Thursday, August 30, 2012

Short Parsha Riddles: Ki Seitzei / כִּי תֵצֵא

דְּבָרִים / Devarim / Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19

Click for printable PDF version.


seitzeicolorDon’t forget to read this week’s Parsha Poem and parsha overview.  Plus… copywork and parsha activities – something for every week of the year!

UPDATE:  Now with AWESOME colouring page!!!  

פָּרָשָׁת כִּי תֵצֵא
Parshas Ki Seitzei
דְּבָרִים / Devarim / Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19

[ 1 ]

image For speaking bad words, this lady got sick
With tzara'as and so they all sent her out quick
Now we learn this mitzvah straight out of the Torah:
To always remember __________'s Loshon Hora.

[ 2 ]

Some things we can mix and it comes out alright
We can wear clothes with threads made of black and of white
You can wear checks and plaids, but this parsha says
You should never wear clothes made up of __________!

[ 3 ]

The easiest easy, the hardest of hard
Two mitzvos earn you a “long lifetime” card;
To honour a parent’s the toughest of tough,
But __________…?  Why, that’s such simple stuff!

[ 4 ]

Once, battles of all kinds the Jews had to face
Valourous battles in all kinds of place
But there's one we remember for history's sake
An un-valourous strike by those called __________!!

[ 5 ] BONUS!

There once was a boy – one of Israel’s –
Who ate lots of meat and drank his ales;
But you still cannot stone him
Unless those who “own” him
Are alike in these three crucial details!  What are they???


STUMPED?? Here are some answers: 
[ 1 ] Miriam (24:9)
[ 2 ] Shaatnez, a mixture of wool and linen (22:11)
[ 3 ] Sending away the mother bird receives the same reward (long life) as honouring parents to teach that we can’t possibly guess the reward for any particular mitzvah (Midrash Tanchuma 7:2 on Devarim 7:12).
[ 4 ] Amalek (25:17)
[ 5 ] Rabbi Yehudah argued that the “rebellious son” could not be executed unless his parents were exactly alike in voice, appearance and height – clearly an impossible condition (Sanhedrin 71a, based on “he will not obey our voice [singular]” (21:20)).

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Narration on Pieter Bruegel The Harvesters

Naomi’s narration:

“Looking at this painting... it looks like cheese because it's all yellow, and it's autumn, and some people are having a picnic and there's a town in the background and children playing and someone going fishing.  The people are poor people [peasants] and the people come from Ireland.  Some men are cutting down the wheat and the wheat looks like tents.  I do not like this painting because it's all yellow!  I prefer paintings with bright colours:  pink, purple, green, blue, red, turquoise and orange.”

This is not exactly up to our usual standards, but it’s a start.  We’re both trying to get back into the swing of things, which is surprisingly tough right now considering that, theoretically, we learn all through the summer.  (I have no idea how she decided that the people were Irish, but I suppose peasants look like peasants all the world over…)

Here’s how we do picture study narration:

After a few minutes of guided picture study, where I ask questions and she can mention what she notices in the picture, she does the narration “blind” (without looking at the picture) and then, before she can peek at it again, draws one detail from the painting.  Here, she’s drawn the bread basket that’s near the right-middle foreground:


I then paste a printout of the original into the book so she can look back at it, which she sometimes does.


In case you’re curious, here’s are some good Picture Study resources:

Practically speaking, very little formal education has taken place here during the last 8 weeks.  Today and Monday have been the exceptions this week.  This picture study is one of our lessons in Classical Writing Primer – Spring, which uses mainly Charlotte Mason methods.  The book intersperses copywork (sections of poems, psalms and songs) with story narrations (from Danny Meadow Mouse by Thornton Burgess), Nature Study (flowers, plants, clouds so far), “light” grammar study (homonyms, rhymes, possessives, etc) and Picture Study (so far, a series of paintings by Pieter Bruegel, which we’ve enjoyed tremendously). 

I like the variety, and the fact that everything is together in one easy-to-use (brainless!) workbook, BUT have decided not to pursue this program because so many of the selections are either Christian or US-based (like Our Country ‘tis of Thee; the winter and spring ones has Xmas type selections).

Am I the only one finding it very hard to just gear up and get started again…?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ki Seitzei Parsha Summary: A mother bird? How absurd!

This is a basic overview of the parsha story in a format that can be adapted for a wide range of ages. Sources include parsha text, commentaries and midrash.  When introducing midrash or other non-pshat elements, I  use the words “some people think” or something similar. (find out why)

Please see the Vayeishev overview for how we use these narratives  in our homeschool.  I also have copywork sheets to go with the weekly parsha… enjoy! 


Only five more parshiyos in Sefer Devarim – it’s almost Simchas Torah!

We already know that bnei Yisrael are going to go in to conquer eretz Cana’an (which would become eretz Yisrael) and destroy idols there. But what if the soldiers see beautiful women there, and decide to marry them?

Do you remember the plan of wicked King Balak?

He tricked the men of bnei Yisrael into marrying women from Moav and Midyan. Those were not nice women, and when the Jewish men married them, it made bnei Yisrael weak. Pinchas finally killed Zimri and the Moavi woman he’d married, and they grew strong again. But now, if they marry bad women, they could become weak once more!

It’s very important to choose a husband or wife who will help you serve Hashem better.

Hashem said a soldier could marry any woman he wanted to in Cana’an. But first, he had to make sure the woman was a good person who would help him serve Hashem. She had to be beautiful on the inside, not just on the outside.

How could they tell if women were beautiful on the inside?

First, she had to shave her hair and grow her nails. Did you ever see a picture of a fancy, beautiful woman, maybe in a magazine or an advertisement or poster? Imagine what she’d look like without bouncy hair and makeup, without lipstick and nail polish and expensive clothing. She wouldn’t be ugly, but she’d look ordinary; just like a regular person. After a month, if the soldier still loved her, and thought she’d raise his children well, he could marry her right away.

