I’m Back… and I’ve brought some bread with me!

bread

So folks, first off, mea culpa! It has been way too long since I last posted, but work and life has been hectic. To catch you up on the past few months, we’ve had Chanukah, Tu B’Shevat, Purim and Pesach, all prime food holidays, which I admit, I slacked on. My bad. For those of you who would like, I can pull out some menus and recipes from those days and catch you all up. But onwards and upwards! Since we have just finished Pesach, a holiday of no leavened products, I feel the great desire for some real bread. Not potato starch bread. Not a gluten free concoction (though credit does go out to my gluten-intolerant and Celiac friends, I’ve got your backs too! Check out the posts under the Gluten Free Category). I want real, wheat flour based, bread!

So with that in mind, I dedicate the rest of this week to bread! Our proud quiet companion that supports whatever delicious substance we slap between two pieces of it. Without you bread, we wouldn’t have a sandwich. Thank you.

Purim – The Holiday That Keeps On Giving

Shush, Iran
So, out of respect to those that partied just a little too hard yesterday I’ll speak quietly (imagine me whispering) and keep today’s post short. As I explained over the past two days, we’ve just concluded celebrating the holiday of Purim. But like any good holiday worth it’s salt, Purim goes into a bonus day round for those who live in certain areas. Which areas? Why? To explain this, let me give you a little background. As you know, the Purim takes place in ancient Persia, an empire consisting of 127 provinces. The capitol city was named Shushan and was located in what is now modern day South-Western Iran. In those days, Shushan, like most cities, especially large, developed ones, were walled for multitudes of reasons, most importantly for security and safety. This will become important later.

Now when Haman was defeated, and the King gave permission to Mordechai and the Jews to fight back against their enemies, the battles took place on the 13th of Adar, with the victorious resting and celebrating on the 14th of Adar, the day that we now celebrate as Purim. However, in the capitol city of Shushan, where there was a large concentration of anti-semitism, the fighting took two days, the 13th and 14th, with the Jewish people only resting and celebrating on the 15th of Adar.

So what is this extra day I’m talking about? One would think that we’d celebrate on the 14th and only the Shushanites would celebrate on the 15th. However, this was a dark time for Judaism, specifically in the Land of Israel and it’s holy city of Jerusalem. So the Sages decreed, that they wished to honour the importance of the miracle, and the walled city of both Shushan and Jerusalem, that all cities that were walled at the time of Joshua (Yehoshua bin Nun) were to celebrate this extra special day, referred to as “Shushan Purim”, to populate and elevate the miracle that G-d performed.

Today, the only city in which Purim is celebrated on the 15th of Adar (besides Shushan) is Jerusalem. Although the Megillah (the written story of Purim) is also read on the 15th of Adar in a number of other cities in the Land of Israel, including Acre, Jaffa, and Tiberias, this is only a custom based on the possibility that they may have been surrounded by walls at the time of Joshua. In these places, the Megillah reading on the 15th is done without reciting the blessings. For all other purposes, these cities celebrate Purim on the 14th.

So in honour of the bonus day, I’m giving a bonus Purim recipe. This recipe is for a Persian barley soup. I gave the recipe to my mom to use, as her theme this year for the Seudah (festive meal) was Persia, and in her wisdom, she improved upon it. The recipe is her doctored version, and I can attest from eating it last night, is delicious!

Purim – The Drinking Holiday

Kosher WineYes, Jews drink. This comes as a surprise to some, and not so much to others. True, traditionally speaking, we’re not big drinkers. We have a lot of ceremonial occasions where alcohol, wine specifically is a key part of the observance. We have the weekly Sabbath, where we say Kiddush (the blessing over the wine) at the Friday night meal, the Saturday lunch and then again Saturday night to conclude the observance. Our wedding ceremonies have seven blessings that are said over a cup of wine, at the ceremony itself and then every night for seven nights following. Wine in the Jewish religion is important, and is on a different level, in it’s making and drinking, then any other spirit. But “big drinking”? Drinking to excess and getting drunk? Again, traditionally, not a very popular activity in the Jewish world (Yes, I know that there are Jewish alcoholics, and I am not referring to them in this discussion, though it is a very real problem. There is a wonderful organization based here in Toronto called JACS, that works to help those suffering from alcoholism and addiction, and their families. For more information, please click on this link to be brought to their website).

There is a big exception to this rule though. The holiday of Purim. Jews in general, observant ones specifically, tend to be a pious, spiritual body of people. They spend their days in the observance of G-d’s laws and commandments, and strive to fulfill them to the best of their ability. Alcohol, for the sake of becoming imbibed, directly takes away from that practice. How can you learn, study and teach if you can’t walk in a straight line? In fact, part of Noah’s downfall after the flood, which led to his shame and the cursing of his son and grandson, is as of the direct result of drinking too much wine (read more about that here).

