There’s The Ideal…And Then There’s The Real

There’s The Ideal…And Then There’s The Real

Sometimes when I study Torah these days I get a little lost in the details of animal sacrifice and numbering and valuing people and animals.

My original purpose in this study was to  try to understand what the Torah says comprehensively, pervasively, about our relationship to the planet and every other creature on it. Certainly there are verses here and there that I can draw on to make the argument for ecological sensitivity and veganism, but I wanted something more pronounced, something woven systematically through this carefully constructed, nuanced text.

The more I study the Torah, the more I regard it as the product of a unified consciousness. Its extraordinary construction, the parallelisms, the chiasms, the repeating themes and images, the nuanced vocabulary…all come together in an impressive architecture that makes an inspired and compelling set of statements about the meaning and purpose of our existence.

I still believe the comprehensive message I seek is there. I see tantalizing hints of it constantly as I study. And of course there are those strong, clear verses here and there, just the things my spirit needs to hear. The comprehensive message, though, seems ultimately to elude me as I read about things like the princes of Israel bringing hundreds of animals to the Tabernacle for slaughter. My imagination springs into life, and I lose my connection to the big meaning behind and under and throughout, as I try to understand the particular meaning within this bloody, terrifying spectacle.

Terrifying, at least, from the animal’s perspective. Was it terrifying for the priests and Levites? The Israelites in attendance? Was there supposed to be an aspect of terror? Of awe? Because certainly there is that dimension to life itself. Even in our modern, secular era, the existentialists identified that.

And what about responsibility, guilt, atonement, gratitude? Aren’t these all fully human experiences and emotions? If we are fully open to our human experience, if we are fully human in that experience, is it possible that experience can be without overwhelming moments of gratitude or of realizing the stark limits on living without causing harm?

Finally, at least at this point in my progress, I come back to the idea that a harmonious, beautiful vision is put before us, an ideal world in which there is no bloodshed and no violence in creation. Harmony reigns, not hierarchy, and there is a continuity between transcendence, creation and human beings. Ethical consciousness pervades everything.

And then there is the real world, the world in which we live, the only world we know. It is a world in which ethical dilemmas are almost always Gordian knots. There is no escape from the reality of life, no deus ex machina, no magic. G-d’s compassion in the Torah is to teach us how to navigate through that real world, how to keep that picture of an ideal world in our sights, but at the same time stay focused on what is and find joy in it.

Even if the surface language of blood sacrifice seems contradictory to the deep language of the Torah, I still believe the message is consistent throughout, although I cannot yet detail how that works. It’s like holding two ideas simultaneously in my consciousness, an extraordinary beautiful ideal and a real world where good enough is our best hope.

As a former employer liked to say to me of our plans for the organization, “there is the ideal…and then there is the real.” The Torah gives us an ideal to keep in our hearts and imagination as we live in the moment, striving to extend holiness in a very real world. There is a message in the sacrifices that still escapes me, although from time to time I grasp pieces of it, like torn bits of brightly colored fabric floating over the abyss.

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How My CSA Box Keeps My Family Healthy

How My CSA Box Keeps My Family Healthy

After 45 years as an off-and-on vegetarian (20 of them strictly vegetarian) including 7 years of owning and operating a vegetarian cafe, I decided four years ago to explore an entirely plant-based diet. This makes Farmer Bob’s CSA “Meal Boxes” (as I like to call them) perfect as the source of my meals, but what about the rest of my family?

For my nutritional advice, I follow Dr. Fuhrman is a “board-certified family physician with over 25 years experience
in nutritional medicine…and an internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing…” I like his nutrition recommendations between they are common sense and easy to understand and follow, graphically presented and based on wide-ranging reviews of medical literature.

Dr. Fuhrman is the originator of the Nutritarian Diet, based on Nutrient Density, the maximum nutrition for the calories. His ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) scores put greens right at the top of the list as the most nutrient dense food we can eat. His Food Pyramid recommends whole plant foods for 90% of our daily diet. Based on these recommendations, I am confident that Farmer Bob’s Meal Boxes with the addition of some dried beans, grains, nuts and seeds, satisfy the bulk of my family’s nutritional needs.

As I eagerly wait for our first box, I’m thinking of what I want to make for my family during that week. The box will surely contain lots of beautiful young greens, including butterhead lettuce, kale, spinach, chard and bok choi. I’ll bet we also receive some radishes, which I enjoyed in salads and many a stir fry last year. Be sure to see my article in our last newsletter for information on managing and using those greens and a recipe for a Bok Choi and Radish Stir Fry.

This week I’ll share a few ideas for Kohlrabi, which we’ll see in our Meal Boxes in the early weeks of the season.

Last year we were invited to a local get-together at the peak of kohlrabi season. I made this hummus dipping tray with kohlrabi slices instead of pita, which worked very nicely. I regularly make several Middle Eastern style “salads” or dips, which I’ll share in this series as time goes on, including Hummus, Muhammara (walnuts, pomegranate molasses and red bell peppers) and Babaganoush (eggplant) and Matboukha (a Moroccan “salsa”).

Hummus with radishes, kohlrabi, zucchini & red bell peppers.

Remove the stems from 3-4 kohlrabi and fully peel away the tough outer layers of them. Set aside the greens.