MIXING: this parsha tells us some rules about things that cannot be mixed.

The Torah doesn’t give reasons why we should be careful about these, or why we are allowed to mix some other kinds of things. Some of these are chukim, rules with no reason – we do them because Hashem said so. Here are some examples: Don’t plant a vineyard with different seeds – you must grow only one thing or another there; Don’t hitch up a donkey and an ox to plow a field together, and don’t wear wool and linen (two kinds of fabrics) mixed together.

FAIRNESS: this parsha also tells us a lot about treating people equally, with respect.

Life in those days could be pretty harsh. This parsha teaches us how to behave better, starting with a pretty strange mitzvah: if you see a nest with eggs or baby birds in it, you’re allowed to take the eggs or babies – but first, send away the mother bird. This mitzvah is called shiluach ha-kan, and many people believe we do it so we don’t make the mother bird sad. And if we have to be careful about the feelings of a bird, well, we should certainly watch how we treat other people. Here are more rules that teach us about fairness:

  • · Men in those days could have more than one wife. If a man’s favourite wife had a son, he could inherit more money or land than the other children (inherit means getting money or land when somebody dies). But the Torah says only the first son gets more, no matter which wife is his mother.
  • · If a person did a very bad thing, they’d be hanged as a punishment. Sometimes, the body would hang for a long time to warn other people, and they’d make fun of the dead criminal. But the Torah says even a criminal must be buried right away and cannot stay hanging even overnight.
  • · Back then, and even today, many people believed in the “finders, keepers” rule: if you find something, lucky you! But the Torah says you must try very hard to return the lost thing, whatever it is: an animal, clothing, or anything.
  • · If poor people needed money, someone could make them pay back lots more than they’d borrowed (that happens nowadays, too). But the Torah says you must never ask for more back than the money you lent in the first place.
  • · Bosses could pay their workers whenever and whatever they wanted. They’d always treat friends and neighbours better than strangers. But the Torah says every boss must pay workers on time, even those who aren’t Jewish.
  • · Also, women couldn’t own very much and if a woman or child was left without a man in the family, they might be very poor; people would steal from them and treat them badly. But the Torah warns over and over to take special care of three kinds of people: widows, orphans and geirim (people who choose to become Jewish). It says not to take their clothing, and to leave grain and olives lying in the field so they can come get food if they need it.
  • · One very strange rule about fairness: if a man dies before he has a child, his brother must come and marry his wife so they can have a child in the dead man’s name. (But if the brother doesn’t want to marry her, he doesn’t have to.)

But not everybody should be treated fairly, equally, or with respect!

This parsha also tells us about people who can’t be part of bnei Yisrael, and who shouldn’t be treated nicely. It’s tough to read about, because we believe listening to Hashem makes us kinder and better people. For example, we’re not ever to allow a man from Moav to join bnei Yisrael, because they hired Bilam and were cruel to us on our journey (however, Rus – the great-grandmother of of David HaMelech, was a princess from Moav; this rule is only for men). Another example comes at the end of the parsha with the story of Amalek, a nation who tried to sneak up and kill us on the road from Mitzrayim. What they did was so bad that we must never forget, and never, ever forgive them.

Hashem clearly wants bnei Yisrael to be a very special kind of people, as we’ll see in next week’s parsha…

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bubbie Sez…

imageSo what do you think of this facebook ad???  Is it weird, or is it just me?  I don’t even know if it offends me or if it’s wacky enough to fly under the radar. 

Take note:  there are just oodles of important messages here…

  • you don’t want to join a shul (of course, because you’re a hip young thing, wink wink)
  • imagebut your “Bubbie” would love it if you did!  (aw, shucks)
  • but don’t worry, because look how cool SHE is! (arms crossed like a rapper, sunglasses, big goofy toothless grin)
  • and there’s a “membership plan” which means it’s maybe cheaper than you think!
  • did you notice it’s a “young adult” membership plan, which implies you wouldn’t be the only hipster caught dead there???

A couple of shuls around here have run campaigns like this in recent years, including one that said, on great big posters, “Look, Bubby, we joined a shul!” (if I recall correctly).

I wonder about these ads because, well, why “Bubbie”?  Maybe because your cool Boomer parents would never interfere by suggesting that you worship in a Jewish way once or twice a year.  Nope, they couldn’t care less.  Maybe they’re not even members themselves!  (much to “Bubbie”’s chagrin)

So here are the crucial take-away messages, just so’s you won’t forget:  shul is a hassle, and it’s expensive, and you’re not really old enough for it to be relevant anyway, and you don’t get much for it in return except for a bit of intergenerational nachas.  But Rosh Hashanah is coming, so it’s the right thing to do.


As Bubbie would say, “Word!”

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Jewish Homeschool Bloggers – check in here!

image In addition to the Carnival of Jewish homeschooling, I also thought it would be fun, timed to coincide with the start of the school year in Israel, to start our year with a roundup of Jewish homeschool bloggers in North America, Israel… or anywhere!

So click the button, add your blog name and a thumbnail, and visit anyone else who’s posted… let’s get to know each other and get this “not-going-back-to-school” year started right!!!

Carnival of Jewish Homeschooling – a revival! (technically, re-reviving)

imageI don’t mind making this a yearly endeavour… so it’s time again to try to revive the blog carnival I started and ran a few issues of last year.  I think it’s fascinating to see what other Jewish homeschool bloggers are talking about.  I hope you will, too!

Here’s a link to a previous post explaining what the carnival is about.

A few quick points:

  • You don’t have to homeschool – anyone who educates Jewish kids is welcome to participate.
  • You don’t have to be religious – though Jewish content is important; there are other carnivals for other stuff.
  • It doesn’t have to be recent; because I haven’t done this in a LONG time, I’m open to anything from pretty much the past year.
  • It doesn’t even have to be YOURS; feel free to nominate another blog post you’ve read!

Remember:  a blog carnival links POSTS, not blogs… so pick a couple of your best posts from the past year and submit them (links to the exact post you want included)!

