Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mandrakes - Parshat Vayeitzei

If you thought Cain and Abel or Jacob and Esav we're bad, wait until you see the sibling rivalry in this week's portion, Parshat Vayeitzei. Sisters Leah and Rachel are at odds over one man, Jacob. For Jacob and Rachel it was love at first site, and Jacob's feelings are so strong for Rachel that he is willing to work for seven years in service of her father Lavan to win her hand in marriage. And when Lavan pulls a fast one on Jacob and gives him Rachel's sister Leah at the end of the seven years, he works another seven to take Rachel as his wife as well.

Leah and Jacob's marriage is not one full of love and there is much tension between the sisters which is heightened during their fertile productive years. Leah has six children before Rachel even has one, and despite Leah's hope that with the birth of each child her husband will finally love her, it's not the case. Jacob's passion belongs to Rachel.

The sisterly tension crescendos in a story surrounding a mysterious plant. Reuven - Leah's oldest, picks an unusual plant in the field during the wheat harvest and brings it to his mother. The text calls the plant dudaeem, and it's not entirely clear what they are, but it's clear that they are coveted by both women. Rachel asks Leah to give them to her and Leah is outraged "First you take my husband, and now you want to take the dudaeem that my son gave me?" But once Rachel offers Leah a night in Jacob's bed in return for handing over the dudaeem it's a done deal.

Biblical interpreters have a field day with the dudaeem. Many explain them to be mandrakes - the poisonous plant in the nightshade family. You may remember them from their screaming debut in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Harry and his classmates have to re-pot them while wearing earmuffs - this portrayal is legendary but in real life they are native to the Mediterranean.

It's possible that this plant was either an aphrodisiac or a fertility drug. Either way it didn't prove so helpful to Rachel, who already has her husband's love but must still wait for several more years before she conceives a child. While the roots of the plant are hideous, it does produce a lovely purple flower. (Note that none of the pictures above are of actual dudaeem or mandrakes, they're just pretty).

This week we'll keep it simple with a salad with edible flowers and Mandarin oranges - to evoke the look and sound of mandrakes. The antioxidants found in the oranges would help boost fertility according to modern sources (as will the leafy greens in your salad). Delicate edible flowers sound like they have aphrodisiac potential but would be unobtrusive on a Shabbat table.

Salad with Mandarin Oranges and Edible Flowers

1 head of red leaf lettuce
1/2 cup of colorful edible flowers
3 fresh Mandarin oranges peeled and separated into sections or 1 small can drained
1 lemon
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp coarse salt
Dash of water
Wash and tear the lettuce into edible pieces. Place into a large salad bowl and add the Mandarin oranges.

Make the salad dressing according to these directions. Dress the greens and oranges and then scatter the edible flowers on top of the greens and serve.


  1. Edible flowers? Hey, fancy lady! Shabbat shalom.

  2. Thanks Jess. Hope you enjoyed the great weather in our neck of the woods.