Thursday, 30 May 2013

Take 2- Shelach

Parashat Shelach marks the first anniversary of parasha projects on my blog!
Last year for this parasha, the girls pretended to be Yehoshua Bin Nun and Calev Ben Yefuneh. They made a packing list, decorated binoculars, and went to spy out the zoo.
Although we did go to the aquarium this week, my goal is to change things up.

My objectives this go round:
1) Always review last year's undertaking.
2) Include reading (and memorizing) a passuk.
3) Make the projects focus on something different.
4) Include a video (Gabi's request).

The girls remembered a great deal about last year's adventures. They were keen to tell me about the spies and the big fruit, as well as all about our trip to the zoo.

Figuring out what part of the text to learn this week was simple because the last aliyah contains the third paragraph of Shema. Cohava learned it last year in school. We read it together and now  recite it each night (after the first paragraph- we will get to the second paragraph in due time).

Finding a different project was also straightforward, as parashat Shelach contains the mitzvah of 'taking challah'. When I told the girls of the project they were a little disappointed.
"But we make challah all the time," Cohava complained. "It isn't special."
"And you always take a piece off for the Kohanim, even though they don't really get it," Gabi chimed in.
"True, true. But do I usually make a bracha?" I asked. The girls were stumped.
I explained how you have to make a certain amount of dough to make the bracha.
"We are going to double the recipe, make everything times two, this week," I explained. They compared the one and two kilo bags of flour, marveling at the 'double.' Ruti helped me get the other ingredients and then we set to work.
Doubling the recipe was a great math lesson for the girls. We talked about fractions and multiplication.

"We usually use 6 cups of flour. What does two sixes make?"
"Eighteen?" Cohava suggested with a furrowed brow.
"Close, but that is three sixes."
Gabi shocked me by nonchalantly muttering, "Twelve."
Our challah recipe is the olive oil flat-bread dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes with some modifications. It is an easy recipe. 

Doubling challah always reminds me of a story a friend told me of her former Stern roommate's first attempt at challah making as a newlywed. She was at someone's house for a meal and the challah was delicious. After Shabbat she called and got the recipe and decided she would impress her husband and surprise him with homemade challah. She looked at the recipe and thought, "Those two loaves were delicious. I should double the recipe so we have enough for all of Shabbat. Diligently she measured out the 24 cups of flour required for this double recipe. She left for class, leaving the dough to rise on the kitchen counter of their kollel apartment. When her husband came home first, he could not open the door to the kitchen because the "dough monster" had taken the entire room hostage. He was indeed surprised!

Tomorrow, we will take the challah AND make a bracha.

I almost forgot about Gabi's video request. 
I thought she would really like it, but Cohava and Gabi were befuddled by it. They couldn't understand (and didn't ask until they had watched it twice) who 'Moses', 'Joshua', and 'Caleb' were. Lost in translation. And they were confused by the ninjas.
I wonder if they would have preferred this video. Gabi loves lego stories. I like the accents :).

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

More than Slaves to Slavs---Behaalotecha

Behaalotecha was sort of my Bat Mitzvah portion. I celebrated at mincha on Shabbat Nasso, so I guess I get two. But all those years ago I thought this was a really really dull parasha. In retrospect, I probably didn't rate anything outside of Beresheet and Shemot. But now, I LOVE this parasha. There are so many valuable lessons and so much holiness.
The parasha begins with Hashem commanding Aaron to kindle the Menora. Last week the girls saw a menora in the window of an opp shop (thrift shop) near beit kenneset. We went in and bought the hand made, blown glass and marble, numbered and signed Menora. It was $30. We don't usually buy 'art pieces' so everyone was stumped by its 'purpose' but I really like it. Obviously it does not look like the Menora in the Mishkan/Beit Hamikdash but Rambam says that is only the ideal and a menora can look different. (But for anyone who has not figured it out, a menora always has 7 branches and a channukiyah has 9.)
How was the menora lit? With the purest olive oil! Olives in Australia are currently in full bloom. A few weeks ago I explained how to pickle olives. Now it was time to do something else with them.