You can see what I mean by checking out these links to past blog carnivals:

Deadline is Friday, September 7; I’ll post the carnival right here, iy”h, on Monday, September 10, so it can inspire you for a few days before Rosh Hashanah!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

So I don’t know

Clip Art of A Chocolate Candy people get ahead, really.  Industrious bunnies who work hard and pay tuitions and bills on time and live happy lives.  I don't know how to be that person; I've never figured it out.

I told the kids I was stupid when I was 18 and have never recovered, financially, and I think that's probably true.  Living hand-to-mouth, having kids right out of university without any kind of financial plan - or, ahem, job - divorcing without any kind of financial plan, and then just faking it and coasting on a wing and some prayers through 13 years of pretty expensive education.  The wealthiest I have been in my entire adult life is when I was a single mother, earning a nice salary at software companies, with kids in subsidized daycare.  Things were scary then, too, but at least the money theoretically stretched from end to end of each month.

"When my parents were my age," I used to say, "they'd bought a house already.  They had jobs, two cars, kids in the suburbs."  Not just you - Mary and Jerre, too.  I stopped trying to pace myself by that clock, years and years ago, realizing I'd never meet those milestones. 

Mary told me about one time, early in their marriage, when they ran out of money.  They scrambled around the house and finally found a couple of nickels in the sofa, so they bought a chocolate bar (which cost a couple of nickels in those days, I guess).  Cute story, but by the time I knew her, she was one of the most financially stable, responsible people I'd ever met.  Just as hard to live up to as the parents I'd grown up with.

On the Conservative conversion test (both partners had to write it), one question was:  "You're (or your partner is) pregnant!  Now what?"  My answer began with the words, "start saving for a day-school education."  I was sold.  They had me at "hello, Jewish schools are the best and perhaps only way of increasing your kids' fluency in yiddishkeit and relationship with Hashem."  But of course, you can't start saving when you get pregnant, especially if you're in class all day.  And the minute the baby is born, you start hemorrhaging money - a process that doesn't end until the baby leaves in disgust at 18.

There is literally nothing left every month - various tuition committees over the years have made good and sure that anytime we get ahead by a weency bit, it's gone.  The big "tax return" spend this year was car repairs and a few bills.  I am frightened all the time that I've forgotten to pay something on time and it'll be switched off, and I don't pay them on time because I hold onto the money as long as possible in case of emergencies, which are usually something along the lines of "pay us now or we'll switch you off."

I have a moment every once in a while of disappointment on behalf of my grandparents and great-grandparents who came to this country for the success and opportunity it would offer, basically, to me and their other theoretical descendents.  They came to this country with nothing, and with next to nothing we plan to leave it.  And then I have to stop and imagine they'd be grateful, looking down, that I'm alive at all and dayeinu... because if they'd stayed, we wouldn't be here.

For that, I'm so grateful as well, but this country hasn't been the goldeneh medineh they hoped for.  If we're to believe those who occupy, 99% of us are poised on the precipice of financial disaster at almost every moment - one false move, one parent who can't rescue us in time, one health crisis, one mental breakdown, and we're over the edge and living on the streets (I don't believe it's 99%, but it's a big number, I know that much). 

It's tough to be optimistic when you're looking up from the bottom of a class / caste structure that often seems just as rigidly entrenched as anything from medieval times.  But here I am, in the gutter, looking up at the stars.  Hoping for a crazy new beginning in what is starting to look a lot like late middle age.  Hoping, perhaps, to enlist Hashem on my side by getting up and going to the place He's told us to get up and go.  Moving to a poor country where we probably won't starve, but where nobody else has much of anything either.

It's tough to be optimistic, with all those milestones I'll never meet, all those ancestors - near and far - whose dreams I'll never live up to (not to mention the children who tell me I'm crazy-slash-irresponsible for leaving them).  It's hard to believe I'm making anyone proud, or that all of this will amount to much of anything. 

I really, really hope I'm a late bloomer and that amazing things are still to come, because in terms of achievements, well, there's nothing much to show for it all so far.  Every single report card I ever brought home repeated the damning phrase, "Jennifer does not live up to her potential."  Which I hated - because how do they know???  Apparently, this is my potential.  Anyone who thinks otherwise had better get used to disappointment.

Or... I don't know.  Am I a disappointment?  Life has been disappointing so far:  exclamation marks turning to question marks, turning to ellipses, turning to periods.

So I don't know.

Wish I was back at the cottage, lying on the air mattress, like I was yesterday, floating down the literal river of life…

how to draw, with GZ and Chirp

This is a kid who doesn't "like" drawing... in quotation marks because the truth is, he loves to create pictures, but doesn't love to make them up from scratch out of his own head.  You might say he's not very creative, but more likely, he's just scared.  Kid #4 in a family of draw-ers, paint-ers, and other big, creative types, and of course he's worried he'll get made fun of.
He has attempted various Draw Write Now draw-alongs with us (scroll down in this post to see some of his early attempts).  
But this week, he discovered a "how-to" for a rather inane little kids' magazine called Chirp (from the same folks who bring you such insipid Canadian reading as Chickadee and Owl).  Now, these kids ADORE Chirp, for no particular reason I can see other than he's consistently drawn and cheerful.

But the how-to draw, while it has inspired Naomi to do a few sweet doodles of her own, is like kindling in the wishful hands of Gavriel Zev.  "You have to start with a semi-circle!" he'll announce, and then run off to dash off another picture of Chirp.  
Here are the latest two of MANY over the last couple of days.  At the far left, he's drawn the legs farther apart to indicate that Chirp is running.  I suggested that the simple addition of wheels to the bottom of the boots would allow him to rollerblade, which might be fun, so he did that, too. 

At the far right, just for comparison, is a picture Gavriel Zev did all on his own, without prompting and without the how-to.  He used a ruler to make sure he got all the limbs perfectly straight, so I'm not suggesting there's no demonstration of skill here - just that, well, you might swear these were made by different kids if you didn't know better.

