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Matzah – “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For Dat!”

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Yes, it is that time of year again! Matzah Time! I can begin to feel the flat, dry, tasteless ‘bread’ in my mouth already. Besides for allowing us to entertain ourselves with social media posts of our creative Matzah Pizza dishes, why does the Torah require us to eat this thing?

As the story goes, the Jews left Egypt in such haste that they could not wait for their dough to rise, and thus the commemoration of Matzah. “They could not wait!” Sound familiar? I feel like I hear that sentiment several times a week. With our rushed and busy lives, it seems like when it comes down to the most important things in our life … simply put, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

As former Egyptian slaves, we did not have any control of our time. We had to do what our masters commanded us, when our masters commanded. They were in a constant ‘rat race’ to stay alive and constantly escaping their pursuers until the very end. When escaping a reality and in the rush of it all we also don’t have control of our time. As we celebrate our freedom from slavery, we also have to celebrate our ability to control our own time.

How are we using this time? And who is controlling it? If we are busy chasing a dream made by our society, if we are spending the majority of our time acquiring possessions to impress others, or if we have an uncontrollable urge to check status updates on social media, then the answer is obvious: we are living a flat, dry, tasteless Matzah-like life.

So if Matzah is such a negative thing, is the opposite, Chametz (leavened bread) then a good thing? And why are we not eating it and driving ourselves crazy to get it out of our homes? I believe the answer to this is quite simple. Although the “character traits” usually prescribed to Chametz (luxury, free time, and pride) are usually thought of as spiritually negative sources, when put in perspective with the messages of Matzah, it can be transformed into something positive. It reminds us to prioritize the fundamental things like values, family and spirituality, over mundane things like materialism and status. With the message of Pessah and it’s ‘Bread of Affliction’, we are reminding ourselves what really matters in our life.  Were it not for the week of slave-like Matzah, one might forget the purpose of the freedom-like Chametz.

Although the messages of Passover and Matzah are plenty, how wonderful it would be if we walked away feeling like a genuinely free person, one that takes control of their free time and actively prioritizes it for its ultimate potential.

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Eman Esmailzadeh is a graduate of UC Irvine where he studied mechanical Engineering and Business Management. After college, he advanced his Judaic studies at various seminaries in New York and Jerusalem. He currently is the Brand Director at Coloronix, a manufacturer of themed lighting products.

Culture

How To Thrive On Yom Kippur: Practical Tips For An Easier Fast

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Yom Kippur, one of the most sacred Jewish Holidays of the year, is upon us. Here are ways you can prepare yourself for the 25 hour fast. These pointers will help keep your stomach from grumblin’ and your breath from stankin’.

1) Cut down on the caffeine For all you coffee/tea addicts out there, your morning cup of caffeine is a must. In fact, some of you are quick to develop headaches/migraines if you don’t have that cup. What to do:  Days preceding the fast, try to minimize your caffeine intake as much as possible. Try some herbal tisanes, perhaps. Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. There is nothing better you can do for yourself than to drink. Stay away from alcohol; poppin’ bottles will only make you more prone to dehydration, causing unpleasantness during the fast.

2) Did I mention HYDRATION? The difficulty we experience during the fast is not usually linked to lack of food; rather, it is the lack of fluids. Best choices: You can never go wrong with the good ol’ H20. Experts suggest drinking EIGHT 8 oz cups of water per day. Try to reach that goal or even surpass it by drinking more the day of. Eat your way to hydration by stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables. Some of the most hydrating foods include:  Cucumber, iceberg lettuce, celery, grapes, tomatoes, watermelon, green peppers, and spinach, to name a few. A handful of these ingredients mixed together sounds like a delicious salad, no?

3) What to eat the day of?  On the day of the fast try eating balanced meals. For the meal before the fast, eat a proper meal that includes protein, carbohydrates, and plenty of vegetables.  Eating more carbohydrates will help make you feel fuller longer (you can never go wrong with potatoes, pasta, and bread). Try to avoid salty and spicy foods as much as possible. The over-consumption of salt causes thirst because the body requires more water to absorb the extra salt. Knowing that we won’t be able to eat for 25 hours drives us to eat as much as possible before the fast begins. However, do yourself a favor and try not to eat a heavy 5 course meal fit for a Prince. The more you eat, the more water is needed from the body to digest it.


Now, you are fully equipped to a be an angel for the day.
 May we all be inSKRIBED and sealed in the Book of Life!

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Holiday

Laws of Dayenu!