Using a coring tool, insert into the center of the peeled kohlrabi, but do not pierce through to the base. You will probably not be able to remove the plug. Insert again, slightly out more toward the edge, again careful not to pierce the base. Continue this process, circling around the original central plug. Then, using a small serrated knife, remove the plugs and scrape a little to make the central cavity fairly smooth. Reserve what you remove from the kohlrabi.

Oil and salt the kohlrabi inside and out. Add a bit of extra virgin olive oil to the bottom of a Dutch oven, place the kohlrabi cavity side down and saute until slightly browned. Turn the kohlrabi over onto its base, turn down the heat, add a little water (2-4 TB), put the lid on the Dutch oven, turn down the flame, and cook until the kohlrabi is as tender as possible (it remains fairly firm), checking the water occasionally. Set aside until ready to assemble.



  • Kohlrabi – inside pulp of 3-4 kohlrabi
  • Bok choy – stems, petite diced; greens, chopped 1/4″ pieces
  • Brown Basmati rice, 1 cup dried
  • Salt, 1/2 tsp.
  • Oregano, 1-1/2 tsp.
  • Lemon Juice, 1/2 squeezed


  1. Cook the rice until done.
  2. Chop the kohlrabi pulp, and add to a pan with a little extra virgin olive oil, and saute.
  3. Add the Bok Chop stems, petite diced, and saute briefly.
  4. Add the rice to a food processor, then the sauteed ingredients and seasonings.
  5. Pulse several times until the mixture is evenly mixed and chopped and looks like coarse grains.
  6. Add seasoning to taste (salt, a little hot paprika if desired)
  7. Use this mixture to fill the reserved kohlrabi.
  8. Add marinara to a dish, and place the stuffed kohlrabi on top of it. Add a little more marinara to the top, and a few garlic scapes for garnish.

Last year, a friend of mine told me he loved the kohlrabi salad he grew up with, much like potato salad. I used my regular dill potato salad recipe (with lots of fresh dill) and substituted kohlrabi for the petite diced potatoes, and it was good! You can use your own favorite potato salad recipe and substitute kohlrabi — and I’d love to hear how it comes out. Or check out this Lebanese version, replacing the potatoes with kohlrabi:

  • 2 lb. kohlrabi, peeled, diced and simmered with turmeric until done)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1-2 tsp. turmeric (added to the kohlrabi cooking water)
  • 1/4 tsp. hot paprika
  • 2-4 TB chopped dill
  • 1-2 green onions chopped
  • 1 large dill pickle, chopped (I prefer Middle Eastern dills or cucumbers in brine, available through Garden Fresh Market in Buffalo Grove or Amazon, but Claussen dills work pretty well)
  • 1-2 TB lemon juice, to taste
  • 2-3 TB extra virgin olive oil

Oh, and those kohlrabi greens? Add them to your greens for the week and use in stir fries, smoothies, wraps and more! And the little stems you cut away when you peel the kohlrabi – save them as well. You can cut them up to saute whenever you use onion. It adds texture and flavor.

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Introducing Meal Boxes! Beautiful CSA Veggies On The Way

Introducing Meal Boxes! Beautiful CSA Veggies On The Way

Maybe you’ve heard about “meal kits.” These are packaged and shipped individual meals to make up fresh at home with recipes and pre-measured ingredients. Meal kits are quite an advance over TV dinners with their fresh whole foods and recipes that often come from  celebrity chefs.

Among the claims for these meal kits, offered by a number of lavishly funded start-up companies with various specializations (gourmet, organic, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.), are things like “no waste” and “locally sourced.” It’s true that precisely measured ingredients allow you to avoid purchasing more than you need, but there’s the packaging, each ingredient in its own wrap, and the shipping box. And locally sourced? Would that be local to the business or to you?  Because first the ingredients have to reach the supplier for assembly into kits…and then they have to ship out to you.

These kits come at a time when Americans express an avid interest in cooking (witness all the popular reality TV shows, internet recipe services, and good old-fashioned cookbooks on Amazon). Apparently not so many actually want to cook, though. As for taking what’s on our plates a step farther back to its source in the ground…not so much that either.

But consider this rewarding and effective step you can take toward providing superior quality, truly local, affordable meals to your family with no waste whatsoever. This step makes you part of creating a movement for sustainable agriculture and part of reducing the vast food waste in this country, estimated at 40%. Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) near you!!

With most CSAs, there are a variety of levels for participation. The basic idea is that you buy a share for the season at the level you choose and receive fresh, local produce directly from the farmer on that basis. In doing this, you support local, sustainable agriculture and enjoy amazingly fresh, nutritious and delicious food.

Some CSAs offer a worker’s share, which is what I do. This gives you an opportunity to participate at a whole other level in bringing food to your family’s plates. My own participation is something I look forward to with excitement each year. It is spiritually rewarding and makes me feel that I have a part in restoring our earth and our relationship to it.

For those of you already in a CSA, this series of posts will provide suggestions and a couple of recipes to go with your box. I work for my local CSA, Bob’s Fresh and Local, and my recipes address what comes in Farmer Bob’s beautiful boxes each week. I plan to do more than single recipes, though, because what we really have are “Meal Boxes.” Each week, I’ll post about how to use the whole 3/4 bushel box, which at $34.50/week (a 20 week share broken down by the week) easily provides meals for a family with more to preserve for winter or share. I’ll focus on simple, flexible preparation directed at using the entire Meal Box with a couple of more detailed recipes.

