Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A wild- and weird-weather year

First, we had Hurricane Sandy.  Then, we had a nor'easter.  More coastal flooding arrived last week, causing another 1,000 power outages.  This was on top of the power outages that still haven't been remedied since Sandy--in many cases, the damage is so extensive that it's too dangerous to turn the electricity back on.  Thousands are still homeless, or trying to repair homes to make them habitable again.  People will be telling terrible stories about this storm for years--see the comments here.

On the other hand, I can't remember the last time the weather was so relatively warm that I got all the way through December without having to wear my boots even once.  Weird.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Parshat Vayechi, 5773/2012 thoughts

Basics here.

I guess the thing that struck me on reading this parshah this time was Yaakov's/Jacob's flat-out statement that he's describing his sons' future to them.  (See B'reshit/Genesis, chapter 49.)  It seems to me that one has only two choices--either one can assume that Yaakov had the gift of prophecy, or one can assume, as I do, that this text was written after the fact.  (See Documentary Hypothesis.)

I'm guessing that the traditional of sitting shiva originated with B'reshit/Genesis, chapter 50, verse 10.

Haftarat Vayechi is 1 Kings 2:1–12, a nasty piece of work--even in death, David took his revenge (via his son Shlomo/Solomon).

My oldies:

"i don't remember where i read this, but some1 suggested that yosef/joseph never took any responsibility for the arrogant behavior that led his brothers 2 hate him. as 4 yaakov/jacob, he was so oblivious 2 his part in his son's disappearance that he perpetuated the crime of favoritism right down 2 the next generation, choosing the younger efrayim/ephraim over the older menashe/manasseh."

"Much has been made of the fact that Yosef never took revenge on his brothers for having sold him into slavery. I'm not impressed. I think that it was quite sufficient revenge for him to know that his brothers owed him their lives and would spend the rest of their days at his mercy."

"I don't recollect having seen any evidence whatsoever in the Torah sheh-BiCh'tav (Written Pentateuch) that Yosef (Joseph) ever told his father Yaakov (Jacob) the truth about his "disappearance," nor can I imagine any possible reason why his brothers would have done so. Yosef could always have said that he hadn't contacted his father because he was first enslaved, then imprisoned, then preoccupied with running Pharaoh's kingdom, all but the last statement having been true. Granted, Yaakov was a smart enough cookie that he may have figured out that there was more to the story, but he may also have been smart enough to conclude that there might be some details that he'd rather not know. As for his brothers' claim, after their father's death, that Yaakov had asked Yosef to forgive them, I think that story was as much of a fabrication as the brothers' initial presentation of Yosef's bloodied cloak."

"Sarah favors her own son, Yitzchak (Isaac) over Hagar's son, Yishmael (Ishmael). Rivka (Rebecca) and Yitzchak play favorites between their sons, with Rivka favoring Yaakov (Jacob), and Yitzchak favoring Esav (Esau). Yaakov favors Yosef (Joseph). Yosef showers his full brother, Binyamin (Benjamin) with more goodies than his half-brothers. Yaakov favors Yosef's younger son, Efraim (Ephraim) over Yosef's older son Menasheh (Mennases). These people never learn. They seem to be oblivious to the generations of envy, and, often, emnity, inpired by all this favoritism."

"My husband and I both noticed that, throughout the book of B’reishit/Genesis, the lion’s share of the attention is paid to the sons (yes, sons) of Léah and Rachel, with short shrift given to the sons of the concubines and the only daughter. This holds true for Yaakov’s deathbed blessings, as well. The “minor players” get mostly one-liners, and Dinah, the only daughter, gets not even a mention."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A work day for my dad

My father, alav ha-shalom (rest in peace), used to work for a branch of the Federal government that is not closed on December 25--and every year, without fail, he worked on the 25th so that his Christian co-workers could have the day off, just as he took days off for the High Holidays.  If we expect others to be considerate of our needs, we have to be considerate of theirs.  Or, as Hillel would say, "u-ch'sheh-ani l'atzmi, ma ani/If I am only for myself, what am I?"

