Tag Archives: Isaac

Toledot 5777

P1100804Red lentil soup, like Jacob used to make

 This week’s parsha is Toledot  (Generations). The parsha deals with the birth and sibling rivalry of Esau and Jacob- the twin sons of Rebecca and Isaac. Those babies were fighting even before they were born, to the point that Rebecca asked God what was going on with her pregnancy.

Esau loved being outside and hunting while Jacob stayed home, cooked, and according to the commentaries learned Torah. Esau traded his “birthright” for a bowl of Jacob’s soup – showing Esau’s impatience and disregard for tradition, and also showing Jacob’s desire to take advantage of his brother. The climax of the story is Rebecca and Jacob’s deception of Isaac. Rebecca convinces Jacob to masquerade as his brother in order to fool Isaac into giving Jacob the special blessing for the first born.

The story introduces all kinds of questions and puts flawed family dynamics into relief. Why did Isaac favour Esau while Rebecca favoured Jacob?  Why did Rebecca fool Isaac instead of talking to him? Was Isaac really taken in by Jacob’s deception? Maybe he suspected the truth but realized that Jacob was more suited to the blessing. Did the two brothers end up with the fates that most suited them in the long run? Esau would be a man of the field and Jacob would become the leader of the nation of Israel.

What seems to hold true is that poor family dynamics and communication skills certainly continued from generation to generation.  We see that this deception had repercussions that continued and echoed in the lives of our ancestors. Jacob fooled Esau and was fooled in turn by Lavan.

Toldot Sigart by Laya Crust

Although Jacob was promised Rachel as a wife he was presented with Leah. Lavan justified himself by slyly announcing, “It is not done in our place to give the younger before the elder…” (Genesis 29:26) The favouritism Isaac and Rebecca showed each of their sons was echoed in the favouritism Jacob showed Joseph, favouring him above his brothers. The sibling rivalry between Jacob and Esau was repeated in the rivalry between Jacob’s twelve sons. Jacob’s sons lied to him as he had lied to Isaac.

The picture above  shows the “family dynamics. The blind, deceived Isaac is blessing his son Jacob. Rebecca is delaying Esau from coming in until the blessing is complete.  When Rebecca was pregnant Gd had told her that “the elder shall serve the younger”. She wanted to ensure that the prophecy came true.

Can we learn anything from this? There are many, many lessons. One is that hurt and dishonesty don’t disappear. They continue to spread like dust in the wind. The climactic story of the Isaac-Rebecca nuclear family was Rebecca and Jacob’s deception. It tore the family apart, causing Jacob to leave for many, many years. The two brothers never really solved their differences. Esau’s marriages never satisfied his parents. Deception and white lies were an undercurrent in Jacob’s own home.

I believe Jacob would have been the leader of our nation even without the ruse in today’s parsha. Without the ruse honesty and communication may have become a more utilised tool in our world.

IP1100803f you would like the recipe for this fabulous Red Lentil Soup you can find it at an earlier post of mine:https://layacrust.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/toledot-red-lentil-stew/

Scroll down past the text and the ingredients are all listed.

Have a wonderful (and deception free) Shabbat.

 

Let’s pray for more peace and less vitriol!

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

 

 

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Chayei Sarah 5777

Related imagelithograph, Marc Chagall

This week’s parsha begins with the death of Sarah and ends with the death of Abraham. Sarah and Abraham were partners in their lives. They were ten years apart in age. They probably grew up together- Abraham told King Avimelech that they were married but they were half siblings- they had the same father.

The Torah focuses on Abraham. He follows Gd’s instructions and leaves his birthplace, he makes a covenant with Gd, bargains with Gd, travels throughout the land, and agrees to circumcision as a proof of his allegiance to Gd. Throughout all this Sarah is at Abraham’s side, almost a silent partner.

