 deals with the Israelites as they come up against the same boundary with regard to animal consumption. In this portion, we see repeated use of the terms holy, pure and impure.

What do these terms mean? The explanation above of chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis helps with definitions.

Holiness. Adam and Eve eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, gaining the capability of moral reasoning. The holiness regulations of Leviticus actualize the symbolism of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden story. Holiness in Leviticus is associated with morality, volitional issues. Now that the human being has the capacity for moral reasoning and is responsible to exercise it, holiness regulations show human beings how to choose correctly in exercising their capacity. The intent of these regulations is to transform the Israelites into a holy people, people exercising moral judgment in the real world beyond the Garden.

We also learn that holiness is a reciprocal process, a relationship. G-d makes the Israelites holy in the sense that G-d provides the laws, the path to holiness. Through their action, the Israelites sanctify G-d or make G-d holy. Following the death of Aaron’s sons, Moses says to Aaron: “This is it that the LORD spoke, saying: Through them that are nigh unto Me I will be sanctified (made holy), and before all the people I will be glorified” (הוּא אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר יְהוָה לֵאמֹר בִּקְרֹבַי אֶקָּדֵשׁ, וְעַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָעָם, אֶכָּבֵד).

Purity. Adam and Eve do not eat from the Tree of Life and Death. Their action and consequent expulsion from the Garden make all creation subject to the processes of nature, including sexuality for procreation, and death. The purity regulations of Leviticus and other sections of the Torah detail these processes to include child-birth, death, menstruation, seminal emissions and leprosy (organic decay), all non-volitional matters, in the language of the Torah, purity issues.

The meaning of the Tree of Life and Death in Genesis is actualized in Leviticus in the purity regulations dealing with natural processes that generate temporary impurity. Purity regulations govern how to reestablish a state of purity to allow close contact with G-d. Following these regulations establishes a ritual space where, for a time, the Israelite is more god-like, temporarily pure and holy as G-d is both pure and holy.

While purity is not a moral issue per se, these regulations are an inextricable part of expanding the domain of holiness in the world. Our bodies which are subject to natural law differentiate us from Transcendence — but without them we would have no opportunity to transform ourselves into holy people, broadening the domain of holiness in the world.

We also see that as much as blood was absent from the narrative in Genesis 2-3, it continues a journey toward omnipresence in these three chapters that make up Shemini, occurring 6 times:

  • 3 times referring to purifying the altar
  • 1 time referring to the burnt offering
  • 1 time referring to the peace offering
  • 1 time referring to the missing goat of the sin offering

As the priests operate at the boundary between life and death and creation and Transcendence on behalf of the Israelites, blood is a boundary issue. It represents life, but outside of a living creature represents death. It purifies in a ritual setting but outside of cultic worship creates impurity.

In the symbolic shorthand of the Torah, The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in Genesis tells us how human beings are like G-d. The Tree of Life and Death tells us how they are different from G-d. As a bloodless “meal” generates the events that led to this situation (eating from the Tree), blood-filled meals centered around the altar represent a path to repair. Since a human being generated the crack in creation, human life is due for the repair — but G-d substitutes animals for the Israelites.

The precariousness of this substitution is evident in the story of Nadav and Abihu in 9:23-10:20, a continuation of the narrative of Aaronide decline that began in Exodus 32. Just as many of the Children of Israel died at the hand of the Levites that day for the sin of the Golden Calf, so the sons of Aaron die on this day for the sin of “strange fire.” Just as the boundary-crossing action of Adam and Eve precipitated an irreparable rupture in the relationship between G-d and creation, Aaron’s action in leading the people in worshiping the calf precipitated irreparable damage in the relationship between the Aaronides, the priests who navigate at the boundary of life and death,  and G-d.

The careless, boundary-crossing action of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Abihu, reveals a familial flaw, and they themselves become the atoning sacrifice, a sin offering, as we learn when Moses tells their relatives to remove the ashes outside the camp just as they do the sin offering.

As fire comes forth from before the Lord and consumes the burnt offering and fat on the altar in Lev 9:24, fire comes forth from before the Lord and devours Nadav and Abihu. Again, the imagery of eating accompanies the fact of lives that include death:

Lev 10:2 – And there came forth fire from before the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD (וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי יְה וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם; וַיָּמֻתוּ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה).

