Shavuot – The End of the Counting… And the Beginning?

Shavout 1Those of you who are familiar with Jewish holidays, or read my blog regularly, know that since Passover we have been counting the days of the Omer. The Omer is the seven week (or 49 days for those of you who are counting, see… counting! it was in the title!) period between Passover and Shavout. At Passover we celebrated our Exodus from Egypt and the liberation and freedom that came with it. At Shavout, we celebrate and remember our time at Mt. Sinai, when G-d gave down his Ten Commandments, and the rest of his Torah (there are A LOT more than 10 rules people! See, counting again!).

This was obviously a great celebration for the Jewish people, who so recently had been slaves, were now being exalted as G-d’s chosen people, worthy to receive his Torah and practice Judaism. Many a Sage has compared Shavout, and our receiving of the Torah, to a wedding ceremony. Instead of Bride and Groom, you have G-d and His people, vowing to each other to keep and respect each other. We the Jewish people, swore on the lives of our children and future generations to uphold G-d’s laws and customs, and in return G-d bestowed upon us the majesty that is the Torah, and all that it encompasses.

Pretty heavy for newly freed slaves. In fact, if you’ve seen “The Ten Commandments”, you know the old standby with Charlton Heston, then you will know that we didn’t handle it so well when Moses went up to Mt. Sinai to commune with G-d. That is why in fact, that this is special holiday to include children in. It is upon their merit that we received the Torah in the end, for the current generation was not ready.

So we know that it’s a special day, obviously, but what about the food? Well, on this holiday, the tradition is to eat dairy meals, not the meat meals that you normally expect for a big, important holiday. Why is this? (C’mon, you knew there would be a reason!). This is because before we were blessed with receiving the Torah, we did not have the complete rules of kosher. Once receiving the Torah, we now knew we could only have certain animals, slaughtered in a certain way, etc. All of our meat pots had to be made kosher! So to resolve this temporary food setback, we ate milk!

So in honour of this, one of the most special and holy occurrences in Judaism, I present to you a week of dairy dishes sure to hit the spot with your guests! Enjoy and Chag Samayach!

The Plagues – Creative Punishment (8 Days to Go!)

PlaguesSo most people out there, Jewish or not, secular or observant, are pretty familiar with the ten plagues of Egypt. If you’ve ever seen Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” (who can resist Charlton Heston playing Moses?!) or even the more recent (and unfortunately bad) “The Reaping” starring Hilary Swank, then you know all about the rivers turning red with blood, and locusts consuming whole fields of corn.

Okay, we can admit, none of the plagues are good. Some seem worse than others, and scientists have over the years given different explanations on how these plagues could have occurred naturally and may in fact have created a cause and effect pattern, leading from one to the next.

Okay, those are the scientists… Let’s talk about the scholars though! First off, why 10? Why these 10? For those of you who read my blog often enough, you’ll start to see that I’m a big fan of Chabad.org. They of course had the answer… and spelled it out so well that I’ve included it below:

The number [10] is indeed significant. On one occasion, Moses approached Pharaoh and said: “So said the L‑rd G‑d of Israel, “Send out My people, and let them sacrifice to Me in the desert.” (Exodus 5:1) Pharaoh responded: “Who is the L‑rd, that I should heed His voice to let Israel out? I do not know the L‑rd, neither will I let Israel out.” (Exodus 5:2)

But in fact, Pharaoh was very familiar with the concept of G‑d. The Egyptians worshipped deities of all sorts, and Pharaoh even considered himself a god. But he did not believe in an omniscient, all-powerful G‑d who created absolutely everything out of nothingness. We know that G‑d created the world with His speech; to be precise, with ten utterances [to learn more about this, click here]. But Pharaoh denied these ten divine utterances.

And so, the ten plagues corresponded with the various elements that G‑d created in the world, each one demonstrating that a seemingly stable and independent aspect of creation—something which could easily be attributed to “nature”—was entirely in G‑d’s hands. Thus, the plagues proved that G‑d truly is the omniscient, all-powerful Creator.

1. Blood
The first plague, which eliminated drinkable water, established that G‑d rules over the water.
2. Frogs
During the plague of frogs, the creatures even got into the stone ovens, which proved that G‑d rules over all physical man-made creations.
3. Lice
With the third plague, lice, which was accomplished by striking the dirt, it became known that G‑d rules over all the dust of the land.
4. Wild Animals
The fourth plague, where the wild animals destroyed anything in their way, demonstrated that G‑d rules over all of the animals of the land.
5. Pestilence
Through spreading disease amongst the animals, it became known that G‑d controls all of the air we breathe.
6. Boils
The boils all over the Egyptian bodies established that G‑d can cause any living person or animal to suffer or to be healed.
7. Hail
The plague of hail, which rained in the form of fire in ice, declared that G‑d controls the element of fire.
8. Locust
When locusts consumed all the crops, it became clear that G‑d rules over the earth’s vegetation.
9. Darkness
By dropping thick darkness over the Egyptians for several days, G‑d demonstrated that only He can change that which is found in the sky.
10. Death of the Firstborn
Through the death of only the Egyptian firstborn, it became known that G‑d rules over the angels and the spiritual worlds.

Well, I think it’s fair to say that there really was ‘rhyme and reason’ behind the plagues and the purpose of them. Hopefully, we can learn from their mistakes, and move forward, to a time where this will remain only a history lesson and never become current events.