Monday, March 21, 2011

What is Leaven?

"Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. Indeed on the first day you cause leaven to cease from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that being shall be cut off from Yisra’ĕl." (Shemot/Exodus 12:15)
So how do we cause leaven to cease from our homes during this pre-Pesach season? What is involved here? I will try to answer from a Biblical perspective rather than a Jewish one, for I do see some differences which I feel are either incomplete or somewhat loophole-ish (is that a word?).
From the text we can see that we need to do something about yeast and other types of leavening that exist within our homes. Time for a good spring cleaning, an examination of the pantry, and a subsequent removing of the physical leavening. Of course, as we do all this, we should be reminded of the deeper spiritual truth of the season - namely, examining our own internal “cupboards” and removing from us the sin that so easily besets us, and ingesting only that which is unleavened. Both of these activities involve decisions and commitment to those decisions. The labor involved in spring cleaning is just a picture of the kind of “work” regularly required to keep our spirits “clean.”
Enough preaching. So what is physical leavening? For our purposes, there is leaven and there is leavened bread. There is the thing that causes leavening, and there is the thing that is leavened. There is quite an interesting discussion of this subject here.
Biblically speaking, let’s look at these verses:
Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. Indeed on the first day you cause leaven to cease from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that being shall be cut off from Yisra’ĕl. (Shemot/Exodus 12:15)
For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, that same being shall be cut off from the congregation of Yisra’ĕl, whether sojourner or native of the land. (Shemot/Exodus 12:19)
In verse 15, two words we need to examine: leaven, and leavened bread. Leaven is Strong’s H7603, שְׂאֹר, a shin, an aleph, and a resh. Two front teeth, the head of an ox, and the head of a man. Somehow from this we get to the meaning of “ferment.” It will have to be left up to greater minds than mine to explain that! But sa’or, or leaven, in this context was wild yeast. And “what is leavened,” or chametz, is in this context anything containing yeast.
During this season, many restrict the definition of leaven just to yeast, but I believe we have additional leaven in our pantries that needs to be addressed that our ancestors did not have to deal with. Here is a short but not comprehensive list of leaven that typically can be found in a cupboard or refrigerator/freezer:

Baking yeast, cake or dry
Baking powder
Cream of tartar
Tartaric acid
Calcium acid phosphate
Sodium acid phosphate
Sodium aluminum phosphate
Baking soda
Sodium bicarbonate
Ammonium carbonate
Powdered baking ammonia
Carbonate of ammonia
Egg whites, when whipped stiff, act as leavening

As I said, this is not a comprehensive list, but if your food labels indicate a chemical that you can barely pronounce, you may want to look it up to see what it is. Even if it's NOT leaven, you may not want to eat it! My general rule is, "When in doubt, leave it out." Of course, that's an equally applicable rule in technical writing, but I digress ;-)
Where does leavening hide? This is an interesting question. When I first started keeping the moedim, I researched the subject, and came up with this:

Prepared foods
Breads, crackers, cereals
Baked goods
Soups and gravies
Liquid seasonings
Toothpaste and deodorant
Cleaning products
Bath salts and body products
Detergents and soaps
Septic tank products

