Torah Ecology: Vayera (Gen. 18:1 – Gen. 22:24)

Listening for the Sounds in Silence

Seven stories illuminate the character and path of Abraham…but five of the seven carry kernels of silence, words unspoken, sounds not recorded.  What meanings can we retrieve, buried in the silence?

Seven stories, five with silent spaces:

THREE VISITORS (18:1-18:15)
The three visitors arrive at Abraham’s and Sarah’s tent, bringing the news that Abraham and Sarah will have a child…after agonizing years when they could not conceive. Almost all the conversation in this segment is between Abraham and the guests, establishing Abraham’s commitment to hospitality. When Abraham persuades the visitors to stay for a meal, he rushes to gather the food for the feast and commands Sarah to make cakes — quickly, a command she obeys without recorded comment. When the visitors make their announcement, Sarah laughs — silently, to herself. When the visitors question her soundless laughter, they inquire of Abraham, not Sarah. Frightened by the visitors’ ability to see into her deepest thoughts, she finally speaks, lying, saying she did not laugh. Does Sarah’s silent laughter hide years of pain and fear and frustration? The future for a childless woman is uncertain and fragile in a time when a woman is supported first by her father, then her husband, and if widowed, her inheriting son — a time when a woman’s purpose, in her community and for herself, is defined by bearing children.

ARGUMENT WITH G-D (18:16-18:33)
In one of two stories without an actor who doesn’t speak, Abraham carries on an extended conversation directly with G-d, establishing Abraham’s sense of justice. He pleads eloquently and forcefully on behalf of the cities of the plain, Sodom and Gomorrah, asking G-d to spare them if fifty innocent are found, forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty, ten.  The story is remarkable for Abraham’s volubility as well as the content of his message, questioning and reminding G-d to be just by not punishing the innocent with the guilty. For all of Abraham’s anxious volubility, what we don’t hear is, what in Abraham’s history and experience with G-d would make Abraham feel the need to “argue?” Why does he question the justice of an outcome, whatever it is? Still, this is one of two stories in seven where all those present, Abraham and G-d, speak and hear.

TWO VISITORS, TWO DAUGHTERS  (19:1-19:38)
Abraham’s visitors move on, but now they are two. They arrive in Abraham’s nephew, Lot’s, home town, Sodom. Lot’s action when he sees them parallels Abraham’s in some ways when the three visitors arrived at Abraham’s and Sarah’s tent. He urges the visitors to come in and enjoy food as Abraham did…but Lot prepares the food himself, including the bread. Where are the women of the household? We see and hear nothing of them until Lot offers his daughters to the men and boys of Sodom in place of the visitors whom they demand. Lot says, “I have two daughters who have not known man…do to them as is good in your eyes.” This is the first mention of anyone in the household other than Lot, and no words are recorded from the daughters. Whether or not Lot’s action was praiseworthy in the context, imagine the terror the daughters must have felt. Their lives were about to change radically, probably end, if they became substitutes for the visitors as the objects of sexual assault. And finally, after the destruction, Lot’s wife comes into view momentarily as she looks back on the destruction and turns…silently…to a pillar of salt. Her sorrow and terror are also not recorded.

The daughters who were silent as their father offered them up for assault in place of the visitors are now talkative as they discuss and carry out a plan to fulfill their lives’ meaning in their restricted circumstance. Noah sleeps after too much wine, knowing nothing, the silent victim of his daughters’ strategy. Would he have agreed to the plan consciously? How would he have fulfilled the commandment, p’ru u’r’vu (be fruitful and multiply)? What a sad and desperate situation, living in a cave overlooking the devastated landscape, isolated from the society he so desperately wanted to join, without even the wife who bore their children and shared a life with him.

ABRAHAM & ABIMELECH…AGAIN (20:1-20:18)
Once again, Abraham presents his wife, Sarah, as his sister to prevent attacks because those more powerful than he might want his wife and would take her by force. This time, unlike the earlier occurrence with Pharaoh, Abraham doesn’t speak with Sarah, requesting her cooperation. He just presents her as his sister, and King Abimelech of Gerar “had Sarah brought to him,” that is, brought to his harem.  G-d comes to Abimelech in a dream, warning him of Sarah’s real status and the punishment that will come to him and his kingdom. Abimelech reproaches G-d in similar terms to those Abraham uses in his Argument with G-d: “Will You slay people even though innocent?” He pleads ignorance, and G-d commands him to return Sarah to her husband.

Abimelech speaks to his servants, telling them what happened, then summons Abraham, demanding to know why Abraham brought this guilt on Abimelech and his kingdom. Abraham explains himself, saying, “I thought…surely there is no fear of G-d in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife…And besides, she is in truth my sister, my father’s daughter though not my mother’s.” Abimelech gifts Abraham with sheep and oxen and restores his wife, inviting him to settle where he wishes in Abimelech’s land. And to Sarah, he says, “I herewith give your brother a thousand pieces of silver; this will serve you as vindication before all who are with you, and you are cleared before everyone.” Is there a hint of sarcasm when Abimelech refers to Sarah’s husband as her brother? In any case, events swirl around Sarah, she is transferred household to household, and throughout, her words and thoughts are never reported. She is silent as her husband misrepresents her and another man takes her into his household.

BIRTH OF ISAAC (21:1-21:21)
Sarah conceives and bears a son, as G-d promised her through the three visitors to the tent. Abraham names his son Isaac, connecting him to Sarah’s silent laughter, and at eight days old, Abraham circumcises him. Then Sarah finally finds her voice, expressing her joy after all these years of disappointment and pain: “G-d has brought me laughter; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” Further, she demands that Abraham cast out “that slave-woman and her son,” Hagar, to whom Sarah sent her husband when Sarah was unable to conceive, and Ishmael, Hagar’s son. Suddenly Sarah, a woman who remains silent through two occasions when her husband passes her off as his sister, allowing her to be taken into the harems of others, and who laughs to herself when told she would conceive in her old age, then lies about her silent laughter out of fear…has a lot to say. She is concerned for her son, Isaac’s, inheritance. The story reports Abraham’s feelings of distress, and G-d speaks to Abraham telling him not to be distressed, to follow whatever Sarah tells him to do, a reversal of their roles.

The next day, Abraham gives Hagar bread and a skin of water to carry along with her child, Ishmael, and he sends her away. Hagar wanders, with her son, in the wilderness of Beersheba until the water runs out. Despairing and unable to bear watching her son die, she leaves the child under a bush and sits down at a distance, bursting into tears. In the next line, the story tells us, “G-d heard the cry of the boy, and an angel of G-d calls to Hagar from Heaven and says to her…” Hagar, silent throughout her ordeal, finally weeps with fear and despair, and G-d hears…not Hagar, but her son, although the story reports no sounds from him. G-d speaks to Hagar, giving her G-d’s promise for Ishmael’s future and showing them a well of water.

