Thursday, May 20, 2010

Grape Escape - Parshat Naso

I had a wonderful Shavuot Holiday, full of friends, dairy food, teaching and learning. But having the holiday fall out on Tuesday night, Wednesday and Thursday makes this week feel like a Shabbat and holiday sandwich. I'm kind of pooped and have work tomorrow and then- Shabbat again (the end of the "sandwich") so this is going to be a quick post. In case you were wondering, the key lime cheesecake came out very well (I poured it all into one pie crust instead of two and have amended the recipe) and the class on Dairy Products in the Bible that I taught on Tuesday night was a lot of fun (we ate herbed goat cheese, Kefir, chocolate covered pomegranate seeds and Toblerone).

On Saturday morning, Parshat Naso will be read in Synagogues. One section describes the rules for when someone makes a Nazarite vow, where they "set themselves aside for God." The rules that apply to the Nazir include not drinking any wine or alcohol. In fact all grape products are off limits - wine vinegar, fresh grapes, dried grape, skins and seeds. Tough stuff. But a vow is a vow. The Nazir also can't cut their hair for the entire length of their Nazir commitment nor come into contact with a dead body- even if it is the body of a close relative. If the Nazir accidentally comes into contact with a dead body they must shave their head, bring a bird offering and then rededicate themselves to God and start growing their hair out again. When the terms of this vow are over the Nazir's hair is cut and that gets offered as a ritual offering as do lambs, rams, breads, oil and libations. So the wine and grape ban is lifted.

This collection of passages show us that making a vow is a serious thing and that we can always dedicate ourselves to a cause, and rededicate ourselves if we get thrown off track. We can commit ourselves to something forever or for a set period of time, and can feel a sense of accomplishment when that commitment is fulfilled.

Living, as I do, in the land of Universities, you can feel graduation season in the air. The student population is thinning at Harvard Hillel and the rowdy crowds walking back and forth between the Radcliff Quad and Harvard Yard are fewer and further between (utter peace is almost here for it's four month summer visit!!). Even though it has been three years since my last graduation (and nearly ten years since my high school graduation - only two more weeks till the reunion!) I still feel excited at this time of year. I share with the students in a sense of accomplishment, an anticipation of a season of freedom on the horizon and beyond that new beginnings. Maybe that's just what most people feel at the end of Spring.

This Shabbat I'll prepare a few dishes that would be sure to appeal to anyone who had just graduated from their time as a Nazir (p.s. this doesn't happen in the post-Biblical era, this is just for fun). First, my friend Miriam makes an amazing salad with fresh spinach, strawberries, candied pecans, grapes and a balsamic dressing that I'll have to get the recipe for. Then for a main dish I'll cook some chicken pieces (remember the bird offering?) with plump raisins, sliced ginger and chopped onion (keep the skin on, place chicken pieces in a Corningware or Pyrex baking dish, throw the raisins, ginger and onions on top, cover the dish with foil and bake at 350 for 1.5 hours). To finish things off - a non-dairy version of grape tart for dessert.

Mazal Tov to all the graduates!!

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