Being the religious type that I am, I had added the non-food items because sometimes they contain baking soda or yeast. My husband tried to teach me that the leaven was not acting as leaven in these products, so it was permissible. But I just couldn’t help it, I didn’t want any leaven in the house! Never mind that I forgot to clean out the toaster oven that year, and had plenty of leavened crumbs after Pesach! Now I understand this differently, and include only “what is leavened” with the intent of it being leavened, such as food products.
Are there things that sound like leavening, but are not? Perhaps you can consider these. Brewer’s yeast and nutritional yeast are by-products of beer fermentation and rich source of vitamins, especially B-complex. They have no leavening properties. Also, autolyzed yeast extract is yeast that has broken down to release its insides, in this case monosodium glutamate. Found in many prepared foods, it has no leavening properties.
So what do you do with the sa’or and the chametz when you find it? You can start now by eating up all your crackers and breads and such, and you can stop making yeast bread for freezer storage. Of course, we are at that time of year when it is getting warmer, and we want to fit into our "summer clothes," so the additional carbs may not be something you want to take in. Be prudent but not wasteful.
Check your freezer and refrigerator and your pantry and your cupboards, and read all your labels. Set aside all leaven and all leavened products. If you have unopened products that contain leaven which you know you will not eat up before Pesach, you can donate it to a food bank. But I do this only if I think it will be consumed before Pesach, which means I normally do this in late February/early March.
Somehow, and maybe it’s just my own personal eccentricity, I just don’t feel it is appropriate to dump all my leavened products off at the food bank the day before Pesach. Oh, that it would it be that there was no leaven in the food banks during Pesach as well! For the Torah applies to all – the native and the stranger who sojourns with us, as we can see from the passage from Exodus. But not everyone has this conviction, and I'm not prescribing it for you. Pray and seek wisdom if you are perplexed, and He will straighten you out ;-)
Which brings me to religious loopholes. I do not advise “selling” your chametz online and exchanging money but keeping the leaven in your house, then buying it back after Pesach. This seems to me a suspicious legal technicality that would have been the kind of thing Yeshua (my Rabbi) would have taught against when He was teaching in the Temple. There are many who do not follow Exodus 12:19 precisely and who believe that much of the Torah does not apply to non-Jews. Regardless, if we are following Torah, we must remove the sa’or and the chametz from our homes, and not sell them to the “goyim” simply to buy them back at a later time.
Which is why it is important to have rule and reign over your pantry!
Below are two recipes for unleavened bread, though the first involves more ingredients than flour and water. I provide one with those simple ingredients as well.
Not-the-bread-of-affliction Unleavened Bread Recipe
5 c. flour (whole wheat, whole wheat pastry, white whole wheat, unbleached white, or some combination of these)
½ c. cream
1 c. organic extra virgin olive oil OR ½ c. oil and 1 stick salted butter, melted
4 T. sugar OR 4 T. honey
1 c. whole milk
¼ t. salt

Mix dry ingredients. Melt butter and blend with oil, milk, and cream. Stir liquid into dry ingredients and knead well. Let rest 10 minutes. Roll out on floured board, cut into desired shapes, and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 °F until lightly browned. Store in a tightly sealed container.
Good-old-bread-of-affliction Unleavened Bread Recipe
2 c. flour (whole wheat, whole wheat pastry, white whole wheat, unbleached white, or some combination of these)
2/3 c. water

Combine the flour and water and knead 10 minutes. Cut the dough into 16 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and flatten with a rolling pin on a floured board to form 6-inch (15 mm) circles. Pierce the dough disks with a fork at 1-inch intervals and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a preheated 425°F (220°C) oven for 7 minutes or until discs are lightly colored, blistered and crisp. Store in a tightly sealed container.
Finally, let us be reminded of the words of Rav Shaul, as he tells us what to do with the leaven once we find it (1 Corinthians 5:7-8):
Get rid of the old chametz, so that you can be a new batch of dough, because in reality you are unleavened. For our Pesach lamb, the Messiah, has been sacrificed. So let us celebrate the Seder not with leftover chametz, the chametz of wickedness and evil, but with the matzah of purity and truth.
As always, your comments are welcome, and if you have any additional insights, or corrections, or recipes, please post them. Shalom!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Woman's Work

I've been reading Woman to Woman by Rebbetzin Esther Greenberg in hopes of getting a fresh perspective on what my Father desires of me as I keep my home. Some ideas from her book, along with some recent encounters with various women on the subject of homemaking, have prompted this post. Be forewarned, it’s a little strong, kind of like the coffee I drink in the morning ;-)

Let me explain what I mean by "keep." It's a lot more than pushing a broom and cleaning the bathrooms. From the beginning, we see two principles at work for us to grasp in our daily walk: having an authoritative rule over our domain, and guarding it. These principles come from Bereshith/Genesis 1:28 and 2:15.

"And Elohim blessed them, and Elohim said to them, "Bear fruit and increase, and fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over all creatures moving on the earth." (1:28)

"And יהוה Elohim took the man and put him in the garden of Ěḏen to work it and to guard it." (2:15)

We’ll skip the implications of birth control and the admonition to be fruitful and multiply for now. And please don’t assume because you don’t see “the woman” in 2:15 that this verse implies she is not involved. Not many verses later, we see the Creator bringing her into existence to be man’s ezer, one to complete him so together they can carry out His mandate.