In The JPS Torah Commentary for Genesis, editor Nahum Sarna notes how Yishmael recedes into the silence of history with verbal cues. In the course of this story, which unfolds from Gen. 21:1-21, Yitzhak’s name appears 6 times. The root of his name, ts-h-k (associated with laughter), occurs “suggestively” 3 times. Conversely, Yishmael’s name appears not at all, although the word “boy” with reference to Yishmael appears 6 times. The root of the name Yishmael, sh-m-‘ (associated with hearing), occurs “suggestively” 3 times. These skillful verbal cues elaborate the silent theme associated with Yishmael in this story…the boy left under a bush by his despairing mother, a mother who weeps for her son and G-d who hears her silent son.

ABRAHAM & ABIMELECH REDUX (21:22-21:34)
In a brief transitional story, the second of two without a silent actor, Abimelech once again meets with Abraham, this time bringing along Phicol, chief of his troops. On this occasion, equals meet, with King Abimelech seeking a pledge of loyalty from Abraham, the sojourner in his land. Abraham makes that pledge, then reproaches Abimelech for the well Abimelech’s servants seized. Again, Abimelech pleads his innocence on the basis of lack of knowledge. Abimelech and Abraham now make a “pact,” sealed by a gift from Abraham to Abimelech of sheep and oxen. Abraham then pays Abimelech with seven ewes as proof that he, Abraham, dug the well. Their business together concluded, Abimelech returns to the land of the Philistines, and Abraham plants a tamarisk at Beersheba, invoking the name of the Lord.

AKEDAT YITZHAK – THE BINDING OF ISAAC (22:1-22:24)
The Binding of Isaac, Abraham’s final test of faith, climaxes this seemingly unrelated series of seven stories which are, nonetheless, intimately linked through verbal cues and parallelisms. The story is filled with silences, beginning with the somber silence that pervades the scene of Abraham preparing to go on a journey to sacrifice his son. Despite the eloquence of his pleas on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham is silent in response to G-d’s command that he “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.”

Just let that sink in for a moment. Four identifications to make certain there is no doubt. G-d is demanding that Abraham sacrifice his future, a promise finally fulfilled late in his life. Abraham already unwillingly gave up his first son, Ishmael, on G-d’s instruction. Now he is being asked to give up his son, Isaac, the one he favors, a repository of his love and hope for the future — and he must do that in a most horrifying way — he must tie him down, put a knife through him and burn him on the altar. Abraham’s response is fiercely and dutifully silent.

Imagine the buried pain in the conversation between Abraham and his beloved son, Isaac, as they walk toward what Abraham believes will be his awesome duty, the sacrifice of his son. “Father!”…”Yes, my son…” “Here are the firestone and the wood; but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”…”G-d will see to the sheep for His burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them walked on together.

What did Isaac think as his father, Abraham, bound him and laid him on the altar on top of the wood? As Abraham picked up the knife with the intent of killing him? We don’t know. The moment is buried in silence. And then, in this awful moment, a moment suspended in silence, G-d, who spoke with Abraham directly, who conversed with him, with whom Abraham argued about Sodom and Gomorrah, sends a messenger to hold Abraham back from the terrible deed. Abraham looks up, and his eye falls on a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Without hesitation, Abraham goes and takes the ram and offers it as a burnt offering in place of his son.

But the silence continues. Imagine the terror of the ram, first trapped, then bound on an altar for slaughter. It’s hard to imagine the ram’s terror wasn’t finding expression in bleating, that there wasn’t a struggle. The story doesn’t report that — the scene remains submerged in a deep, impenetrable silence.

G-d speaks with Abraham one more time…and again, after so many direct meetings, real conversations, this last one, following the horrifying silent moment on Mt. Moriah, is through a messenger.

Everything changed in that terrifying moment, as much as it changed when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree or Noah entered the Ark with his family and fellow creatures. We are a long way from the vision of the Garden.

The 10 Most Important Things I’ve Learned About Healthy Eating Over 50 Years

I’m not a scientist, nor am I a medical professional. I just love well-prepared food and a feeling of good health. I like to read and test out on myself theories that make sense and judge them based on experience.

These are the 10 things I’ve learned about healthy, satisfying eating over more than fifty years of experimenting with myself, my family and friends and in my cafe:

  1. Eat real food. By real food, I mean whole foods from the earth as little manipulated as possible other than by your own preparation and cooking processes.
  2. Eat until you’re satisfied, not stuffed. There is a delay before the satisfaction message reaches your brain. Allow for that.
  3. If you’re not satisfied after meals and if you experience cravings, something needs adjusting in your diet.
  4. Be careful about eliminating categories of food from your diet. There’s a lot of “fake news” about the disaster that will overtake you when you eat certain foods. There’s also a lot of imperfect nutritional knowledge.
  5. Be careful about eliminating “food” categories, that is, except for added sweets of all kinds, natural and artificial. Get rid of those as much as you can. That includes most commercially processed foods.
  6. Eat fiber. When appropriate and possible, buy organic and don’t peel things.
  7. Don’t let the excuse that you can’t afford organic fruits and veggies stand in the way of eating them. It’s much more important to consume those whole foods than it is to avoid chemical residues. For the path of moderation, ewg.org provides a Dirty Dozen list of the worst offenders, updated each year.
  8. Aim for at least 80% plant foods in your diet.
  9. Nuts and seeds and avocados are your friends. They are the best source of healthy fats.
  10. Enjoy your meals! Remember, it’s always a work in progress. You learn more, we all learn more, we get lazy and need system rechecks and adjustments, perfection is never a possibility, and if you put healthy whole foods on your table, you can savor the taste and experience instead of counting calories or “carbs.”

I have found the best way for me to experience healthy, satisfied pleasure from what I eat is to work with my CSA. On the days I spend out in the field, I often accumulate 15,000 steps or more. I feel the wind and the sun and the rain. I enjoy the beauty and the colors that surround me. I have my hands in the food chain and can’t imagine much that is more satisfying than knowing I have a direct relationship to the food I eat and feed my family.

Best of all, I am challenged to use 3/4 bushel of seasonal produce and more every week. I try things that are new to me, that I’ve seen in stores but haven’t bought because they were unfamiliar. There just isn’t a way to eat more healthfully than by using up my box of beautiful whole foods that I had a hand in producing.

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

Torah Ecology: Lech Lecha (Gen. 12:1 – 17:27)

Lech Lecha tells the story of Abram becoming Abraham. That story includes many tantalizing “historical” and “biographical” details, details that show us how the Torah wants us to understand the character of Abraham and the meaning of his transition.

Until now, the Torah story has been about the relationships among human beings and between human beings, their environment, other animals and Transcendence. Animals are featured in the early Torah story along with the first human beings. The serpent has as dramatic an impact on the progress of history as the first humans. Animals suffer the consequences of Adam and Eve eating from the tree along with humanity. In the Flood story, animals transgress as human beings do, and again animals suffer the consequences along with human beings.

What we learned in the story that precedes Lech Lecha is that non-human animals, like humans, connect with G-d through the breath of life, breathed into them by G-d. Non-human animals, like humans, are also substance, basar, which without the breath of G-d is merely dead meat, a carcass. And non-human animals are moral beings held accountable for their infractions. Human beings are not passive in their relationship to G-d and their world — and neither are non-human animals, who also have moral capacity and make decisions that have consequences.