In my first post several week back, I wrote about greens, how I handle them when they first arrive and what I do with them through the week. My next post, to go with the first of the boxes, will focus on how our boxes serve my family’s overall nutritional needs. Following that, I’ll dive into expanding our ideas of breakfast.

To follow these posts, other food and sustainability news and nonhuman rights commentaries, subscribe to this blog or like my Vegetating with Leslie Facebook page.

Hope to hear from readers about your own experiences with local sustainable agriculture, delicious whole food preparation ideas and related thoughts.

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

CSA Greens: Bok Choi & Radish Stir Fry

CSA Greens: Bok Choi & Radish Stir Fry

We will soon enjoy lots of spring greens in our boxes, and that’s great, because I LOVE greens and missed Bob’s beautiful assortment over the winter. Here’s what I do with them (other than the salad I make first thing when I get home from the farm).

The best way I found to manage my greens in the cafe was to immediately remove all ties and rubber bands, wrap them in a slightly moist towel and put them into the refrigerator. Of course if the greens arrive already moist, there is no need to dampen the towel. I use microfiber towels that I can get in big batches at Home Depot. Even the more sensitive greens keep well this way for several days, often as long as a week. I check the towel periodically to make certain it stays very slightly moist.

As soon as I can get to it, I cut up all the sturdier greens (I prefer Middle Eastern-style salads, where the greens are cut into small pieces). I put the cut greens into a salad spinner, fill it with cold water, swish around, lift the basket to drain the greens, empty the base of the spinner, and return the basket with greens for spinning to dry. If the greens have more dirt particles attached than usual, I may run them through twice.

Then I transfer the greens to a clean microfiber towel to wrap and store in the ‘fridge except for the portion I want to use right away. The stored greens are there, ready for use in various salads … and as they begin to get older, they’re a great addition to a stir-fry.
Speaking of stir-fry, here’s a Bok Choi and Radish Stir-Fry I made last season. Quantities will vary depending on what we get:


  • Garlic, minced
  • *Onion, petite diced
  • Salad radishes, Julienne
  • Bok choi stems, Julienne
  • Bok choi greens, “diced”
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Soy sauce


1. Wash and cut all the veggies
2. Heat some extra virgin olive oil in a wok and throw in a little minced garlic
3. Add the onions, sautéing until soft.
4. Add the remaining “hard” veggies, reserving any greens.
5. When the veggies start to brown a bit, add a little salt and soy sauce, stir and cover if needed to steam the veggies for a couple of minutes.
6. Uncover and add the greens, stir together and sauté briefly until the greens are wilted
7. Add salt to taste and/or a bit of soy sauce, and serve.

*Note about cutting onion: let the onion work for you! I cut off the two ends and cut the onion in half, then remove the brown skin. I put half of the onion cut-side down, then slice it at whatever width I want for the dish, keeping the onion together. Then I turn it one-quarter and slice again, perpendicular to the last cuts. This will give you whatever size dice you choose.

Conscious choices…becoming more fully human

Today a book I’ve been excited to read came in the mail: Barbara J. King’s Personalities on the Plate: The Lives & Minds of Animals We Eat. I learned of it from Facebook, which everyone loves to hate but where I learn so much. A friend shared a post from the Nonhuman Rights Project which mentioned the book, and I knew it was something I wanted to read.

I started reading this morning, and I am not disappointed! Barbara King explores through the lens of science the same issue that energizes my own explorations through the lens of religion and, in particular, the Hebrew Bible. The issue that draws us both is what she calls “the invisible toggle switch” in our minds, our “peculiar duality” in relation to other animals, animals we admire in one moment and consume the next.

From my perspective, food is the root of every religious impulse. It is through eating that we confront the central paradox of life, that it requires taking life to sustain life. The choices we make define us as human beings and form the substance of religions. Religions provide a framework for confronting this paradox and practices that guide us through it. To the extent that we maintain our “peculiar duality” with respect to eating fellow creatures, we dwell in the land of unconscious living.

My current biblical studies project suggests to me that the profound direction of the Torah, the basis of its myth, ritual and ethical legislation, is toward living consciously. If we take its message seriously, each time we act impulsively, without intention, unconsciously, we are not fully human, we do not fulfill our mission as human beings, and we are an affront to creation.

I don’t say that judgmentally.  I’m one of the most absent-minded people around. It is my work in life to become more fully conscious, to be “awake,” as my son calls it, aware. I have at least three opportunities a day to focus my attention, to work on becoming more fully conscious, and that is when I eat my daily meals. It is through this work that I can become more aware in other parts of my life.

In the Introduction to her book, Barbara King states this as her purpose: “The need for clear-eyed seeing is the central message I want to bring forth in the pages to come: it takes effort, and it pays off, to see the animals we designate as our food. Even as we bring them to our family tables and our restaurants in their anonymous billions, other animals sense, and sometimes suffer; learn, and sometimes love; think, and sometimes reflect. Their lives matter to them, and they should matter to us too.”