Ex 24:17 – And the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel – (וּמַרְאֵה כְּבוֹד יְהוָה, כְּאֵשׁ אֹכֶלֶת בְּרֹאשׁ הָהָר, לְעֵינֵי, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל).

If the Tabernacle is the Garden, and the altar in the middle of it is the Tree in the middle of the Garden, the priests standing in for the people of Israel are Adam and Eve. Their “strange fire” parallels eating from the Tree, bringing about a cataclysmic result, this time suffered by the priests, not the Israelites whom they represent and not all of creation. Aaron understands the nature of this transgression and priestly responsibility in it as they represent and substitute for the people, even for all creation. He learned the lesson of the Calf and accepts the consequence, standing in silence when Moses tells him not to mourn his sons but to leave that to the Israelite community.

Priests in Shemini

“Shemini details two sets of laws, laws for the priests related to sacrificial worship and laws for the Israelites related to what living creatures they can eat. The rationale for the dietary laws is very explicit: “For I am the LORD that brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה, הַמַּעֲלֶה אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, לִהְיֹת לָכֶם, לֵאלֹהִים; וִהְיִיתֶם קְדֹשִׁים, כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי). Gen 11:45. From this we understand that the Israelites’ job is to become a holy people.

So, too, is the “job” of the priests explicit and the reasons for the regulations that apply to them: “that you die not…that you may put difference between the holy and the common, and between the impure and the pure…that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses.” (Lev:9-11). The purity regulations preserve the lives of those who operate at the boundary, they provide the training and knowledge necessary to differentiate between the pure and the impure, and they prepare the priests to be Israel’s teachers as they take a leadership role in the transformation of the people.

In the Torah universe, when one approaches G-d, one must be as “like” G-d as possible. G-d is holy, and the Israelites have the potential for holiness. G-d is pure, that is, not subject to the processes of nature, to birth and death. While nothing that lives can escape impurity, subjection to the processes of nature, impurity is a temporary and changeable state except for certain animals who are permanently impure for reasons I’ll examine below. Ritual is a mechanism that allows a person to be pure for a space in time. Time (often 8 days), water, blood and changing to special garments effect the transformation to a state of purity.

But like the two Trees in the Garden, holiness and purity are inextricably linked. Without a body subject to impurity, there is no opportunity to exercise moral decision-making capability that leads to holiness. Without moral decision-making capability, a human being has only instinctual awareness of life and death and no need or ability to transcend that dimension through ritual. In a cost-benefit analysis, a human being can as well be the sacrifice as any other animal.

Torah aims to bring the Israelite close to G-d by transforming the Israelite into a god-like being, both holy (making right moral decisions) and pure (temporarily beyond the processes of birth and death and decay). This transformation places the worshiping Israelite temporarily back in the Garden, a frame where all of creation lives in harmony and co-extensively with G-d and the rest of creation. The ritual frame actualizes memory, generating the energy to extend the domain of holiness in the world.

As I seek to understand the mechanism of sacrifice, I find it difficult to understand the idea of activating the harmony of the Garden with its co-extensive domains and bloodlessness on the basis of a blood-filled sacrificial ritual. As the paradox that sustaining life requires taking life is insoluble, perhaps too, there is no resolution to the paradox embedded in these rituals other than to recognize them as part of a struggle toward extending the boundaries of holiness in the real world in which we live beyond the Garden.

Animal Food in Shemini

While the choice of what to eat is a matter of holiness (volitional), the state of being in creation generates impurity and is a matter of purity (non-volitional).

Some creatures are impure by definition, and the Torah specifies them by class defined by domain or environment, earth, air and water. These creatures are forbidden to the Israelite as food in this new set of prohibitions related to meat-eating.

  • Lev 11:1-8 – earth creatures you can eat and 4 exceptions
  • Lev 11:9-12 – water creatures you can eat and those you cannot, including swarming creatures in waters
  • Lev 11:13 -19 – air creatures (fowl); Lev 20-25 swarming winged insects with 4 exceptions
  • Lev 11:26-28 – earth creatures you cannot eat including swarming things with specifics

Generally the Torah detests “swarming” creatures, whether on the land, in the waters or in the air. I have the thought that “swarming” suggested chaos and lawlessness, generating horror in the Israelite imagination.