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There is a beautiful practice among Persian Jews worldwide to whip each other with scallions during the recitation of the Dayenu song found in the Haggadah.  We strike family members with scallions when the Hebrew word Dayenu is read, symbolizing the whips endured by the Israelites under the ancient Egyptians.

Much to my dismay, many of our young children are not following the proper traditions laid down by our forefathers.  In many cases, I have seen gross negligence on their part, so much so that I don’t think they have even fulfilled their obligations for Dayenu. I have jotted down some important points as a guide.

Background

Dayenu is an ancient custom; anyone who makes fun of this or mistakenly calls it barbaric should not be invited to the Seder table. If one has family over and because of Shalom Bayit purposes must invite such evil doers to their home, they should only be invited for the dinner portion so as not to disrespect this holy Mitsvah. In general, one should be careful about exposing their children to such people throughout the year, as well.

Preparation

  1. Yom Kippur is an auspicious time to pray for properly sized and shaped scallions that can cause the most pain. There is a custom to plant scallions right after Yom Kippur in one’s backyard.

Type of Scallion to Use

  1. The color of the scallion leaf should be fully green and ripened. Our Sages say it should be ripe enough to leave a dime-sized mark on a new white cloth. 
  2. Lengthwise, the scallion must be a minimum of two tefachim (handbreadths).  However, one who uses scallions that are at least an amah (arms length) will receive special blessings from heaven. Note: length does not include the head/bulb.
  3. Preferably, scallions from Iran should be used, and they must be checked for Chametz a minimum of 3 times. (Elat Market has a special shipment for only $27 per scallion. It must have Kosher for Passover supervision).
  4. If there is a famine and scallions cannot be found, whole round onion may be used. If one does not have onions either, a belt can be used provided it is 100% pure leather without any additives or synthetic ingredients.
  5. There is a dispute among authorities as to the proper size of the scallion. Some say the head should be olive-sized (around 18.753 grams) and others say egg-sized (around 32.256 grams).
  6. The scallion head/bulbs should have at least two visible root hairs.

The Custom of Dayenu

  1. To properly fulfill the Mitsvah, one must hit at least two Jewish males above the age of Bar Mitsvah at least two times in at least 3.5 minutes. If this is not done, one must go back and Dayenu again.
  2. The Mitzvah of Dayenu should be done while standing, however old people and Shirazis may sit.
  3. There is a debate amongst Rabbis as to whether this custom came from a Jewish source or the ghettos of Iran. Therefore, when in doubt, no blessing is recited. One can simply say ‘Baruch Sh’asani Heyvun’ without mentioning G-d’s name.
  4. If one fell asleep during the seder and wakes up in time for dinner, the latest he can make up Dayenu is by midnight. If he misses this time, he has to wait until the second night and do it twice. If he forgets both nights, he should hit himself with the scallion every night before he goes to sleep as a penalty for not doing it properly the first time.
  5. Although many say Dayenu was established to remind us of slavery, some say that the scallions represent our Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) and Yetzer Tov (Good Inclination), and that it is a Mitsvah to rebuke others even by force. Therefore, it is better that two scallions are used at same time, symbolizing that we are beating up our friends and family to make them serve the Almighty with both inclinations. 
  6. The mystics tell us that there should be direct contact between the hands and the scallions. Therefore, special blessings come to those that do not wear gloves and remove rings before Dayenu.
  7. For the Dayenu hit to count, an audible “ouch” or “aay” should be heard at least 6 steps away from the person being hit.
  8. One should preferably use another fellow Persian to fulfill this custom. If an Ashkenazi was invited to the Seder, one can fulfill his obligation by hitting him as well. Please note the 6-step audible requirement (see previous halacha) would instead be 3-steps as Ashkenazim are not as rowdy as Persians. (Please also note that it is forbidden to feed Ashkenazim rice, however, one can be lenient and serve them food that was cooked in a rice pot).
  9. Hitting the face is not allowed as we fear the person will become blind and not be able to fulfill the Mitsvah of reading the Haggadah.
  10. It is not becoming of Jewish women to do Dayenu. The custom is that the women go to the kitchen and prepare the meal at this time. Nowadays, if there is a concern that the women would be offended, or if there is a chance that they will leave the seder altogether, it is permissible for them to engage in the custom. However, G-d fearing men should not gaze at ladies doing Dayenu. They should quickly find another G-d fearing man, do the Dayenu ceremony together, and find a corner to stare at while the frivolous immodest ladies finish Dayenuing.
  11. There is a Torah prohibition against hitting parents. One must be very careful to get permission in advance from their parents if they want to use them to fulfill this Mitsvah. Fortunately, there is no prohibition against in-laws.