Although I am on the path toward veganism, it is not a symbiotic relationship with our fellow creatures that I see as the symbol par excellence of our ethical morass today. It is the billions of animals bred for slaughter in our names and for our use. We have no connection to these creatures. They are anonymous. We take no responsibility for their lives or for their deaths. We take no moments for either gratitude or atonement. Our pleasure in the moment is our only value as we eat.  The “toggle switch” in our lives works very well, and when it does, we are not fully human.

I look forward to reading this book and learning the science of thought, emotion and social behaviors of animals we eat. I look forward to knowing “who is on our plates.” I expect I will weep as I contemplate the reality of the world we have built for ourselves.

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Torah: Why I Don’t Like To Call It (Written) Law

Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) is most often translated “law.” Strong’s points out that the word “derives from yarah - view larger image yârâh (Strong’s #3384) meaning ‘to shoot out the hand as pointing, to show, indicate’, ‘to teach, instruct’, ‘to lay foundations’, ‘to sprinkle, to water’, ‘to shoot, as an arrow’.” elaborates on this theme of teaching or instruction.

I like referring to the Torah as “teaching” because ethical legislation is only one of the teaching methods of the Torah, which also uses myth or storytelling to instruct. Both methods serve to shape human beings. Another teaching method in the Torah is ritual practice, which I like to call “body language.” The ways and places we use our bodies and connect with food and the environment teach something about a relationship with transcendence.

The Torah teaches at an embodied level, but it also teaches at an abstract level. With ritual, the Torah teaches through the body, but one can even make the argument that G-d has a body from some parts of the biblical text. Other sections, in particular Deuteronomy, state over and over again that G-d has no body.

It is meaningful for me that the Torah teaches in so many ways. Its versatility of methodology reminds me of a D’var Torah I once heard about Ishmael in the desert, when G-d speaks to him “ba-asher hu sham,” where he is (Genesis 21:17). The D’var Torah likened G-d to a skillful teacher, who instructs each with different methods, reaching each where he or she is.  Ethical legislation is only one of those methods.

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A Goat For Azazel? Really?

I’m teaching a short four session class on Bible. So far my focus has been on the first chapters of Genesis and the middle section of Leviticus, especially chapter 16, the Yom Kippur ritual. In our last week, we will examine the 10 Things or Words, better known as the 10 Commandments. I also hope to touch on the extraordinarily beautiful chapter 25 in Leviticus, about a Shabbaton for the land and the Jubilee Year.

Any text has something to communicate. Some texts do a better job of that than others. I think the first five books of the Bible do a consummate job, but it’s difficult for us to receive the communication, as relevant as it may be for us today, because of its mode of presentation in myth, ritual practices and legal codes and because of our American cultural isolation from the life experience that inspires this text. If we decode those forms, though, and if we can find ways to identify with the experience of destruction of a nation and exile, we find pervasive and powerful messages for our times.

For many of us, certainly the secularists among us, the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, are difficult to understand in meaningful ways. Myth is just…well, myth. The rituals of Leviticus, purifications from childbirth, death, menstruation, seminal emissions and leprosy, are alienating. Even the legal codes, with the exception of soaring passages here and there, can be somewhat opaque. What significance can all the details related to a goring ox have for contemporary urban dwellers so far from that world?

Beyond that, many of us live in an insular situation. Poverty, systemic discrimination, bloodshed (even for our own food), brutality, the instability and terror of living in a war zone…these are all things that if they are in our consciousness at all are likely at its periphery. It requires significant effort to identify with others’ experience so different from our own. It is difficult to understand the profound ideas of the biblical text and its pervasive concern with and response to bloodshed and injustice when we are so insulated from even the normal processes of life and death in our daily lives.


So how do we begin to examine this text and try to understand it? One way is to explore how these three forms, myth, ritual practice and moral legislation, speak. The tools of literary analysis, using the evidence of the text itself, offer a path into the material.

Using this approach, we discover that the first chapters of Genesis and the book of Leviticus make the same set of statements in different ways: Genesis relates a theology and an ontology and outlines a paradox at the root of human existence through story. The rituals of the Purity Code and the ethical legislation in the Holiness Code convey the same themes.

In the narrowest terms, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil points to the Holiness Code, with its emphasis on ethical relations between the Israelites, their neighbors and their world, and the Tree of Life points to the Purity Code, with its emphasis on birth and death, sexuality and procreation, and leprosy or organic decay.

The first theme is about how creation reflects and is like its creator in that it is pervaded by ethical consciousness. The second half of Leviticus focuses on the specifics of how the Israelites are to express that in their local community. The second theme is about how creation is different from its creator.  Accordingly the first half of Leviticus focuses on how G-d can live among the Israelites post-Garden given that profound difference.

The two goats in the Day of Atonement ritual, the goat for the Lord and the goat for Azazel, remove both ethical sins, sins against one’s neighbor, and impurities that stand between the Israelites and their G-d. The dual action reestablishes a coextensive relationship between G-d, creation and human beings in this local community. It recreates the Garden in this temporal space.

When we use the text itself, its intra-textual allusions, its internal structures, its Hebrew vocabulary, its repetitions — and its repetitions with changes, we can see that. We also might discover it says some things that surprise some of us, upending our assumptions.