Water creatures are the most vague, the only category without specific examples to illustrate it. In “Food Regulation in Biblical Law,” submitted to the Harvard Law School, Wendy Ann Wilkenfeld summarizes the many theories offered through history about the meaning of these dietary prohibitions. In that paper, she reports Jacob Milgrom’s comments that the ancient Israelites had limited knowledge of fish and their habits since they did not have a lot of access to fish for geographic and cultural reasons.

While the lists of forbidden earth and air creatures (birds) are more specific, there are no category specifics offered for air creatures except for insects. The birds mentioned, however, are all birds of prey (Lev 11:13-19).

Similarly, animals on paws of Lev 11:27 and animals without the dual traits of chewing their cud and cloven feet are either carnivores, omnivores or while technically herbivores, occasionally eat other creatures (Lev 11:4-11:8).

It’s tempting to say the guiding principle is that impure creatures and thus the creatures forbidden to the Israelites for consumption are those which eat other creatures and the animals permitted for consumption are herbivores.  This observation connects again to the second and third chapters of Genesis where all creatures, including humans, were vegan.

I think, though, that creatures are permitted or forbidden based on whether or not they eat blood, which a predator, omnivore, carnivore or occasional carnivore does. Blood is forbidden for all humanity, not just Israelites, since “the life is in the blood.” In a further elaboration for Israelites striving for holiness, animals who eat blood are impure and prohibited to them. The blood prohibition, then, is a paradoxical statement of reverence for life.

My intuition tells me that much of the cultic system is a framework for dealing with the fact of bloodshed in the world including the blood shed involved in eating other living creatures. It deals with the central paradox of life that incontrovertibly includes death, that in eating, we take life, a fact that requires atonement, a restoration of balance and harmony between domains.

The dietary regulations present a measured approach to conscious choice eating rather than a totalitarian approach. This measured approach is, perhaps, a statement of some humility before the mystery and paradox of life in which sustaining life requires taking life. There is no escape from that paradox, and atonement for the inevitable sins against life we commit in being part of nature is necessary.

On the larger scale, the atonement is for the human action that created this situation for all creation, and human life is what is due as repayment, making animal sacrifice an act of compassion toward G-d’s people. This act of compassion preserves in life those whose job it is to enlarge the boundaries of holiness in creation, creating an ever-larger framework for a harmonious relationship with the rest of creation and Transcendence.

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

My favorite Passover vegan main dish

These delicious vegan stuffed mini-peppers are a variation of a dish I sometimes make when it’s not Passover using regular size yellow bell peppers, couscous and vegan pesto. For Passover, I replaced the couscous with quinoa. Happily raw pine nuts aren’t kitniyot, so if you don’t eat kitniyot during Passover, you can use these in the pesto. The rich flavor of the pine nuts replaces the cheese in pesto very nicely!

Prepare the Peppers

First prepare your peppers, about 35 minis for the amount of pesto in the recipe. Wash them, rub the outside lightly with oil and place them on a baking sheet. Roast at 350 degrees until they are softened but still holding their shape.Usually you’ll see a spot or two starting to brown.

Remove them from the oven and allow to cool. With a small, serrated knife, slice each one “from stem to stern” on one side — don’t cut through the back side.  No need to de-seed. Just place back on the tray until you’re ready for them.


Cook quinoa as you usually do. I used about two TB of extra virgin olive oil, 2 cups dried quinoa, 1-1/2 tsp. salt and 4 cups of water and cooked it in a rice cooker until it was done. Set aside.

Vegan Pesto Recipe

Make the vegan pesto according to the recipe here: https://vegetatingwithleslie.org/?p=1428. Mix this entire amount of pesto with the quinoa you cooked and set aside.


You have several options for the sauce. You can use my Matboukha recipe (Moroccan salsa), or you can use some reduced leftover tomato and red bell pepper soup (as I think I did for the picture of my regular couscous-stuffed peppers). Because I had a lot to do for Passover, I took the easy path and used some kosher for Passover bottled marinara.

Assembling your peppers

Using a clean pan, spread the marinara thinly across the whole bottom of the pan. Take a pepper, drain any liquid that collected in it, fill it with a teaspoon (a “table” teaspoon). Place in the pan on top of the sauce. Repeat this process until all the peppers are used.

All the parts of this dish are cooked, so you really don’t need to reheat them for use in a meal unless you choose to do that. I’m taking them to a seder tonight where there will be LOTS of people and lots of commotion, so we’ll just serve a couple of big trays of them as they are. They are for the vegans in the crowd, but I’m pretty sure most of the folks there will want to have at least one with their meal, so I made a lot.

