The 2 Ways to Live a Good Life: Parashat Chayei Sarah

In Lech Lecha, Avraham is given the most difficult trials of his lifetime, amasses his enormous fortune; safely travelling far and wide with his beautiful wife, Sarah, and lives a very eventful, challenging, and rewarding life. That is, until the Akeida. 

Parshat Chayei Sarah immediately follows Parshat Lech Lecha and creates a stark contrast in not only pacing, but the story-telling puts these two parshot at extreme opposition with one another. It feels almost contradictory to what’s happened.

The Akeida is not only Avraham’s greatest test, but it is also the trial that changes the course of his story. The fallout between him and Yitzchak is irreparable and the two are never together again. Not only does it ruin his relationship with his favourite son, but the shock of the news kills even his wife.

Following through with G-d’s command had serious repercussions for Avraham. If he had known this, would he have still been so eager?

After the climax of the Akeida and Sarah’s death (ironically called, “The Life of Sarah”), Avraham’s life totally changes when Yitzchak leaves after they come down the mountain. After Sarah is buried in the Cave of Machpeila, the father and son part ways forever and Avraham is left to settle down with a new wife and start another family: a new phase of his life that fulfills the rest of G-d’s blessing to Avraham, but only after securing a bride for Yitzchak. Despite the fact his son won’t talk to him anymore, Avraham still insists on ensuring his son is cared for.

This is when we go from learning about the an unimaginable, incomparable, one-time sacrifice that ruins an entire family of Patriarchs, to focusing on the seemingly mundane life-cycle events of Jewish burial and matrimony.

In many ways, these parshot could not be more different. In another way, it is commentating on these events accurately. Despite the drama of it all, there couldn’t have been a more solemn time in Avraham’s life than mourning the loss of his most beloved wife and son, and meets the end of his old life all at the same time; both losses being a direct result of his own actions. Perhaps it’s fitting that these seem almost like two separate authors.

I can’t help but wonder what Yitzchak was thinking after coming down the mountain. Perhaps he left his father not only because of the trauma of the Akeida and losing his mother, but he wouldn’t take part in “Avraham’s Adventures” any longer. I didn’t even like being dragged to the grocery store by my parents, never mind a three-day journey to a mountaintop to be used as a sacrifice.

Maybe Yitzchak leaves his father to start his own spiritual journey, independent of Avraham’s legacy. Yitzchak chooses to serve G-d in his own way; in a tranquil field, awaiting the love of his life.

It also feels like a bit of a sick joke that Avraham is promised generations of righteous descendants, but G-d never shared that it would not be with Sarah; who was only given one son. But it also shows Avraham is willing to accept the repercussions of his actions and continue to do his best to follow G-d’s path for him. Avraham decides the end of his own story by choosing creation (and procreation) over self-destruction. Even if the end of his story is plain and uneventful, he chose it.

There is more than one way to choose to do good. We don’t need to live the most exciting lives at every moment. Everything we do doesn’t need to consciously contribute to some grander scheme. We can not always be making miracles–there comes a time when we need to settle down and enjoy a peaceful existence and Yitzchak demonstrates living our lives with intention is enough. But we must also be like Avraham, always ready to answer our call-to-action.

Cheap + Delicious Vegan-Kosher Jambalaya

1-pot recipe
Makes 6-8 servings
Total Time: 50-60 minutes

INGREDIENTS

PANTRY
– 2 cups of Short grain brown rice
– 1 box of vegetable broth
– 1 can of crushed tomatoes
– 1 can of black beans
– 1/2 a can of black olives (diced)
– 2 tablespoons of olive oil

FRESH
– 2 bell peppers (diced)
– 1/2 a large yellow onion (sliced)
– 4 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)

HERBS
– 3 dried bay leaves
– 5 sprigs of tyme

SPICES
– Paprika
– Cumin
– Salt
– Pepper

SUGGESTION:
I wish I had added some finelt chopped serano peppers to this to give it a more authentic flavour, I just didn’t have any on-hand.

NOTE:
I “salted” and “peppered” at every step.