Here are samples of statements the text makes that we discover using literary tools:

  • In the Israelite cosmos, creation is ordered and coextensive with transcendence, and an ethical consciousness pervades it all.
  • Male and female are created simultaneously, together in the image of G-d.
  • G-d and human beings are like each other in some ways and in other ways profoundly different. They share with G-d and the rest of creation ethical consciousness and responsibility. The relationship between the Israelites and their neighbors, even the rest of creation, is governed by ethics.
  • Human beings, like the rest of creation, are different from G-d in that they are bound by the laws of nature: birth, death, sexuality  and procreation, and disease or organic decay. In addition, creation is differentiated. G-d is a unified consciousness. This should be a cause of some humility. Certainly it is a cause for reflection on how G-d can be in creation, living among a group of people, engaged in an intimate relationship. The relationship between G-d and G-d’s people is governed by ritual.
  • There is more than one way to think about the meaning of the event in the Garden, the “meal in the Garden” when we look at multiple meanings and associations to the word, arum (usually translated naked). What if we read that, “prudent,” as it is in Job? Human beings eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil bringing consequences for all of creation. Their eyes are opened, and they realize the enormity of their impulsive action. The Torah, then, urges “prudent” action, conscious choices in full consideration of consequences and implication.
  • Ethical intelligence pervades everything, transcendence, all of creation, the animal world, and human life. Whether conscious, instinctive or impulsive, action in one realm impacts all realms.
  • A recurring motif of creation and rollbacks of creation tells us that widespread or communal failures to exercise ethical consciousness return us to a dark, empty, barren pre-creation state. We see this motif in the Flood story of Genesis 6-8, and we see it in the 10 Plagues of Exodus 7-13 as well as in other sections of the Torah and in the books of the Prophets.  This idea has enormous meaning for us today in relation to problems we face in human, environmental, animal and food justice.
  • Bloodshed and violence are fundamental and endemic problems in our world. In the biblical world, this translates to a guide to establishing justice and compassion within a local community.
  • The structure of government in local communities is not at issue: what is at issue is the extent to which a society extends holiness by establishing justice and exercising effective compassion.


The first chapters of Genesis (myth) present a vision of an ideal world, a world in harmony and without bloodshed and violence. These chapters make a set of important statements about the nature of transcendence and creation and our role in creation.

Then we get another picture, a picture of the world as it was then and remains today — but we get more than a realistic graphic. We get a guide for living in that world, extending the boundaries of holiness, mediated through the local communal experience and practices of one group, a group tasked with recreating the Garden in its midst. The Purity and Holiness Codes of Leviticus make the same statements as the myths of Genesis, describing how to create that Garden in the real world through the ritual practices and ethical legislation that teaches and shapes a community.

The 10 Commandments set up an overarching framework for relationships, G-d, all of humanity and creation, then focus in on a local community of “neighbors.” The communal mission is to create a Garden in their midst, where people live in correct relationship to their world and their neighbors and G-d dwells among the people. Following the teachings within this framework leads to “life.” Abandoning these teachings leads to pre-creation darkness, emptiness and barrenness.


My own understanding of the text was greatly assisted by a teacher who reminded me that we always have to ask what questions a text comes to answer?  And that is the rare moment when I turn to source criticism for help in my understanding.

Many scholars think the final redaction of the Torah came in the mid 5th century b.c.e. At that time, Ezra, the priest, and Nehemiah, the governor, returned to the land of Israel from Babylonian exile to meld returnees and some who never left into a cohesive community. Life in Israel was devastated 140 years before in 586 b.c.e. when the nation and its center, the Temple in Jerusalem, was destroyed. After much bloodshed and many deaths, the people were sent into exile. When a small part of their descendants returned, they came to an impoverished land and faced an almost insurmountable task of rebuilding a nation in the midst of hardship and intra-communal bickering. While those who remained and those who returned had not personally witnessed the devastation, it was surely emblazoned on their consciousness, its effects enduring.

We would, perhaps, better understand those difficult times today if we lived in Syria or any of the other deeply troubled, war-torn, suffering or poverty-stricken corners of the world. We would understand how impulsive actions, envy, greed, the arrogance of power and the failure to extend justice in the world result in the destruction of civilizations and impoverishment of the planet. We would understand the experience of a rollback of creation and our responsibility in it. And we would understand the universality of human experience and how this text speaks directly to it.

In my imagination, the returning community  would have confronted these questions: Why did this happen to us, and how can we avoid it happening again? Where is G-d, and how can G-d walk again in our midst? And how can we forge ourselves into a unified community to move forward in this new environment? The answers to the first two questions shape the answer to the third.

And it is at this point that I end the class, hoping that I have opened some possibilities for peering into difficult material and considering what it might be trying to say, what meaning it might have in our time:

  • What is the human relationship with transcendence, and what implications does that have for our lives in this world?
  • What does it mean that all of creation is coextensive with transcendence although profoundly different from G-d?
  • That ethical consciousness pervades everything that is?
  • That human beings, male and female together, are “in the image” of G-d?
  • That impulsivity and imprudence have consequences?
  • What are the fundamental challenges in creation, and how do we respond to them?
  • What is the relationship between G-d and human beings, between human beings and the rest of their world?
  • What is the spiritual and ethical significance of being embodied?
  • How can we live in community? What is the relationship between the community and the individual?
  • Should politics be local?
  • What is our task as human beings on this planet?