In the story that unfolds in the Garden, the relationship between humans and animals is harmonious, and both are vegan, as G-d instructed. The fact that all creatures are vegan is central to the narrative:

“G-d said, “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food. And to all the animals on land, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything that creeps on earth, in which there is the breath of life, [I give] all the green plants for food.” ~ Gen. 1:29-30

Outside the Garden, everything changes, all relationships, not only the one between human beings and G-d. The human relationship with the environment changes, with a less generous earth yielding its fruits more grudgingly to hard labor. And the human relationship with other animals changes. The snake and the woman are enemies. Hierarchical relationships prevail, even in the intimacy between husband and wife. Animal husbandry is in play with the Cain and Abel story (which assumes meat-eating), and accompanying it, animal sacrifice. Even human-to-human relationships change with the first homicide, a fratricide.

The Flood story confirms what the Cain and Abel story assumes: both animals and humans are implicated in unlawful bloodshed. Some animals, like humans, kill for food — and predator animals, like some human beings, sometimes kill human beings. The earth is filled with violence and lawlessness, and all flesh (kol basar) on earth, human and non-human animals and birds, are implicated and suffer consequences in the flood. Animal sacrifice is an integral part of the human relationship to G-d, with “pure” and “impure” animals entering the ark.

Post-Garden, blood is involved in all relationships. There is an economy of blood in the post-Garden world, the blood of sacrifice paying for unlawful blood spilled…in the ancient history of the world and in the present moment.

The changed relationships and the blood economy are confirmed in the diet post-Flood. Humans may kill non-human animals for food but cannot eat the blood with it; neither humans nor animals can kill human beings without consequence:

“The fear and the dread of you shall be upon all the beasts of the earth and upon all the birds of the sky—everything with which the earth is astir—and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hand. Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these. You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it. But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of man, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of every man for that of his fellow man.” ~ Gen. 9:2-5

Suddenly in Lech Lecha, the non-human animals’ and birds’ story is muted. No longer is their story and relationship to creation developing — it is fixed. References to animals are fleeting and not part of the evolving narrative.

  • In Gen. 12:8, Abram builds an altar to the Lord in the hill country east of Bethel — although strangely, there is no mention of sacrifice.
  • In Gen. 12:16, Abram acquires sheep, oxen, asses, she-asses, camels, and male and female slaves from Pharoah. This kind of wealth assumes a meat-eating lifestyle.
  • In Gen. 13:1-9, we learn that Abraham, like Abel, is a herdsman, the first herding sheep, the latter primarily cattle. In Lech Lecha, this lifestyle is both assumed and acceptable without comment or elaboration.
  • In Gen. 13:4, Abram returns to the altar east of Bethel on his return from Egypt and “invokes the Lord by name.” Again, there is no specific mention of sacrifice. This might mean nothing…but the doubling of this event is suggestive.
  • In Gen. 14:17-19, as Abram returns from his victorious pursuit of the invaders who took Abram’s brother Lot along with all his possessions, he is met by the king of Sodom in the Valley of the King…and King Melchizedek of Salem. The king of Sodom approaches ambiguously, bringing neither food nor blessings. King Melchizedek of Salem brings both, bread and wine (a vegan offering) and a blessing for Abram that invokes the G-d of creation, the G-d whose original plan did not include either sacrifice or killing animals for food.

Finally, in the economy of blood established post-Garden, this portion concludes with a covenant agreement, sealed on G-d’s side when a flaming torch, representing G-d, passes “between the pieces,” three animals cut in two, a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram and a whole turtle dove and small bird. (Gen. 15:9-18). On Abraham’s side, the covenant is sealed with a parallel blood rite, circumcision. (Gen. 17:9-14). The first part of the covenant agreement brings the promise of land while the second part brings the promise of descendants and a name change. The transition from Abram to Abraham is complete — and the transition to a new reality.

Animals may be treated as moral beings in the Torah story, but in Lech Lecha, their position in the new scheme of creation is a settled discussion, not a point of debate. Predator animals are “impure” beasts, animals who might kill humans, and other animals are “pure,” most, but not all of them, domesticated. In this Torah portion, domesticated animals are a fact of existence, and certain domesticated animals are a regular part of the human diet and of sacrificial worship.

Humans have the potential to become impure. But humans also have the opportunity to purify. The difference between human and animal impurity is that the human impurity is temporary, animal impurity permanent.

Yet hints of the original vision of the relationship between human and non-human animals remain in the stories of King Melchizedek and Abram at the altar east of Bethel. Abram invokes the name of the Lord without specifically engaging in animal sacrifice — twice. King Melchizedek blesses Abram of the G-d Most High, the Creator of heaven and earth, the G-d who created a world in which all of creation lived in harmony.

Lech Lecha begins a story of a life that includes death and killing, one genus in the family of living beings using others, a blood economy of creation that involves G-d … a world that isn’t quite according to anyone’s plan. For all the powerful and inspirational moments in the ongoing story of the developing relationship between G-d and the patriarchs, there is some sadness in finally leaving behind the vision of a world without death and violence, a world where all creatures live in harmony.

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

Torah Ecology: Noach (Gen 6:9 – 11:32)

“Justice, justice you shall pursue, that you may live, and inherit the land which the LORD your God gives you.” (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק, תִּרְדֹּף–לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ) – Deut. 16:20

Religions begin with looking at the world and seeing a problem, then imagining solutions. For the Torah and later Judaism, that problem is injustice. Since injustice is a problem in relationship, the solution the Torah imagines is a body of laws to guide first humanity, then a subset of humanity, the Israelites, in establishing right relationships.

The justice issue informs the overarching thematic structure of the Torah, set out in Genesis 1-9: creation, moral failure, roll-back of creation, a new creation. When morality fails and relationships are out of balance, catastrophe follows. When justice fails, worlds return to pre-creation emptiness and void. All of creation interconnects and depends on each part, and each part connects to and depends on others. Moral failures in any area of life affect everything.

My primary purpose in Torah Ecology is to explore what the Torah envisions as correct relationships. From my study so far, I believe the parameters are much wider than the human realm, embracing other creatures and the whole earth.

Ethical consciousness and responsibility pervade all of creation, human beings, non-human animals, the earth itself. Not only human beings but non-human animals fail to fulfill G-d’s plan for creation, and both are morally accountable. The earth is G-d’s instrument in ensuring justice. From this week’s portion:

“The earth became corrupt before G-d; the earth was filled with lawlessness. When G-d saw how corrupt the earth was, for all flesh (בָּשָׂר – basar) had corrupted its ways on earth, G-d said to Noah, ‘I have decided to put an end to all flesh (בָּשָׂר – basar), for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth.” (Gen. 6:11-13).

Our assumption is that G-d intends to wipe out humanity because of its “lawlessness,” because it “corrupted” its ways, but the text doesn’t say humanity — it says “all flesh” (בָּשָׂר – basar). The word signifies the substance or flesh of a being, most often without life in it, a carcass suitable for food or for sacrifice on the altar. It refers to any kind of creature.

