Parashat Va’ethanan--Deuteronomy 3:23-7:8
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Four Table Topics for All Ages
To switch up the methodology this week for the parasha discussion, here are four topics which can involve everyone at the table from youngest to oldest.

Topic 1: Pedagogy 101
Referring to the 6 Pedagogical Methods Moshe employed, ask your guests which style appeals to each at your table. You may discover some good persuasion strategies to deploy next time you need them. If you were listening to Moshe, which type of argument would resonate with you?

Topic 2: Order in the Court
Convene your own bet din, or court. The first paragraph of the parasha is Moshe’s plea to God to allow him to enter Eretz Yisrael. (Deut. 3:23-28) Put God or Moshe on trial. Will someone speak for God and justify God's decision to not allow Moshe to enter Eretz Yisrael? Will someone speak for Moshe and for forgiveness?

Topic 3: Assimilation
Moshe sternly warns the Israelites against adopting the ways of the people who currently inhabit Eretz Yisrael. The Israelites are to follow God’s laws and not be swayed by the practices of the Canaanite tribes. (Deut. 4:5) This is an opening to discuss assimilation. To what extent was it practical to think that B’nei Yisrael would remain separate and not be influenced by others? What are the greatest challenges to modern Jews to resist assimilation. Or, is assimilation desirable?

Topic 4: Accidental Death
Many of our laws are based explicitly on empathy, e.g. you shall be kind to strangers because you were strangers in the land of Egypt. In this parasha Moshe sets aside cities of refuge for someone who kills another “without having been hostile to him in the past.” (Deut. 4:42) Notice that God’s name is not invoked in this decision. You can discuss Moshe’s experience with killing the Egyptian taskmaster and his flight to Midian to escape punishment. Do you think this influenced his setting aside the cities of refuge? Is it a good idea? Should there be places where one who killed by accident can go and not be extradited? Some of you may be familiar with Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of the stages of moral development. If so, how does empathy fit into Kohlberg’s theory?

 

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Back to Numbers--specifically 10

  • Create a dish with ten ingredients (salad works well).
  • Create a centerpiece with 10 components.
  • Invite 10 guests to your Shabbat table.
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With Parashat Va'ethanan and Shabbat Nahamu Aseret ha-Dibrot (The Ten Commandments) are back. Moshe continues his farewell address and includes the repetition of the Ten Commandments with a few changes from the version in Parashat Yitro (Exodus:20). Moshe emphasizes that the laws the people are now hearing are the laws God gave forty years earlier. Moshe is conveying God’s laws, not legislating himself. You’ll also find the Sh’ma and the V’ahavta in Deut. 6:4-9. Embedded in Va’ethanan are powerful arguments to B’nei Yisrael exhorting them to worship only God and to follow God's laws. Consequences for disobeying God’s laws and incurring God’s wrath are dire. This parasha is read after Tisha B’Av and includes a haftarah that comforts us following the fast day. 

Find the food connection...

נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ, עַמִּי
Be comforted, be comforted, my people!
--Isaiah 40:1


Comfort food!
What constitutes comfort food is, of course, very subjective. For me, it’s my great-grandmother’s strudel. Baubie made stretch dough on the formica kitchen table top, but this is an easier version.

 

The Side Dish

If you’ve been reading any articles about educational reform in the past twenty years, you’ve probably heard about teaching to accommodate different styles of learning. Moshe intuitively seemed to know about this so-called revolutionary style of teaching. This may be why he’s call Moshe Rabbenu—Moshe the Quintessential Teacher. In Va’ethanan Moshe uses every means possible to teach the Israelites that obedience to God is paramount. Furthermore, he instructs the Israelites to become teachers to the next generations (4:9).


If you tease out the various teaching styles he employs, you discover
1. The Rhetorical Question. See Deut. 4:8: “What great nation has laws and rules as perfect as all this Teaching that I set before you this day?” See also 4:32-35.


2. Reward. “Observe God’s laws and commandments...that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may long remain in the land that the Lord your God is assigning to for all time.” 4:40


3. Intimidation. “The Lord your God is a consuming fire, an impassioned God.” 4:24


4. Visceral memory. Moshe reminds the Israelites of their feelings and sensations the day that they stood at Mt. Sinai.


5. Historical justification. Moshe reviews the historical experiences that prove God will live up to God's promises in the covenant beginning with the most recent experience—Baal-peor.

6 .Example.  The parasha opens with Moshe pleading with God to be allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael.  Because he hasn't obeyed all God's commands to him, God will not relent.  Moshe will die after having viewed Eretz Yisrael and will never cross into Eretz Yisrael.  There doesn't seem to be a transition to chapter 4, but it begins with the word v'ata--and now--which seems to link the upcoming laws with their rewards and consequences to Moshe's plea. For me there is an intimate connection.  Moshe faces his own consequences for disobedience publicly (note the use of "we" in 3:29) and then announces to all of B'nei Yisrael that they, too, are given laws and commandments that have consequences. While he references Ba'al-peor (4:3), I find Moshe's personal experience even more poignant.