Sarah was a beautiful woman. “Behold now, I know you are a beautiful woman to gaze upon…” (Genesis 11: 11) Abraham was afraid  he would be killed if another leader wanted to marry Sarah. They discussed it. Sarah agreed to say she was Abraham’s sister. “And it came to pass that when Avram came to Mitzrayim [Egypt], the Mitzrim [Egyptians] beheld the woman that she was very fair. The princes of Par’o saw her and commended her to Par’o and the woman was taken to Par’o’s house.” (Genesis 11: 14, 15) Abraham had been correct. Sarah was very beautiful and she was taken by the Par’o- and that happened twice! (Spoiler- Gd intervened each time and she was returned to Abraham by each of the two rulers)P1140345

Sarah, etching by laya Crust

The point is that it seems Abraham and Sarah were true partners. They started their life’s journey together and discussed things as situations arose. They stayed together as a couple even though Sarah was barren. She accepted Gd’s word. When she understood that Abraham needed to have a son to build a nation she offered her handmaid Hagar to Abraham. Her understanding of situations was broad and deep. She said, “…when she [Hagar] saw that she had conceived , I was despised in her eyes.” (Genesis 16:5) Sarah realised at that point that Hagar would not allow her son to be raised by Sarah and Abraham in order to be an appropriate leader with Gd’s message. Instead Hagar felt superior to Sarah and would, in that case, naturally retain the molding of her baby’s character and behaviour.

It is hard to understand the breakdown in communication when Abraham is directed to take Isaac to Mount Moriah in order to  sacrifice Isaac. How could Abraham not have discussed this with his wife, the mother of their son, the visionary always at his side?

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin suggests that Sarah did know what was happening. He suggests that Sarah heard Abraham in his preparations early in the morning. When she looked and saw Abraham packing a knife for “shechita” (ritual slaughter) and planning to take Isaac with him, she was concerned. Rabbi Riskin writes, “Sarah demands to hear G-d’s precise words, saying: “He didn’t say that you should slaughter our child; He merely said to lift him up, to dedicate him to Divine service. G-d could not possibly have commanded you to slaughter an innocent child!”

P1150568drawing by Laya Crust

While Abraham and Isaac were climbing up  the mountain for the sacrifice Sarah went in another direction. She went to Kiryat Arba/ Hebron to the place where, according to midrash, Adam and Eve were buried. There she prayed to Gd to stay Abraham’s hand and save her son.

She died there. Neither Abraham nor Isaac saw her again.

Abraham and Isaac didn’t see each other again after the “akeida” (binding of Isaac), and Gd didn’t speak to Abraham after that incident. It seems Abraham lived out the rest of his life quietly with no further leadership moments. He remarried, had 12 more sons and was buried beside his beloved Sarah by Isaac and Ishmael.

Sarah was the partner, the sounding board and support to Abraham. She accompanied him from their birthplace steeped in idol worship to a new land. She established a home open to visitors and partnered in nurturing a new belief system. Sarah knew how fragile their mission was. She did all she could to  shield her son- the future of the nation- from negative influences. When she died the matriarch of Gd’s new nation died, and Abraham was left without his equal and partner.

At the end of “Chayei Sarah” we read that Isaac married Rebecca. “And Isaac brought her (Rebecca) into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebecca, and she became his wife. And he loved her, and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” (Genesis 24:67)

And so it goes. And the story continues.

Shabbat Shalom.

Laya

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Sarah – שרה

VaYeira Sigart by Laya Crust

Vayeira- Genesis 18 – 22

Haftarah- Kings II, ch. 4: 1-37

This week’s parsha is an incredible series of stories and events. There are at least five incredible narratives, each worthy of detailed study. Sarah, Avraham’s wife, figures throughout the parsha, and I’d like to look at her personality this week.

Avraham is the major character in these stories of Bereshit.  Gd told Avraham to leave his homeland and that he would become the father of a great people. Avraham left, taking his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot with him. As I read about Sarai- whose name was changed to Sarah- I am struck by her strength, her wisdom, and her relationship with Avraham. She was 75 years old when she and her husband left their home for unknown reaches. She was described as beautiful- so beautiful that King Avimelech took her to his harem. We may wonder how a woman of 75 can be that appealing, but some have an ageless beauty that is enhanced by grace and wisdom.