Yehudah comes full circle

First, Yehudah/Judah suggests selling Yosef/Joseph into slavery.  Okay, at least that's a logical part of the story.  But how does the incident with Tamar fit in?

In "Choice and Change," a d'var Torah (word of Torah) that I read this past Shabbat/Sabbath, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explained that the incident with Tamar showed Yehudah to be the first person in the Torah to do t'shuvah/repent.  That's the best explanation I've ever read.

And it ties in with the end of the story arc:  First, Yehudah sells his brother into slavery, then he volunteers to become a slave himself to spare another brother.  T'shuvah, Take 2.

Monday, December 24, 2012

In Grief, Stereotyping Mental Illness (Jewish Week)

"For autistic Americans and for people with psychiatric disabilities, each massacre brings both feelings of mourning for the victims and real fear that the media will attempt to link us with the shooter. While it is understandable that people will seek to explain the unexplainable after an incident of mass murder, stereotyping an entire community based on the horrifying actions of one person should never be acceptable."

Read the rest here.  This article was written in response to this MSN article to which I linked last week.

Said a commenter to the Jewish Week article, "Maybe she had decided that handling her situation alone and in the closet was no longer a viable option. Hopefully, he and she will find the support they both desperately require."

How do we, as a society, help people receive the assistance that they need without blaming and/or stereotyping them?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Parshat Miketz&Parshat Vayigash 5773/2012 thoughts

Parshat Miketz

"Yosef was one smart cookie. He also created what may have been one of the earliest recorded feudal societies. No wonder the later Egyptians hated him—he’d made them all Pharoah’s surfs [oops--that should be "serfs"].

There’s also the rather interesting question of whether Yosef was too ticked at his father Yaakov (Jacob) to think of, ya know, letting the poor old man know that he was still alive."

"B'reishit/Genesis, chapter 42, verse 37:

"37 And Reuben spoke unto his father, saying: 'Thou shalt slay my two sons, if I bring him [Benjamin] not to thee; deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him back to thee.'"

First of all, if Yaakov's/Jacob's son Yosef/Joseph was already presumed by his father to be dead, and then Binyamin/Benjamin was taken from him, as well, of what possible benefit would it have been to Yaakov to have had two of his grandsons killed?

Second, where did Reuven get the unmitigated chutzpah/gall to offer the lives of two innocents as payment for a "crime" that they had not committed?

In my opinion, this was an impulsive, stupid, and immoral proposal. It's no wonder that Reuven didn't become the leader of the family."

Parshat Vayigash
"The rabbis called him Joseph the Righteous because he resisted the advances of Potiphar's wife. This was certainly admirable.

But he put his half-brothers into prison for three days, accusing them of being spies. Then he took his half-brother Shim'on/Simeon/Simon hostage in an attempt to ensure that his other half-brothers would eventually return to Egypt with his brother Binyamin/Benjamin. Not only was he obnoxious to his half-brothers, he didn't care how his father would feel, either."

Both :)
  • Shim'on, here. Remember me? (Thursday, December 20, 2007) Ms. Just-Give-Me-the-P'shat/Literal Meaning writes a midrash, for a change. :)

Haftarat Vayigash (for Ashkenazim) is Ezekiel 37:15–28, but I recommend that you cheat a bit and read all of chapter 37.  Honestly, I'm not sure why the whole chapter isn't read.  After all, Yosef "returned from the dead," in a manner of speaking.

Note to self:  Make sure you search your blog for "Yosef" when you write about Parshat Vayechi next week, since there are some relevant posts that don't contain the parshah's name.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Survivor's guilt

I'll get back to blogging eventually, but it just seems a bit trivial at the moment.  I just feel weird that we "dodged the bullet" twice.  The first time was when Hurricane Sandy hit--not only did we never lose electricity, heat, hot water, internet, or even something as trivial as cable television, but we even got paid (on time, no less) for the days when we were stranded at home without subways.  And now, we've been spared the kind of tragedy that the parents of the murdered children in Newtown, CT must deal with for the rest of their lives.  I'm extremely grateful to have been spared both times.  But it feels weird to carry on as if nothing has happened just because nothing happened to us.