The word בָּשָׂר – basar, meaning flesh, contrasts with נֶּפֶשׁ – nefesh, often translated “soul” — yet Gen. 12:5 reports that “Abram left Haran with his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the wealth that they had amassed, and the נֶּפֶשׁ (nefesh) – persons that they had acquired in Haran…”  The story of Noah and the flood suggests that נֶּפֶשׁ (nefesh) has an even more comprehensive meaning than “persons,” that like basar, it doesn’t only refer to human beings. Perhaps a better translation, then, is living being, substance given life by the breath of G-d.

Along these lines, Gen. 1:29-30 reads, “G-d said, “See I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food. And to all the animals on land (חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ – hayyat ha-aretz), to all the birds of the sky (עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם – of ha-shamayim), and to everything that creeps on earth (רוֹמֵשׂ עַל-הָאָרֶץ – romes al ha-aretz), in which there is the breath of life (אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה – asher bo nefesh hayyah), [I give] all the green plants for food.”

In Gen. 2:20, we learn of a further division of land animals into domesticated and wild: “And the man gave names to all the cattle (בְּהֵמָה – behemah) and to the birds of the sky and to all the wild beasts (חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה – hayyat ha-sadeh)…”

Once again, in Gen. 2:19, all creatures are living beings: “…and whatever the man called each living creature (נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה – nefesh hayyah), that would be its name.” All creatures are livings beings (נֶפֶשׁ – nefesh) brought to life with the breath of G-d. Ha-Adam, humanity, is but one genus in the family of living beings.

The word ”flesh” (בָּשָׂר – basar), then, in this context means all creatures were lawless and corrupted their ways on earth. The text emphasizes this point in the phrase, “The earth became corrupt before G-d” (וַתִּשָּׁחֵת הָאָרֶץ – va-tishaket ha-aretz). It also implies that all living beings were already dead, that the breath of life wasn’t within them. They were not נֶּפֶשׁ – nefesh. They were “basar,” carcasses, devoid of the breath of life.

Certainly this theme isn’t presented in a one-to-one correspondence, life vs. lifeless flesh. The creatures who enter the ark are “all flesh in which there is the breath of life” (מִכָּל-הַבָּשָׂר, אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ רוּחַ חַיִּים – mi-lol ha-basar asher bo ruach hayyim) – Gen. 7:17. But it is the ongoing and repeated association of flesh with the beings on earth before the flood that focuses attention on the material and therefore transient aspect of life on earth, dependent on the breath of G-d for life.

More than that, skillful and repeated use of flesh, בָּשָׂר – basar, and נֶפֶשׁ – living being, points to the equality of all creation in this respect: all creatures, not only humans, depend on G-d for life, and their life is the breath of G-d. At the same time, all creatures, including humans, without the breath of life from G-d are merely meat, dead carcasses.

The emphasis on the equality of all being on earth finds another expression in Gen. 7:23: “All existence (כָּל-הַיְקוּם – lol ha-y’kum) on earth was blotted out — man, cattle, creeping things, and birds of the sky; they were blotted out from the earth.” An alternate translation of “existence” is “substance,” again a reference to the material aspect of all creatures on earth, human and otherwise. And those who leave the ark are all “living things of all flesh” (כָּל-הַחַיָּה… מִכָּל-בָּשָׂר – kol hayyah … mi-kol basar) – Gen. 8:17.

What Noach describes is a world in which all living beings became lawless and corrupt and all, therefore, suffered the consequence of their moral failure. Creation rolls back to watery emptiness and void but for the tiny remnant, human and non-human, who still have G-d’s breath of life in them, כָּל-הַחַיָּה (all living beings), floating on the vast, dark water in a tiny ark.

The story of the flood reverses the imagery of the creation story in Gen. 1 and is rich with allusions to that creation narrative as creation rolls back. But it is the reference to corruption in the flood story that makes me wonder what, exactly, brought on this roll back to pre-creation darkness and emptiness. Significant differences between the first creation and the new one that follows the flood suggest an answer.

The key Hebrew stem sh-h-t, “corrupt,” appears seven times in the flood narrative, according to Nahum Sarna in the JPS Torah Commentary. These further comments are telling: “The universal corruption is further defined as hamas. This term parallels “no justice” in Job 19:7 and is elsewhere the synonym of “falsehood,” “deceit,” or “bloodshed.” It means, in general, the flagrant subversion of the ordered processes of law.”

This helps us understand the nature of the lawlessness and corruption permeating all of creation that brought on the flood. A comparison of Gen. 1:29-30, quoted above, and Gen. 9:2-5 tells that story, once again including non-human creatures with humanity in both moral failure and consequence. Gen. 1:29-30 provides “every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit” to human beings for food and “all the green plants for food” to every kind of creature. In other words, both humans and animals are offered a vegan diet. Everything changes in the post-flood world:

Gen. 9:2-5: “The fear and the dread of you shall be upon all the beasts of the earth and upon all the birds of the sky—everything with which the earth is astir—and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hand. Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these. You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it. But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of man, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of every man for that of his fellow man (brother).”

The new creation of Gen. 9:2-5 differs profoundly from the creation of Gen. 1-3 that it mirrors. G-d specifically allows meat-eating to humans, generating fear throughout the animal kingdom. Immediately this reluctant permission is ringed with prohibition: not to eat flesh with its life-blood in it. Further, human beings are not to kill their “brothers,” their fellow humans, an allusion to the story of Cain and Abel, suggesting that every homicide is fratricide.

The passage also, however, pre-supposes meat-eating among animals and cautions they will now be held accountable if their prey is human. Both animals and humans, in taking life that was not permitted to them in the original order of creation, acted lawlessly and corruptly. For both animals and humans, there were consequences for moral failures tied to unjustly taking life that returned the world to watery emptiness and void. In the new creation, while G-d gives humans and animals permission to continue their practice of eating meat, restrictions surround the practice and they are warned of their accountability.

Humans killed their own family, and animals killed humans for food in the pre-flood world. This is the lawlessness and corruption that subverted G-d’s plan and brought down the first creation. In the brave new world post-flood, G-d recognizes and accepts the reality of human and animal natures and recluctantly, and I have to imagine sadly, allows meat-eating with restrictions to humans and animals according to their natures.

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

Peppers: sweet or spicy and always beautiful

Published in Bob’s Fresh and Local Newsletter 10/16/2017

Our dry early spring and late planting brings us a bonus in our fall harvest…lots of beautiful peppers, sweet ones, spicy ones, beautiful colored ones.

This versatile recipe works for any combination of peppers. Just adjust the recipe overall for quantity, and adjust the hot paprika depending on the heat of the peppers you use.

The original recipe used all sweet bell peppers. Today I made them with two of our sweet yellow bell peppers and seven of the spicy Anaheim peppers.

