This week we have a series of interesting readings. It is Shabbat Nasso which would normally be accompanied by the haftarah that introduces Samson. In the haftarah an angel comes to a farmer’s field and tells a childless woman that she and her husband will have a child. The baby boy is to be raised as a nazir- a person who is not to cut his hair or partake of grape products. When invited to join the farmer and his wife for dinner the angel rises to heaven in a fiery flame.
There are two haftarahs for Shavuoth. One is Ezekiel’s vision of beings with four faces appearing in lightning-filled skies. The other haftarah is a section from Habakkuk. He uses amazing imagery to describe Gd’s power over nature.
On Shavuoth we read the Book of Ruth. It is a story of famine and poverty, loss, love, loyalty, and redemption. There are scenes that hint at the meanings of Shavuoth. Shavuoth is a harvest/ first fruits festival, and the celebration of “Matan Torah”, the giving of Torah. Ruth shows dedication to Gd and Judaism, and the story takes place during the harvest season.
There are allusions to food and agriculture in the stories of Ruth, and Samson’s parents, and of course in the holiday itself. Today we live in a world so far removed from the biblical setting that it’s hard to remember how our ancestors were tied to the land. They ate simply and in the most basic of ways. Ruth was poor. She gleaned from the corners of the fields where those in poverty gleaned. She was offered a meal with Boaz’s workers. At the mealtime there were only three items on the menu: a morsel of bread, vinegar (either sour wine or the brine of pickled vegetables), and roasted or parched grain. (Ruth: 2:14)
Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi had returned to Canaan because of a famine in Moab. They had no means of support so Ruth was dependent on charity, the aforementioned grain found in the corners of a field. The simple meal she shared brings to mind the difference in the availability and abundance of food today as compared to biblical times. Bread is easy for us to buy or to make with dried yeast. Our ancestors ate sour dough bread, bread that would have taken a couple of days to go through the rising and then the baking process.
Most of us are very removed from the land and from the difficulties of basic food cultivation. Maybe, during this time of Covid-19 isolation we can eat a little more simply and appreciate what is available to us, even when we think times are a little tough.
Here is a recipe for ricotta cheese that you can make for one of your meals. Add a sourdough flatbread, fresh cucumbers in vinegar and dill, and some toasted grain, and your meal might be like the meals eaten by Ruth, Naomi, and Samson’s parents.
4 quarts/ litres whole milk
1 1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp. lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or white wine vinegar
Line a sieve or colander with 4 layers of cheese cloth. Suspend over a large empty bowl. Bring the milk and salt to a low boil. As soon as it begins to boil take it off the heat. Add the salt vinegar or lemon juice. The milk will separate. Skim off the curds with a slotted spoon and put in the seive or colander. Continue until the milk has completely separated and there is only whey in the pot. Refrigerate.
The whey can be used in muffins, bread dough, or pancakes. It’s full of vitamins!
The paintings of Ruth and Boaz in this post are illustrations I made for a Book of Ruth in 1982. It was commissioned as a gift for a Bat Mitzvah girl. The book includes 18 illustrations and was written by hand. One copy is in Israel and the other is my possession, to be read on Shavuoth.
Enjoy, and have a wonderful holiday, Laya