And now I’d better get moving with the vegan matzah ball soup before the chag!

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

Moroccan Soup With Butternut Squash & Swiss Chard

I loved making this soup from The Green Panda’s Kitchen. The story that went with it was just as delightful. It was great fun and inspirational to watch The Green Panda’s group in Kenya put together this beautiful soup outdoors. I’m looking forward to trying that myself during the warmer months here! The flavors on this one are wonderful, and I simplified the procedure a little.



  • Chickpeas, 1 lb., rinsed and cooked until just tender
  • Butternut squash, washed, remove seeds and fibers, cut into 1.5 inch cubes (Don’t peel – I tried this! It really works!)
  • Carrots, 1 lb., washed and cut into medium dice
  • Onions, 1 lb., cut into medium dice
  • Tomatoes, 1 lb., cut into medium dice
  • Swiss Chard, 1 large bunch, remove leaves from stems, finely chopped
  • Garlic, 1 head, peeled and chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup
  • Smoked paprika, 1 TB
  • Cinnamon, 1 TB
  • Cilantro, 1 bunch, washed and coarsely chopped
  • Lemon, 1/2 – 1, juiced
  • Cumin, 1 tsp.
  • Coriander, 1 tsp.
  • Salt, to taste (I usually use about 1 TB per gallon of soup)
  • Water to cover


  1. Prepare the chickpeas by rinsing, covering with plenty of water, and cooking covered on low heat until tender (1-2 hours). Check periodically to make certain there is still sufficient water. Set aside with the remaining water.
  2. Prepare the veggies (squash, carrots, onion, tomatoes chard, cilantro) and set aside. Note: you can replace the fresh tomatoes with a 19 oz. can of petite diced tomatoes if you’re in a hurry)
  3. Mince the garlic.
  4. Add 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil to a large soup pot. Saute the garlic and onion until softened.
  5. Add the squash, carrots and tomato (or 19-oz. can petite diced tomatoes) and the reserved chickpeas with their water.
  6. Add additional water until all is cover — less for a more “packed” soup, more for a brothier soup.
  7. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until the veggies are tender.
  8. Add the seasonings and lemon juice and check the taste. Adjust seasonings if needed.
  9. Stir in the cilantro and chard.

I hope you enjoy this delicious, aromatic soup.

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

Passover: You shall eat it “in panic”

“The Crossing of the Red Sea” by Nicolas Poussin
Nicolas Poussin • Public domain

“And thus shall ye eat it: with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste–it is the LORD’S passover” (וְכָכָה, תֹּאכְלוּ אֹתוֹ–מָתְנֵיכֶם חֲגֻרִים, נַעֲלֵיכֶם בְּרַגְלֵיכֶם וּמַקֶּלְכֶם בְּיֶדְכֶם; וַאֲכַלְתֶּם אֹתוֹ בְּחִפָּזוֹן, פֶּסַח הוּא לַיהוָה). – Ex 12:11

As we approach Passover, our rabbi focused in class yesterday on the Hebrew word, chipazon (“in haste” – בְּחִפָּזוֹן). “In haste” is the usual translation. He suggested the word really means, “in panic.” He talked about the idea that the Israelites were slaves, and that is a brutal and terrible state of being, but they had been there for 400 years, and they knew what to expect, knew what the next day would be like. The idea that this was their last evening where they were and that the next day they would begin their journey toward freedom and a new (and yet unknown) world was both exhilarating and terrifying, hence panic.

I recalled my own study of Va-era and Bo a few weeks back in which I focused on the past, the place where the Israelites were (rather than the future, where they were going, my rabbi’s focus) when I analyzed the Ten Plagues. I saw the Ten Plagues as a roll back of creation for the world of the Egyptians, a return to a pre-creation state of darkness and void with no future.

The Red Sea Crossing story emphasizes this theme: rushing forward in panic with the world behind dissolving and no clear vision of what is ahead.

These two ideas together, expressed in crossing through the sea, capture for me the Passover moment, בְּחִפָּזוֹן or panic, poised between the dissolution of the old world and the unknowability of what is to come, striking out toward the future based solely on faith.

I have been there, although as my Dad once suggested, without the faith. I experienced it as depression and terror. It is a powerful experience, and truly, it is faith that alleviates it and drives us forward. At that time so many years ago, I guess I finally did discover the rudiments of a faith of some sort, a voice from somewhere that said it was worth holding on, that something might yet come even though I couldn’t visualize it. I will think about that experience at my Seder this year, reliving the Exodus “as if” I were there.