Monday, December 17, 2012

On preventing another mass murder

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The fifth Chanukah lecht (repost)

I'm linking to this old post in memory of my grandmother.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Chanukah halachah, etc.

Searching my blog for the word "Chanukah," I came up with the following information:
  • No, one is not supposed to remove one's tefillin before Hallel on Chanukah.  (If the Rosh Chodesh that takes place during Chanukah falls on a weekday, one does remove one's tefillin before the Musaf prayer, as always on Rosh Chodesh.)
  • I can't even find it again, but somewhere on my blog, there's a note reminding me not to say Psalm 20, La-m'natseach, during Chanukah.  One omits this psalm (along with the Tzidkat'cha tzedek prayer, when applicable [Saturday night only?]) every time one omits the Tachanun prayer.
  • Many have the custom to add Psalm 30, Mizmor, Shir Chanukat HaBayit (A Psalm, A Song for the Dedication of the House) after the Shir shel Yom (Psalm of the Day), in honor of the Chanukat HaBayit (Dedication of the House) when the Bet HaMikdash (Holy Temple) was restored after the victory of the Maccabees.
  • A new note for my list, courtesy of my husband:  On the day preceding a day on which one omits the Tachanun prayer, one omits the Tachanun prayer during the Minchah (Afternoon) Service.
  • Swiped from my original Word version of the list linked above: October 22, 2008 update:  On Chanukah and Sukkot, including Chol HaMoed Sukkot, Hallel is always Full Hallel—there’s never a Half-Hallel during Sukkot or Chanukah.
Friday, December 14, 2012 Rosh Chodesh Tevet update:  Surprise, surprise--the Musaf Amidah prayer on Chanukah Rosh Chodesh Tevet does include the Al HaNissim paragraph.  Nu, Shira, you didn't remember this from previous years?

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Some Chanukah links (videos, etc.)

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Another kitchen adventure: Roasting cauliflower

As TOTJ Steve commented here, " Good food takes time."  Tell me about it.  (Sigh.)  Last night, I tried the recipe that he posted in the same comment, more or less, skipping the garlic powder, of which I can eat only a miniscule amount without getting acid reflux (not to mention that if you could run a car on the kind of gas that cauliflower and onion each gives me, even without adding garlic . . .  :) )
" . . .  Buy a whole cauliflower and break it up (find instructions on the Web) and wash it [I understand you may be stricter on cauliflower than we are in my house]. Preheat oven to 450. Shpritz foil lined baking sheet (because in a kosher kitchen, all baking sheets are foil-lined, right!)with olive oil cooking spray. Place cauliflower florets on sheet, shpritz with olive oil spray. Sprinkle a little salt on it (buy a box of kosher salt, don't use table salt). Since you're not a black pepper person (have you tried white pepper? it's milder) sprinkle a little garlic powder (not garlic salt) and, if you want a real taste treat, peel and cut a red onion into wedges and put them on the sheet with the florets and spray everything together. Roast about 40 minutes, until the florets start to brown. Give them a jiggle once in a while as they roast. The cauliflower and sweet and nutty and wonderful, the onions add even more flavor."
To make a long story mercifully short, just cutting the cauliflower took me over half an hour!  :(  And you wonder why I've always been a reluctant cook.
Okay, I learned a few things.  One is that my new chef's knife didn't make carving up the cauliflower as easy as I expected.  I think the problem is either that my chef's knife isn't as sharp as my paring knife, and/or that I'd be better advised to use a serrated-edged knife (as shown in the cauliflower-cutting instructions here [see update below for link to better version*]), and/or that a cauliflower, unlike a bell pepper, is hard as a rock and is not hollow.
Another thing I learned is that I really don't have enough counter-top space for cutting large vegetables.  I had a similar problem cutting the butternut squash when attempting to make soup recently, but cutting cauliflower is much worse, because the florets often break down into tiny pieces that go just about everywhere.  I ended up with cauliflower all over two cutting boards, my counter-top, my dish drainer, my stove . . .  If we ever get around to renovating our kitchen, we should really replace our too-low-to-work-on kitchen table with a free-standing or built-in counter-top/work surface.  In the meantime, I must remember, in the future, to set up a plastic bag (who has room for a bowl?) in which to toss the stems and tiny pieces, once I cut off the intact florets.  Unfortunately, I was unable to distinguish the stems and good tidbits from the brown spots and leaves that I was throwing out, and ending up having to throw away the good with the bad, which was an unconsionable waste of food.  :(
So nu, you ask, how was the roasted cauliflower, already?  I think it needed another five minutes in our oven and/or another spritz of olive oil to "brown" it a bit more.  And maybe I should break up that onion and distribute the pieces over the top of the cauliflower to make it a bit less bland.  Worth another try.
Next up:  Carmelized fennel and onions (without the butter and parmesan) ?
Related (and not previously linked above):
*Update:  Courtesy of TOTJ Steve, here's a link to instructions showing an easier and less messy way to cut cauliflower.

