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There Might Be Giants
June 15, 2011 – 3:05 am
There Might Be Giants

Are there really giants in the world?

Actually, giants are frequently referred to in the Torah. Me’am Loez, an 18th century book of commentary on the Bible, notes seven different names with which the Torah refers to giants: Nephilim (Genesis 6:4, Numbers 13:33), Gibborim (Genesis 6:4), Refa’im (Genesis 14:5, 15:20; Deuteronomy. 2:10-11, 3:11,13), Anakim (Numbers 13:22, Deuteronomy 2:11), Ay’mim (Deuteronomy 2:10-11), Zam’zumim (Deuteronomy 2:20) and Ah’vim (Deuteronomy 2:23).

The first reference to giants is found in Genesis 6:4: ‘The Nephilim were in the earth in those days…the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.” According to the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishit 44), the “Nephilim” were the offspring of angels (“sons of God”) and women.

Being the descendants of angels, the giants had supernatural attributes. Not only were they incredibly tall and strong, they also lived for extraordinary lengths of time. The giant Og, who was noted in the Midrash (Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 23) as being young at the time of the flood, was killed by Moses (Berachot 54b).

While certain specific giants (such as Og and Goliath) enter the Biblical narrative, giants as a nation are mentioned in particular in Numbers 13:33: “And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak who come of the Nephilim: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so were we in their sight.” The Israelite spies thus described the inhabitants of the Land of Israel and discouraged the Israelites from conquering it.

In time, the giant nations died out. Goliath, famous for his defeat at the hands of a young David (before he became king), is the last one mentioned in the Bible.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

The Flags of the Tribes
June 14, 2011 – 5:53 am | One Comment
The Flags of the Tribes

On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress resolved that: “the flag of the 13 United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white: That the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” In celebration of this resolution, June 14 was officially established as Flag Day (as of 1916).

The Tribes of Israel also had flags, but these were more like organizational guides. By Divine order, the Israelites encamped “each person by his flag, according to the insignia of his ancestor’s house, at a distance surrounding the Tent of Meeting shall they encamp” (Numbers 2:2). According to the Midrash Rabbah Numbers 2:7, this meant that each tribe had a specific color and emblem:

Reuben – Red flag, with mandrake flowers
Simeon – Green flag, with buildings of the city of Shechem
Levi – Red, white and black flag, with the High Priest’s breastplate
Judah – Sky blue flag, with a lion
Issachar – Bluish black flag, with a sun and moon
Zebulun – White flag, with a ship
Dan – Blue flag, with a snake
Naphtali – Deep wine colored flag, with a deer
Gad – Black and white flag, with a tent camp
Asher – Pearlescent colored flag, with an olive tree
Joseph – Black flag, with Egypt depicted upon it (Since this tribe was divided into Joseph’s two sons, their flags were similar. However, Ephraim’s flag had a bull, while Menasseh’s had a wild ox.)
Benjamin – Multicolored flag, with a wolf

*Some flags refer to historical occurrences (Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Joseph) while others reflect Jacob’s blessings (Judah, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher and Benjamin).

Which Day Of The Week Were You Born?
June 13, 2011 – 4:36 am
Which Day Of The Week Were You Born?

Do you know on which day you were born? Not your birthday…which day of the week. It doesn’t appear to be a relevant fact, but more of an interesting bit of personal trivia. According to the sages (Shabbat 156a), however, the day of the week on which one was born can influence a person’s personality.

People born on Sundays tend to be more extreme. Rabbi Joshua ben Levi describes a Sunday child as being “a person without one…” which is understood by Rabbi Ashi as being “completely virtuous or completely wicked.” Sunday (Day One) was the day on which God created light, and thus darkness.

Monday’s child will be ill-tempered because on Day Two of creation, God divided the waters, but He did not settle the waters until the next day.

One might think that the settling of the water on Day Three would bode well for a child born on Tuesday. Alas, this child, according to the sages, will be “wealthy and unchaste…because Herbs were created” on Day Three. (Herbs multiply with exceptional speed and can live with many other types of plants.)