P1140345drawing by Laya Crust

I think Sarah also had a spark of humour and joy of life that contributed to being timelessly attractive. Her sense of humour?- she heard the angels speak and laughed within herself- laughing at herself and the thought of becoming a mother in her nineties. Her joie de vivre? She enjoyed her relationship with Avraham, “sporting” with him (AKA fooling around) in a field!

The readings suggest that Sarah and Avraham had a strong  partnership. They traveled together and discussed the strategy for entering Avimelech’s kingdom. Recognizing her infertility she offered her handmaid Hagar to her husband, hoping that way he would become a father. Recognizing Hagar’s behaviour Sarah handled the situation as she thought she had to. When the three angels appeared at their tent in the desert Avraham and Sarah worked as a team to create a feast for them. It appears that Sarah ran her community with wisdom and level headedness.

The situation surrounding “akeidat Yitzhak”, the binding of Isaac, doesn’t fit the picture of a strong relationship. It doesn’t seem that Avraham told Sarah that he had been commanded to sacrifice their beloved son.  A midrash (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midrash) says that Sarah heard a rumour that Isaac had been sacrificed by Avraham. According to that midrash Sarah died, never knowing that her son was alive. We don’t know what really happened, or why Avraham didn’t tell Sarah what he had been commanded to do. Maybe Avraham was trying to protect her. Maybe Avraham trusted that Gd would make things “right” and there would be no sense in alarming her. We just don’t know.

The illustration at the top of the page is from the haftarah of VaYeira. It shows the prophet Elisha with the Shunammite woman who had a room built for him for when he visited Shunem. This woman, like Sarah, was childless for many years. Her son, like Isaac, almost died. Unlike Sarah, she was able to watch her son grow to adulthood.

It is tragic that Sarah seemed to have died not knowing her son was alive, not knowing that she would be venerated as the mother of the Jewish nation.

She is a wonderful model for all women, and her strengths should never be overlooked.

Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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B’ Ha’alotecha

Behaalotchaart by Laya Crust

Numbers: ch 8- ch 12 Zechariah:  ch 2:14 – 4:7 Zechariah was a prophet in Jerusalem around the year 520 BCE.  The Jews had been exiled to Babylon but under King Cyrus were allowed to return to Jerusalem. Zechariah and Haggai encouraged the people to stop being so despondent and start rebuilding their destroyed temple.

Zechariah by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

This haftarah is replete with angels- angels talking to Joshua and angels talking to and waking Zechariah.  Zechariah tells the angel that he has had a vision of a golden menorah flanked by two olive trees. A bowl  above the menorah has seven pipes funneling olive oil to the menorah.  When the angel realizes that Zechariah doesn’t understand the symbolism of the vision he explains that the trees represent the leadership of Joshua and Zerubbabel in building the Second Temple. The angel says, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” meaning that the reestablishment of the Jewish people will come through faith, not war.

Cervera, Spain, c. 1300

My illustration at the top was based on this beautiful manuscript painting from Spain, with the menorah panted in gold leaf. The menorah was a central fixture in the Temple and was lit by the Kohanim. The wicks of the menorah were arranged to shed light in one flame. That light can be seen as  the light we bring to the world.

Interestingly, is is the menorah that is the symbol of Judaism and the emblem of the State of Israel.

On that thought , may you have an illuminated week and weekend, full of flaming conversation and bright ideas.

Laya

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Toledot- Red Lentil Stew

Toldot Sig

This year, as we read the parsha snow is falling across Canada. There are record snowfalls in New York State and freezing temperatures in 50 states. Torrential winter rains are falling in Israel. So, I thought this might be a comforting time to repost a recipe for Jacob’s (in)famous red lentil stew.

Toledot gives a quick overview of Rebecca’s marriage to Isaac and their family life. Rebecca was blessed with twins- two boys- who started figting even before they were born! Two boys, different interests and strengths, and super sibling rivalry. And Jacob was able to take advantage of one of Esau’s weaknesses.