STEPS
1. In a large sauce pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and fry your FRESH ingredients.
2. Immediately add HALF of your SPICES and stir to evenly coat everything.
3. Let it fry for 4 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.
4. Add the black beans and black olives and fry for another 3 minutes.
5. Using a sieve, rinse the rice under cold water for 3 minutes. Continuously stir the rice until the water runs clear.
6. Combine the rice in the pot and fry it for 5 minutes or until it is crisp, stirring every 60 seconds.
7. Add the remaining INGREDIENTS and SPICES and combine.
8. Heat to a boil and then let it simmer for 35-45 minutes, or until the rice is fully cooked. Stir occasionally, making sure nothing sticks to the bottom.

Serve with some warm corn bread (or just corn on the cob) and indulge in comfort!

Parashat Noach — A Poem: The Flood

I had a lot of trouble finding meaning in this week’s parashat: Noach. After meditating on it, I realized it’s because I didn’t relate to Noach or life in the ark. I couldn’t relate to the experience of being saved on a surface level. I had to dig deeper and ask myself a lot of question. And keep asking questions. In the end, I couldn’t come to an articulate conclusion, so I wrote this short poem based on what I scribbled down in the midst of this:

A gift from G-d
this beautiful, fragile thing
She built us an ark
to weather my stormy days
Pulling me in
to survive the flood together
I see the dove returning
and have hope again

That’s it for this week.

Until next time,

—J

Bereishit: The Ultimate Sin, Or The Ultimate Gift? (Part 2 of 2, Eve’s Gift)

Like I said in Part 1, I have a lot to say about Eve’s half of this story. Eve’s story is all about freewill vs. divine intervention, and what humanity’s purpose really is. It’s the most important lesson in Parshah Bereishit: The Story Of Creation.

“Man” only became living after the Earth was completed, but the earth was still desolate:
“-when no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted, because the LORD G-d had not sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the soil,” (GENESIS 2:5)

“The LORD G-d took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.” (GENESIS 2:15)

If the Earth needed tending by Man to attain the image of G-d, why were we placed in the Garden of Eden? And if the Garden of Eden is perfect and never changes, why must Man tend to the garden when fruit will grow regardless? Why are we already being asked to work in the Garden of Eden?

If Man was made to tend to the Earth, why were we placed in the Garden to begin with? It must have been in G-d’s plan to be cast out of Eden.

But when it became clear Adam would not disobey G-d and would not eat from the tree of knowledge, He sends the snake “-the serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild beasts that the LORD God had made.” to persuade Eve into taking the fruit of the tree of knowledge and feeding it to Adam. (GENESIS 3:1)

If Man was made to tend to the Earth, but was placed in the garden, then G-d’s plan for Man was to be banished from the garden from the beginning. But why?

If we’re created in G-d’s image and we are flawed, that must mean G-d is flawed as well, but perfectly flawed. Later, He even admits “-the LORD regretted that He had made man on earth, and His heart was saddened.” (GENESIS 6:6)

Even G-d makes mistakes. He also has the power the rectify His mistakes—and we do too. Our imperfections are a reflection of the Almighty power of the universe, making them intentional and perfect. He and we are all flawed, and this similarity makes us His.

The LORD mistakenly put Man in the garden and in turn, we failed to meet His expectations. He rectified this mistake by sending the snake to guide Eve into making the decision she was designed to make. Eve was set-up to commit this “ultimate sin”, but I think the knowledge of good and bad—our conscience—was Man’s first gift from G-d and we owe Eve thanks.

Eve was given Man’s ultimate gift: freewill.


She was given the first choice. We (like Eve) do not choose to be born into a world set up for us to fail, but we can choose what we do with it. Whether we choose to sin or follow G-d, freewill id a gift that we do not appreciate until choice is taken away from us.

Moses, Abraham and even Adam were granted many miracles by G-d, but they were never given the opportunity to choose like Eve was given.

Eve’s gift was the power to create everlasting change. The power of self-awareness and consciousness. The blessing of emotions and empathy. Without Eve, we wouldn’t have the freewill to choose goodness. To follow a righteous path. To serve the world and bring about a never-ending era of peace.

