Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Drama - Parshat Baha'alotecha

Get ready for drama! This week's portion, Baha'alotecha kicks off a series of great stories in the upcoming portions. And this portion in particular is packed with drama- jealousy, revenge, spite, gripes, animosity, gossip and killing.

There's a lot to tell and I hope you're on the edges of your seat. The portion starts off innocently enough- the huge golden Menorah for the Temple is described, the nation travels a bit and a special ruling is made for those who missed out on eating the Passover offering because they were in a state of ritual impurity. But then the manna hits the fan and the nation starts to complain bitterly about life in the desert.

Animosity - The nation's grumbling makes God angry. God sends a destructive fire throughout the camp, which only stops when Moses intercedes at the request of the frightened nation. But, as always, they don't learn their lesson.

Spite - The nation of Israel starts to cry about not having enough meat to eat out there in the desert. They go on a trip down culinary memory lane, recalling all the amazing food they ate in Egypt when they were slaves - meat, fish, watermelon, cucumbers, onions, leeks and garlic (this mouth watering menu can be found in chapter 11, verse 5). "Now all we've got is this manna!" they say spitefully to God. Never mind the fact that they no longer have to do back breaking work as slaves. To the reader of the portion the nation certainly seems ungrateful since we know that manna can be a tasty daily treat. So the nation is cranky, which gets Moses distressed, and makes God angry.

Gripes- Moses throws a litany of complaints at God. Why did you make me the leader of these (ungrateful) people? Why are they my responsibility? Where am I supposed to get them meat? Why don't you just kill me?" Moses does literally ask God to kill him if he has to deal with this on his own.

Revenge - God has the situation under control. First he'll deal with Moses feeling overwhelmed, then he'll deal with the whiny nation. God gives Moses some side kicks when he appoints 70 elders to share the burden of leadership. Then He instructs Moses to alert the people that they'll be getting meat - but they won't eat meat for just one day. They'll eat it for an entire month "until it comes out of [their] nostrils" and they get sick of it. Hey, they pissed God off by making it sound like they missed Egypt, the very place they'd been praying to be rescued from. So to strike back God sends a month's worth of meat (I too am getting a lot of meat lately, luckily none has come out of my nose- check out my contributions to Golden West's blog ).

Jealousy - In appointing these 70 other leaders, they too are given a connection to God. Joshua, Moses's long time apprentice (and eventual successor) has a hard time wrapping his head around this new division of leadership. When he sees two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, prophesying in the camp he runs irately to tell Moses and demands that Moses go and stop them. "Oh Joshua," Moses thinks, it's so sweet of you to be jealous on my behalf. But calm down man, it's cool with me.

Killing - OK here comes the grim bit. God provides a speedy and abundant meat delivery and sends loads of quail to the nation. The nation is all about the free meat and they fall all over it. As the people are gathering and eating this meat God sends down a plague to strike the nation. You might say they had it coming.

Gossip - Ready for the last bit? Aaron and Miriam, Mose's brother and sister, start to bad mouth Moses. First they take a stab at his choice in a wife. Then they question how great Moses actually is "Has God not spoken through us as well?" Well God won't tolerate people talking about his Moses that way and lets them know that Moses is indeed extra special since he's the only one who God speaks with directly and not through a dream or a vision. How dare they speak against him. God strikes Miriam with Tzaraat as punishment - but the loyal brother that he is, Moses prays to God to heal her.

Whew, I hope you followed all that action in this fast paced portion!

This portion was particularly exciting to me, not only because of all the intense story lines, but because of the amazing list of ingredients in the text! Meat, quail, fish, watermelon, cucumbers, onions, leeks and garlic. So in an attempt to use as many of them as possible, here's a recipe for watermelon salad as well as a recipe for fish with cilantro garlic sauce. If you were so inclined, and could figure out where to buy quail, you could also make a sauteed leek and roasted quail dish.

Before I get to those recipes though, this is my dad's bar mitzvah parsha. Aside from just generally being a daddy's girl, I have always shared a special connection to my dad around our bar and bat mitzvahs. The two of us share the same Haftorah- a portion from the Prophets or Writings in the Bible which is read after the portion each Shabbat.Ours is called Roni Vsimchi- which translates to "rejoice and be happy" and discusses the Menorah, just as the beginning of this portion does (there's usually some kind of thread like these connecting the portion and the haftorah read on the same week). It gets read twice a year- once on Shabbat Chanukah (when my bat mitzvah took place) and again on the Shabbat when we read the portion of Baha'alotecha.

My dad and I used to joke about forming a Roni Vsimchi club for who ever had this bar/bat mitzvah Haftorah- we knew a handful of other people in our synagogue whom that applied to. This idea thrilled me as a kid- being in a club with my dad. I imagined my dad would be the head - wearing a golden crown reminiscent of the Menorah (which of course he would have made himself), bringing cheese or raspberry danishes to the celebratory kiddush for the club (a treat he would often bring the the kiddushes he made for his parent's yartzeits, the Jewish commemoration of the date of someone's passing) and leading us in joyful melodies in the spirit of "rejoice and be happy." That's who my dad is - someone who loves to make Judaism beautiful, who creates with his hands and his heart, who likes to take care of other people, and boy does he know how to celebrate. Happy Barmy to ya Abba! I love you very much.

Fish with Garlic Cilantro Sauce and Roasted Onion & Tomatillos

Mahi Mahi or any sustainable firm white fish (I chose Mahi Mahi because it was on sale at whole foods and is listed as ok to buy on the Seafood Guide)
1/4 cup of Cilantro
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
8 tbsp Olive Oil
3 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
4 Tomatillos
1 onion diced

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Prepare the tomatillos for roasting. You can pull their papery skin up into a petal for a pretty presentation or remove it all together. You will roast the tomatillos whole. Place them on a baking sheet along with the chopped onions and drizzle with 2 tbsps of olive oil. Roast for 30 minutes.

In a blender combine the cilantro, garlic, 3 tbsp of olive oil and lemon juice. This should make a pesto like sauce.

Heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Wash the fish in cook in the olive oil for 3 minutes on each side. Plate the fish and cover with the sauce. Serve the tomatillos on the side.

Watermelon and Cucumber Salad with Sesame-Ginger Vinaigrette My friend Shira made this recipe to the delight of my friend Anna and after some emailing around it arrived in my inbox. Shira and her fiance Ari adapted it from this Oprah recipe, using watermelon and omitting the fish sauce. I added in the cucumbers to further tie it to this week's portion.

2 tbsp shredded coconut
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1/2 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup grated ginger
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tbsp flour
Kosher salt to taste
3 cups watermelon peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup of thinly sliced cucumbers
1/3 cup chopped peanuts, toasted
1/4 cup mixture of chopped basil, cilantro and mint

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add coconut and toast it for 2 minutes. Set the coconut aside. Add the sesame seeds to the skillet and toast, stirring for 2 minutes. Add 1/4 cup peanut oil and ginger. Cook and stir for 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and whisk in lime juice, and sugar. This is your dressing.

In a medium bowl, toss shallots with flour and shake off the excess. Heat 1/4 cup peanut oil in a large skillet over medium high heat for about 30 seconds. Add the shallots and cook until brown for about 5-7 minutes. Transfer the shallots to a plate and season with salt to taste. Set aside to cool.

Now make the salad. Combine the dressing, melon, cucumbers, peanuts, herbs, coconut, and shallots. Toss well and serve.

** Hey readers. Sam and I are planning a very short stay in Paris this summer and are looking for a cute boutique hotel in a central location. I'd love to hear any suggestions you have!

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