Here’s my original recipe. I halved it for this group of peppers and eliminated the hot paprika since the Anaheims gave the salad plenty of bite. If you are heat-sensitive, use more sweet bell peppers and fewer Anaheims:

SWEET (OR SPICY) PEPPERS

Ingredients

  • 6-8 red, yellow or orange bell peppers
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp Szeged hot paprika
  • 1/3 bunch cilantro, chopped

Procedure

Rub the peppers with oil, and run them under the broiler, turning them as needed, until browned and wrinkly all over. Don’t over cook — you want plenty of pepper flesh. Thinner peppers finish quickly. Peel the peppers, remove the stems (don’t worry about the seeds – they make a nice garnish and add nutrition and flavor), and cut into lengthwise 1/4″ strips. Cut across the lengths into 1″ pieces. Add seasonings, stir, taste and adjust seasonings. Enjoy!

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

Torah Ecology: Bereishit (Gen 1:1-6:8)

IMAGINING THE TORAH, A STORY OF RELATIONSHIP

The Torah tells us a story, imagining a world and inviting us to join in imagining.

Our ability to imagine, to create fiction and persuade others to believe it, says Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens, is what gave Homo Sapiens the ability to finally move beyond a mediocre status as just another land animal in the middle of the food chain to world domination.

The profound and elegant imagination behind the first chapters in Genesis touches me deeply every time I read through these pages. Each time I find new things in the technical details of these words that enrich my understanding, for example, the structure of the first creation story. G-d creates a 3-part environment in majestic stages, then fills each part of the environment in three more stages and finally stops to survey the goodness of it all, pointing to creation with a plan and majestic order to it. But it’s not just ordered — it’s good, and the life in it is blessed.

So I am moved and awed by the form of Torah — but connecting to its imagination through my own brings me to core emotions and meanings and helps me connect to its content.

PART I: Imagining a G-d who chooses to live in relationship

Imagine.

Darkness so total you can’t see yourself, and you can’t see anything around you. The darkness cuts you off from any relationship, animate or inanimate, that might give you definition, make you “real.”

There are only two things, each so profound you can’t distinguish one from the other: darkness and deep.  It’s as impossible to know where one begins and the other ends as it is to know where you begin and end. Your isolation is complete.

A wind sweeps over the water. The only reason you know that is you feel it. Without light, there are no glimmerings on the water as the wind moves over it that might distinguish the darkness of the water from the darkness over it.

Two potential entities, darkness and deep, indistinguishable, unformed…and then a sudden flash of light emerges from the darkness, filling it, illuminating everything. The light provides day and night. It’s possible to differentiate between the darkness of the deep and the darkness above it. First day.

With light, other differentiations begin. A vastness (רָקִיעַ) emerges, separating the waters into those above and below it, as the primordial light separated the darkness into day and night. G-d names the vastness Heavens (שָׁמָיִם, possibly meaning “like water”). Second day.

More differentiations follow. As light emerged from darkness on the first day, the dry land (הַיַּבָּשָׁה) emerges from the deep when the waters below are gathered together (מִקְוֵה הַמַּיִם). G-d names the gathering of the waters Seas (יַמִּים) and the dry land Earth (אֶרֶץ). The earth sprouts vegetation. Third day.

These things, then, are the environment: Heavens, Seas and Earth with its vegetation. The Heavens and the Earth, including its Seas, are no longer formless and empty.

Now the environment begins to fill with life: celestial bodies, Day Four. Sea creatures and birds, Day Five. Land creatures, including Adam, “in our image, after our likeness; and let them…”, Day Six.

All the work G-d surveys at the end of the sixth day G-d judges very good. Only the work of the fifth day, though, when G-d creates fish and birds, and the sixth day, with the creation of humanity, are blessed. In addition, fish, birds and humanity receive their first commandment, p’ru u’rvu, be fruitful and multiply.

G-d appoints Adam, humanity, to domesticate the fish of the sea, birds of the air and every living thing that creeps on the earth.  G-d encourages intimacy between Adam and other creatures when he tells the human to name them as G-d named the Heavens and the Earth and the Seas.

Finally G-d assigns a vegan diet to Adam and to “and to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creeps upon the earth, wherein there is a living soul.” There is no prey and no predator here — all creatures live together in harmony.

Finally, G-d ceases (שָׁבַת), blesses the seventh day and declares it holy (וַיְקַדֵּשׁ), setting it apart from the other days of the week.

As the light emerges from the darkness, and the dry land emerges from the waters when they gather into seas, so this day emerges from time as something set apart. We understand the nature of each feature of creation only in relationship with that from which it differs.

Teeming with life in all its variety, in the heavens, on the land and in the seas, this creation is very different from the undifferentiated darkness, emptiness and isolation in the beginning. We have imagined our way from profound isolation to potential relationship and awareness of being. As creating is differencing, difference makes relationship possible and forms its basis.

Of course no human being was there to observe the creation of the world, and not one of us experienced that pre-creation moment when the breath of G-d moved across the deep, between darkness and darkness — but our imaginations can connect us to the moment.

The experience I had this year as I read those first words of Bereishit, Genesis, was a sense of profound loneliness. What if it had been my breath that moved over the deep, between vast darkness and vast darkness, where all was empty, where there was no environment, no teeming and varied life in it? How does that feel? It feels lonely.

I wonder if G-d created life because S/he was lonely?

PART II: Imagining the first humans exploring the meaning of relationship

Imagine.

No more does G-d’s breath hover over the undifferentiated deep between profound darkness and profound darkness. Now G-d walks in the heat of the day in the Garden S/he created. G-d blesses, commands, feels anger, loves. G-d can relate to creation.

“In the beginning” of this imagining, G-d creates the human being, the “ground being” from the dust (עָפָר) of the ground (הָאֲדָמָה), in G-d’s likeness and image. Here is the entire phrase in Hebrew with my translation/interpretation/imagining of it:

וַיִּיצֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם, עָפָר מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו, נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים; וַיְהִי הָאָדָם, לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה.

G-d formed the-Adam (ha-Adam), the “ground being,” from dust G-d took from the ground (Adamah, a grammatically feminine noun that means “ground”), breathed G-d’s own breath into the-Adam, the breath of life; and the-Adam was a living being.

The-Adam is both male and female. This intricate word play suggests that the-Adam is like G-d, body and soul, an expression of wholeness, containing all possibilities.

Returning to the twin themes of loneliness and relationship, G-d knows “It is not good that the-Adam should be alone…” How does G-d know that? G-d experienced it.

So G-d separates the-Adam into two beings, male and female. Not until G-d separates Eve from the-Adam does Adam become a man. Ish (man) and Isha (woman) come into being simultaneously.

With this differentiation, G-d creates the possibility of relationship for the-Adam because relationship between human beings depends on difference. In the same moment, G-d creates the possibility of relationship for G-d’s self. The-Adam is no longer an extension of G-d’s self but is a differentiated being in body…and as we will soon imagine, soul.

The separation of the-Adam into Adam and Eve is both blessing and challenge. While it makes room for relationship, it also makes the world more complicated. Differentiated beings in relationship may not always see the world in the same way or make the same decisions. They are no longer necessarily of one mind just as they are no longer one body. The majestic order of Genesis 1:1-2:3 starts to get a little messy in Genesis 2:4-3:24.