The demand I hear most clearly coming from this text is the one for conscious choice. Impulsivity brought catastrophe to creation. When Adam and Eve’s eyes opened and they were “prudent,” they realized the grave consequences of their impulsive action. The consequences remain with us according to this story, but that defines purpose, extending holiness, or justice and compassion, the products of ethical consciousness, throughout creation.

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Torah Ecology: Behar-Behukotai (Lev. 25:1-27:34)

This portion expresses one of the most soaring, beautiful, inspirational ideas in the entire Torah. I’m just going to free-float with it a little, enjoy the words and the resonances, the lofty ideas and the vision.

The Torah talks about G-d, humanity and creation and the relationship between them. Over and over the Torah portrays the ethical consciousness that pervades everything. In the Garden or beyond its border, activity in each realm affects the rest. In the words of the Tom Dundee song, “It’s all such a delicate balance, takes away just as much as it gives, to live it is real, to love it is to feel, you’re part of what everything is.”

The Torah then narrows the focus to a local community, a group of people entrusted to create the Garden in their midst, a place to till the soil and cultivate just relations between neighbors, a place where there should be no violence or bloodshed.

Then in Leviticus 20:22, we read these words, seemingly harsh, “Ye shall therefore keep all My statutes, and all Mine ordinances, and do them, that the land, whither I bring you to dwell therein, vomit you not out.” This elaborates an amazing theme of Torah, though, that all of creation is continuous with transcendence, all is in a “delicate balance,” and human transgression in one part of the environment causes severe consequences throughout. G-d turns G-d’s back, and the land vomits out the offenders.

These words remind us of human independence and responsibility in the fabric of creation and invite reflection today as we face unprecedented migrations and disruptions across the globe, a return of repressive regimes and catastrophic climate changes.

Chapter 25 of Leviticus, the first section of Behar-Behukotai, develops the idea of the Shabbaton and the Jubilee Year, exalted, visionary concepts:

Lev. 25:4 But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath unto the LORD; thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard (וּבַשָּׁנָה הַשְּׁבִיעִת, שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן יִהְיֶה לָאָרֶץ–שַׁבָּת, לַיהוָה: שָׂדְךָ לֹא תִזְרָע, וְכַרְמְךָ לֹא תִזְמֹר).

Lev. 25:10 And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family (וְקִדַּשְׁתֶּם, אֵת שְׁנַת הַחֲמִשִּׁים שָׁנָה, וּקְרָאתֶם דְּרוֹר בָּאָרֶץ, לְכָל-יֹשְׁבֶיהָ; יוֹבֵל הִוא, תִּהְיֶה לָכֶם, וְשַׁבְתֶּם אִישׁ אֶל-אֲחֻזָּתוֹ, וְאִישׁ אֶל-מִשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ תָּשֻׁב).

We could rely on a rationalist interpretation of these words and say these ancients knew about crop rotation and letting the land lie fallow as ways to improve production.  That intention is probably there, but we miss the larger meaning if we stop at that. As G-d and humanity work six days and rest on the seventh, the land works six years and rests in the seventh. The delicate balance between G-d, humanity and creation comes with rest for all, freedom and an opportunity for every part of creation and G-d’s self to lean back and appreciate the result of their work.

This majestic order and rhythm, pervaded by ethical consciousness, finds expression in the 50th year as well, the Jubilee Year, when liberty is proclaimed throughout the land. Seven cycles of seven years plus one year, like the eighth day after a birth or the eighth day after a cycle of purification, and everything returns to its place in the natural order, an order founded on freedom and resulting in a harmonious balance throughout the whole environment of what is. Those who suffered misfortune, were impoverished and had to sell their land or themselves into servitude return to their possession or their families. It is a time for rejoicing, when creation regains its original balance and order, the land no less than its inhabitants.

What an astonishing idea. I have to wonder, if all of creation participated in a Shabbaton, regular times of rest, to appreciate, enjoy and feel gratitude for the fruits of our labors, would the world work differently? If we understood the potential devastation that results from impulsive, thoughtless actions, would we cultivate our capacity for conscious choice? If we lived the ideal of the Jubilee, recognizing that we are all part of the fabric of everything that is, that the natural order of things is founded on freedom and the dignity of G-d, creation and our fellow human beings, accepting with humility and gratitude our place in the fabric of all that is, what would it be like?

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

Living Life Hands-On

Living Life Hands-On

Did you ever think about how disconnected most of us are from the processes that sustain our lives? Food…air…water…clothing…shelter. Those are the things that keep us alive. Without any one of them, we wouldn’t last long, but most of us outsource them all.

We spend most of our lives in homes and offices with artificial air brought to us through heating and cooling systems. Our water comes through a system of reservoirs and pipes and ducts and, we hope, effective filtration plants. Our clothing is made in far-off places, and few of us consider the sources of the fiber that forms fabrics or the dyes, the processes, the people behind the hands involved in the work or the transportation that brings the garment to a local store. And not many of us build our own homes, that’s for sure! What is drywall made of, where does it come from? Insulation, siding, window panes? Before it even gets to the builder, the elements of our homes have passed through many hands and traveled much ground.