Born on Wednesday? The Wednesday baby will “be wise and of a retentive memory,” because on Day Four, God placed the stars, moon and sun in the Heavens. In the Heavenly bodies, God encrypted great knowledge.

On Day Five, God created the fish and the birds, who, according to some explanations, live purely on God’s loving-kindness and mercy. Therefore, a Thursday birth means a benevolent child.

One born on Friday is said to be a seeker. According to Rabbi Nachman ben Isaac, this means a seeker of good deeds.

Finally, the Talmud notes that one “who is born on Shabbat will die on Shabbat, because the great day of Shabbat was desecrated on his account.” This, however, applies only as a rule to those who are particularly holy.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

When do I tell my date that my ex is in jail?
June 10, 2011 – 2:48 pm | One Comment
When do I tell my date that my ex is in jail?

If I were you, I would be honest, but very brief in what I said about this guy until I  entered into a relationship with someone. You can say things like: “I was engaged once, but I found out he was a liar and a cheat, and it was a very painful situation for me and my family. So, we never married.” If the person presses for more, simply say: “I’d be happy to tell you more at some point in the future, but honestly, it’s behind me now and I don’t want to dwell in the past.” The important thing is not to sound defensive, or like you are hiding something … but don’t get bogged down in details either.

A Convert of the Inquisition
June 10, 2011 – 3:05 am
A Convert of the Inquisition

The first auto-de-fe (live human burning) of the Spanish Inquisition took place in 1481. The Inquisition was not, as many believe, an institution set to destroy the Jewish people, but rather was a system meant to ensure that converts to Christianity were sincere in their conversions. Many Jews had converted in name only, a situation that the Catholic Church refused to tolerate (never mind that most of the so-called crypto-Jews had converted under threat of death). In 1492, anyone still wishing to profess the Jewish faith had to leave Spain. The Inquisition remained a frighteningly strong force for hundreds of years and was only formally ended in 1834.

During this time of persecution, a young Spanish nobleman named Don Lope de Vera (1619-1644) who was not descended from Jews, began to study Hebrew language and literature at Salamanca, and found himself drawn to Judaism when he read the Old Testament in its original language. His interest and enthusiasm for the Jewish faith was noticed by the Inquisition, and he was arrested at Valladolid. He was only twenty years old.

While held by the Inquisition, Don Lope declared his conversion to Judaism. Not only did he change his name to Juda el Creyente (Juda the Believer), but he also circumcised himself with a sharpened bone!

The pure Christian lineage of Don Lope/Juda was a particularly great embarrassment for the Inquisition. For six years they imprisoned him, pushing him to both confess his “sin” and return to Christianity. Finally, in July of 1644, Juda was led to his execution, chanting Psalms all the way to the stake to which he would be tied. Juda the Believer remained steadfast even as he died, crying out from the flames “I entrust my spirit into Your hand” (Psalms 31:6).

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Hot and Cool Summer Wines
June 9, 2011 – 10:11 am | One Comment
Hot and Cool Summer Wines

All of you white wine drinkers are in luck as summer seafood and lighter, salad-based-fare definitely require something delicate and refreshing.  Grill shrimp, squid, and even whole fish (stuffed with herbs and wrapped in tin foil) and serve alongside an Italian Vermentino or Sauvignon Blanc. White Bordeaux blends of Sauvignon and Semillon have a similar citrus-y character that won’t overpower the delicacy of simple grilled seafood or rice salads. For more elaborate dishes involving chicken, cheese, or creamy sauces, up the ante with buttery American Chardonnays and big, bold Sauvignon Blancs from Australian and New Zealand. For locavores on the east Coast, Long Island is the perfect compromise to accompany your Atlantic salmon and (CSA provided) grilled vegetables.