We started with picking.
I love picking fruit and vegetables! The experience is so wholesome and fulfilling. The girls loved climbing up the ladders.

 But taking a break was also fun and they really enjoyed the hammock next to the tree. 
We took home a small bag of olives for oil making, leaving the rest for others.
Finding how to make olive oil wasn't as easy as I thought, but challahcrumbs had this video of how to make olive oil with kids. We tried to follow it (more or less).

Step 1: We pitted the olives. This was fun but made a big mess. It was not a step in the video.
Step 2: We put the olive pulp in a pyrex dish and megamixed it.  I left the room to change a diaper and returned to find the girls very excited about pushing the button and hearing the sound. Boys would probably like it more and make car sounds.

Step 3: We put the pulp in a muslin and squeezed. Now we have a bowl of black liquid. I am not sure if it is olive oil.  (I think olive oil production works better from green olives, for anyone who is trying this at home.)
It was inevitable that at some point the girls would taste these olives and were disgusted. We did a comparison taste to the ones in brine and discussed the differences.

We watched a video on the 'real method'. Sadly the girls don't remember when we did the same thing as in this video.

Which leads us to more parasha projects.

 I like the waving of the leviim, but I think we will save that for another time. 

Instead we moved on to the silver trumpets. My husband used to play trumpet, so I brought his old instrument out for the girls to try. Ben gave them a quick lesson and because Gabi and Cohava can blow shofar, they were quick to pick up the embouchure and made beautiful, loud blasts. Ruti doesn't quite have the hang of it - yet.

I did not explain the differences between a modern trumpet and those used for the Mishkan, but it would be an interesting lesson for another time. In fact there is enough in parashat Behaalotecha to teach children (anyone) for a very long time.

My *favorite* part is the inverted nuns (Nun, the Hebrew letter, not the female Catholic clergy).
My first deep encounter with this phenomenal bracketing of 85 letters was during a shiur from Rabbi Ari Kahn. But that is still just the tip of the iceberg.
The girls and I practiced reciting the words within the nuns, which we say when the Aron HaKodesh is opened. And then we discussed why the words might be there.
Bnei Yisrael should have been at the highest level of spirituallity at this point. They were free, got the Torah, built the Mishkan, lit the Menora, and got the Kohanim and Levvim ready. What was left? Hashem was so close to them! They should have entered the land of Israel and experienced spiritual transcendence. The words bracketed in the nuns allude to the potential of the moment. But the moment was not actualized. Instead the people who had been eating Hashem's holy mann, began complaining about the lack of meat. Hashem had freed them from slavery but they made themselves slaves to their desires. There weren't on a high enough level at all! They still could not appreciate everything Hashem was giving them. So He sent them slav (quails). They got their meat but lost everything else. 
Although our 'projects' did not relate to the nuns, it is the lesson I hope the girls most internalize. I refer to it often, trying to make the message relevant.

For example:
"I want thaaaat toothpaste!" wailed a tired Gabi.
"Do you already have toothpaste?" I asked.
"Yes, but I neeeeed the one Cohava has!"
"Do you have mann?" I asked.
"Yah, I guess I don't need slav," she agreed.

This struggle to be happy and fulfilled with all of the brachot Hashem gives us is an almost universal plight. I give us all the bracha that we are able to see and appreciate all of the goodness we are given. Then the nuns will be opened and actualized with the coming of Mashiach bimhera beyamenu.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Keep those wagons rollin- Nasso!

There wasn't much time between Shavuot and Shabbat this year. I am hoping the tonight's chicken soup will help with all the dairy digestion :).
This week my husband did more of the parasha lessons, as I was busy with Tova Sarah (new baby).  He wasn't intuitive enough to know which sections of The Little Midrash Says on Nasso to skip. I heard him sputtering through the section of Sotah and then Nazir. Sotah was definitely worse, but Nazir included a rather graphic summary of Shimson's life.

