Thursday, May 24, 2012

Parshat BaMidbar

Parshat Bamidbar
Numbers 1:1 - 4:20

On the first day of the thirteenth month following the Exodus from Egypt, God commands Moses to take a census of all the Israelite males over 20 years of age who are able to bear arms. Moses and Aaron and the heads of each tribe record the census. The total counted is 603,550.

The Levites, however, are counted in a separate census, since they are not to bear arms. Moses assigns to them specific duties for the care of the Tabernacle. They are to camp around the Tabernacle to guard it. The rest of the Israelites are told to camp in four groups of three tribes under their ancestral banners around the Tabernacle.

Originally, firstborn Israelites were consecrated to God, since they escape the plague of the death of all firstborn in Egypt. Now, God tells Moses to appoint the Levites as priests in place of the firstborn. Twenty-two thousand male Levites over one month old are counted by Moses and Aaron. They are assigned to help Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar with the work of the Tabernacle.

Moses also counts all the firstborn males over one month old among the rest of the Israelite population - a total of 22,273. A redemption price of five shekels per head is collected and paid to Aaron and his sons for the 273 firstborn Israelites in excess of the male Levites.

A separate census is taken of the Kohathite clan of the Levites which is given the task of carrying the sacred objects and their furnishings on the journeys of the people. The Kohathites are cautioned not to touch any of the sacred objects or furnishings of the Tabernacle. Aaron and his sons are charged with the job of covering and inserting poles into all the objects in the Tabernacle in preparation for the Kohathite porterage.

Finally, Eleazar, the son of Aaron, is made responsible for the Tabernacle and all its furnishings.

Synopsis courtesy of Teaching Torah, by Sorel Goldberg Loeb and Barbara Binder Kadden

For your Shabbat table:
  • This portion is the first in the book of Numbers (Hebrew: Bamidbar) - one of the reasons it is called "numbers," is because it starts off with the counting of all of the Israelites - a census. Why might it have been important to take count of everyone, especially those males over the age of 20 who are able to fight?
  • What makes you special as an individual? What special qualities do you add to your family?
  • While this portion counts individuals, it also talks of larger groups of people - the families and clans within the Israelites. Even today our last names can give us information about our background - while some names have biblical tribal connections - Cohen, Kahn, Katz are often associated with Kohanim and Levy, Levine, and Leventhal are often Levites - others tell us of more recent connections in history, like where are families came from (city or place names) or the jobs they used to do. What do you know of your family history? Where do your names - first and last - come from?

And now... time for your favorite Torah cartoon, from

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Shavuot Arts and Crafts

Shavuot, like many other Jewish holidays, has important ties to particular foods - namely dairy (think: cheesecake, blintzes, etc.).  However, it is a holiday with other connections as well - religious as well as agricultural.  Shavuot commemorates the receiving of the 10 Commandments, and it also marks an important harvest festival, as it celebrates the first fruits of the season.  With that in mind, here are a number of fun Shavuot activities and crafts to try with your children.

  • This one is both food AND religious in nature - make Mt. Sinai muffins - a yummy and fun tribute to the holiday.
  • There are many ways to celebrate the first fruits of the season (strawberry picking is a delicious one!) - create a lovely floral centerpiece as a reminder of all that is blooming this time of year. 
  • Here is another floral craft - Crepe Paper Flowers - these are gorgeous when you assemble a number of different colors!
  • Of course, with all of these flowers, you'll need a place to put them!  Here are two different vases you can make - a salt vase and a glass vase!
  • This is a new favorite for me - origami 10 Commandments!  These are an easy, fun decoration for your home.
Have fun!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Celebrating Shavuot: Web Resources

It's amazing what you can find out on the web, and so many really great tools and resources have been created to reach out to families across the US and world to help making Judaism and Jewish holidays interesting and accessible. Here are a few fun links to get your family excited and in the mood for Shavuot.
If you know of other fun web-based Shavuot activities, post the information in the comments section. Enjoy!

This post was originally published May 14, 2010.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Celebrating Shavuot

Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks (since it occurs exactly 7 weeks after Passover), falls this year on May 27-28, over Memorial Day weekend.  Originally an ancient harvest festival celebrating the grain crop, Shavuot also celebrates the anniversary of the Israelites receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  There are many different customs and traditions surrounding this holiday, from study sessions lasting all night into the early hours of the morning to eating dairy foods - especially cheesecake and blintzes.  

There are many different ways you can incorporate this holiday into your home traditions - check back to this blog throughout this week for recipes, activities, and other resources.  For a general celebration guide, including the different brachot, blessings, you might try out at home, check out the Celebrating Shavuot at Home guide.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Yerushalmi Kugel

Later this week is Yom Yerushalayim - Jerusalem Day.  This holiday, one of the most recent to be added to the calendar, is celebrated on the 28th day of Iyyar, six weeks after the Passover seder and one week before the holiday of Shavuot.  While Jerusalem has been considered the capital of the Jewish people since King David captured it around the year 1000 BCE, there had never been a special day to celebrate the city.  That changed once the Israeli army reclaimed the ancient, eastern part of the city on the third day of the Six Day War in 1967. Because of its young age, there are not many customs or traditions to make the holiday unique, but Israelis do tend to flock to the city for a "pilgrimage" day - some even hike up to Jerusalem!