Chapter 3 concludes with G-d locking in another critical difference between G-d’s self and humanity: when Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, attaining for themselves G-d’s capacity for moral judgment, G-d prevents them from eating from the Tree of Life and Death, gaining G-d’s power over life and death.

So Adam and Eve enter the human frame, taking all of creation, now subject to life and death like them, with them. They learn that in relationships, actions have consequences, not only for oneself but for others.

The story explores another relationship, the one between these first human beings and a beast of the field, the-Snake (הַנָּחָשׁ).

The snake is more עָרוּם, arum, than any other beast of the field. But what does arum mean? Used infrequently in the Bible, it is most often translated “prudent” or “cautious,” which has a positive connotation. In Job, it translates “crafty,” with a more negative connotation. It also means, “naked.”

In just a few verses of chapter 3 of Genesis, the word arum appears several times, describing both the snake and the first humans — and yet because our translations select different words, crafty or shrewd for the snake and naked for the humans, we miss the parallel. How does it change the way we imagine the story if we use the same word for both humans and snake?

As a beast of the field, the snake is not domesticated by the humans. It is free and independent — yet it is also “more arum (עָרוּם) than any beast of the field.”

Reading this, I hold all possibilities in my mind while I imagine the story. The snake, like the human, is somehow superior to all the other beasts of the field, captured in the word, arum. Like the human, the snake is “naked,” without a coat of fur. The snake, however, is also “crafty” or “shrewd,” capable of imaginative manipulation — or perhaps the prudence to manage its life skillfully, planning the best strategy for its own advancement.

Prudence also implies that the snake is capable of anticipating the consequences of its actions, a capability that requires imagination, but the snake also fails at that sometimes just as the humans do. Surely the snake hoped for different results when it told Eve the truth about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

In my imagining, when Adam and Eve eat from the Tree, they realize they, like the snake, are naked. Or crafty and manipulative. Or prudent, meaning they have the imagination to understand that their actions have consequences. Tragically they attain this understanding too late, realizing with horror the disastrous consequences of their action not only for themselves but for all of creation.

All imaginings that use the same descriptive word for the snake and the human draw a parallel between them and cause us to consider their natures and relationship. Unlike all the animals the humans domesticate, the snake remains independent, an untamed beast of the field but superior to them, human-like in appearance, discernment and perhaps imaginative and manipulative ability. The snake is consigned to go on its belly and eat dust all the days of its life, but the human lot isn’t much of an improvement, coming from and returning to dust.

And the snake, with its capability to regenerate, associates to what is denied humans, eternal life: “As snakes shed their skin through sloughing, they are symbols of rebirth, transformation, immortality, and healing.[7] The ouroboros is a symbol of eternity and continual renewal of life.”

The humans and the snake are competitors in this brave new world they enter post-Garden. Interestingly, this imaginative, suggestive story, like so many others in the Torah, turns out to correspond to recent research: “Snakes are predators on, prey of, and competitors with primates.”

Part III: Imaging how life gets messy and relationships run amuck

Imagine once again.

You are a tenant farmer. Your days in the fields are long and backbreaking, tilling, planting, watering, weeding and nurturing, harvesting. At the end of a day you have no more energy. You just want a few hours of sleep before you go out into the hot sun for another day like the last. Still, you know it’s appropriate to say thank you for what you have, so you quickly gather some fruits of your labor, thinking the whole time about how you just want to get home and sleep, and you take your bundle to the landowner.

Your brother herds sheep. Instead of back-breaking work in the fields under a hot sun, he is off hiking in the hills, watching over his flock. In the heat of the day, he, like his flock, finds a shady area for rest. He probably knows each animal he tends, their names, their personalities, possibly even loves them. Your brother also knows he must thank the landowner for the life he has, and he carefully and with complete attention selects the very best from his flock, the one he loves the most, and takes that animal to the landowner.

The landowner responds to this special care and attention, this heartfelt sacrifice, in kind, turning to your brother with complete, focused attention: וַיִּשַׁע (va-yisa).

Aware only of the backbreaking hours you spend every day tilling the hard earth, lifting and hauling, planting and weeding under a hot sun, you don’t notice the subtle but immense difference between your gift to the landowner and your brother’s.

Your brother’s offering wasn’t just any animal of his flock. It was the choicest of the firstlings of the flock with its fat, a coveted delicacy (מִבְּכֹרוֹת צֹאנוֹ, וּמֵחֶלְבֵהֶן). It was the best of the best. Your offering was whatever you gathered from the field, not necessarily the best nor the earliest. It was just something you pulled from the harvest as you thought about going home to sleep before another day.

Focused only on your hard work and your desire for attention and recognition, though, that detail escapes you…and you feel anger that your gift receives as little attention as your selection process got. In your anger (and again, without thinking, just as your gift was without much thought), you lash out. The result of your ill-considered, imprudent action is the death of another, your brother.

And so the first story beyond the borders of the Garden, beyond the ideal world G-d intended, a world with no death, where all of creation lives in harmony nurtured by the abundance of creation, is a fratricide.

The fratricide occurs for much the same reason as the exile from the Garden: it is the result of an imprudent moment, a moment without thought, without considering the disastrous consequences of an action. And in both cases the result is the same, although in different ways: Cain’s act, like Adam and Eve’s, brings death into creation, Adam and Eve in a future they cannot yet imagine, and Cain in the here and now for his brother.

As Eve’s (sexual) desire (תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ) after her thoughtless act is for her husband while her husband rules (יִמְשָׁל) over her, directing her life, sin’s urge (sexual connotation?) is for Cain (תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ), but Cain has the potential to rule (תִּמְשָׁל) over it. Sadly he doesn’t, allowing sin to direct his life (compare Gen 3:16 and 4:7).

The parallelism between the creation story and Cain shows up elsewhere as well: Genesis 4:17-24 recounts the generations of Cain, seven of them. In the course of those seven generations, not only does Cain murder his brother, but Cain’s great-great-great grandson, Lamech, murders a boy who “wounds” him. As Lamech says to his wives, “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (Gen 4:24).

The play on seven parallels G-d creating the world in seven days. Through seven, G-d creates life, and through seven, Cain and his descendants destroy it.

One more thing about Cain’s story: it is vague, and it dead-ends. The story of Cain’s generations is told without specifying the age at which children are born and without death notices. After this chapter, Cain and his line are never again mentioned. They disappear into emptiness and void as Cain came into creation, absorbed with himself and disconnected from any greater relationship or purpose.

Chapter 5 returns us to Adam. The generations of Adam mention both births and deaths of the firstborn male in each generation, assigning specific ages to each and citing the number of years each man lived after the birth of his firstborn son. Some students of Torah (and much better mathematicians than I could ever dream to be) find progressions in these numbers, and I suspect they are there. There is a clear mathematical progression in the ages of the patriarchs. The specific progressions, though, have little meaning in themselves.

Numbers in the Torah are regularly used, however, as a literary device, suggesting order and regularity — a plan. Here they indicate that despite the forces of violence and death and evil in the world, G-d’s plan for life emerges victorious. G-d’s creation and plan for history parallels Cain’s violence and destruction, and the force for good prevails, building relationships, meaning, significance and a place in our imaginations, as the seven generations of Cain disappear into oblivion and meaninglessness.