I will think about our world today in which old orders dissolve all around us, and we drive forward despite our difficulty visualizing the future. I will imagine us crossing a great sea בְּחִפָּזוֹן, in panic, holding onto shreds of a faith that the new world we build will be a good one, one filled with justice for all creatures and all creation.

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

Torah Ecology: Tzav 2017 (Lev 6:1-8:36)

Tzav continues the story of love, betrayal, jealousy and restoration begun in Ki Tissa, the Golden Calf episode. Ki Tissa was a remarkable account of “the deep wound in G-d that results from Israelite infidelity, a statement of the profound interdependence of the Israelites not only on the rest of their world and on each other but on G-d — and G-d on the Israelites.” In Tzav, we see evidence of efforts to restore the ruptured relationship between Aaron and G-d at the same time that we see hints of an ongoing disturbance in the relationship.

In a pattern we’ve come to recognize, the portion is structured with a series of seven speeches, marked by variations of the introduction, “And the Lord spoke to (x,y,z), saying…” (וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-??? לֵּאמֹר) – Lev 6:1, 6:12, 6:17, 7:22, 7:28 and 8:1). The seventh speech (Lev 8:31) contains a surprise, though: “And Moses said to Aaron and his sons…” (וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-אַהֲרֹן וְאֶל-בָּנָיו)

While we’d expect this seventh unit to begin as the first six did, va-yidaber Adonai (the Lord spoke), it begins instead with va-yomer Moshe (Moses said).  In the rest of vs. 8:31, there is ongoing confusion about the source of the commands:  “And Moses said unto Aaron and to his sons: ‘Boil the flesh at the door of the tent of meeting; and there eat it and the bread that is in the basket of consecration, as I commanded, saying: Aaron and his sons shall eat it.'” (וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-אַהֲרֹן וְאֶל-בָּנָיו, בַּשְּׁלוּ אֶת-הַבָּשָׂר פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, וְשָׁם תֹּאכְלוּ אֹתוֹ, וְאֶת-הַלֶּחֶם אֲשֶׁר בְּסַל הַמִּלֻּאִים:  כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוֵּיתִי לֵאמֹר, אַהֲרֹן וּבָנָיו יֹאכְלֻהוּ) Who is “I”? It seems as though it should be G-d, but Moses delivers his speech in the first person in such a way that it seems to be Moses himself.

Two verses later, in Lev 8:33-34, Moses continues his instructions saying, “And ye shall not go out from the door of the tent of meeting seven days, until the days of your consecration be fulfilled; for He shall consecrate you seven days. As hath been done this day, so the LORD hath commanded to do, to make atonement for you.” (וּמִפֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֹא תֵצְאוּ, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים–עַד יוֹם מְלֹאת, יְמֵי מִלֻּאֵיכֶם:  כִּי שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, יְמַלֵּא אֶת-יֶדְכֶם. כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, בַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה–צִוָּה יְהוָה לַעֲשֹׂת, לְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם) With the third person pronoun “He,” we clearly understand the words are coming through Moses but from G-d, and the last statement confirms it, “the Lord commanded.” This subtle shift focuses attention on the change in presentation in vs. 31, with the words seeming to come from Moses, not G-d.

One other oddity of presentation hints at the meaning. In Lev 6:3, as the G-d speaks to Moses, G-d says, “And the priest shall put on his linen garment, and his linen breeches shall he put upon his flesh…” (וְלָבַשׁ הַכֹּהֵן מִדּוֹ בַד, וּמִכְנְסֵי-בַד יִלְבַּשׁ עַל-בְּשָׂרוֹ) That added detail, “upon his flesh,” is striking. The word “flesh” (בְּשָׂר – basar) is used repeatedly throughout this section, twelve times to be exact. In only one instance, Lev. 6:3, does it refer to the flesh of a human being. Every other reference is to an animal sacrifice.  In this way the text suggests that Aaron, like the sacrifice that substitutes for him and atones for him and the Israelites whom he represents, has an animal nature. Yes, part of his nature is also G-d-like, but here, the choice of the word basar focuses on that part of Aaron driven by instinct and emotion, ignoring his purpose-driven, G-d-like part.