I argue that Eve’s punishment—the pain of childbirth—is supposed to be the most pain Man can feel. But we survive. Maybe without this punishment, Man would be too fragile to survive outside of Eden. Maybe we need to accept G-d’s punishment for what it is: a lesson in survival.

Pain makes us resilient, independent and teaches us harsh lessons we would have never learned otherwise. Discomfort forces us out of our comfort zone, our “paradise”and pushes us out of it. G-d wanted to produce strong, determined women who choose to survive, to keep Judaism and social justice alive, and show us how to use our freewill.

Maybe humanity was never cut out for Eden, a “paradise” where we live forever and nothing ever changes. Maybe Eve did us a favour by committing “The Ultimate Sin”—by giving humanity the opportunity to repair the world we keep messing up. Being cast out of the garden was the ultimate gift; giving us morality and purpose, rather than living in a never-changing paradise we could never be satisfied with.

What will you do with your gift of humanity?

Until next time,

—J

Parashat Bereishit: The Ultimate Sin, Or The Ultimate Gift? (Part 1 of 2, Adam’s Gift)

G-d began the creation of the world by forming everything as one entity, before separating them into two. The light from the darkness, the land from the sea, and woman from man; creating a world of polarity, duality and interconnectedness (GENESIS 1:1-19).

G-d sees the goodness in a creation before it’s named—before it has a purpose. Not everything G-d created was called “good”, but nothing is deemed “bad” by G-d. So there must be parts of creation that are not good, but are they “bad” or do we make them that way? Maybe they’re just un-notable (GENESIS 1:4-5).

G-d conceptualizes and creates without intention, being demonstrated when G-d let’s Adam name all the animals and thereby completing G-d’s creation for it. G-d gave Adam the ability to name things and bring them into creation since day one (or day 6 depending on how you’re counting). This makes “naming” the final step in creation (GENESIS 2:19-20).

As an artist, I can relate to G-d asking Adam to name his creations for it. I can attest that naming something you created is very difficult. It’s a lot of responsibility and I don’t know how parents do it. But why would G-d leave the final step of creation to humans?

Arguably, Adam was given the authority to finish G-d’s creation—and so were we. G-d gave Adam dominion over all the fish, birds and living things upon the earth unconditionally, but was given the land in exchange for tilling it for food (GENESIS 2:5), instructing us that “tilling the soil” is the only way to create nourishment for ourselves and our souls.

We have also been endowed with this ability to bring concepts into reality, just like Adam. Humans create beautiful works of art and touching poetry just as well as they can organize violence and create machines of war. Naming our dreams and anxieties can be just as scary as these, but making them real by naming them makes it easier to find meaning and perspective in situations where we have no control.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but if G-d creates without intention, the “bad” we see and feel is meaningless to the universe. It’s not punishment. Sometimes we need to separate the feelings, ideas and doubts we’re creating to see a situation for what it really is. Even if we do not see goodness, naming our inner beasts can grant us dominion over them—as Adam did with the animals.

We don’t have dominion—or control—over everything in our lives, but we have the gift of naming the good in it. It can be intimidating; frustrating and painful, but it is a gift nonetheless.

Bereishit tells us to separate our creation from the chaos of the rest of the universe and look at it for what it is. Maybe we can learn to look back and say, “it was good”.

But what about Eve? She committed the ultimate sin and was given the most severe punishment for eating of the three of good and bad, but was that all she was given before being cast out of the Garden of Eden?

I have a lot to say about Eve, but don’t want to tack it onto the end of Adam’s gift. She deserves more than that. Look forward to an upcoming personal essay where I’ll be exploring the concept that Eve was given the ultimate gift, rather than committing the ultimate sin.

Until next time,
—J

The Month Of Elul: A Time For Apologies

The New Year Is Here!

Are you spiritually prepared?

The month of Elul is not only about self-reflection and finding our inner-selves. It’s also about apologizing for every time we “missed the mark” this past year.

Apologizing can be hard. The more time that passes, the more difficult apologizing gets. We don’t want to bring up the past and open old wounds, I get it.

Have you considered that apologizing is empowering?