I decided that this week's project should be more 'open  ended'. The girls got empty tissue boxes and scraps of craft things to make wagons like the nesiim donated to the mishkan. They could design and make whatever they wanted, as apposed to the Ten Commandment cookies, which were very prescriptive. 
But in the end, Gabi and Cohava were not thrilled with their results. There are benefits to having clear objectives.

I like Cohava's smiling oxen driving the goats.

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Luchot haEat - Shavuot

Despite popular belief, Shavuot is not the festival of ice cream and cheesecake. It is a celebration of the receiving of the Torah.
Last night at dinner, my husband shared a beautiful Dvar Torah he heard from Rabbi Grunstein (it was really nice to see you, Rabbi).
"Why are there no mitzvot for Shavuot?" my husband began. Cohava quickly interrupted and explained how eating dairy, having a tikkun leil, and decorating with flowers are mitzvot. My husband paused the Dvar Torah to explain how those are all beautiful minhagim, but none are mitzvot. Then he continued. "Shavuot is really important. The Torah is the most important thing in the world. But there are no mitzvot and the chag is only for a day or two. Compare that with the other shalosh regalim. Pesach and Sukkot are each 7 or 8 eight days long, and they have important mitzvot with them. We get rid of all of the chametz. We have seder.We eat matza. Do we do those things after Pesach is over? No. We spend the month leading up to it and 8 days on it, and we don't think about Pesach until the next year. The same is true with Sukkot. We build the sukkah. We get the 4 minim. We dwell in the sukkah for the chag. And then we take it down and don't think about it until next year."
So far the words of Torah were simple enough for the girls to understand. Cohava's brow was furrowed in concentration.
"That isn't fair to Shavuot," Gabi remarked.
"How should we celebrate Hashem giving us the Torah?" my husband asked.
"By learning it!"
"And loving it!"
"Should it be for only one or two, or seven or eight days?" he continued.
"Everyday and every night we learn Torah. Hashem didn't want people to think that learning Torah was only for Shavuot like lulav and etrog are only for Sukkot. Shavuot is a holiday to celebrate receiving the Torah, but the mitzva of the loving and learning the Torah is for every single day," he concluded.

Since Shavuot is about Matan Torah, so is the project. I showed the girls what we did for Yitro .  What they remembered most was not liking the mint icing on Har Sinai. (It was delicious, like a thin mint cookie cake, but whatever.)
So this time we are only making chocolate "chip" luchot biscuits.
I used this base recipe for dough because I prefer not using margarine/shortening. Because I was worried the cookies wouldn't hold shape, I added a box of instant pudding mix. We only had chocolate on hand, so the dough is darker than ideal.

Friday, 10 May 2013

My spot! Bamidbar

Earlier in the week Cohava burst into tears right before dinner. Cohava has been very emotional this week. When she had calmed down enough to express herself she wailed, "Gabi is sitting in my spot!"
"Cohava, I am so glad you told me why you are upset. It is exactly what I wanted to talk about in Bamidbar, this week's parasha!"
Somehow we made it through dinner with no more melt downs, and before bed we looked at how the shevatim set up camp. We reviewed each tribe, its location in the camp, and its flag.
The next day, I said to the girls, "As you know, we are probably from shevet Yehuda, and there were only twelve shevatim. But if there were shevet Cohava, Gabi, and Ruti, what would their flags look like?
The girls got to work with some paper and markers, creating their own emblem.

 This was supposed to last only a few minutes, but new baby (she'll IYH get her name on Shabbat) needed a feed and a change, so flags were decorated for a long time.  When Gabi was finished she announced that she needed to find an stick for her flag and choose a spot to set up camp.
When I finally emerged from newborn duties, I presented each girl with a white chair cushion. Out came the fabric markers, and the girls got to work, transposing their flag image onto the seat where they would "set up camp". When I explained that the were for putting on chairs, Ruti ran off and placed hers on Abba's Shabbat chair. She might not have understood the project, but she is very  good at kibud av v'em.
 Gabi's flag theme was 'angels' because of the malach Gavriel. Cohava's is stars for obvious reasons.
 I wonder if they will move the cushions to the shabbat table tonight on their own accord, like bnei yisrael moving their camp. This way they will know their spot with no fighting!
 Shabbat Shalom! Chodesh tov!