While it is a little difficult for Jews in the Diaspora to make an impromptu visit to this holy city as a show of solidarity, we can still find interesting ways to mark this holiday.  One possibility - create a Jerusalem menu.  Some items you might want to include:

Israeli Breakfast Recipes - this isn't something you'll find at Denny's!
Yerushalmi Kugel - a delicious noodle kugel
Zaatar - mix up some of this iconic Israeli herb which dates back to Biblical times
Kufteh Berenji - Herbed Meatballs with Rice
Israeli Salad - it just wouldn't be an Israeli menu without it!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

This Week's Parshiyot - Acharei Mot & Kedoshim

Parshat Acharei Mot (Leviticus 16:1 - 18:30) and Parshat Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1 - 20:27)

It's time for another double parsha!

Synopsis: Parshat Acharei Mot
After the death of Nadab and Abihu, God tells Moses to instruct Aaron not to come freely into the Holy of Holies. Only once a year, on the tenth day of the seventh month, is the High Pries to enter the shrine behind the curtain. This is the day on which atonement is to be made for all the sins of the Israelites. No work is to be done on this day, and on it the Israelites are to practice self-denial.

On the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies, he is to wear plain linen robes and he is to make expiation for himself and for his household and then for all of the Israelites.

Then the High Priest is to take two male goats and, by lot, mark one for God and one for Azazel. He is to slaughter the goat marked for God as a sin offering and use its blood to cleanse the Tent of Meeting, the altar, and the Holy of Holies of the sins of the people. Then Aaron is to confess all the sins of the Israelites over the goat for Azazel, and the goat is to be sent off into the wilderness.

In this portion, Moses is told further to instruct the Israelites that all meat is to be slaughtered in a ritual way before the Tent of Meeting. The people are reminded not to consume blood, for blood represents life itself, and not to eat of an animal that has died or been torn by wild beasts.

Finally, Moses details for the Israelites forbidden sexual relationships. Relationships between blood relations are considered incestuous. The Israelites are told not to copy the practices of the Egyptians or the Canaanites; rather, they are to live by God's laws and rules.

Synopsis: Parshat Kedoshim
In this portion, God tells Moses to instruct the entire Israelite community in the laws of holiness. The Israelites are to be holy because God is holy. Therefore, they are to observe the commandments and the laws of the sacrifices. They are to provide for the poor and the stranger, leaving the edges of the fields unharvested and the fallen fruits of their vineyards ungleaned, so that the needy can come and gather food.

The Israelites are told not to insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind and to show respect for the elderly. They are to be fair in judgment and in commerce and they are not to bear a grudge. Moses tells them further to love their neighbors as themselves and to love the strangers in their midst, for the Israelites were strangers themselves in the land of Egypt.

The Israelites are not to mix different species of cattle or seed and they are not to wear clothes made from a mixture of two kinds of material.

Moses also reviews the prohibited sexual relations and the punishments for these.

All these laws the Israelites are to observe so that they may be holy to God, Who has set them apart from other peoples, freed them from slavery in Egypt, and chosen them as God's people.
Synopses courtesy of Teaching Torah, by Sorel Goldberg Loeb and Barbara Binder Kadden

For your Shabbat table:
  • God told the Israelites that they would be holy. What do you think it means to be holy? How are you holy?
  • How can you act in a holy way?
  • What are some holy things that your family can do together that you could not do by yourself? How can doing these things together bring you closer to God?
  • In Parshat Kedoshim, we are told to respect the elderly. What does it mean to respect someone? How is it different from "honor"? Why do you think the Torah uses both these words? What word would you use to describe the ideal relationship between a child and a parent? Why do you think the Torah does not use the word "love"?
And now.. both parshas in cartoon form - courtesy of

Acharei Mot:


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut

Today we commemorate Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day.  While we celebrate Israel's independence with great joy, it has come at great cost in human lives to its citizens - more than 25,000 fallen soldiers since 1948.  Because of this loss, Israel honors the memory of those who gave their lives for their country on the day immediately preceding Yom HaAtzmaut, the joyous Independence Day celebration.  Israel's memorial day is not marked by picnics, fairs, great sales, and fireworks, rather sirens are sounded simultaneous throughout the entire country for one minute, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  As the alarm pierces the air, all traffic comes to a halt and everyone stands for a moment of silence in honor of those who have fallen. 

Once Yom HaZikaron ends, the festivities of Yom HaAztzmaut begin.  This year marks 64 years of the State of Israel.  Check out this great blog post of Benji Lovitt's list of sixty four things he loves about Israel.