Growing up, I was taught that admitting when I’m wrong is an admirable thing. Swallowing your pride and being vulnerable with the truth is an admirable trait. Personally, I’m brutally honest (just ask my friends and family) and am the first to admit when I’m wrong and these are all values that are very important to me.

So why have I never given myself this courtesy?

I thought long and hard about everyone I’ve wronged and could have treated better, only to realize the biggest apology I owe is to Myself.

After a (few) long and painful meditation sessions I was prepared to get it all out… So here it is:

I’m sorry for mistreating you
For distrusting you
I questioned your ability and doubted your intelligence
And made you feel powerless.
I told you you were worthless for so long
You turned into nothingness


I’m sorry for starving you from light 
For so long
Now your heart is too dark
For your mind to wander
I turned your dreams into demons
And left your heart too barren
For any love to grow.


I’ve done nothing but wrong you
I made you feel small and weak
Convinced that you were incompetent
I’ve mutilated you
Enslaved you 
Denied you and
Cast you out from your people
I filled your soul with doubt
Bitterness and sadness


I’m sorry for making you believe you’re not strong enough to 
Weather the storm and
Work through all this pain I have caused you
I deemed you unworthy of anything good and
Made you think your life is not worth living
I know apologies will not heal these deep wounds
I’ve afflicted you.


It’s time to thank you.
Thank you for having the strength to still be here
For never giving up on me
I hope you can forgive me and 
We can fix things together.
I don’t know how I will ever repay you but 
I will spend the rest of my life trying

This being my first Elul, I had a lot of reflection to catch up on. It’s been an intense few weeks of attempting to revive my soul (and I’m happy to report that it’s working.) I thought I would have a lot to apologize for, but looking back I am proud of how I’ve handled confrontation, avoided drama and been honest with myself this past year and would not do anything differently.

I encourage you to also spend some time with yourself. What should you apologize for? Who has wronged you? What should you thank yourself for? Maybe even write yourself a letter too.

Stay soft,

Joey D.

Rosh Hashanah Greeting Card on RedBubble
Click the image or text for my Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) Greeting Cards!

Rosh Hashanah Gifts Now Available!

The High Holy Days have inspired me to begin creating again.

Committing to observing Shabbat each week has been transformative for me and I am so lucky to be welcomed in to a vibrant community so easily. Singing psalms with cicadas under the sunset was the first spiritual experience I have ever felt. It was the first time I’ve felt my soul come alive in along time.

Since then, I’ve been preparing for the High Holy Days with music, art and learning Jewish history (including my own ancestry and what Judaism means to me.) I’ve found great purpose throughout the month of Elul. Daily Torah story and weekly trips to the synagogue have provided a structure I’ve needed for a long time.

I originally intended for this to be only be art for a simple greeting card, but my ambition got the best of me… Explore 50+ custom gifts, decor and accessories to prepare your home for Rosh Hashanah with on RedBubble!

Vegan-Kosher 1-pot Pulled Pork Recipe

I couldn’t find an quick and easy “pulled pork” jackfruit recipe online, so I made my own! I want to try this next in my slow-cooker for Shabbat… Is that “Kosher”?

Kosher, Vegan and can be made gluten-free

I wanted the cheapest vegan pulled pork in as few steps as possible. This is also a 1-pot recipe, so all you will need is a cutting board, knife, a sauce pan, spatula, and something to break apart the jackfruit.

The only things in here are jackfruit, onion, oil, spices and vegetable broth. If you’re in a pinch, water will do. That makes this less than 5 ingredients! 

All this food from the clearance bins was less than $6:

-$1.67 for jackfruit

-$1.99 for 2 heads of iceberg lettuce (of which I only needed 1/2 of 1)

-$1.49 for the buns (regular $2.99) In actuality those buns were in my freezer from last week, but I added its cost for posterity.

Ingredients:

The onion, leftover broth, and spices I already had at home, so you can round the total up to $6 if you like. I shop at dinner hour during the week, which is the best time to find half-off fruits, veggies and bread. The stuff that gets thrown away at the end of the night is sometimes even more than 50% (like the iceberg lettuce I got).