Friday, 3 May 2013

Let it grow! Behar Bechukotai

Early in the week, I began teaching the girls about parasha Behar.  They were very interested in shmita and the fact it is still observed today (but only in Eretz Yisrael).
However this week is a double parasha and soon it was time to move on to Bechukotai.
"I don't really want to do the parasha Bechukotai," I said my children. They looked shocked by such a confession.
"Why not?"
"You have to!"
"It's the Torah!!!"
"You are right, and I will teach it to you. But is there something that I do to you sometimes that you don't like?" There was a long pause with introspective faces.
"You tell us off sometimes," Gabi replied. (This is the Australian idiom for scolding.)
"And that makes me feel awful," Cohava added.
"And that is what Hashem does in this weeks parasha and it makes me feel pretty awful too. But we will still talk about it," I explained.
We talked about the tochecha, the rebuke that Hashem gives in the parasha. Of course we also spoke about His promises of good. If we are good, things like rainfall for crops, will be good. If not, not.

This black and white, reward and punishment is simplest for children to understand. As we get older we struggle much more with why bad things happen when we are good. But for now, my children are content with these explanations.

Based on shmita and the rainfall, I decided it was time to plant something for our project. I am good at cooking and crafts, but gardening- I am a no-hoper. God makes plants grow. I make them die. My children have gained all of their horticultural experiences and knowledge from my lovely friend and neighbor, Amanda.

Knowing that growing was going to be a challenge for me I bought an idiot-proof tomato growing kit from K-mart. It said, 'just add water.' I figured I might be able to handle that.

The girls were very excited to finally "get to do something like Amanda!" Amanda's enormous prolific garden does not compare to this cup in which we might grow a tomato, but ok.

 Add water, add seeds. Ruti tried to help with the seeds.
 Gabi played in the dirt. Then we moved it outside next to some of my failed attempts at herbs. It is actually a plant cemetery. Oh well. In a week we need to transfer the 'growth' out of the cup. We'll see what happens.
 Last night, the aforementioned Amanda, taught a workshop in pickling olives.
Next year I think I will try this for the parasha project. She mentioned that most trees are only prolific every other year. And that many trees produce a bumper crop every seven years! The trees are ready for shmita even in Australia!

Hashem promises observance of shmita will ensure enough produce in the 6th, 7th, and 8th year. Of course He will. But we still need to do our hishtadlut and preserve the extra food. So this how one pickles olives in shmita (or any other times).

Amanda taught three techniques and we tried one.  But I will give instructions for the easiest of the three.

 1) Pick some fresh olives. Make sure they are all the same type. Black olives are green olives which have stayed on the tree for longer and are better (imho). Make sure none of the olives are squishy and remove all stems.
2)Fill a large 'Tupperware' container with brine. Either you can mix 1/3 sea salt with 1 liter of water, or you can add sea salt to water until a raw egg floats (with children this is either a math lesson or a demonstration about the Dead Sea).
3) Pour olives into brine and put a plate on top to submerge them. Put a weight (tin can) on the plate to keep it down. Leave for 3 weeks.
4) Rinse one off and taste it. If bitter leave them for longer. If tasty, they can be washed and eaten. But to make them much yummier...
5) Sterilize some glass jars (in the oven or dish washer). Put the rinsed olives in the jars. Put in fresh herbs, or garlic, or lemon wedges, or chili- however you like olives. Fill the jar with olive oil. Leave for 6 weeks (or longer) to let the flavours develop.
6) Enjoy! The olives are divine and the oil is a great salad dressing/chumus topping/etc.

Two more years until the next shmita, right?
But may the rains always fall in the right seasons.

Shabbat Shalom!