After the Dayenu

  1. Since the scallions have been used for a Mitsvah, they are considered very holy and one should not profane them by disposing them in a trash can. Some have the custom of putting the scallions under their bed as a Segulah (omen) to have righteous and calm children. For those that don’t believe in such nonsense, the scallions may be buried.
  2. If someone is summoned to a non-Jewish court for damages incurred by the Dayenu ceremony, he should explain his religious obligation and demand his right to religious freedom.

 

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My Worst (Or Best?) Rosh Hashanah

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Two years ago, I had the privilege of spending my first Rosh Hashanah in Israel. That first morning I woke up to my roommate getting dressed. It was only 7:30 a.m. but I remembered one of my mentors telling me that since Rosh Hashanah is Judgment Day, it is best to make it to shul on time. I pulled myself out of bed.

My friends and I were amongst the first women in the shul that morning in Ramat Bet Shemesh. The natural light poured into the tall windows and beamed onto the white walls. Everything looked so pure. All that could be heard were the whispers of people’s morning prayers.

I found the clock; we had about five hours of prayer ahead of us. An hour or so into the service, I began to squirm. I glanced at my friends. Their heads were buried into their siddurs (prayer books).

I flipped to the back of the siddur and saw that we had about two hundred pages to go! As time went on, it was becoming harder and harder to sit still and focus. I heard myself think, “I don’t want to be here.” Then louder, “I want to leave!”

I looked around, paranoid that someone heard me. Then I realized how silly I was. My friends might not have known what I was really thinking, but G-d did. I couldn’t hide from Him. And what’s worse, I was being judged today. Suddenly it felt like all of the growth I accomplished in the past year didn’t matter because today, deep down, I wanted to leave and go home and read in bed.

I tried to ignore these blasphemous thoughts and continue praying, but a battle raged in my heart. Finally, I decided to engage my feelings of resistance.  “O.K., Jenna,” I told myself, “You can leave. No one is stopping you. If you could call a cab right now and leave, what would you do?” I imagined the yellow cab waiting on the dusty road outside the shul. Then, as I imagined myself getting into the cab and driving away, a quiet voice within me said, “No!” What was that? I thought.  

There were two voices within me: the yetzer hara and the yetzer hatov.

In one corner of the ring: the yetzer hara. The yetzer hara is our “evil inclination,” the voice within us that is aligned with our basic, animalistic desires. The yetzer hara always speaks loudest and always speaks first.

Yet Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski points out that the essence of our yetzer hara is not its desire for physical pleasures, but its desire for freedom.[1] I felt constricted that day in shul, with a long script of prayers I had to recite.  Me, who had chosen to come to Israel that year to deepen my connection with G-d. Who knew that  the Sages had written these holy prayers with Divine inspiration, a secret formula so to speak, to connect with G-d on the deepest level. Yet I still felt that this day was being thrust on me. Today of all days, which was about crowning G-d as our King and part of me just wanted to break free.

In the other corner of the ring: the yetzer hatov. The yetzer hatov is our “good inclination,” the voice within us that is aligned with our spiritual aspirations. It is the voice that wants us to be our best selves, aligned with G-d’s will. It is the quieter voice. Deep down, when I gave myself the theoretical option, I could hear myself say that I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to be right there, in the last row of the crowded shul, praying to G-d from the bottom of my heart.

When the shofar blew, there was silence. I could hear my friend sobbing into her siddur. I was exhausted; I felt like Jacob wrestling with the angel. I turned inward and said the only words I could say with total honesty: I want to want good, I told G-d. Please send me the blessings I need to be my best self, to achieve my purpose. G-d: I want what You want for me this year. I repeated this over and over again. The cry of the shofar awoke the cry in my heart. I want to want good. Help me, please.

That year, I left shul feeling like a failure. Looking back, I realize that I was a spiritual champion. Just because I struggled to engage in the long day of prayer did not make me any less holy than my friends. If anything, my merit was in my struggle.  

Despite the voice within me that wanted to leave, I chose to act upon the voice that wanted to stay. As Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller says, we are an accumulation of the choices we make. By acting on the voice that wanted good, I was one step closer to becoming my best self. With each good choice we make, Rebbetzin Heller explains, choosing good becomes easier.

I bless us all that we should be empowered to make the right choices in our lives and we should be written and sealed in the Book of Life for a healthy, happy, and sweet new year!

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