Terror, Turkeys and Pots and Pans

I am sure many of our hearts are still heavy from last week’s gruesome attacks in Paris, and yesterday’s heartrending attacks in Israel. To be a citizen of the world poses many challenges to us. How do we remain open to horror that occurs halfway around the world when it sometimes seems that this is all the news brings us? How do we place it in some sort of proper perspective? How do we keep ourselves from becoming callous or indifferent? What sort of moral and emotional demands are placed upon us? How are we to respond?

Another challenge, equally real, is how do we continue to embrace all that is good in life when we feel torn by such suffering? I have always found the traditional dictum that there is no public mourning on Shabbat to be at times both terribly difficult to fulfill and remarkably insightful. Our tradition teaches us that the collective joy we are to experience on our holidays and Shabbats takes precedence over our individual and communal sorrows. That is, if we do not carve out moments of sacred time that are inviolate in their dedication to joy, we will be swallowed up by the darkness of loss. Simultaneously, our calendar preserves days solely focused on the darkness of existence, such as Tisha B’Av. Examined as a whole, it seems we are charged to seek a balance in our awareness such that we can maintain a posture of gratitude to the world.

With that noted, and with our great American holiday of gratitude quickly approaching, I want to let you know that Ben O’Glasser has been working to obtain kosher, organic, free-range, locally sourced heritage turkeys. He has a friend at Stone Boat farms who raises these birds, and has been in contact with Rabbi Truzman at Beit Yosef, a shochet who will ensure these birds are kosher. For those of you who are interested, please notify me today by early afternoon (via email), as availability is limited. Please follow the link to learn more about the farm. http://www.stoneboatpdx.com/turkeys.
And since we are talking about food…

Basic Judaism: A Religion of Pots and Pans?

About 25 years ago, Jacob Neusner, a prolific scholar of rabbinic Judaism, wrote a book entitled, “A Religion of Pots and Pan?” Modes of Philosophical Discourse in Ancient Judaism.

What Neusner was getting at was how our ancestors spent tremendous time writing about the minutia of Jewish law on seemingly trivial matters. If a pot has a turned down rim, can it be kashered? If a dish in an oven gives off steam, how does that steam ritually affect the oven and other food being cooked in it? How should a man trim his beard, and what is to be done with finger nail clippings?

Neusner’s book also underscores for us that Judaism often was criticized for its seemingly excessive focus on such matters. “Your religion focuses on pots. Our religion is concerned with spiritual truths.” It seems that we may be better equipped to understand how powerful this Jewish focus can. In other words, how does the spiritual world intertwine with basic reality?

Ours is also an age tremendously concerned with the minutia of food. Is food organic? Is it local? Is it from a traditional seed source, rather than a more recently bred variety? Small farm or industrial farm? There are a great many reasons why these things may matter to us, and these are issues that have concerned me personally for over twenty years, which is when I gave my first public lecture on locally-sourced food. Even today, Laura and I are justly proud of our own little organic garden, which still has some bok choy and broccoli growing in it.

But when it comes to the benefits of organic food, there are many areas where the jury is still out. Is it better for us? More nutritious, healthier? Those of us who advocate for it believe it is, but the science is still not clear. Does that change my belief? Well, yes and no. It requires me to maintain an open mind on what is still unknown, but it also reminds me that there are so many other values and reasons that speak to me. There is a spiritual element to all of this that matters, a deep philosophy .

And so as we gather with family in our kitchens, take a moment to listen to your pots and pans. What are they telling you? Think about how they help you nourish your loved ones and foster community. Think about your food choices. Reflect also on the joy of togetherness that festive meals provide us. Consider your blessings. Judaism, among all of its many jewels, has always been a religion of pots and pans. If we seek, we can find spiritual uplift in the smallest of things.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Thanksgiving,

Rav D

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