Many people believe how-to-draw kinds of books are not helpful because they don't really teach creativity.  That much is true.  But I don't believe they STIFLE creativity, and I believe (and have seen through Naomi Rivka's drawing) that through inspiring confidence - "look what I can draw!" - kids who have achieved early success with their help will at least be no further behind kids who haven't, and may even have a bit of an edge.  No idea if this is true... but it's a suspicion I'm willing to run with since it seems to be paying off for my own kids.

What's your opinion of "how-to-draw" programs?  Have you used any that were terrible?  Excellent?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The King is in the field

I am not one for vivid dreams - or, really, any kind of dreams.  But for some reason, here in Elul, I have now had three extraordinarily vivid "King in the field" dreams. 
What is this concept?
Basically, in the month of Elul, God is very, very close to us indeed.  We finish the book of Eichah on Tisha b'Av with the words "return us to you, Hashem, and we will return."  In other words, meet us halfway.  This month is the fulfillment of that promise.  Turn towards Him, and He will do all the work - bringing you home again.
The analogy is of a king - once a year, the king goes out into the field to meet with his populace and take any kinds of requests, however ridiculous.

Within most of the theology I've read, there are two "God-concepts" - the God who is immanent (this means near; not to be confused with the near-homonym imminent, which means "coming soon").  This is tangible God - He is palpably everywhere.  The other concept is transcendent God - He is above creation; separate and controlling.

Christianity reconciles these two concepts, obviously, in the two "persons" of the holy spirit and JC, who was literally a person down here on earth.

In Judaism, I believe the two are interwoven more organically and perhaps more enigmatically; it can be tough to find both.  As Manis Friedman has pointed out, we find both in matzah, which is called "the food of faith," an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

And Elul, which is a time of great immanence.  Avinu Malkeinu, our father, our king, we cry out every day (well, those of us who try harder than cottage-me does...). 

(And it's interesting, by the way, that this time of awakening, the literal daily shofar-blowing of Elul, arrives at what may be the spiritual low point in our year, a time when many of us are semi-literally "slumbering," slothfully, blissfully, floating down the river on our literal or figurative air mattresses.)  (literal for me, thanks!)

Avinu, malkeinu - our father, our king.  A father we can run to, hug, kiss, cuddle.  So I'm told, having been fatherless for nearly 4 years now (and a wonderful teacher once said in a class  that it is okay to think of our own fathers, present or not, who were so like God to us in childhood).  So a father, but also a king - unapproachable, powerful, issuing irrevocable decrees.

In the story of Esther, she's afraid to approach the king because she knows that, since she's uninvited, he can will her instant death for entering without permission.  We have to believe that Hashem surely is that kind of king - the Awesome kind.

But as it says in megillas Esther "she found favour in his eyes" and he reached out his sceptre to her and she lived.

Rabbi Wolkenstein, a wonderful teacher and rabbi who taught at Aish HaTorah in Toronto for not long enough, once said in a drash that the word for favour, "chein" (with a chhhhh like challah) is not just the same as "liking" somebody.  It is the kind of look a parent gives a child - indulgence, whether they deserve it or not.

Elul is Achashverosh, reaching out his sceptre.  Elul is Hashem, coming "down" to our level, in a sense, reaching for us as His children.  He is very near and His forgiveness is ours for the asking.  Let's make the most of it.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Cottage Crochet!

ok, so I'm going a little nuts out here in the wilderness...

crocheting like crazy, yay!  there is something so snug and cozy about sitting her bundled up in my cottage while the kids make mudpies with ted on the dock.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Re’ay Parsha Summary: Diet for a Happy, Healthy Neshama

This is a basic overview of the parsha story in a format that can be adapted for a wide range of ages. Sources include parsha text, commentaries and midrash.  When introducing midrash or other non-pshat elements, I  use the words “some people think” or something similar. (find out why)

Please see the Vayeishev overview for how we use these narratives  in our homeschool.  I also have copywork sheets to go with the weekly parsha… enjoy! 

(p.s. Love the owl-eater in the picture below???  Download a colouring page of him here - scroll down or search for Re’ay, or “colouring” (spelled the Canadian way)!)


Only seven more parshiyos in Sefer Devarim, Moshe’s speech during the last five weeks of his life.

Then, we’ll finish the entire Torah! Do you know when? (Simchas Torah) Do we stop reading it then? (No, we start all over again with the story of Bereishis!) Do you remember reading Bereishis last year? If not, that’s okay, because we read it over and over and over again! In Devarim, Moshe says things bnei Yisrael have heard before, because it’s a new generation, the children of those who left Mitzrayim. Plus, these are very important lessons.

Were you ever in a sports group that was divided up into two teams?

Before they go into eretz Yisrael, bnei Yisrael must split into two “teams,” except instead of sports, they’re going to stand on two mountains. In the middle, kohanim and levi’im will call out blessings (brachas) and curses (klalos). We’ll read about this in parshas Ki Savo, in a few weeks, but Moshe tells them now so they won’t be surprised when it happens.

Without bnei Yisrael, eretz Yisrael is in a pretty sad state.

Although it truly is a wonderful land, the people living there don’t know about Hashem. They are ovdei avoda zara – they have idols all over the place, mostly on mountains and other special places that felt important.

But Hashem is different! He doesn’t need grand important places!

Hashem can make even a small “bump” like Har Sinai important if He chooses. He can make a desert important by filling it with wonders; He can make a spot in the middle of the Yam Suf important just by splitting it before us. So He asks bnei Yisrael to destroy the idols and altars and build a home for Him instead – the bais HaMikdash. He will choose the place. It doesn’t have to be beautiful or special; it will become special once He lives there. They will serve Hashem mostly with korbanos. Moshe has already taught the kohanim about them, but now he tells all the men and big boys to participate three times a year by walking to Hashem’s special place in Yerushalayim: Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos. Do you know the Hebrew word for FOOT? (רֶגֶל / regel) Those became known as שָׁלֹשׁ רְגָלִים / shalosh regalim, “three feet” days (in English, “pilgrimage” days). We still have those holidays, but we daven in many little shuls around the world.