    Wednesday, December 05, 2012

    Senseless senators discriminate against disabled :(

    Despite Dole appearance, Senate fails to ratify disabilities treaty.

    "Supporters of the measure – which included Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona – argued ratification wouldn't impact rights in the U.S. but would help promote the rights of the disabled overseas.

    "This treaty is about the behavior of other countries and their willingness to raise their treatment of people with disabilities to our level. It's that simple," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. "This isn't a treaty about changing America. It's a treaty to change the world to be more like America."

    Our kid is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and so are we (as we get older and deafer).  I guess some senators don't care about protecting my Israeli brother and his kids.  :(

    Parshat Vayeshev, 5773/2012 thoughts

    You can read the basics here.

    New thought for this year:  Methinks the story of Potiphar's wife's attempted seduction of Yosef (Joseph)--see B'resht/Genesis, chapter 39, verses 10-20--was probably the origin of the issur (prohibition) of yichud (literally, "togetherness"?), which forbids a man and a woman who are neither married to one another nor members of the same family to be alone together.

    My oldies:
    "In the case of both Tamar and Ruth (and her fearless leader, Naomi), the women sought and got justice by the only means available to them at the time. Tamar, for lack of an alternative, used the sexual act itself as a means to secure a child bearing her late husband’s name. Ruth, through Naomi’s strategem, used the fear of exposure as either the (possible) seducer of a respected widow and/or a man who refused to perform a levirate marriage for his relative’s widow.

    Some agunot (women whose husbands refuse to give them a religious divorce) of our day have gone public with their complaints about the callous indifference to their plight shown to them by some in the rabbinical courts. They should be lauded and supported in their efforts, not condemned. These brave women are following in the footsteps of our ancestors Tamar and Ruth. They are using the only weapons available to them to secure the consideration to which Jewish law should entitle them, as it is said in Psalm 145, “ . . . v'rachamav al kol maasav, and His compassion is over all His works.”

    "In those days, before rabbis even existed, much less had forbidden polygamy, what was to prevent Onan from marrying other women, having children with them, and leaving Tamar chained to him in marriage and with no opportunity ever to have a child for the rest of her life, just to spite his deceased older brother? Alternatively, he could have "accused" Tamar of infertility and divorced her, which could have reduced both her financial circumstances and her possibilities for remarriage. Either course of action would have been abusive, and it could be argued, from a traditional perspective, that HaShem took Onan's life to prevent him from pursuing either one."

    • So much for "yeridat ha-dorot" (Monday, December 14, 2009)

      "I don't know whether the concept of "the decline of the generations" applies to the Torah shehBi-Ch'tav/Written Torah (Pentateuch) itself or just to the rabbinic writings, but it certainly won't help us with the story of Yosef/Joseph. First, Yaakov/Jacob gives Yosef, his second-youngest child, the multicolored cloak indicating future family leadership. Then, he doesn't stop the young braggart from mouthing off to his brothers about his dreams. Yaakov has no more common sense as a parent than we modern parents have."