Part IV: What I imagine as I read these chapters

My focus in my Torah Ecology study is to understand the worldview of the Torah, its vision of G-d, humanity and the rest of creation and the relationships between them all. Noticing literary and structural details and imagining myself into the story are the best ways I have to understand the Torah’s story from its own perspective, to let the text, as much as possible, speak to me.

Having imagined, and noted a few technical details, these are things I see:

  • The stories of Genesis 1-3 are aspirational, an imaginative exploration of what G-d wants for creation, an ever-present potentiality.
  • Beginning with Genesis 4, we enter the human frame, a world of sexuality and birth (Gen. 4:1-2) and death (Gen. 4:8).  It is a world of differences that offers the possibility of relationship but also the possibility of violence when those differences are not managed “prudently” (עָרוּם – arum), anticipating consequences of actions, and harmoniously.
  • All creation suffers from Adam and Eve’s imprudence, their inability to consider consequences of their actions, the environment and the animals right along with them. The ground is no longer necessarily rich and fertile. Soaked with blood, it returns thorns and thistles. Animals, along with human beings, procreate in this world. They kill and are killed. They are both prey and predators.

The first three chapters present a vegan ideal in accord with the aspirational idea that G-d “intends” all of creation to live in harmony and abundance, nurtured by the love of its Creator and in turn nurturing the earth and other life.

This ideal extends to the animal world, who receive the commandment, along with humanity, that they eat plant food: “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food. And to all the animals on land, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything that creeps on earth, in which there is the breath of life, [I give] all the green plants for food.” (Gen. 1:29-31)

G-d requires of both animals and humanity that they not take life for food; and consequences fall on every living creature, whether human or other, when humans choose the wrong food (the fruit of the Tree in the middle of the Garden).

The parallelism between the snake and the humans (עָרוּם – naked or prudent) on the one hand, and the vegan ideal set out for all on the other hand, points us to the idea that in this ideal world, humanity in is on a plane with all other living creatures, receiving the same life-giving instructions and consequences for all when one fails.

Shared responsibility and shared consequences remind us that in our real world, the things we do, great and small, always impact our world in ways we can hardly imagine but must learn to do, for we are all in relationship, everywhere and always, with everything.

The Torah story tells us we humans are very important. We have the capacity to build relationships, meaning and significance with all of creation and with a G-d who cares…and we have to capacity to be imprudent and thoughtless, ignore our connection to G-d, to other human beings, other life on the planet and to the planet itself, bringing catastrophe to all, fading into oblivion as we return everything to formlessness and emptiness.

Our choices to sustain life bring us life…different choices return us to that space where there are only two things, each so profound we can’t distinguish one from the other: darkness and deep. A space where it’s as impossible to know where one begins and the other ends as it is to know where we begin and end. A space where we disappear into isolation, without meaning.

* * * * *

Note: Nicholas Petersen discusses Hebrew cosmology and a word pattern in Genesis 1 that elaborates the theme of an overarching plan, a creation neither accidental nor haphazard in its origin but rather majestic and purposeful.

Petersen shows how each of the three realms is named only after G-d creates its “essence: “The term ‘rāqîaʿ’ perfectly conveys these notions of expansion and enlargement (of the skies and universe). This use of a simple-technical word to describe the ‘cosmic region’ of sky / heavens fits precisely with the pattern in Genesis 1, in which the other major cosmic ‘regions’ (seas and earth) were first described with a simple-technical word, before being given their common name.”)

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

A new practice for Yom Kippur

Jewish tradition teaches that G-d can only forgive transgressions bein Adam l’Makom, those transgressions we commit against G-d. G-d cannot forgive transgressions bein Adam l’havero, between us and our fellow human beings.  Therefore, before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we apologize for ways in which we may have hurt others, intentionally or unintentionally. In this way we enter the Day of Atonement ready to engage in the process of teshuva, or “return” to the path of fulfillment and joy.

Teshuva is about renewing a relationship that has been sundered, not simply curing one party’s guilt. It is about curing a hurt that has caused a rift between parent and child, husband and wife, brother and sister, friend and friend. As much as is possible, it returns things to the way they used to be.

If there is a section of the Torah that comes immediately to my mind when I hear the phrase, “the way they used to be,” it is the first three chapters of Bereishit, Genesis. I am reading those chapters this week, very carefully, as I prepare to begin the cycle of Torah readings once again on another holiday coming soon, Simchat Torah, rejoicing in the Torah. This section comes to my mind because it describes an ideal world, a beautiful, lush, creative, harmonious world…a world in which no creature kills another for food or any other purpose.

The key word is “harmonious.” The world in the first three chapters of Bereishit is not one in which there is no violence because everything is the same. In fact, this is a world rich with difference. Creation is all about differentiating one thing from another, and as creation proliferates, so does difference — and G-d sees that it is all good.

This vision has always led me to think that the path to a world of beauty, joy and fulfillment is not involved in reducing differences, whether they are religious or cultural or political or racial…but in rejoicing in them, seeing them as good, and respecting the wisdom that makes us all experience and see the world in different ways. At the same time, I believe our greatest ethical challenge as human beings is to overcome our fear of and sense of superiority toward “the other.”

In recent years, I have begun to extend that appreciation for difference beyond the human realm. Increasingly I see that human superiority (whether in intelligence or emotion or compassion) is nothing more than a construct — one created by those who place themselves at the top of that pyramid. In reality, other creatures on the planet have different ways of being intelligent or emotional or compassionate, perfectly suited to their environment and survival requirements.

And yet, as Yuval Noah Harari, Israeli professor of history and the author of the international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, says of factory farm animals: “The disappearance of wildlife is a calamity of unprecedented magnitude, but the plight of the planet’s majority population—the farm animals—is cause for equal concern.  In recent years there is growing awareness of the conditions under which these animals live and die, and their fate may well turn out to be the greatest crime in human history. If you measure crimes by the sheer amount of pain and misery they inflict on sentient beings, this radical claim is not implausible.”

This utter disregard and disdain for other life on the planet is worth contemplating as we enter Yom Kippur. This year I want to include in my own apology to all those whom I have knowingly or unknowingly wronged an apology to all creatures I have knowingly or unknowingly and thoughtlessly used.

As I find ways every day to expand my own consciousness of the times my awareness of and appreciation for “the other” fails me, my hope is to do my part in tikkun, repairing the world, “curing a hurt that has caused a rift” in creation. As I return to that extraordinary vision in the first chapters of Bereishit, I want to be part of returning or bringing our world closer to powerful potentiality.

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

Vegetating on snakes, black holes and food

In “A Starting Thought” for this blog, I said:

“This thought occurs to me about meals: as we gather raw ingredients, prepare food and eat, we embrace the central moral paradox of human existence, that it requires taking life to sustain life.  How we respond to that paradox defines us as human beings.

“As we journey through our lives, we both eat and nourish, destroy and enrich.  The great gift we have as human beings is that we can make conscious decisions about the balance of eating and nourishing, taking and giving, in our own lives.  The challenge is to remain fully aware, making conscious choices on each step of our journey.”