Moshe warns bnei Yisrael not to do avoda zara! But why???

Why would people who have seen Hashem’s wonders turn around and daven to statues or mountains or trees? But it’s easy for anyone to see something beautiful or powerful and be amazed by it… instead of by Hashem, who made it.

After Moshe and Yehoshua, other leaders would come, nevi’im (prophets) who would teach Hashem’s messages. But every once in a while, a leader might come who LIED to them. How would they know? Moshe says that if the navi tells them to change the Torah, or do avoda zara, that person is a navi SHEKER – a lying navi – and they must kill that person right away. It might also happen that an entire city turns away from Hashem. This is called an “ir hanidachas” (עיר הנדחת), and they must burn it and destroy it completely. Many people believe this never actually happened – that good, honest nevi’im would come and help a city do teshuva when it went wrong.

non-kosher birdDid you ever know someone who went on a diet?

Many people love new diets: learning what they can and can’t eat, how much at different times. They hope the diet will make them healthier and happier. Hashem’s diet is the healthiest, happiest thing for our neshama! Here are some rules:

  • · We cannot eat any blood, just spill it on the ground when animals are killed for food.
  • · Eat only animals with two signs: split hooves and chewing cud (one sign is not enough!)
  • · Food made with meat cannot be cooked or eaten with milk or dairy food.
  • · Eat only fish with two signs: fins and scales.
  • · Birds are different – we only eat the ones our ancestors ate: chickens and ducks; not owls and eagles.
  • · Most insects are not kosher, but some locusts are okay, in families that have always eaten them.

Remember that the kohanim and levi’im weren’t getting land in eretz Yisrael?

Without land, they couldn’t farm, and Moshe reminds bnei Yisrael to save part of their crops for the kohanim and levi’im in return for doing their important jobs. They must also look after geirim (people who choose to become Jewish), widows and orphans, because they don’t have as much help from their family.

Do you remember what Shemitta is?

Every seven years, bnei Yisrael couldn’t farm their land. Shemitta also meant forgiving debts – if somebody owed you money, they didn’t have to pay you anymore. Also, Jewish slaves could go free at the shemitta year.

But this was NOT the same kind of slavery as in Mitzrayim!

This slavery was actually not a bad life. The master fed and took care of slaves and treated them well. And sometimes, a slave refused to leave when shemitta came. At the door of the master’s house, the master would pierce his ear with a sharp tool to show that he was a permanent slave. Slavery was not unpleasant, but Hashem wants His people to be free, so the ear-mark was a way of making the person just a little bit ashamed of his choice to stay a slave.

No doubt about it; eretz Yisrael was going to be different from any other country… as we’ll see in next week’s parsha!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Short Parsha Riddles: Eikev / עֵקֶב

דְּבָרִים / Devarim / Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

Click for printable PDF version.

Don’t forget to read this week’s Parsha Poem (Oops - another missing one!) and parsha overview.  Plus… copywork and parsha activities – something for every week of the year!


פָּרָשָׁת עֵקֶב
Parshas Eikev
דְּבָרִים / Devarim / Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

image [1]

This parsha’s so humble, it really means “heel,”
For the mitzvos both lofty and low;
Just like our father whose name might conceal,
Though lesser, his greatness would grow.  Who was he?


Moshe’s been quite patient with all of the Jews
Kvetching to him with the words that they choose,
But now here at last, he asks, “What the heck?
Please, please, holy Jews, just lose the stiff __________!”


He came down so quickly from mountaintop’s thunder,
Witnessed the Jews and their golden-cow blunder;
Smashed up the tablets in anger and wrath;
But how was he punished, his sad aftermath?


Three types of people Hashem keeps in touch,
Folks whose own families cannot do so much;
Over and over, His words reinforce,
“Help the __________, the __________ and the __________...of course!”

[5] BONUS!

Hashem is so powerful, that much is true,
And He always does what He’s asserted,
But when Moshe davens for one of his crew,
Half the decree is averted!  What was the decree?


STUMPED?? Here are some answers: 
[ 1 ] Yaakov was named for his birth at Esav’s heel, though he’d become greater (Rashi, Bereishis 25:26).
[ 2 ] Neck (9:6).
[ 3 ] According to most views, Moshe wasn’t punished for this hasty decision.  The Talmud (Yevamos 62a) says Hashem wished him “Yiyasher kochacha,” (“way to go”), one of three times Moshe acted on his own and received divine approval afterwards. (more on this topic)
[ 4 ] Widow, convert, orphan; geir, yasom, almanah.  You pick!
[ 5 ] After the cheit ha’egel (golden calf), Hashem decided to kill Aharon’s four sons, but Moshe davened and only Nadav and Avihu died (Rashi 9:20).

Nu? Hat!

topsideforeheadI’ve made myself several hats since learning to crochet back in January, but this is a new design and I’m particularly pleased with it.  Although it’s double crochet, I used a thicker yarn than usual (Lily Sugar & Cream Solids in Hot Blue), which means it actually covers my hair.  I normally keep my buff headcover (tichel) on under hats, so it’s not a problem, but this feels light and comfy so far, so it’s nice to have options.

donehatHere’s a link to the free pattern on Ravelry, in case you’re interested.

And here’s a picture of me, giving my best “I know you are up to something” grimace.  I’m sure you’re NOT up to something, but I was peeved because I handed the camera to Ted, he took an awful picture of the back of my head, then handed it to me and walked away, leaving me to try to photograph the back view. 

So this is more like the gaze of disbelief after my unpaid craft photographer has up and quit on me.

The photographs were not just for vanity, but actually also a kind of tznius test:  if the flash lights up the entire surface of the hat and my hair is still not visible (other than just an overall darkness under the hat), then I consider it sufficient for headcovering purposes.  Don’t ask about the sides and back, however. 