    "Yosef was an egocentric brat. His parents are responsible for not having taught him that being a braggart is obnoxious and creates hostility.

    [ ¶ ]
    Personally, I think that both Reuven and Yehudah (Judah) were trying to save Yosef’s life. . . . "
    . . .

    "Tamar was a smart strategist with nerves of steel—the stunt she pulled could have gotten her killed. But she got what she was entitled to."

    "Update, Thursday, December 15, 2011:

    I forgot to mention the devious brothers--not only did they sell Yosef into slavery, they politely "forgot" to mention this to their brother Reuven, who had hoped to rescue him, leaving poor Reuven to believe that Yosef was dead, or, at best, kidnapped. Presumably, that was deliberate, since Reuven might very well have felt obligated, as the oldest son, to tell their father Yaakov/Jacob the truth, if he'd know it."

    "I've been thinking that the story of Tamar is the "antidote" to the story of the rape of Dinah. In that story, we never once hear from Dinah herself. Everything is done to her, or, allegedly, for her, but nothing whatsover is done by her. Tamar, on the other hand, takes matters into her own hands, risking death in the process. Hmm, maybe I should read Subversive Sequels in the Bible again. "

    See also:

    • Tamar, A Model of Female Leadership (Irit Koren, Jewish Daily Forward, December 15, 2011)

      "It is Tamar, though, who is the true heroine of this story. She takes a huge risk by acting the way she did. It is her life, not just her pride, which is at stake. A woman in a patriarchal system, she has no power. A liminal figure, she belongs nowhere. She has no father, no husband, no sons to protect her. She is powerless, alone. Yet unlike other women in the bible, Tamar is not defeated by the system. Rather, she takes action and works with the only resources she has at her disposal –her sexuality and femininity.

      In a world where too many women remain restrained, limited, stuck in a patriarchal system (such as mesuravot get, and I can think of many other such women), Tamar can be an inspiring role model and leader for both women and men. Small wonder, then, that the lineage of King David traces its way backs to Tamar."

    "I must admit that I never thought of Joseph/Yosef as a gifted child, just a show-off who happened to be articulate."

    Monday, December 03, 2012

    Total immersion doesn't work with this soup recipe :(

    I tried the WINTER SQUASH AND APPLE SOUP (pareve) recipe mentioned here, roasting the veggies before pureeing them.  Boy, was I surprised when I went to puree them in my giant soup pot with my immersion blender and the ingredients proved so tough to puree that I had to force the blender right down into them to do the job.  After a couple minutes of this nonsense, I checked the recipe to see whether I'd missed something, and found that I had--this recipe doesn't say anything about using an immersion blender.  !#$%^&!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  My whole point in buying an an immersion blender/blender stick/hand blender (whatever) was that I don't want to have to transfer cooked food from pan or pot to food processor and then (back) to pot.  Forget it!  I'm going back to simmering the veggies directly in the pot and using the immersion blender to "cream" them.  The roasting method takes 3-4 times longer, and the darned soup came out edible but grainy. :(  My previous version was much easier to make and tasted much better.

    But here's some better news.

    From a comment to the last linked post:

    Miami Al said...

    . . .

    Home Depot had a Black Friday special of $19.99 for a 5 Qt Crockpot. Even if the veges fill 1 Qt, that's still 4 Qts of stock that you could let simmer on its own for 24 hours or so.

    Your food will taste 1000% better.

    Mon Nov 26, 05:52:00 PM 2012"  

    I happened to be in Home Depot recently to stock up on refill filters for our water pitchers, and thought I'd check the small-appliance aisle, just in case.  Much to my pleasant surprise, not only did they still have 5-qt. crockpots, they had been reduced to $14.98!  Such a metziah (bargain)!  As they used to say on Star Trek:  Voyager, "Resistance is futile."  :)  Thanks for the tip, Miami Al!  Guess I'll have to stock up on crockpot recipes.  But first, we have to decide whether this'll be a meat/b'sari/fleishig pot or a parve/b'li chalav-o-basar/neither-dairy-nor-meat-nor-poultry pot.  (Yes, we could get a second one, for that price, but our kitchen is so small that I don't know where we'd put it!)