On the one hand, we have a breach in the communication protocol, with Moses commanding Aaron, not G-d commanding Aaron through Moses. We could call this sloppy editing on the part of the redactor, but I believe it is more purposeful. Along with referring to Aaron’s “flesh,” his animal nature, I think the text suggests that all is not yet right in the world post-Calf. Aaron has not fully regained trust and stature.

Another interesting repeating word in this week’s portion is “excision” (generally applied in passive form – וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא – that person will be excised or cut off).

Karet (‘excision’) is the biblical penalty, for certain offences, of being ‘cut off from the people’; for example, for failing to be circumcised (Genesis 17:14); for eating leaven on Passover (Exodus 12:19); and for committing incest (Leviticus 20:17).” In Tzav, the word appears four times:

  • Lev 7:20 – But the soul that eateth of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace-offerings, that pertain unto the LORD, having his uncleanness upon him, that soul shall be cut off from his people (וְהַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר-תֹּאכַל בָּשָׂר, מִזֶּבַח הַשְּׁלָמִים אֲשֶׁר לַיהוָה, וְטֻמְאָתוֹ, עָלָיו–וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא, מֵעַמֶּיהָ).
  • Lev 7:21 – And when any one shall touch any unclean thing, whether it be the uncleanness of man, or an unclean beast, or any unclean detestable thing, and eat of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace-offerings, which pertain unto the LORD, that soul shall be cut off from his people (וְנֶפֶשׁ כִּי-תִגַּע בְּכָל-טָמֵא, בְּטֻמְאַת אָדָם אוֹ בִּבְהֵמָה טְמֵאָה אוֹ בְּכָל-שֶׁקֶץ טָמֵא, וְאָכַל מִבְּשַׂר-זֶבַח הַשְּׁלָמִים, אֲשֶׁר לַיהוָה–וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא, מֵעַמֶּיהָ).
  • Lev. 7:25 – For whosoever eateth the fat of the beast, of which men present an offering made by fire unto the LORD, even the soul that eateth it shall be cut off from his people (כִּי, כָּל-אֹכֵל חֵלֶב, מִן-הַבְּהֵמָה, אֲשֶׁר יַקְרִיב מִמֶּנָּה אִשֶּׁה לַיהוָה–וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הָאֹכֶלֶת, מֵעַמֶּיהָ).
  • Lev 7:27 – Whosoever it be that eateth any blood, that soul shall be cut off from his people (כָּל-נֶפֶשׁ, אֲשֶׁר-תֹּאכַל כָּל-דָּם–וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא, מֵעַמֶּיהָ).

In these instances, the sins that generate karet, excision, are eating the sacrifice of peace while unclean (7:20) with elaboration of that in 7:21; eating the fat of the sacrifice by fire; and eating the blood of the sacrifice.

The term raises multiple questions. Why karet, excision, and not the phrase used elsewhere, “he shall be put to death?” Milgrom suggests that “the penalty of karet is limited to purely religious offences and is never enjoined for offences such as murder, the penalty for which is judicial execution.”

It is curious that in contrast to referring to Aaron’s person in Lev 6:3 with בְּשָׂר – basar (“flesh”), the text refers to the Israelites in these four passages with נֶפֶשׁ – nefesh (“soul”).  While basar focuses on the lifeless flesh of all creatures, nefesh focuses that flesh animated by the breath of G-d. This supports Milgrom’s analysis, and we can understand karet as a punishment for those who reject their full G-d-given humanity. They are ritually removed from among the living rather than judicially.

These passages also remind us of a profound biblical discomfort with meat-eating as it is segregated from other consumption and circumscribed with many regulations about what one can eat, where one can eat it and how one must eat it. Failure to meet these exacting requirements is subject to severe punishment. Interestingly, the punishment is cast in terms of the nature of a human being. One may appear to be alive, but ritually speaking, one is merely a carcass, not animated with the breath of G-d.

Similarly Aaron failed to fulfill his mission as a whole person, nefesh, much less a holy being. He is merely basar – flesh. While the word karet is not used for Aaron, he does, indeed, seem to be “cut off” from his formerly exalted position. References to him usually include his sons (Aaron and his sons), as if the mantle of authority is passing to them. Aaron was not in evidence during the building of the tabernacle, and communication with G-d remains disrupted. From being the man G-d assigned to be Moses’ “prophet” (Ex 7:1-2), to speak for him to Pharaoh, Aaron is now silenced and silent, flesh.

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