According to the text Esau had been out hunting. Naturally he was tired when he came home. When he noticed that Yaakov had been cooking lentil stew he said, “Give me now some of that red, red stuff.” (Genesis 25:30) It makes me think of some other brothers who grunt and burp at each other just to be obnoxious. Why couldn’t Esau have said, “Gee, Yaakov. You are such a great cook, and that stew smells AMAZING! Can I please have some, and I’ll share my meat stew with you tomorrow?”  But he didn’t do it the polite way. So therein played out another one of our history’s famous sibling rivalries.

P1100803

I always wondered about that mystical lentil stew. It must have been filling, it probably smelled wonderful, and it would have been red. I found a recipe which fit the bill.  One note of interest- this recipe doesn’t call for red lentils. Red lentils turn yellow when they cook. Instead this recipe calls for brown lentils.  Yes, the stew does end up red.  P1100786I suspect that Yaakov and Esau both cooked. When you are in the field for days at a time, you have to have some way of warming up your dinner. Esau, being a hunter, probably liked lots of meat in his stews but the meat may not always have been available. Here we have a nice collection of lentils, vegetables and 10 (!) spices. Beware, the spices are pretty intense!

P1100791

The aroma of the sauteeing carrots and onions with fresh ginger and garlic filled the air.

P1100793

 The addition of 10 exotic spices made the aroma even more pungent. P1100798The tomatoes and lentils were added next.

La Voila! The finished and filling stew was ready to eat, garnished with yogurt and fresh cilantro. Just like our ancestors in Israel would have done, we scooped up our pottage with some toasty flatbreads.

P1100804

If you want to make it for Shabbat you can put all the ingredients in your crockpot on Friday afternoon and it will be ready for lunch on Saturday.

Spicy Red Lentil Stew

1 cup brown lentils

2 cups water

2 onions, diced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

4 cloves of garlic, minced

2 Tbsp. ginger, minced or grated

2 Tbsp.  olive oil

1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes

1/2  cup tomato paste

1 cup water or vegetable broth

Spice Blend

2 tsp. cumin

2 tsp. Hungarian paprika

1 tsp. turmeric

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1/4  tsp. ground cardamom

1/4 tsp. ground coriander

1/8 tsp. ground allspice

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)

Method:

Boil the lentils in the 2 c. of water for about 45 minutes, until they are tender.

In another pot, over medium heat, saute the onions and carrots for 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and spice blend. Saute 5 more minutes. Add the canned diced tomatoes (you can use 6 fresh, chopped tomatoes instead), the tomato paste and the additional 1 cup of water/ vegetable broth. Simmer until bubbling.

Serve with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of cilantro- or parsley if you prefer.

This makes 4 large servings. 

Enjoy!

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May the families of those slain in Jerusalem find comfort among the mourners of Zion. And may we see peace and tranquility in Israel soon.

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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Chayei Sarah- this land is our land

chayei sarah0040Chayeih Sarah

Bereshit 23 – 25: 18

Haftarah- I Kings 1: 1-31

This week’s parsha begins with the news that Sara Imeinu (our matriarch) has died in Qiryat Arba at the age of 127. Abraham came to mourn and weep for her and to find a fitting burial place for his beloved wife.  He insisted on paying for the cave of Machpela even though it had been offered to him as a gift.  The text reads, “And the field of Efron, which was in Machpela,which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was in it,  and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made over to Avraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Chet,…before Mamre: the same is Hevron in the land of Canaan.” ( Ch. 23 v 17 -19)

Avraham paid full price for this small piece of property, also known as Hebron, in front of witnesses so that there would never be a question of ownership.

