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Cooking with the Parasha

I think there’s been a creative homeschooling mom inside me for a while, trying to get out.

Jews divide the Torah into 54 portions, and 1 portion (called a parasha) is read aloud in the synagogue each week. (The Jewish calendar is lunisolar — the number of weeks in a year fluctuate, and there can be 54 weeks, but portions are combined in years with fewer than 54 weeks).

In Fall 2019, for Parashat Noah (Gen. 6:9-11:32), I thought it would be fun to make rainbow food for Shabbat. I don’t remember everything I made, but there were definitely stuffed peppers in red, orange, yellow, green, and purple; a fruit plate with strawberries, cantaloupe, pineapple, green grapes (or honeydew melon?), blueberries, and purple grapes; and a rainbow cake:

To my surprise, this culinary cutesiness engendered enthusiastic, in-depth discussion with my kids around the Shabbat table about God’s covenant with Noah. I decided to try “cooking with the parasha” every week, in an effort to engage them with the content of the parasha.

Some weeks were obvious, like lentil soup for Parashat Toledot (Gen. 25:19-28:9). “Jacob then gave Esau bread and lentil stew; he ate and drank, and he rose and went away. Thus did Esau spurn the birthright.” (Gen. 25:34)

Some weeks were lazy, like Parashat Chayei Sarah (Gen. 23:1–25:18). Adam was away, and I was tired, and I arranged Animal Crackers camels around a glass of water for Rebecca and Eliezer at the well (Gen. 24:11-27).

Some weeks were outsourced, like Parashat Vayeitzei (Genesis 28:10–32:3). My mom made cookies: “every dark-colored sheep and every spotted and speckled goat” (Gen. 30:32). And I ordered ladder challah from Mandylicious: “He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it” (Gen. 28:12).

For Parashat Tetzaveh (Ex. 27:20-30:10), I made pomegranate chicken and butternut squash with pomegranate seeds for the pomegranate-shaped bells on the hem of the High Priest’s robe (Ex. 28:33), and I got Ring Pops for the 12 precious stones on the High Priest’s breastplate.

As we got deeper into Leviticus, this project got more challenging. Some weeks, I rose to the challenge by drawing on traditional commentaries. For example, Parashat Metzora (Lev. 14:1-15:33): in Lev. 14:34, God says, “When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I give an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess…” Why is the plague “given”? Is it a gift? Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai explains that the Canaanites actually hid their money in their houses (and in their fields), and that after the Israelites conquered the land, God sent the plague to the houses so the Israelites would break them down and find the treasure. So I hid Oreos inside brownies.

Other weeks, I just gave up, too short on time and motivation. Eventually, the project petered out. But I’m hoping to begin again this year with Parashat Bereshit (Gen. 1:1-6:8). I hope that if I get the kids involved in planning and cooking/baking, there will be more opportunities for Jewish learning, and more accountability.

Categories: Curriculum Hebrew & Judaics

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