Shmot: Righteousness

The beginning of Shmot includes a listing of Jacob’s sons and a description that the“Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them.”
January 6, 2015

This post originally appeared on Neesh Noosh.

The beginning of Shmot includes a listing of Jacob’s sons and a description that the “Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them.” Pharaoh, frustrated by the Israelites fertility commanded to the midwives that newborn boys be killed. But, “the midwives, fearing God, did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live.” After being put in the Nile River by his mother, baby Moses is rescued by two midwives, Puah and Shifrah.

Although baby Moses was a stranger to them, Puah and Shifrah, were righteous in saving him. A midrash says, “Not only did [the midwives] not do what Pharaoh told them, they even dared to do deeds of kindness for the children they saved. In behalf of poor mothers, the midwives would go to the houses of rich others and collect water and food, which they gave to the poor mothers and thus kept their children alive” (Sefer Ha-aggadah, p. 60).

Like many stories in the Book of Exodus (Shmot), the story of the midwives is one that exemplifies our responsibility to do justice in the face of oppression and protect disadvantaged people in our communities, nation and the world.

How can we find inspiration in our daily lives, like Shirah and Puah? An issue in need of righteous acts today is the 49 million hungry Americans, (including 12 million children) of every race, religion, age and ethnicity. Here in Los Angeles,50,000 Jews live in poverty and many of them are hungry. It wasn’t always this way: hunger was nearly eliminated in the US by the end of the 1970s but exploded again in the 1980s. Countless individuals and organizations, such as JFS{ SOVA in Los Angeles, exemplify the Jewish commitment to helping the “other.” SOVA provides critical emergency food relief “to over 12,000 individuals of all ages, ethnicities and religions each month.”

But, solving our nation’s hunger problem cannot be done by relying on food pantries and soup kitchens. Joel Berg of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger argues that many “Americans believe that we can end US hunger one person at a time, one donated can of food at a time. They are well meaning. But they are wrong. US history proves that major societal problems can only be solved by massive, coordinated, society-wide action, led by the only entity capable of organizing such action: the government.”

Berg, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and many other hunger relief organizations provide crucial emergency hunger relief while simultaneously pursuing political changes. The policy route is more complicated but offers a solution rather than band-aid measures that asks people to rely on over-stretched charities. It is a path that will ultimately bring the light of justice to a dark part of our society. We each can have a role in ending hunger–by supporting emergency food relief groups in the most effective way possible (see these useful tips from Netiya) and joining MAZON to advocate in the policy realmAt a time when the community is suffering, no one should say, “I will go home, eat, drink, and be at peace with myself” (Babylonian Talmud Taanit, 11a).

The dish I created for Shmot is symbolic of two themes: fertility and hope despite injustices, and protecting “the other.” Stuffed grape leaves represent Moses in a basket in the Nile. The pomegranate seeds–a symbol of fertility–are included also to represent the Israelites.

Shmot: Stuffed Grape Leaves with Pomegranate Seeds
  • Stuffed grape leaves. Recipe here.
  • 1/2 cup Pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 cup freshly chopped mint
  • 5 chopped Medjool dates
  • 1 tbsp barberries (optional, as they can be hard to find)
  • 1/5 cup Pomegranate molasses
  • 1/2-3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and ground pepper to taste
1. The first part of this recipe is to prepare the stuffed grape leaves. I used this recipe by Tori Avey–minus the dill and I used chopped slivered almonds instead of pine nuts. Prepare the stuffed grape leaves according to her instructions until you are ready to simmer them in a pot. Then, do the following:
2. Place stuffed grape leaves in a pot. Cover with pomegranate seeds, dates, barberries and chopped mint. Combine water, olive oil and pomegranate molasses with salt and ground pepper. Pour over grape leaves.
3. Place over medium heat and let simmer for approximately 30 minutes for ingredients to blend, ensuring the grape leaves do not unravel. Enjoy warm or cold.
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