The Cave of Machpelah - Vincent van Gogh

              The cave of Machpela by Vincent Van Gogh
These days Israel is constantly on my mind. The situation is tragic. The loss of innocent life, the fear, the rioting in Israeli streets and shelling of Israeli homes and communities is horrifying. Many so-called intellectuals and human rights activists question the right of Israelis and Jews to live in Israel which is historic Canaan with a modern name. The fact is that we Jews have lived in that land longer than any other people.  Jews have owned and lived in the land- Canaan, Palestine, the Turkish Empire, Israel- call it what you will-ever since Abraham bought and owned that parcel 5,000 years ago.
At the end of this week’s reading Abraham died and his two sons- Isaac and Ishmael-came together as brothers to bury their father. The two men mourned together. Isaac and Ishmael buried their father in the cave of Machpela, where Sara his wife had been buried. The two brothers met in peace and acted cooperatively. They recognized and remembered that the land belonged to Abraham, and we have to remember that too.

Over the past week there have been outstanding speeches in Toronto by  Melanie Phillips ( journalist),  Nitsana Darshan-Leitner (lawyer), and Caroline Glick (activist). All three women reminded their audiences that the Jews owned Israel before 1967, before 1948, before the Balfour Declaration, and before the Zionist movement under Herzl. We owned the land all the way back to the time of Abraham. We must remember that and not be apologetic or embarrassed.  I pray that we will see peace and cooperation in Israel very soon.

 

Shabbat Shalom,   Laya

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Toledot

Toledot

I’ve been away for a few weeks. My traveling partner, (Les, my husband) and I went on a wonderful trip to Uzbekistan. Attending lectures by Shalom Sabar about the Jewish cultural history there and seeing the incredible historical architecture was amazing.  I’ll be introducing some of that adventure in future blogs. 

Toldot Sig

  This week’s parsha is Toledot  (Generations). The parsha deals with the birth and sibling rivalry of Esau and Jacob- the twin sons of Rebecca and Isaac. Those babies were fighting even before they were born, to the point that Rebecca asked God what was going on with her pregnancy.

Esau loved being outside and hunting while Jacob stayed home, cooked, and according to the commentaries learned Torah. Esau traded his “birthright” for a bowl of Jacob’s soup – showing Esau’s impatience and disregard for tradition, and also showing Jacob’s desire to take advantage of his brother. The climax of the story is Rebecca and Jacob’s deception of Isaac. Rebecca convinces Jacob to masquerade as his brother in order to fool Isaac into giving Jacob the special blessing for the first born.

The story introduces all kinds of questions and puts flawed family dynamics into relief. Why did Isaac favour Esau while Rebecca favoured Jacob?  Why did Rebecca fool Isaac instead of talking to him? Was Isaac really taken in by Jacob’s deception? Maybe he suspected the truth but realized that Jacob was more suited to the blessing. Did the two brothers end up with the fates that most suited them in the long run? Esau would be a man of the field and Jacob would become the leader of the nation of Israel.

What seems to hold true is that poor family dynamics and communication skills certainly continued from generation to generation.

This picture shows the “family dynamics” of Isaac, Rebecca, Esau and Jacob. We see the blind Isaac blessing his son Jacob- having been fooled into thinking he is blessing Esau. Rebecca is delaying Esau from coming in until the blessing is complete. Rebecca is doing this because God had told her, when she was pregnant, that “the elder shall serve the younger”. She wants to ensure that the prophecy comes true.

The commentators had a very negative view of Esau because of his clashes with Jacob.

Esau settled in Edom, south of Judah and ultimately Edom was identified as the enemy of Israel and the ancestor of Rome- the bloody tyrant that destroyed the Temple and the land of Israel.

The haftarah is Malachi  1:1 -2:7. The prophet Malachi lived in Jerusalem during the 5th century B.C.E. after the return to Judah from exile in Babylonia in 538 BCE. In this haftarah Malachi is reprimanding the Jews for not observing the practices properly. He tells them that G-d loves His people- but they must stop making inferior sacrifices to God. Edom, the descendants of Esau, are mentioned as the tyrannical enemy.  I suspect that Esau was vilified through the guise of Edom and then Rome to make it easier to identify the source of Jewish oppression.

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