How about food? What most of us know is that it comes from boxes and bags we get at the supermarket, sometimes so disconnected from its source that it’s not even food anymore. We don’t know where it grew or how, who nurtured it, who harvested it, their names or what their lives are like. We don’t know the animals behind the flesh pieces wrapped neatly in styrofoam and plastic,  their names, how they lived during their unnaturally short lives, what they experienced and felt. We don’t know how items in the supermarket got from the ground or factory farm to the supermarket or what resources went into making that happen. We have nothing to do with any of it. We often don’t even connect with our food at the very end of the supply chain, in our homes, cooking it.

I sometimes wonder how this disconnect from the basic work of being alive changed our psyches. Surely it did. Surely there is a difference between a person who grows up drinking fresh water from a mountain stream, water they get for themselves by cupping their hands or making an earthen vessel to scoop it in and a person who turns on a tap and has no idea where the water originated or what might have been added to it or removed from it. As the example of Flint, Michigan teaches us, we can’t always trust what comes to us through intermediaries. There has to be a psychological difference between living your life experiencing water as pure and life-giving or experiencing it as a source of distrust and uncertainty.

There has to be a difference between people who sit down together to share a meal they worked hard to bring from the earth and then cook, and grabbing some commercial food product on the fly and eating it in isolation. Even more so as we learn these products we thought were safe and nutritious are causing devastating diseases.

What massive shifts in worldview might we attribute to this change in how we manage our basic necessities?

Many years ago, I discovered something quite by accident: I felt better when I cooked my own food from real, whole plant foods. I felt better yet when I grew the trees and plants, then cooked their produce into something I knew was tasty and nutritious. I don’t just mean physically better, although there was that. But there was a spiritual component. Perhaps it was participating in the cycle of life, being part of something much bigger than myself.

I felt spiritually fulfilled, content, occasionally exhilarated. Grateful. Whole in a way I never felt when I turned on the tap or or picked up one of those styrofoam and plastic wrapped packages in the store.

I wonder, would the world’s great religions with their profound insights ever have emerged if people two, three and four thousand years ago been able to outsource their basic needs? Turn on a tap? Or did it require that different pace, a constant drawing from the sources, to generate the creativity that inspired the Bible and Hinduism?

Since I made my discovery so many years ago, I have always tried to live my life hands-on as much as I can. There was a time I hoped to spend my life on a farm. That time has passed, but I had the good fortune last spring to discover a farmer who moved into the area, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). At first I thought I might just do as most people do, buy a share, receive a 3/4 bushel box of produce each week and experience the changing season through the produce and the foods I would make with it. Then I noticed they had a worker’s share, and I signed on for it. Now I go each week to help with the seeding, planting, weeding, harvesting, washing and packing. It’s hard work, but it fills my soul.

This year I’m back in the fields, but I get to do something else as well: I will put together a weekly addition to Farmer Bob’s newsletter providing an alternative to the “meal kit” craze. How about Meal BOXES!!!??? A week’s worth of nutritious, delicious family meals (and more than likely some to share and some for dried or pickled treats in the off-season) for just $34.50/week ($690 for the season, 20 weeks of delicious, crazy fresh, organic, local produce).

So if planting seeds and pulling weeds isn’t your thing, you can still get in on this amazing experience, get back to the sources, share food with your family and friends and be part of a way of life that inspires appreciation, confidence, fulfillment and hope.  Check out the information about Bob’s Fresh and Local here. There are several pickup sites, so contact Bob through his website if you’re in Geneva, Elgin, Dundee, Cary, Algonquin, Crystal Lake, Woodstock or anywhere in between.

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

Cooking, Pulling Weeds And Resisting

I never thought I’d hear myself say this: Trump gave me a huge gift when he was elected.

It’s hard to imagine myself saying that because my inspiration usually comes from very different kinds of sources. Yet perhaps it’s just the mind- and spirit-numbing nature of Trump’s presidency that compels me to reexamine myself and clarify my course through life.

Like the 2008 recession, Trump’s presidency causes me to take additional steps on my journey toward self-awareness. Taking these steps involves some education and some house-cleaning to bring my values in different segments of my life into alignment. Most importantly I had to recognize both my limitations and my abilities as I figure out how best to respond to an event I experience as nothing less than a cataclysmic step backward in our culture and democracy not to mention our responses to a suffering planet.

I never considered myself a “political” person. In fact, until 2008, I was fairly apathetic for reasons I’ve explored with myself in recent months. Post Jan. 20, I tried to get politically involved in the traditional sense of that word. I attend meetings, I volunteer occasionally, I go on marches. I’ve learned a lot, but one of the things I have learned is that this isn’t the best place for me to contribute passionately and knowledgeably. Of course I’ll still continue to be as involved as I can, but I needed to focus my energies in other directions:

  • I deepened my exploration of veganism through my own cooking and writing.
  • I jumped at the opportunity to create recipes to go with the boxes that come from my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), Bob’s Fresh and Local.
  • I understand my volunteer work in the farm fields in a different way, as something much deeper and broader than physical and spiritual health.
  • With a fairly extensive background in academics behind me but little involvement for a quarter of a century, I decided to work my way through the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. I wanted to discover in greater depth what it has to say about human life in relation to the planet and other life on it. My blog posts on this topic, largely notes to myself as research, will become the basis of a book. More importantly, my research is providing me with a strong foundation for steps toward meaningful activism. At the very least, it provides me with information I use in evaluating people and policies.
  • I’m teaching for the first time in many years, which demands from me further clarification of my thinking and message.
  • I decided to engage with my synagogue in ways I haven’t before, to take on a role beyond participating in services and preparing food now and then. While it’s shaky ground for me to take on a role in shaping policy, I hope it will be a growth opportunity I can manage.