I used to be more makpid about those flyaway bits, but have learned to live with wisps and fluff around the edges because my hair is just nutty that way.  As I told my great-aunt in Israel, “ha-se’ar ya-oof.”  Which I thought meant “my hair flies,” but probably means something closer to “the hair becomes a chicken.”  I almost added, “k’mo laytzan,” like a clown, because in English, I call it my “clown hair.”  I thought better of it, given that it was our first meeting.

I’m sure I’ll do really well in Israel… really, I will!

Eikev Parsha Summary: What Hashem asks in return

This is a basic overview of the parsha story in a format that can be adapted for a wide range of ages. Sources include parsha text, commentaries and midrash.  When introducing midrash or other non-pshat elements, I  use the words “some people think” or something similar. (find out why)

Please see the Vayeishev overview for how we use these narratives  in our homeschool.  I also have copywork sheets to go with the weekly parsha… enjoy! 


Do you remember? Sefer Devarim is one long speech by Moshe in the last five weeks of his life.

Moshe starts this parsha by promising amazing brachas if bnei Yisrael keep the Torah in eretz Yisrael! Their children, their animals, their fields – everything will grow bigger and better and healthier. They will live very long lives. And enemies who try to attack will fail – Hashem will protect them in every way.

A very famous expression comes from this week’s parsha: “Man does not live by bread alone.”

כִּי לֹא עַל הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם

image When old books say “man,” they don’t mean only one person, or even only men. “Man” means “people.” But wait! We know people actually CAN survive just by eating bread (though they might not be happy about it). Where does that bread come from? This parsha reminds us that whatever we eat, whatever helps us, comes straight from Hashem.

In Mitzrayim, even today, farmers must water their fields (which river does the water come from?). But Hashem is always watching Israel, and if bnei Yisrael keep the Torah there, rain will water everything – automatically! If they stop keeping the Torah, the rain will stop, and nothing will grow. With no water and no food, they will die.

Seven special things grow in eretz Yisrael!

Some of them grow in other places, but ALL of them grow in eretz Yisrael, and Moshe lists them to show what a good and special place it is: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Wheat and barley are for making bread. Grapes, figs, pomegranates and dates are sweet treats. Olives are tasty soaked in salty brine, but they can also make oil – remember the story of Chanukah? Israel is אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ / a land “flowing with milk and honey.”

Moshe reminds bnei Yisrael to be grateful.

With all that food growing, Hashem promises that if bnei Yisrael keep the Torah, they will never go hungry. But Moshe reminds them that when their bellies are full, they must still thank Hashem.

Were you ever desperate for something to eat or drink?

Shmuli and Clarence were out playing one day when Shmuli got so, SO thirsty! “Please – give me a drink from your water bottle!” he said. But Clarence didn’t have much water, and didn’t want to share it. “I’ll pay you,” Shmuli said. “I’ll give you a dollar.” Clarence said no. “Two dollars!” Finally, he let Shmuli drink, and afterwards, Clarence asked for the money. “No way,” Shmuli said. “Why should I pay you? I’m not thirsty anymore.” When you are hungry or thirsty, you’re grateful for anything you get. But when you’re done and you’re stuffed, it’s easy to forget how you felt before you ate and drank. We have to remember – we still owe Hashem everything, even when we’re finished eating.

One way of thanking Hashem after a meal is called Birkas HaMazon – bentching!

Remember all the kvetching bnei Yisrael have done since they left Mitzrayim? Moshe calls them a funny insult – he says they’re an “עַם קְשֵׁה עֹרֶף” / in English, a “stiff-necked” nation. A person whose neck is stiff can’t turn his head to see anything besides what’s right in front of him. He can’t see where he came from or anything on the sides. Bnei Yisrael think they are big tzaddikim, but they “forget” (kind of on purpose_ the things they don’t want to think about – how they did avodah zarah, married the women from Moav, worshipped the eigel hazahav, the golden calf.

image Moshe reminds them – he was so angry, he smashed the luchos!

He says, “you have been rebelling against Hashem since the day He sent me to Mitzrayim.” Every time bnei Yisrael did something terrible, Moshe has begged Hashem not to destroy them. And He didn’t – even when Moshe broke the luchos, the most valuable thing they had, Hashem forgave bnei Yisrael and gave instructions to make a new set.

“Please, please,” Moshe begs them, “get rid of those stiff necks.”

“Look around,” Moshe says. “Look at everything Hashem has done for you. Look back at Mitzrayim; see all the nations scattered at your swords. You didn’t do that for yourselves – Hashem did it all for you!”

What does Hashem ask in return for everything He’s done?

Moshe tells us: “fear Hashem, walk in His ways, love Him, daven to Him, and do His mitzvos.” Wait a minute! Fear Him AND love Him??? Well, yes. Do you like having lights in your room at home? Probably, because they let you read and play, even at night. But did you ever stick your finger in an empty lightbulb socket or outlet? I hope not! The electricity in there is so powerful it could kill you. You really should be afraid of electricity, but it’s okay to love having it around as well! When parents spank or punish children, the children might be afraid… but never stop loving their parents.

Moshe is the only teacher bnei Yisrael have had so far.

But new “teachers” are coming, and they’re not always honest… as we’ll see in next week’s parsha!

Cooking for…

DSC03799This is the time of year I jokingly refer to as our “semi-empty nest.”  The big kids are in Calgary visiting family, and we are left with a taste of what it would be like to be a totally different family – a fairly predictable life with two kids, no schools, nobody popping in and out of the house. 

DSC03801This period when they usually comes after several crazy unpredictable summer weeks, and this year has been the most crazy and unpredictable of all, with big kids running in and out of the house, up to all kinds of big-kid shenanigans, at all hours of the day and night. 