    Tuesday, December 4, 2012 update:

    It turns out that our bargain crockpot will shut off automatically after 10 hours. So it's probably not good for cholent for Shabbat lunch, a habit we're not into yet but might be interested in trying. We'll probably return it, since we don't have room for that one and a longer-cooking one. Any recommendations for a crockpot that's designed for longer-than-overnight cooking would be appreciated.

    Chulent recipes would also be nice. I haven't decided yet whether we'll keep our cholent vegan (for the sake of our vegan friends), but we'll certainly keep it gluten-free (substituting kasha/roasted buckwheat for barley), and please keep in mind that I can't eat much cooked tomato or more than the equivalent of one tiny "boiling" potato without my gout acting up. Thanks!

    In better news, I betook myself to Bed Bath and Beyond yesterday after work with an expires-at-midnight coupon and picked up a Misto refillable olive oil spray can, an 8-inch Farberware chef's knife, and the first knife sharpener I saw, each item for $12 or less, plus tax but minus $5 from the coupon.  Thus far, it appears that I'll have to leave the knife on a counter, still in its now-opened packaging, because it won't fit into my parve drawer.  I used the sharpener on the paring knife that I bought last May, tried out the newly-resharpened knife on a bell pepper, and immediately remembered why that knife had scared the heck out of me when I first bought--it's dangerously sharp again.  I'll probably have time to fill the Misto tomorrow night or Thursday night, when I'm neither going to a shiur (Jewish-sacred-studies lecture, for lack of a better description) or folk dancing.  Then I can cut up a whole head of fresh cauliflower with our new chef's knife, mist it with olive oil, and try roasting it with red onions, as TOTJ Steve recommended (in the comments to the first linked post).  Yum!

    Thursday, December 6, 2012 update:
    Courtesy of TOTJ Steve, here's a link to instructions showing an easier and less messy way to cut cauliflower.

    Parshat Vayislach, 5773/2012 thoughts #2: Details, details

    Round 1 is here.

    Look at what my husband spotted:

    From Parshat Toldot, in B'reshit/Genesis, chapter 28:

    ט וַיֵּלֶךְ עֵשָׂו, אֶל-יִשְׁמָעֵאל; וַיִּקַּח אֶת-מָחֲלַת בַּת-יִשְׁמָעֵאל בֶּן-אַבְרָהָם אֲחוֹת נְבָיוֹת, עַל-נָשָׁיו--לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה. {ס} 9 so Esau went unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives that he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham's son, the sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife. {S}

    From Parshat Vayishlach, in B’reshit/Genesis, chapter 36:

    ב עֵשָׂו לָקַח אֶת-נָשָׁיו, מִבְּנוֹת כְּנָעַן: אֶת-עָדָה, בַּת-אֵילוֹן הַחִתִּי, וְאֶת-אָהֳלִיבָמָה בַּת-עֲנָה, בַּת-צִבְעוֹן הַחִוִּי. 2 Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan; Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite,

    ג וְאֶת-בָּשְׂמַת בַּת-יִשְׁמָעֵאל, אֲחוֹת נְבָיוֹת. 3 and Basemath Ishmael's daughter, sister of Nebaioth.

    The commentators probably had quite a field day trying to explain how the same woman could have been recorded under two totally different names in the Torah.  Oh, sure, they probably said that one was her middle name.  But I'm calling Documentary Hypothesis on this:  I think these names came from two different sources/stories that were woven together with the seams showing, as usual.

    (Wow:  Regarding that last link, what's really amazing is not that I've been blogging for more than eight years, but that I actually still have enough marbles left to remember some of my most ancient posts.  Many thanks to the Chonen HaDaat, the One Who Grants Knowledge.)
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