So why is Purim different? Part of the celebration during the holiday is to drink to excess, to achieve a state in which one can no longer differentiate between the villain Haman and the hero Mordechai. I looked around for different sources and explanations (ie: Google Search), and I came across and interesting article on the Chabad website. It stated that by becoming incapciated it is as if we are saying: “Even if we can no longer differentiate between things whose differences should be abundantly clear, we still know that we shall not lack salvation, that our hopes are not fruitless and that our joy is not unbased, for in G-d alone do we place our trust. Whether sober or inebriated, we fear no evil, for You are with us forever.”

It is easy to mark the differences between a “cursed is Haman” and a “blessed is Mordechai”. They are polar opposites on the scale of righteousness. However, what is harder is to learn to recognize the minute intermediate stages between these two extremes. Can you tell the differences between someone who is “mostly good” or “mostly evil”? At what point does the scale tip?

If one has consumed enough on Purim that these stages are no longer clear, then he is considered to have fulfilled his obligation, but there are different ways to find righteousness in this world. Is it through the merits and victory of the good? Or just the downfall of the evil? Is it enough that our enemies perish, or should we elevate ourselves as well?

When the Jewish People act meritoriously, the righteous are exalted and it is their praise that is expressed; all are happy and the joy is complete. But when we lack merit, and our salvation is realized through the downfall of the wicked who are excessively evil, the entire world trembles in fear of G-d, but there is no joy. Thus, the happiness of “blessed is Mordechai” – of the Jewish People being saved through their own merits – is greater than “cursed is Haman” – the salvation that comes when the wicked have been destroyed.Nevertheless, the Sages ruled that on Purim one is required to drink until he reaches the point where he can no longer differentiate between these two types of salvation. Why? Because the downfall of Haman is completely different from the downfall of other wicked people. The joy that results from his defeat is as complete as that which results from the victory of the righteous. Haman is a descendant of Amalek, of whom the verse states: “And in the destruction of the wicked there is song (Proverbs, 11:10)”. When Amalek is obliterated, it is as if there is a revelation of the Spirit of G-d in the world and it is therefore fitting that we celebrate.

Thus, there is no difference between the joy associated with “cursed is Haman” and that associated with “blessed is Mordechai.” So that man might not be distressed that he has merited salvation because of the excessive evil of the wicked rather than through his own merit, our Sages ordained that he drink and forget the difference between these two sources of salvation.

A Freilicha Purim! Happy Purim!

PurimIt’s that time of year again people! No, not Jewish Halloween (which yes, I have heard the holiday referred to as) It’s Purim!!

The holiday originating back to about 4th century BCE in the land of Persia. At the time the Persian empire extended over 127 lands, and all the Jews were its subjects. When King Ahasuerus (Thought to be Xerxes I) had his wife, Queen Vashti, executed for failing to follow his orders, he orchestrated a beauty pageant to find a new queen. A Jewish girl, Esther, found favour in his eyes and became the new queen—though she refused to divulge the identity of her nationality.

Meanwhile, the anti-Semitic Haman was appointed prime minister of the empire. Mordechai, the leader of the Jews (and Esther’s cousin/uncle/kin), defied the king’s orders and refused to bow to Haman. Haman was incensed, and convinced the king to issue a decree ordering the extermination of all the Jews on the 13th of Adar—a date chosen by a lottery Haman made.

Mordechai galvanized all the Jews, convincing them to repent, fast and pray to G‑d. Meanwhile, Esther asked the king and Haman to join her for a feast. At the feast, Esther revealed to the king her Jewish identity. Haman was hanged, Mordechai was appointed prime minister in his stead, and a new decree was issued—granting the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies. On the 13th of Adar, the Jews mobilized and killed many of their enemies. On the 14th of Adar, they rested and celebrated.

Purim observances:

a) Reading of the megillah (book of Esther), which recounts the story of the Purim miracle.

b) Giving money gifts to the poor.

c) Sending gifts of food to friends.

d) A festive Purim feast.

It is also customary for children to dress up in disguising costumes.

One of the most traditional foods associated with Purim is the Hamentashen… a triangular shaped stuffed cookie. The name comes from the villain of the story Haman, and is shaped like either is hat, ears, nose or pockets. The jury is out as to which one it’s really supposed to be, as long as it is shaped like a triangle. It is stuffed with jam, jelly, prune mixtures or poppy seeds traditionally, but I’ve thrown in a whole bunch of new fillings for you to try out this year. You’ll have to let me know which is your favourite, and of course, have a Happy and Safe Purim!!