Literally, at any moment if we’re trying to do school or have rests or anything, the door could open with a big kid bursting in, perhaps happy and calm; or perhaps, agitated, angry and shouting.  And there is always money:  they constantly need money, infusions of cash or arguments about money or debates about who owed what to whom and when.

So when they go away, it’s a bit of a release.  A bit of missing them terribly.

It would seem like food would be simpler.  Not only two fewer people, but the two biggest eaters in the house.  They don’t just eat at mealtimes, they GRAZE constantly, sweeping through the kitchen and eliminating crackers, cookies, chocolate chips, in their wake.  Fruit, too; they’re not unhealthy eaters by nature, though veggies tend to require too much attention span with all the peeling and cutting.

I often joke that I’m a bad Jewish mother because I’m always yelling at the kids NOT to eat.  They probably don’t think I’m joking.  I do worry that they’re not eating, but the snacking (I call it fressing, just to make them crazy!), the grazing, doesn’t reassure me; it tells me they are constantly hungry and there’s nothing I can do about it.

I worry less about hunger when they’re away.  Hand out drinks a few times a day, cut up an orange or a peach, dish out two little bowls of pretzels or boxes of raisins, and everybody’s happy for a few hours.

I worry less about meal planning when they’re away.  They grew up eating a variety of nice flavours and styles of food, but right now, they seem to reject anything off-hand, even if they’ll later wander in and happily sit down to eat it.  Except chicken, which neither of them like very much.  I made it once a few weeks ago and YM grudgingly said the way I’d done it (I forget) was his “favourite way to eat chicken,” which the way he said it, sounds like “my favourite way to contract Ebola,” so I “excused” him from eating it, by which I meant that he was not allowed to eat until he apologized for insulting my cooking.

Life is very complicated with big kids.

Life is very easy with little kids.  With no big kids around to tell them what they don’t like, their minds are more open.

“Is there any plain pizza?” Naomi asked tonight (more about the pizzas here).  I gave her my standard line:  “Yes.  There is plain with veggies and plain with fake crab.”  She happily finished off two slices of plain-with-veggies, pushing the veggies off but “saving them for later,” and her food was completely finished by the time she left the table.  Gavriel Zev had one slice of each and even bravely kept on eating after getting spicy-mouthed with a bit of homegrown “warm pepper.” (not hot enough to count as “hot pepper”)   He just took a big, BIG, drink and kept right on eating.  (I suggested he remove the pepper bits if he did not want any more heat)

And the quantities, seemingly, are easy.  The picture at the top is of a tiny, miniature salmon loaf, a recipe that is actually called Salmon Loaf for Two.  I baked it up in a little teeny dish and served it out (with corn fritters and home-pickled beets) on little teeny side plates, and it was just like playing tea party except everybody was full at the end of the meal.

Except… even the quantities are tricky.  We had maybe a dozen leftover corn fritters – my regular beer batter recipe is too much for a small family, apparently.  And the pizzas tonight:  it felt wrong making “only” two, but sure enough, leftovers again.  I worry there won’t be enough; I can see this becoming a problem in my old age.

Complicated is okay.  It is what it is.  If I point out any of this in any place other than in a blog post, like if I suggest that the smaller kids watch them to see how to react, the big kids object with mighty sighs and groans and eye-rollings.

Maybe every parent should get a blog and every kid should read their parent’s blog (parents’, if both have one).  And maybe vice versa.  Not discuss the posts at any time, but just – get to know one another, without feeling the need to stop each other from snacking or oppressing or whatever it is we do to one another.  Cyberspace is so clean – no dirty dishes or laundry or missing scissors to kvetch about; just souls getting along fine.

I have always vaguely fantasized about becoming a brain-in-a-jar, pure mind (bear with me here – I know this is not Hashem’s intention and I know this is not our ideal state, but if Ted can fantasize about the coming zombie apocalypse, well, just play along…)

So now I realize that maybe it would be better if we could ALL spend a month or so “away” in cyberspace, brains in jars, respecting each other, getting along just fine away from all the laundry and toilet paper.

But eventually, I’d want us all to come back so I could hug them and smell them and be close to them.  As hateful as we all are to one another, they are my children, and it’s reassuring to have them close. 

Plus, three weeks of semi-empty nest adds up to a TON of leftovers that somebody has to come back soon to finish off…

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Frog Prince for Mary – and why

Sunday afternoon, I realized the kids were leaving without a gift for my wonderful mother-in-law in Calgary (here are my pics from her garden, 3 years ago).  The sad part of losing touch is you never know if people are into the same things as they were way back when… but when I saw this froggie prince, I thought it might be perfect. 

After many years single, she’s married to the princeliest frog (or froggiest prince) you could ever hope for, a gentleman, linguist, artist and “Grampa Mikey” to my kids since YM was about 1.

He was a quick project, really just the afternoon and part of the evening:


The side and top views are a little strange, but shown here so you can see the gorgeous workmanship. ;-)

goodfullside  goodtopview

Actually, I wasn’t sure if she’d like him, so took extra trouble to make him baby-safe so he could be passed along to a younger relative if she preferred.  That mostly involves sewing the eyes instead of buttons or doll eyes, plus sewing back and forth extra times to secure the legs and eyes.  Here’s the (free!) pattern on Ravelry (and a link to my profile to see other projects), if you’re interested.

It sure is fun living in a big divorced-and-remarried extended family! 

My ex-husband’s parents divorced when he was a kid, and now they’re both remarried.  Then, we divorced and I remarried, giving the kids, in theory, EIGHT grandparents.  The big kids father’s father is “Grandpa,” and his wife is “Grandma Carole.”  Their father’s mother is “Grama,” and her husband, as I mentioned, is “Grandpa Mikey.”  Originally, Mary just called him that to tease him, because he was a youngish 40-something when they got together.  But now he’s in his late 50’s (early 60’s?) and has grown into the title beautifully.    Ted’s parents are “Granny” and “Grandpa,” but there’s no confusion because the big kids don’t see or speak to him much.