I think these steps toward more and deeper engagement in various aspects of my life will begin to converge at some point. As my passions become more focused, a path toward taking on my part, however small, in reshaping our world will become apparent.

My engagement with food and the environment developed over the course of 45 years, not so much through academic or professional expertise but through hands-on involvement. I had the opportunity to create a large organic garden in 1972 following the birth of  my first son, the same year that hippies tore up the turf in Berkeley, California. I think part of their impulse probably matched my own, a reaction against Big Food, Big Ag and Big Brother, who don’t always know best. I felt that packaged foods, pesticides and our alienation from nature were somehow an assault on our physical and spiritual health.

I read as much as I could put my hands on at the time. One little book in particular drove my decision to become vegetarian, a path that has had its zigs and zags. That book was Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe. Her message still resonates with me today, that there is a social justice connection to what we eat.

Until I worked in the food industry, though, I didn’t make that connection at a gut level. Then one day I was writing a post and came across an article that mentioned the life expectancy is lower in Mississippi than in the rest of the country and related it, at least in part, to food culture — and to the non-availability of truly nutritious food.

As Michael Pollan pointed out, yams in the produce aisle don’t have health claims attached to them since that won’t make money for Big Food, and our government subsidizes things like corn, that produces cheap high fructose corn syrup. And as that article pointed out, large food deserts force people into gas stations for food products, and gas stations are even less likely than supermarkets to feature nutritious life-sustaining foods. Something clicked about the relationship between food, social justice and public policy, and I really got it.

There was another milestone two or three years ago, well after I began my exploration of veganism. As I expanded my understanding of justice beyond the human realm, I worked hard to adjust my cooking practices, to separate from well-loved recipes, to find my new cooking philosophy or adapt my old one (real food) and to represent myself through food passionately and deliciously among family and friends already wearied from my years of vegetarian experiments with them. Then one day I looked down and noticed my leather shoes and realized with some shock how segmented my own thoughts are. I grew up in a world in which animal products were pervasive. There was simply a disconnect for almost all of us between the lives of our fellow creatures and the food we ate and clothes we wore. Despite my efforts to resolve that disconnect, there it was.

It’s curious how  we can think we’re fully conscious, making choices based on our values…and then discover our own human frailty, the ways we are embedded in cultural perspectives. And that took me to a path of reexamining another cultural perspective, our deeply held belief that we are superior to other creatures.  My husband’s offhand comment started me along my thought path. My biblical studies are guiding my next steps.

My studies and cooking are one avenue to focus my thoughts, prod myself to examine my cultural assumptions and modify my course through life. My work at the farm, something I had time to take on once I sold my cafe, is another.

I love the beautiful, fresh real food sparkling in the sun with drops of moisture. I love having my hands in the dirt that produces the food. I love experiencing the rhythm of the seasons in my body as I work out in the fields. I love the little lessons I learn in each moment that I work. I imagine the deep wisdom I find in the Bible comes in part from its source in a more agrarian world.

But it is the complete exhaustion at the end of the time I work in the fields, especially at the beginning of the season when I’m rusty after the cold months when my exercise levels drop, that takes me back to Diet for a Small Planet and the lessons I learned from Frances Moore Lappe about social justice. Considering those who do this work for long hours every day, struggling to support families on little pay and with no recognition or appreciation, living with insecurity and worse, brings me back to her themes.

This connection, this social justice theme, connects me to biblical themes of justice within communities and among nations, justice for all life on the planet, environmental justice. It reminds me that every area impacts and influences the others. It is all interconnected.

I was struck this week by this line from Leviticus 18:28 following a set of moral injunctions: “…that the land vomit not you out also, when ye defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.” Like human beings, like our fellow creatures on the planet, the land itself has moral consciousness. It is all interconnected, and our sins against one impact the other.

Cooking and digging in the dirt along with biblical stories, then meaningful study of this text, have had a significant role throughout my life in shaping and reshaping my consciousness about creation, my place in it and what I need to do at this time in our history.

And so I arrive at how cooking and working the fields became my political activism.  First, my work encouraged me to lift the veil, to look at what is behind the things I see in front of me, whether on my plate, in the claims on commercial foods, or in the pages of the Bible.

Each breath I take with clarity of consciousness, each bite of food, each interaction with another person or with a community of people, is activism. Only with clarity of consciousness about the reasons for my own choices can I have a larger role in shaping my communities.

And there are many ways for me to do that, to be active, including:

  • cultivating the habit of looking behind the veil,
  • sharing ideas about the implications of what we eat
  • sharing the specifics of delicious, healthful, affordable eating,
  • supporting local, sustainable agriculture, and
  • supporting other community efforts directed toward food and environmental justice.

I continue to learn about so many aspects of my world, so many things I didn’t know or that I kept from coming to full consciousness. I’ve lived long enough to see how the action of many individuals can change things and to learn that ONLY the action of many individuals can reshape the culture. And I have Trump to thank for intensifying my effort and compelling me to find the political meaning in my work.

From Bob’s Fresh and Local website:

“But the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.” ~ Wendell Berry – The Unsettling of America
For more, visit my blog,, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.