Give Them A Choice
June 7, 2011 – 8:05 am
Give Them A Choice

There is an oft-cited Midrash (Sifrei, Dvarim 343) describing how God offered the Torah to the other nations of the world before He gave it to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. According to this Midrash, the first nation to whom He offered the Torah asked what was in it. When God told them about the law prohibiting stealing, they couldn’t fathom a life without theft. The next nation reacted incredulously to the prohibition of adultery; they were horrified at the idea that God would monitor people’s bedroom behavior! Another nation was unable to accept the prohibition of murder…and so on. When God asked the Jewish people if they would accept the Torah, there were no questions. They declared: “Na’aseh v’nishma” (“We will do and we will listen”).

So, if one understands the Midrash correctly, it sounds like the so-called “chosen people” were God’s last choice for receiving the Torah. However, God understood that, unlike the other nations, the Israelites were truly free to accept the Torah since they did not yet have a homeland, they did not yet have an existing government, culture or “way of life.” It was this freedom that God gave them when He brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness that made the Jews more inclined to receive the Torah. They were not chained to a pre-existing life-style and thus were not reluctant to change themselves for the better. This is the practical reason why the Jews were able to accept the Torah so readily.

One must also bear in mind that the Israelites still remembered the generation that had come to Egypt and those who had been enslaved. They still claimed the spiritual heritage of Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebecca, and Jacob, Rachel & Leah.

It is this heritage that we have today. On Shavuot we commemorate the day that God gave the Torah to our ancestors. Now the choice is ours.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Three’s Company
June 6, 2011 – 2:35 pm
Three’s Company

We love this beautiful tradition, as a child is still a child, even on his or her wedding day. Together, the parents raised the child to become an adult who is now taking on the mitzvah of marriage. It’s so nice that the groom doesn’t make the walk alone down the aisle; his parents showed him the way to be a man and on his wedding day, they show him the way to meet his bride under the chuppah. Likewise, the relationship between a mother and daughter is so unique and special that it’s only fitting for the mother to join the father as they both link arms with their daughter in her wedding gown.

Green Cheesecake at Midnight?
June 6, 2011 – 3:03 am
Green Cheesecake at Midnight?

The holiday of Shavuot has three well-known, and well-loved, customs:

Decorating our homes and synagogues with plants and flowers: According to the Midrash, at the time of the giving of the Torah, Mount Sinai burst forth in blossoms of verdant greenery, covered with plants and flowers. This is the basis for the custom of decorating our homes and synagogues with plants and flowers on Shavuot.

Dairy Foods: On Shavuot, it is customary to eat dairy foods – cheesecake and blintzes are particular favorites.

Among the reasons given for this custom are:

Once the Torah was given, the Israelites refrained from eating meat because they needed to learn the laws of kosher slaughter and to make their utensils kosher. They specifically chose to eat dairy and give themselves the time necessary to learn the laws.

On a more mystical level, the gematria (numeric value of the Hebrew letters) of the word chalav, milk, is 40. Forty corresponds to the forty days and nights that Moses spent on Mount Sinai learning the Torah.

All-Night Learning: To demonstrate our love for Torah and our appreciation for God’s revelation on Mount Sinai, it is customary to stay up all night on the first night of Shavuot either studying Torah, listening to lectures on Torah topics, or simply discussing Jewish ideas.

Another reason given for the custom of learning all night is to atone for the apathy of the Israelites, who actually overslept on the morning that they were to receive the Torah, rather than being wide awake in excited anticipation.

For further explanations of these customs, please visit the National Jewish Outreach Program’s Shavuot website. (The customs are at the bottom of the page.)

*This Treat was originally published on May 28, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Green Tea Financier Cake
June 3, 2011 – 9:41 am | One Comment
Green Tea Financier Cake

Matcha or Japanese green tea  is a fine ground, powdered, high quality green tea and not the same as tea powder or green tea powder. While matcha is expensive, the tea delivers not only a beautiful color, but also more antioxidants than blueberries, pomegranates and spinach.

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