Everybody always asks me how they all get along.  The short answer is – thank God, we’re all adults.  Everybody has remained civil throughout.  At one point, I took this for granted, but now I’m astonished because I’ve seen so many families split apart and so many kids suffering through ridiuculousnesses like multiple bar and bat mitzvahs.  So many families not speaking to one another – Ted sees them every day at work also, families who won’t give up grudges, even after death.

For YM, we made one bar mitzvah.  Anybody who wanted to could come.  Well, okay, we did TWO bar mitzvahs, but only because one was the bo bayom (on the actual birthday) and one was the closest Shabbos we could book at our shul.  And okay, in fact, one grandparent could only make it for one date and the other for the other, so they were NOT at the same bar mitzvah… but they could have been, and that’s what counts.  And some of Ted’s family came in as well and mingled with my family, the kids’ family… we’re ONE family.

goodsideviewWhen YM was born, his long-divorced grandparents had matching sweatshirts made with his picture on them.  They wore them on the plane to come see us in Toronto.  They stayed for a week in our small two-bedroom apartment.  It was all very civilized.  But really, that should be the RULE, not the exception.  A divorce really isn’t just between one couple… the effects, good or bad, ricochet through the generations.

Which is a lot to say about one little frog, really… but I hope it explains why this was so important (doesn’t explain why I did it at the last minute Sunday, though!).

What lengths do you go to for the sake of peace in your family???

Monday, August 06, 2012

Missed-Word Monday: Viola

This is a viola.

This is from a review of a plunger-based sushi maker on  “This product is really easy to use. Cook the rice, fill…close, plunge, viola.”

This is from a review of a muffin recipe:  “Just add some cinnamon streusel and viola - awesomeness!”

imageHere’s a description of a playground in Australia:  “for a great few hours of fun… swings, a slide and some sort of climbing apparatus and viola! Happy kids!”

The word I think you are looking for, I believe, is…image




Sorry… actually, this one doesn’t annoy me at all – I’m just amused, in a geek-ish way, to think of folks shouting out the names of string instruments as they write their reviews.  “just press this little button and… Cello!”

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Groise Tzuris…

There’s a Yiddish expression, “kleine kinder, kleine tzuris… groise kinder, groise tzuris.”  Little kids, little problems… big kids, big problems.  Little kids fall down, they need kisses, hugs, diapers, any number of small attentions.  It gets annoying, but you know, at the end of the day, that they adore you, that they’d do anything for you.

And big kids – well, I’m stumped.

Honestly, I’m stumped.  What the heck do they need?

Big Boy has found himself a Woman, and by “Woman,” I mean a girl who thinks she is all grown up, the way I did when I was in Grade Whatever and I was all that and figured they should repaint the signs on the bathroom doors so they didn’t say “girls” because none of us were, dammit, and give us adult privileges without annoying hassles of any kind.

I will not get into specifics, but based on events this evening, I will say that it has become very, very hard not to judge the character of this person, and by association, the character of my own child… and I am very, very disappointed.

Now, smart people, people who “did things” in their own youths, people who “went through phases,” have told me already, so I already know:  this will pass; this could mean nothing. 

On the other hand, it could mean something.  He is 17, the exact age his father was when he met me and swore undying love.  The Princess Bride was a new movie and he was a romantic anyway, brought up by English teachers on beautiful notions of chivalry and heroism.  He wooed me with Chaucer and waited ‘till his 18th birthday to propose and I nicely turned him down.  We were married almost exactly two years later, and although we divorced two children later, he was right about the love, which never did die.

I just wish somebody could tell me which kind of thing this is:  the kind that will pass, quickly, and we’ll look back and laugh, or the kind where we’ll look back in later years and say, “well, I guess that was the turning point.”

In my gloomy mood right now, I am looking at this moment as a brief and startling instant of clarity that much of the hard work of raising him is going straight down the drain. 

But I can still hope it’s the first kind, can’t I?

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Short Parsha Riddles: Va’eschanan / וָאֶתְחַנַּן

דְּבָרִים / Devarim / Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22

Click for printable PDF version.

Don’t forget to read this week’s Parsha Poem (Vaeschanan was actually the first parsha poem ever, two years ago last week!) and parsha overview.  Plus… copywork and parsha activities – something for every week of the year!


פָּרָשָׁת וָאֶתְחַנַּן 
Parshas Vaeschanan
דְּבָרִים / Devarim / Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11


To start off this week, Moshe stands and he begs,
Davening as we might well think he should;
Pleading to cross on his own two strong legs,
To walk with the Jews to the Land that’s so __________!


In the parsha of Yisro, it’s related
To keep Shabbos because He created
But though Torah’s reasons,
Explain all the seasons,
We now might this cause is debated.
Why does THIS parsha tell us to keep Shabbos?


At the seder we read about four of these,
One who is wise while one seeks to displease;
One who is simple and one doesn’t know…
But which one of them does this week’s parsha show?


Place His words upon your heart,
Share His love that can shock and surprise;
Write His words upon your gates,
And tie __________ above your eyes!

[5] BONUS!

Writing a Torah is surely quite hard,
So be careful to scribe it with pride;
But in order to earn your “Best-Sofer” card,
Please make THESE letters big - extra wide!  Which letters – and why?


STUMPED?? Here are some answers: 
[ 1 ] good (3:25)
[ 2 ] Yetzias Mitzrayim (the exodus, 5:15).  Many Meforshim try to reconcile these rationales.
[ 3 ] The “wise son” (6:20), the only one who appears outside of Shemos.  (compare the answer with what the Haggadah says to say (more))
[ 4 ] Tefillin (6:8).
[ 5 ] ע/ayin  and ד/dalet in Shema are wide.  Some say this prevents mis-reading:  the word שמא/shemma with an א means “perhaps,” אחר/acheyr, with a ר, means “other.” “Perhaps, Israel, Hashem…is other.”  They also spell עד/ayd, “witness”- saying Shema testifies to Hashem’s oneness.