 

 

 

 

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A Dash of Definition
This parasha includes multiple words that all seem to mean rules. What’s the difference between hukim, mishpatim, mitzvot, ‘edot? First the linguistic explanation. Hukim comes from the Hebrew root h-k-k, engrave or carve. Mishpat is from the same root as shofet, a judge and denotes a rule issued by a judge. Mitzvot is from the root tz-v-h, command and ‘edot are translated as testimonies. Many of us are familiar with the Hebrew word of the same root, ‘ed, a witness. Rabbinic commentators find the use of multiple words a rich source for exegesis and most understand hukkim as laws whose purpose is not obvious like the laws of kashrut. Mishpatim, on the other hand, are laws whose purpose is self-evident like the prohibition against murder.

A Dash of Halakha --or not?
On the face of it, verse 4:2 seems to invalidate the Conservative movement’s Committee of Jewish Law and justify the Karaite position which is to take all Torah laws literally. “You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord that I enjoin upon you.” Here’s Rabbi Jeffrey Tigay’s approach. He sees this verse as a formula like the one used in the Hammurabi code or treaties in the Ancient Near East. Tigay claims the rabbis understood the verse to mean that no person might add laws or subtract them and claim that God instructed the person to create or invalidate a law. That left plenty of room to legislate and innovate. From a literary critique and according to the commentator Hezzkuni (ca. 1240), the verse doesn’t seem to apply to all laws of the Torah but, rather, the laws that relate to worshipping one God and no other.

A Dash of Archaeology

In D’varim 6:9 the Torah enjoins: “Inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on the gates.” Most of us learned early in our Jewish education that this line in the v’ahavta refers to mezuzot The v’ahavta text (Deut 6:4-9) and Deut. 11:113-21 are on the parchment of our mezuzot.
Have you ever wondered what’s the oldest mezuzah ever found? It appears there are two contenders. One is from Egypt—the Nash papyrus found near Fayyum (about 60 miles southwest of Cairo) that dates to 150-100 BCE. The other find was in Qumran (1 mile from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea) where eight mezuzot were discovered. The eight scrolls from the Qumran cave date date to the Hellenistic or Herodian period. Visit the Dead Sea Scrolls archive to view photos of these fragments. http://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/explore-the-archive/manuscript/8Q4-1mezuzah parchment

Aside from the excitement of knowing mezuzot are an ancient custom and viewing the artifact, comparing the texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Torah text in front of us this Shabbat (known as the Masoretic text) yields fascinating insights. For an article that highlights some of the contrasts between the text of Aseret haDibrot (The Ten Commandments) in the Qumran fragments and in our Masoretic text, see http://thetorah.com/oldest-known-copy-of-the-decalogue/

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Baubie's Strudel without the Stretch Dough
Pareversz 02 vaethanan strudel making copy

This is not an instant recipe. As our grandmother would say, “why are you in such a hurry?” So, read the instructions carefully on the puff pastry box. It really takes 40 minutes to defrost the puff pastry on the kitchen counter.  The photo to the right is Baubie's great-great-great grandson applying egg wash to the strudel he helped make. That's 7 generations of memory in one dessert!

 

Ingredients

Dough

  • 1 package puff pastry sheet dough
    (Pepperidge Farm brand is kosher and pareve and comes in a 1# package)

Filling

  • 10 oz. of pitted prunes, a little less than 2 cups
  • 3/4 c. raisins
  • 3/4 c. grape or plum jam (Smuckers makes a red plum jam)
  • zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
  • 1 Tbsp. orange juice
  • 3/4-1 c. chopped walnuts

Topping

  • Egg wash (1 egg yolk mixed with a little water)
  • cinnamon and sugar

Directions

  1. Defrost the pastry sheets-there are two in the box.
  2. Combine all the filling ingredients. You can use a food processor for the first five ingredients and add the walnuts by hand. Of course, Baubie used a hand chopper and a wooden bowl, but authenticity has its limits.
  3. Lay one sheet of the puff pastry on lightly floured parchment paper. Roll out to 16”x12”.
  4. Spoon half the filling onto the bottom half of the pastry sheet. Leave 1” at the bottom so the filling doesn’t seep out.
  5. Roll up like a jelly roll.
  6. Place parchment paper together with the roll on a cookie sheet seam side down. Pinch the ends together.
  7. Repeat the whole process with the second pastry sheet and the rest of the filling.
  8. Brush the tops with the egg wash.
  9. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon and sugar.
  10. With a sharp knife cut diagonal slits in the top of the pastry.
  11. Bake @375º 30-35 minutes.
  12. Cool the strudel on the cookie sheet for 5-10 minutes and then on a rack until completely cool.
  13. Slice and serve or freeze for later.

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