Friday, 30 May 2014

Nasso: Putting the 'Nation' in DoNATION

Parashat Nasso is the longest single parasha. Therefore there is a lot covered. Some parts we discussed enthusiastically. Some, like Sotah, I do not discuss with the girls at all.
The first topic we discussed at length is the Nazir. After explaining this voluntary commitment and what it entails, I instructed the girls to make a chart.

On one half they wrote Nazir and wrote what was expected of him. They spent some time describing different ways he could not consume grapes.
In the second column I asked them to write 'Bat Torah' and what they felt was required to fulfill their role as someone who embraces the Torah. The first thing they listed was 'no killing'. I suggested they think not just about every person, but a special person, like them.

Next I explained how the nesiim, the tribal leaders, donated wagons and oxen for transporting the Mishkan. Last year we made wagons. This year we had wheelbarrow races, which is somehow similar.

After the wagons and oxen, the leader of each shevet [tribe], donated:  one silver dish, the weight thereof was a hundred and thirty shekels, one silver basin of seventy shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary; both of them full of fine flour mingled with oil for a meal-offering; one golden pan of ten shekels, full of incense; one young bullock, one ram, one he-lamb of the first year, for a burnt-offering; one male of the goats for a sin-offering; and for the sacrifice of peace-offerings, two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, five he-lambs of the first year.

Each tribal leader donated the exact same thing to the Mishkan. But their donations are each listed separately, taking a large section of the text. If the Torah had a human editor, they would have circled it and said, "Repetitive!" But only Hashem wrote the Torah and clearly he had a reason to repeat this information so many times. I believe it is to proclaim to the nation then, and for all times, the importance of donating. Donating your money, time, resources, and anything else is wonderful. Each donation that is made is valuable in its own right, and thus proclaimed individually, with the name of the donor repeated. 

After reading almost the same text to the girls over and over I asked them to recite it back to me. It was a fun memory game. They could really only recount the first part, up to fine flour and oil. 

"Should we donate like the shevet leaders?" I asked. 
"Uh, yah, but we don't have big silver bowls and we don't have the Mishkan anymore," Cohava seemed confused at the selection.
"We could give it to the synagogue instead," Gabi suggested, since we substitute the Mishkan with the synagogue. 
"What would they do with the flour and oil?" I inquired.
"Make Challah!" Gabi cheered (she has just become adept at braiding and is very proud).
"And food for kiddush," Cohava added. 
"Very true. But I think there is enough food in the kitchen. Where else could we donate?" 
"JFS!" Gabi yelled. This year Gabi's class has worked hard this year to collect food for Jewish Family Services' food bank. "We should donate oil and flour to the food bank!"
"Gabi, that is a great idea!" We discussed flour versus favorite flour products and eventually had a shopping list.
I bought 12 identical bottle of oils, and various flour items. The girls were responsible for sorting and packing. They took great pride in the activity. We didn't have silver bowls to use. Brown bags had to suffice, but eventually all twelve were packed. 

We loaded it into the car and unloaded it at school in the morning. But carrying twelve bags was too hard for us. Thankfully we saw many 'shevet leaders' walking into school and each carried a bag. The students were very enthusiastic to take part in the mitzvah transport and were intrigued by the connection to the parasha. The teachers were thrilled by the donations for JFS. JFS will be please to stock the food. Whoever needs the food will be relieved to get it. The 'whole nation' benefited from our do'nation'. 

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Flagging Bamidbar

Parashat Bamidbar deals primarily with the logistics of the shevatim, the twelve tribes. How many people are in each family, its responsibilities, and where it is located in the camp. Each tribe's area is marked by an overhead flag or banner. Last year's project involved making chair cushions to mark each seat at the dinner table as one's own.

This year I am intrigued by the actual flags. We know the many purposes of flags today, but when did they first appear in history? My google research doesn't show historians acknowledging the use of flags until 1000 BCE, in Egypt. This would be approximately 500 years after the tribes proudly hung their flags. Did Hashem command us to hang history's first flags?

Midrash describes the colors and emblems on each of the twelve flags. Each flag bore a symbol which represented it's identity. Like a logo. 
Everyone knows what a logo is, and as consumers we are constantly bombarded with them. Why does every business have a logo?

Some of the reasons recommended by business reports include:
  1. To look established.
  2. To attract more clients. 
  3. To brand yourself.
  4. To convey that you are reputable. 
  5. To give clients a sense of stability. 
  6. To be more memorable.
  7. To explain your company name. 
  8. To differentiate you from your competition. 
  9. To stand out in your field. 
  10. To comply with expectations. 
  11. To show your commitment. 

Essentially it is to give pride in your identity and comradery with the people around you. Good reason to have a logo banner? Definately! Modernity's understanding of business psychology really enhances our appreciation of Hashem's commandment to hang banners.

