Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Birthday Boy - Parshat Behar/Bechukotay

You must be wondering how it has come to this. We're on the last two portions of the book of Leviticus (both read this week in another case of a double portion)
and I haven't given you a SINGLE grilled meat recipe. I'm sure you thought the entries for the whole book of Vayikra would be filled with them on account of all the Temple sacrifices. But I was trying to steer clear of the predictable at first and save the BBQ for later portions when I would really need it. It's a classic case of saving something for the right occasion and then never getting a chance to enjoy it. But never say never, because I'll make good use out of it this week, I promise.

This week, aside from being very special due to the impending meat recipe, is also a bar-mitzvah anniversary for another family member- my husband Sam. That's right 25 years ago he blew dry his blond hair just so in preparation of the Shabbat services where he would chant his haftorah and give a speech covering his bar mitzvah double portion, Behar-Bechukotay.

This really is the perfect portion for Sam - who in two words is upstanding and honest (he's also cute and fun but that has nothing to do with the parsha, and it's two more words). The laws in these portions are meant to cultivate proper treatment and respect between people. Sam is a great connector to people. While I am rushing around trying to get things done he reminds me to slow down and acknowledge people around me. The portion also deals with justice and keeping one's word. He takes anything he says as a serious commitment and will stand by his word (fortunately or unfortunately for me, he holds me to the same standard).

Shmita, the Sabbatical year for the land, and Yovel (aka Jubilee), the celebration of seven sabbatical cycles, which are both mentioned in the portion, are not only meant to cultivate a closer relationship with God - they are meant to connect people to each other. Imagine the Sabbatical year - an agricultural society is told to take a year off from planting and harvesting. What will they do with all the time on their hands? The text doesn't tell us but I imagine they are sitting outdoors with their neighbors while chatting over drinks, strolling in each other's fields, choosing what they will eat for lunch or dinner and getting to know the poor of their community better than the years where only the corners of their fields are open to all. This time off and potential for connection is so important to God that He promises to make the 6th year of each cycle so incredibly bountiful that everyone will be able to eat off the land for the 7th and 8th years without doing a thing (the 8th year is when they'll be planting again but needing to wait a while for the crops to come up).

Aside from these results of Shmita and Jubilee (which literally means the blowing of a ram's horn) debts are also forgiven, slaves are let free and land returns to it's original owner in the year of Jubilee. This is justice at it's core. A general prohibition against charging your fellow interest is found in the Parsha (given our car payment I know Sam would love a society where this was true again). In the second portion, Bechukotai, vows are dealt with. If anyone vowed to dedicate the equivalent of person, an animal, a home or land to God - that is taken seriously and must be paid up. No reneging, downgrading or replacing is allowed. You are your word. This last phrase is one that my Sam lives by.

There are lots of things that I love about Sam and one of them is how genuine and fair a person he is with everyone. I often have a lot to learn from him so it's good that we'll be hanging out together for a while, as in for ever after.

"Now where does the meat come in?" I bet you're wondering. Well the portion of Bechukotai is kind of one big quid pro quo between God and the people- if you're nice to Me, God says, I'll be nice to you. Follow my laws and "I will grant you grain in the rainy season so that the earth shall yield it's produce and the trees of the field their fruit" (Levitukus chapter 26 verse 3). A few verses later we learn what will happen if we're not so nice to God. He'll make our lives miserable in all sorts of ways- sickness, hunger despite having food, persecution at the hand of enemies and then if you're still bad, your land won't produce nada - and no fruit from the trees. Still at it? Beasts will destroy you. Slow learners? Pestilences will be sent and it just gets worse and worse. But finally some people will repent and God will remember the covenant with our forefathers. The portion and the book wrap up with a discussion of tithes- from "seed from the ground or fruit from the tree" a 10th goes to God. Seeing as the fruit tree gets mentioned another time I was thinking of a fruit salad but then read that the same tithe applies to a herd or flock - every 10th animal goes to God says the portion.

So now we have our ingredients for the following Kabobs that I know Sam will enjoy. Kabobs are such a summer food to me and you don't need a real grill to cook them - I easily make them in my kitchen oven. You can either use wooden skewers to make these- in which case you should pre-soak them in water for 30 minutes so they don't burn during cooking, or you can use steel reusable ones - we have a set from Crate and Barrel that we like. I love grilled fruit in general - particularly pineapple, plum, peaches. That was quite a puckery alliteration. The fruit is even better paired with the meat but if you're a vegetarian make them all fruit or to use extra firm tofu instead. There's a lot of choice in how you make them. You can also use either chicken or red meat for these kabobs and really any firm fruit cut into large cubes will do. So if you want to be creative and come up with your own combo - please do. Happy Birthday Sammy.

Grilled Meat and Fruit Kabobs
I have played with many variations of Kabobs that I concocted after reading the August 2002 edition of Martha Stewart Magazine. This is my 2010 version.

1/2 cup of cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 tbsp of sugar
1/2 cup of fresh squeezed lime juice
2 lbs of chicken or beef, skinned and cubed
2 lbs of cubed pineapple and peaches
a pinch of salt and pepper

Mix the cilantro, olive oil, sugar and lime juice in a bowl. Toss the cubed meat and fruit into the bowl and coat with the dressing. Thread the meat and fruit on the skewers in what ever pattern you would like. Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange the skewers on a broiler pan and turn on your broiler. Put the kabobs under the broiler for 6 minutes, flipped once halfway through. Make sure meat is cooked through. Can be reheated- good served warm or at room temperature. (If you have an outdoor grill you can always make them on there. My mom suggests pre-cooking them in the microwave and then putting them over the coals briefly for a BBQ taste. I don't have a grill or a microwave so we'll have to defer to her).


  1. I remember Sam's bar mitzvah! I also remember the carefully dried and hairsprayed 80's wave in his hair. ;) What you said about him is right on! What a great guy. But I also think he found an extra special girl to spend his life with!! Give him a big birthday hug for us! He's really good at those, too!

  2. Hi Elisha! I wanted to chime in and let you know how much I enjoy your blog. I have been reading it regularly for months now, and realized I ought to let you know that! Each week I excitedly await your entries - to see what foods you'll come up with, to hear your version of the parshah, and to hear what connection you make between the two. Thanks for doing this! I'm having a great time following along. Best, Lynn

  3. Hi Jean! I'm glad you could truly appreciate the hair reference and since you've known Sam for much longer than me your comments are extra special. Thanks.

    Lynn thank you so much for letting me know that you've been reading and enjoying double portion. This kind of encouragement really helps keep me excited. Keep on reading and sharing your comments!