From the Complete Word Study Dictionary, the word in 1:28 that gets translated "subdue" is Strong's H3533, "kabash, a verb meaning to subdue, to bring into subjection, to enslave. It means basically to overcome, to subdue someone. It is used to describe God's mandate to humans to subdue the created order (Gen 1:28). It describes Israel's taking of the Promised Land, Canaan (Num 32:22, Num 32:29; Jos 18:1). King David subjugated the land (2Sa 8:11) … It is used once of Haman's supposed assault on Queen Esther (Est 7:8). It is used in its causative stem to indicate subduing or subjugating peoples (Jer 34:11). It is used figuratively of the Lord's subduing, removing, crushing the iniquities of His people (Mic 7:19). It is used of the Lord's people overcoming their enemies with His help (Zec 9:15)."

As is usual with Hebrew words, kabash can have a negative or a positive connotation, depending on the context. (As a side note, I think this is from where the phrase to "put the kibosh" on something comes).

Again from the CWS Dictionary, the word in 2:15 that gets translated "guard" is Strong's H8104, "shamar, a verb meaning to watch, to keep, to preserve, to guard, to be careful, to watch over, to watch carefully over, to be on one's guard. The verb means to watch, to guard, to care for. Adam and Eve were to watch over and care for the Garden of Eden where the Lord had placed them (Gen 2:15); holy things were to be taken care of dutifully by priests (2Ki 22:14). The word can suggest the idea of protecting:  David gave orders to keep Absalom safe (1Sa 26:15; 2Sa 18:12); the Lord keeps those who look to Him (Psa 121:7). The word can mean to simply save or to preserve certain items; objects could be delivered to another person for safekeeping (Gen 41:35; Exo 22:7). The word also means to pay close attention to: Eli the priest continued to observe Hannah's lips closely as she prayed (1Sa 1:12; Isa 42:20)."

Well, there it is. We are to bring things into subjection as we pay close attention to and protect our homes. Would that be a reasonable definition of a homemaker? Or should we try to extend the definition to cover doing two jobs by working outside the home while trying to "keep" our homes as well? Have you ever noticed how the tension level goes up in a home where there are disagreements between spouses over the "division of labor" when the wife works outside the home? Has it occurred to you that this might influence the feminization of men and predispose us to usurp their authority? Have you wondered how this applies to the woman who is single and perhaps parenting solo? Or the man who insists that his wife work outside of the home? (Those subjects will be covered in a separate post, but much of what I have to say here applies as well).

Unfortunately, the lies of our adversary come at us from all directions, and have for a very long time, telling us that "woman's work" is somehow demeaning and unimportant. As a consequence, many of us have at one time or another allowed ourselves to be seduced (and ultimately distracted) from our homes. Our adversary certainly knows how to tempt us to fall prey to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. And what happens? We lose our way, and our faith is oftentimes weakened by our own disobedience. Ouch. I said it. Going outside His order is disobedience. Do we not believe that we are living in a black and white world with our Creator? Or are we going to insist on having our own way? Which, He will give to us, but often it comes without His blessing.

How can we more effectively demonstrate a loving trust toward Jehovah Jireh, our provider, to bring us everything we need for life and godliness? How can we model to our children and our neighbors the kind of faithful trust and submissive respect toward our husbands that is required for a harmonious home? What needs to happen in our hearts so that we can allow our husbands to care for us without feeling bad about it? Are we willing to examine the grief we cause our husbands – and ourselves – with our independent spirit? How can we stop insisting on having more than what He provides for, and be content with the boundaries He has given us? Do we truly understand the magnificent design He has implanted in us? Have we honestly and deeply considered the enormous responsibility He has given us, that of showing to the nations His great care for us by the biblical outworking of our marriages? And how can we be in agreement with that when we pursue employment outside our homes?

Am I asking too many uncomfortable questions? Will you write me off as an “idealist” and perhaps disregard the plain teaching of scripture?

The phrase “woman’s work” can have a positive or negative connotation, depending on the context. I believe I have some understanding about what my work is and how it is distinct from my husband’s work. For example, I do not ask him to do any “housework,” for that is my domain. Besides, if he puts the dishes away from an honest desire to help me, I sometimes cannot find what I’m looking for, because he does not understand my “flow” in the kitchen. So I've thanked him for his concern and have encouraged him to start a compost pile and turn over the garden beds, which actually is a help to me. Likewise, I limit my activity in his backyard shed to the area he has set aside for my gardening tools and supplies. Do I go out there and try to organize or clean up his space? No, for that is his domain, and I would not want to disrespect him by enforcing my “rules” on him. That may sound ridiculous to some, but respecting boundaries and living fully within our domain is an important concept that our Father wants us to learn. Unfortunately, the Bible is replete with examples of what happens when we live outside of His order, when we move those "ancient boundary stones."