Of course the girls made flags as well. The intent is that our flags will be used as place cards for meals, weeknights and Shabbatot.

The girls sat with index cards and markers, planning their logo and practicing writing their names in Hebrew. 

While they worked on their flags, I made flag poles. I used things I had on hangs, spare flag poles and alligator clips. If there were clothes pins I would have used them instead. 
Hot glue gun attached these together, and clay was used to form the stand. 
The girls were still working diligently on their flags. Future graphic designers. 

Some girls worked more diligently than others.
The clay stands weren't dry in time for dinner, so plates were marked with flags. 

By Shabbat everything should be ready. This is a flag for one of our Shabbat guests. When you come to our house for a meal you can bring your own banner or we will provide one for you.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, 16 May 2014

The consequences of Bechukotai

The first three aliyot [portions] of Parasha Bechukotai explain consequences. It is very clear. If you follow Hashem's commandments and keep mitzvot, He will reward you. If you don't, the punishments are outlined clearly in a chilling and graphic description known as the tochecha [admonition]. 

I asked the girls if they knew what else this was called. 

"Consequences!" the big girls chorused together. This is a word we use a lot. As I discussed here, this word often has a negative connotation for children, but I think my girls are clear on the meaning. 

We discussed Hashem's role in consequences within our daily lives.
"Because of the mitzvah of keebud av v'em [honoring your parents] I have to do what you say or there will be a bad consequence, right?" Cohava asked.
"Umm, yes."
"And when I get a rash on my face because I don't wash it before bed, that is Hashem's consequence for me for not listening when you told me to wash my face?" Gabi asked. 

Whow! This was getting way to heavy and guilt ridden. 
I explained the science of healthy skin. I explained that Hashem does oversee the human body but we have to do our part to take care of it. 

Consequences in the form of reward for good behavior is an easier topic than 'why bad things happen to good people' so we moved on to our project. 

"What consequence do you like to get when you've done a good job?" I asked. 
"Prizes!" they cheered over and over. This time Ruti joined in. I am not big on prizes, but their teachers are. 

So we made sticker charts. Part of our rules for sticker chart is that stickers can be scratched off for misconduct. 

I gave the girls poster-board and stencils for their chart making. The stencils were interesting.
"Ima, it is really hard to use the stencils! Nothing lines up! All my letters look stupid!" Gabi found it very very challenging. 
"Keep trying, kiddo. YIt can be tricky, and you are doing a great job."
"Ima, I love the stencils. All the letters come out perfectly," Cohava had to add.
"What is the consequence of using a stencil?"
"Everything comes out just right!" Cohava replied.
"Gabi, is it easy to follow the lines of the stencil exactly?" 
"No," she grumbled.
"What is following stencils kind of like?"
"Following the Torah!"
What is the reward going to be for the stickers? The school is having book fair next week. They were going to harass me for money for books anyway, so now stickers equal money. They are practicing math, figuring out 'how many quarter stickers do I need for a book that is $3.99?'

 בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ

Chazak Chazak V'Nitchazek!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Behar- It can all add up

Parashat Behar explains the laws of shmita and yovel for the Israel agricultural calendar. In Israel (and only there) every 7th year the land must be left to rest. No farmers can work the land, the soil enjoys a sabbatical year of rest. Yovel is every 50 years, at the end of 7 shmita cycles. 

The land gets to celebrate Shabbat every seven years. The cycle of sevens is an obvious theme, with the days of the week, but mathematically seven isn't the easiest number. Here are two cool tests to see is a number is divisible by 7:

Test #1. Take the digits of the number in reverse order, from right to left, multiplying them successively by the digits 1, 3, 2, 6, 4, 5, repeating with this sequence of multipliers as long as necessary. Add the products. This sum has the same remainder mod 7 as the original number! Example: Is 1603 divisible by seven? Well, 3(1)+0(3)+6(2)+1(6)=21 is divisible by 7, so 1603 is.

Test #2. Remove the last digit, double it, subtract it from the truncated original number and continue doing this until only one digit remains. If this is 0 or 7, then the original number is divisible by 7. Example: 1603 -> 160-2(3)=154 -> 15-2(4)=7, so 1603 is divisible by 7.

This Hebrew year is 5774, 5(1)+7(3)+7(2)+4(6)=64, which is not divisible by 7. This year is not shmita. But next year is 5775, 5(1)+7(3)+7(2)+5(6)= 70 which is divisible, by 7. This coming year is shmita!

The aforementioned math tricks are still a bit tricky for my crew, so we just practiced counting by 7s. Always good to fill car rides and walks with mathematical attempts. I was impressed by their mathematical capabilities. 

Shmita is coming! What does that mean? 

