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