Directions:

  1. Sauté the onions in 2 tablespoons of oil with spices and cook until brown (about 5 minutes)
  2. Add jackfruit and fill the pan with broth until the jackfruit is mostly submerged. 
  3. Cover the pan and let it simmer until the jackfruit is soft (for 10-15 minutes).
  4. Once the jackfruit is soft, add the barbecue sauce and cook until hot. 
  5. Put on a bun (or gluten-free alternative), top it with some crunchy lettuce and it’s ready to serve!

These with a side of coleslaw or potato salad, I see this being my favourite summer comfort food. This was my first attempt, so I’m looking forward to trying it again.

Next time I would like to make my own barbecue sauce, but I was being really lazy… If you tried making this yourself, let me know what you loved or may have done differently in the comments below!

The Month Of Elul: Rehearsing For A New Year

Feel free to download this and print it off as a colouring sheet!

The head of the year, Rosh Hashanah, is upon us.

“Shanah tovah um’tukah,” means “May you have a good and sweet new year.”

The King is in the field, and so, it is our time to speak with him.

Preparing for this Mitzvah requires an entire month. The month of Elul is all about introspection. We take the time to evaluate ourselves, to show G-d our best nature and prove why we deserve another year of this life—to continue to serve The King.

After Elul comes the two days of Rosh Hashanah. This is the time in which G-d decides our fate for the next coming year. Will it be “good and sweet”, or will it be our last?

How will you prepare for death?

An old Rabbi asked the class. He was sharing his hatred for Rosh Hashanah… and what the old Rabbi said made me fall in love with this Mitzvah.

To summarize, the pressure of the Lord’s judgement, he said, was terrifying to him. He asked his class, “How could I possibly be ready to answer to G-d? Have you cast none wrong? Of course no one is clean. So to this, I say, I will never be ready.”

You are judged in this life by more than just G-d. Society also judges us—not necessarily by the good we do in the world, but what we guilty for. We also judge ourselves: for those silent moments where we know we could have made a difference, but did nothing.

Your emotional baggage holds you back from more than just opportunities—it will hold you back from a peaceful death. And this is what Rosh Hashanah and the month of Elul are all about. I can say I was more than ready to “take stock of my soul” after this past year. What I need most right now is purpose and there could be no better opportunity than this Mitzvah.

But how do you “take stock” of your soul? What does that even mean?

While the sages provide no instruction past the Six Stages of T’shuvah, there are also fundamental mitzvot to guide us through this soul-searching.

Opening our hearts to forgiveness, preparing our souls for an intense 10 days of repentance and prayer, and giving tzedakah (to charity) are critical in preparation for the High Holy Days. As Sephardim, we even start reading Psalm 27 right on Rosh Chodesh: the first day of Elul, 40 days before Yom Kippur.

My tips for a successful Rosh Hashanah:
1. Spend the month of Elul in solitude. This really helped me attune to my inner-self and better articulate my needs, attitudes, ideologies, regrets, and hopes for the coming year.
2. Have your Machzor handy (or print out the selection of prayers for Rosh Hashanah if you don’t own the payer book)
3. Make a list for tashlich—things you wish to cast away “unto the waters” and never see again.
4. Create spiritual resolutions for the year. Prioritize things like sharing more time with family or becoming more vulnerable in your relationships—goals with deep meaning that will benefit your soul.
5. Give tzedakah (Donate to charity)—it’s Shmittah (Sabbatical) Year, so don’t be a cheapskate!
6. Plan your meals around synagogue—there is no more important time of year to show up for your community than the High Holy Days!
7. Pray to the graves of the righteous. Visit the graves of your beloved and Jewish memorials. I will visit at least one abandoned rural cemetery or prison cemetery to pray for those who have no one left to pray for them.
8. Send out greeting cards—it’s cliché, but for good reason!

There’s a lot you need to do to prepare for the perfect Rosh Hashanah. Having the potential to change your fate for the next year is a lot of pressure! You see why it takes an entire month for us to prepare?

You still have time to rehearse your new role in the world. What role will you play?

Do you deserve a good and sweet year?

Sources:
Chabad.org
MyJewishLearning.com
ReformJudaism.org