As I have come to understand my role as a homemaker, and to walk it out from a growing sense of love and obedience toward my Creator, I have seen an amazing transformation in my husband. But that is the subject of a different post for another time. But when I hear that phrase “women’s work” spoken negatively, or see the attitude that agrees with that connotation, I hear an echo of the original first lie from the garden, the one that tricked us and has worked continuously to keep us from fulfilling our mandate as His women.

I’ll admit, after I was married it took me a while to “unplug” from working outside the home. I had been supporting myself for many years and I had real issues with trusting my husband to not “lord it over” me if I wasn’t earning any outside income. It took me a while to see the depth of pride in my soul. There was a lot of anti-woman thinking in my brain that I had to get rid of as I came to fulfill my role as a wife. And to be honest, for awhile he expected me to work, as we do not have any children and what was I going to do at home all day anyway? But he has seen the fruit of it, and honestly, my being home has given him a much stronger sense of his own responsibility as provider and protector.

As I have learned to live within the bounds of my Father’s provision that comes to me by the hard work of my husband, I have become a much better manager of money and resources. And the benefits of my being home far outweigh any paycheck I could get from working for someone else besides my husband (and my Creator) outside of my home. And amazingly, it has allowed both of us to pursue fulfilling our callings and has brought us together in ways we could have never predicted or “worked up” on our own through human agreement. It’s been a true knitting together by our Creator as a consequence of our obedience to His design.

It is always instructive to watch someone’s reaction when I tell them I am a homemaker. This is usually in response to "Where do you work?" as if I naturally would be working somewhere outside my home. Feminists (and men sympathetic to them) in almost all cases immediately put up their guard and get a haughty, defensive spirit. “Oh, that’s good for you, but don’t put that stuff on me!” It is doubly heartbreaking to watch professing believers’ attitudes toward me when they hold – even unwittingly – feminist beliefs or worse, when they don’t trust our Father – and thus their husbands – to care for them. I believe this stems from a belief that either such work is demeaning, or deeper still, from an unfulfilled longing for the protective covering of a loving husband and the responsibility of caring for him. But this longing can be fulfilled through submission to His design.

Some women have always understood “their place” and have not been offended by it. I used to be offended by it, because I believed the lies of the adversary instead of the words of my Father. Still others are being drawn in these last days to their rightful domain, like the woman working the intake desk at the hospital yesterday morning. When she asked me where I worked, and when I told her I was a homemaker, she gave me the "thumbs up" sign, and perhaps the glance at her wedding ring was subconscious. It was nice to see approval, for a change! But how much more would be in store for her if she were willing to go home and guard her home!

Do you know how many women I’ve heard wistfully express the longing to be home with their children? You see them everywhere, weary and struggling, health suffering and spiritual lives flagging, yearning for a touch from above. But does He really approve of their being outside their domain? Would He not rather see His women in line with the pattern He has established?

You cannot imagine the number of women I have met over the years who have told me they never learned to properly cook or sew or garden or, in short, guard her home. They blame their mothers or the fact that Home Ec was taken out of the curriculum ;-) When my own mother was at home, she was able to teach me things. When she was working (trying to “find herself,” in the ‘70s vernacular), she was unavailable to me in so many ways. So I have had to learn on my own, and from other women who understand their calling as homemakers.

What is our benchmark, our scriptural standard, our guide in all of this? We can turn to this familiar example from the Proverbs:

א Who can find a capable wife? Her value is far beyond that of pearls.
Eshet chayil mi yimtza v'rachok mip'ninim michrah
ב Her husband trusts her from his heart, and she will prove a great asset to him.
Batach bah lev ba'lah v'shalal lo yechsar
ג She works to bring him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
G'malathu tov v'lo ra kol y'mei chayeiha
ד She procures a supply of wool and flax and works with willing hands.
Darshah tzemer ufishtim vata'as b'chefetz kapeiha
ה She is like those merchant vessels, bringing her food from far away.
Haitah ko'oniyot socher mimerchak tavi lachmah
ו It's still dark when she rises to give food to her household and orders to the young women serving her.
Vatakom b'od lailah vatiten teref l'vetah v'chok l'na'aroteiha
ז She considers a field, then buys it, and from her earnings she plants a vineyard.
Zam'mah sadeh vatikachehu mip'ri chapeiha nat'ah karem
ח She gathers her strength around her and throws herself into her work.
Chagrah v'oz motneiha vat'ametz zro'oteiha
ט She sees that her business affairs go well; her lamp stays lit at night.
Ta'amah ki tov sachrah lo yichbeh balailah nerah
י She puts her hands to the staff with the flax; her fingers hold the spinning rod.
Yadeha shilchah vakishor v'chapeiha tamchu felech
כ She reaches out to embrace the poor and opens her arms to the needy.
Kapah parsah le'ani v'yadeiha shil'chah la'evyon
ל When it snows, she has no fear for her household; since all of them are doubly clothed.
Lo tira l'vetah mishaleg ki chol betah lavush shanim
מ She makes her own quilts; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
Marvadim astah lah shesh v'argaman l'vushah
נ Her husband is known at the city gates when he sits with the leaders of the land.
Noda bash'arim ba'lah b'shivto im ziknei aretz
ס She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchants with sashes.
Sadin astah vatimkor vachagor natnah lak'na'ani
ע Clothed with strength and dignity, she can laugh at the days to come.
Oz v'hadar l'vushah vatischak l'yom acharon
פ When she opens her mouth, she speaks wisely; on her tongue is loving instruction.
Piha patchah v'chochma v'torat chesed al l'shonah
צ She watches how things go in her house, not eating the bread of idleness.
Tzofi'ah halichot betah v'lechem atzlut lo tochel
ק Her children arise; they make her happy; her husband too, as he praises her:
Kamu vaneha vay'ash'ruha ba'lah vay'hal'lah
ר "Many women have done wonderful things, but you surpass them all!"
Rabot banot asu chayil v'at alit al kulanah
ש Charm can lie, beauty can vanish, but a woman who fears Adonai should be praised.
Sheker hachen v'hevel hayofi ishah yir'at Hashem hi tit'halal
ת Give her a share in what she produces; let her works speak her praises at the city gates. 
T'nu lah mip'ri yadeiha vihal'luha vash'arim ma'aseha

Known as the Woman of Valor Hymn, or Eshet Chayil, these verses instruct us toward an ideal that can be reached only by His help. Some believe Solomon wrote down this eulogy for Sarah that Abraham had spoken long before. It is often read by the husband to the wife before the erev Shabbat meal. Most women read it and either roll their eyes (this must have been written by a man!) or groan inwardly at their own shortcomings (and fail to humble themselves in order to receive the measure of spirit required to be transformed). But I encourage you to meditate on these things and honestly listen to what He is saying to you. And then, like a good Hebrew woman, to obey what He is telling you to do.

I do believe homemaking will come naturally to any woman as she submits herself to the Creator’s design. But I’ve said that dirty little word again – submit – the one quality that is so pleasing to our Father and against which we all struggle in varying degrees. Oh, if only we could truly believe Him, trust Him, obey Him! There is such life to be had that can be gotten no other way but by submitting ourselves and following His path for us. And honestly? It will bring your man to a place you have always wanted him to be but have never with your words been able to convince him to go – to his God-given role as your cover and provider.

Do you think I'm too old-fashioned? Religiously zealous? Off base? Misinformed? Or have you learned something here that is of value to you? Your comments are always welcome. Shalom!

Friday, March 4, 2011

How to Get Blood Out of Your Meat

I found several places in Torah where we are told not to eat the blood (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 3:17; 7:26; 17:12, 14; 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:16, 23; 15:23). Since most of us do not slaughter our own animals for meat, we are left with the task of trying to get the blood out of the meat long after it's been killed, packaged, frozen, and driven to our local grocery store.

What to do? As is often the case when I have a question about how to run my kitchen, I turn to the Jewish people for help. I do make the attempt to get as much blood out of the meat by following the process outlined here. Keep in mind there is a process for fowl as well.

Today I am kashering a flat iron steak for tonight's erev Shabbat meal. I'm soaking the steak now and will do that for about an hour. Then I'll let it drain on a baking rack for a bit (in the sink) until it's just moist enough for kosher salt to stick. Then I'll cover it with a good bit of salt, not completely, because the blood has to drain out, but on all sides with enough salt to draw out the blood. I have a cutting board I use specifically for this process, slant it into the sink, and let the meat hang out there for another hour. Then it gets triple rinsed. At that point, the meat is ready for marinade or whatever I'm going to do to it (tonight I'm using this marinade).