I explained to the girls what it meant to us when we lived in Israel. 
  • At the time, having a separate waste bin for all uneaten parts of fruit and veggies seemed like an undertaking. Now we compost and I don't think twice about it. 
  • Food cannot be wasted and should next be played with. Oh wait, that is also always true.
  • Food can only bought from certain places and is often more expensive. Like sourcing organic?
So maybe shmita is very relevant to us outside of Israel today, for healthy living and caring about the earth. To see about how others are incorporating the idea of shmita into healthy lifestyles, Torah values, and environmental appreciation check out Hazon.  

I asked the girls if they could think of something else done 'every seven'. It took them a really long time to get the answer of "Shabbat".
"And just like having a day of rest is really good for us, to keep us healthy, shmita is really good for the land," I explained.
"Umm, Shabbat doesn't keep us healthy," Cohava ventured.
"Yah. I love Shabbat, but we eat lots of unhealthy food on Shabbat," Gabi added. And the little girls don't nap as well and get off their sleep cycle and--- maybe I have to give some thought to their point.
"You raise a really good point about the unhealthy parts of Shabbat. But shmita is good for the land. We do it because Hashem tells us to, but also farmers scientifically know it is good. Many non-Jewish farmers, outside of Israel do something similar, called crop rotation."

 "If you know that next year nothing will be harvested. What can you do to make sure you have enough food?" I asked.
"You don't have to do anything," Gabi replied. "You already explained that Hashem promised there will be enough food when we keep the mitzva of shmita." 
"Gabi, you are a great listener and that is a great point. Hashem does make sure we have enough, but it doesn't mean we don't have to do anything. Hashem gives extra food the year before shmita. What should we do with that food?"
"Put it in a container and save it," Cohava declared.

After some discussion of what that container would be, we decided for parasha project we will make fruit leather and attempt canning fruit. Last year for Behar/Bechukotai, I pickled olives, but didn't can them. 

The girls sat down with a big pile of nectarines, paper plates, and plastic knives. It was no easy undertaking, but they tried to pit and quarter the fruit.

They don't have future careers at the Del Monte factory, but they got the job done.  

I added water to cover and brought the fruit to a boil.

While the girls were cutting fruit, I was cleaning and checking strawberries for our fruit leather. While the fruit boiled, I planned to puree the strawberries. However, I discovered that not all fruit can be preserved. Some of it will be devoured by little people.

Instead of working on the strawberries, I boiled the jars to sterilize them.  

While jars and nectarines boiled separately, I explained lids popping up and the safety seal. They had lots of fun clicking lids. I discovered an unopened jam with a raised safety seal, hmm. 

And then everything was boiled. I filled the jars. The girls put the lids on and placed them into the big soup put of water. They went downstairs to play while I made dinner. They missed the magical popping sound of sealing cans.

Tada! We canned nectarines!!! It was so much easier than I anticipated. Now I need lots more jars. Then I could can all the leftover soup from dinner. 

Gabi looked at the jars. "Now we mail them to Israel?"
"What?!?" I thought about postage costs.
"We need to feed everyone in Israel for shmita year. We need to send it over. It is a big mitzvah!" she explained.

Experiential versus practical.  

Shabbat Shalom!!!

Saturday, 3 May 2014

More Emor

Parashat Emor, cliff-notes to My Life As A Kohen and Jewish Festivals, along with a few other things thrown in for good measure.
Within Jewish Festivals, we have the counting of the Omer, marking the 49 days between Bnei Yisrael leaving Egypt at Pesach, and the receiving of the Torah on Shavuot.  Obviously we are in that period now.
Last year we made a paper omer counter. It was wonderful. It involved writing numbers, number sequence, taking turns, and Torah learning. It doesn't get much better than that.

But as I mentioned there, it wasn't something which could be saved from year to year. The paper was too delicate. This year I decided to replicate the good of the project, but with a more durable product.

The goal was to make one of these wall-pendant/banner things with one through 49 written on it.  This would make the room festive, and as soon as you see it you think, "oh, did I count yet?".

This could be made out of paper like last year, but I wanted something more durable. Plastic!
Confession: sometimes I am not as eco-friendly as I'd like and forget to bring 'green bags' to the store. Therefore, I have a stash of plastic bags. I gave the kids a sample triangle, scissors and some plastic bags. They got to work.

After 49 (and a few extra) were cut it was time to write the numbers on them in permanent marker. Then whole punch each twice and string them.

The girls had friends over every day after school this week. I thought this meant there would be extra helpers for parasha project. Instead it meant excited playmates. The project didn't get finished, but everyone had fun.

Keep counting.

As I have mentioned a few times, I make my challah in the shape of something related to the parasha, instead of a traditional braid. This week I was thinking, 'Pieces of wheat, like for the omer. What does wheat look like? Oh, a long braid.' I wonder if the original challah braids were done by someone like me, who just made them thematically, and then got stuck on braids ;-).

Shabbat Shalom!