Joseph Campbell, in his interview with Bill Moyer, “The Power of Myth,” said about the snake of myth: “…the serpent represents the primary function of life, mainly eating. Life consists in eating other creatures. You don’t think about that very much when you make a nice-looking meal. But what you’re doing is eating something that was recently alive. And when you look at the beauty of nature, and you see the birds picking around — they’re eating things. You see the cows grazing, they’re eating things. The serpent is a traveling alimentary canal, that’s about all it is. And it gives you that primary sense of shock, of life in its most primal quality. There is no arguing with that animal at all. Life lives by killing and eating itself, casting off death and being reborn, like the moon. This is one of the mysteries that these symbolic, paradoxical forms try to represent.”

And who can forget the plant in The Little Shop of Horrors? “Feed Me Seymour…

This morning, I was reminded how this paradox goes way beyond the tiny world in which we find ourselves, that the paradox of eating points to the core of the formation of our universe, of many universes. Eating is the foundation of being.

In this article from Science: How Stuff Works, I learned there are feeding frenzies at the foundation of universe creation in those universes where black holes exist, ravenousness, satiation and picky eaters:

“Some galaxies contain supermassive black holes that are voracious eaters, consuming gas, dust and anything else that strays too close, including light. In their feeding frenzy, these behemoths generate a lot of energy in the cores of their host galaxies, dazzling the cosmos with powerful radiation…

“…Although they’re often viewed as insatiable devourers of all matter, even the supermassive black holes have their limits. “There’s a maximum rate at which a black hole can feed – if you try and stuff more material than the maximum, the black hole basically rejects it; it’s a picky eater…”

Now THAT is food for thought.

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

Tradition…tradition! Old traditions with fresh CSA veggies

Published in Bob’s Fresh and Local CSA newsletter, 9/27/2017

When I got cold, working in a food trailer during the winters, I decided to move inside to work. For a while, before I opened my Woodstock cafe, I had a little concession in Caputo’s Fruit and Vegetable Market in Algonquin. Many of the staff used to come over to the counter and ask me to make up special items for their lunches.

During Lent, a frequent request from my Catholic friends was for egg and peppers sandwiches, something that was new to me. I asked how they did it, and everyone had a different style and approach. This is what I came up with:

I use Italian rolls, whole wheat if I can find good ones, slice and toast them and set them aside. I cut up the peppers in 1-2″ pieces and toss them into a cast iron saute pan with some extra virgin olive oil and minced garlic, a little salt and some crushed oregano. I let them cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, then add a little bit of white Balsamic vinegar and put a lid on the pan to let the peppers simmer until softened.

While the peppers are cooking, I scramble some eggs gently in another cast iron pan and when barely cooked through, I remove the pan from the heat and push the eggs to its edge. (For a vegan alternative, scramble some tofu with salt and turmeric). When the peppers are finished, I arrange the eggs on top of one half of the bun, spoon the peppers over and voila! Egg and peppers sandwiches.

I missed Lent this year, but when we started getting our peppers from Farmer Bob last week…and more coming this week…I thought longingly of those sandwiches and made some up last night for my family. They definitely got the all-out seal of approval, so I think I’ll make them again this coming week.

I also enjoyed this Asian greens, radish and red onion salad during the past week and I expect will enjoy something similar in the coming week with the lettuce we’ll get. I used a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil, white Balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. That white Balsamic vinegar is a new favorite of mine. I’ve always used olive oil and lemon for my salads, but the vinegar is a nice alternative.

Finally, I’m gearing up for pickles. Farmer Bob is sending us all the basic ingredients for dills: pickles, garlic and dill. I only make refrigerator pickles, and they keep for months — deliciously. Wash the pickles and layer them with lots of cut garlic and dill into a glass or earthenware jar with a lid. Pour a cold broth over them made of 4 cups of water, 1 cup of distilled vinegar and 3 TB kosher salt. Refrigerate, and let them pickle for 2-3 weeks. If you like them spicy, add a cut habanero to the broth. Yum, can’t wait ’til mine are finished!

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

A smoothie a day keeps the doctor away … a bowl a day keeps her further away

Published in Bob’s Fresh and Local newsletter, 9/20/2017

Pinterest reports that searches for Grain Bowls or Buddha Bowls are up over 200% in 2017, and there’s a very good reason for that! We’re paying more attention to health, and these bowls are an easy, creative and delicious way to do that.

The name “Buddha Bowl” is a contemporary creation, but it evokes the simple feasts of Buddhist monks, who historically began their days walking into town with begging bowls where householders would add to them what they had on hand and could afford. Coming before the days of processed foods, these bowls were likely both simple and healthy … and with the variety of foods provided by householders eager to fulfill their own spiritual responsibility, colorful.

Like smoothies packed with greens and seeds and nuts and fruits, frequent Buddha Bowls are another great way to ensure vibrantly good nutrition. People use a variety of schemes to build their bowls: one idea is starch-protein-veggies, another is grains’n’beans-veggies-nuts’n’seeds. Sometimes there is fruit in the mix. Bowls inevitably change color and texture with the season as available produce suggests new combinations. The main idea is to keep it simple, use what you have on hand, and make a great sauce to top it off.

Now about that protein: The average sedentary man requires 56 grams of protein per day and the average sedentary woman, 46 grams per day — 15-25% of the calories you eat depending on your activity level. If you’re eating a healthy, varied diet filled with things like smoothies and Buddha Bowls, you’ll meet that requirement easily.

Here’s how Buddha Bowls help you satisfy your protein requirement: protein is made of building blocks called amino acids. Of 21 amino acids, the human body synthesizes 12 of them. It cannot synthesize the other nine, and these are called essential amino acids. We have to consume these nine every day. Foods that have all nine essential amino acids include animal products like meat and chicken and fish and dairy — but also plant foods like soy beans and quinoa. You can also mix and match to create a complete protein by using foods with complimentary amino acids, for example, beans and grains. You don’t necessarily have to eat them at the same meal, just the same day.

So some of you may enjoy a bit of grilled chicken, a dollop of homemade yogurt or a hard-boiled egg with your bowl. But if you’re vegetarian or vegan, the grain and bean, seed and nut combinations in your Buddha Bowls make it easy for you too.

Here’s what I used in my bowl today: a mix of greens (lots of Asian greens and mizuna), chickpeas, wheat berries, zucchini, carrots, red onion and radishes. I even used some remaining fried eggplant as a last minute garnish. The peppers and tomatoes we’ll receive in our boxes this week will make nice additions to a Buddha Bowl as well. I topped it off with Tahina dressing. Here’s how I make that:

Tahina Dressing (sesame seed-based dressing)

Add the following to a blender, and blend until smooth.

  • 1-1/2 cups tahina (I like Ziyad brand, available in many stores in the Chicago area)
  • Juice of 1-1/2 – 2 lemons or at least 1/4 cup (I like a little more)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 TB salt
  • 1/2 TB cumin
  • pinch of hot paprika
  • 2 cups water (more or less for a good consistency)

So throw away the recipe book, get creative, use what you have and delight your family while you nourish them.

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