Image: A game at the Las Vegas Ballpark, 1/20/2019.
I’m writing tonight from the Las Vegas Ballpark, where the Sacramento River Cats are playing the Las Vegas Aviators.
Never heard of them? This is minor league baseball, AAA to be precise, the world of Bull Durham, if you’re a baseball movie aficionado. The Aviators are a farm team for the Oakland Athletics. The River Cats are affiliated with the San Francisco Giants. Subtext is strong here.
What does this have to do with Torah? Baseball, like Torah, contains worlds. It is a metaphor for everything. In baseball, the home team plays the outsiders – it’s deeply tribal – but everyone’s worst instincts are constrained by the Rulebook (mitzvot.) Bats are for hitting balls, not heads.
Baseball, well played, is a form of meditation. The more perfectly everyone does their job, the less happens. A completely perfect game would go on forever.
Fortunately it is also a deeply human game, and imperfections abound. They keep the crowd from falling asleep, but it is in the workings-out of imperfection that joy abounds.
I love baseball, especially minor league baseball. The ballparks are human size, and admission is cheap enough that whole families attend together. The lady sitting next to me might be 80, and if she had her way the Aviators would win. Alas, they seem to excel only in interesting imperfections tonight.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, who has implanted in human hearts the love of games!
Climate change is doing a number on my neighborhood. Today the temperature was over 100°F for sure. If WeatherUnderground.com can be believed, the high was 107°F. I decided not to believe it.
It is June in the SF Bay Area. June is legendarily chilly here. Mark Twain joked that the coldest winter he ever experienced was in June in San Francisco. No more, apparently.
What does this have to do with Judaism? several things:
1. We learn from a midrash that when the Creator entrusted the Earth to Adam and Eve, God said to them, “Take care of it. It’s the only one I’m going to give you.”
2. We are commanded, bal tashkeit, “do not waste.” The verse in question has to do with trees, but our sages expanded it to a commandment to be careful in our use of natural resources.
3. We are commanded to preserve life. The strictest form of that commandment has to do with responding to someone in immediate danger of death. In a heat wave, we are responsible as a community to make sure everyone has water and a cool place to go. Alameda County is doing its best but I am concerned about the huge number of homeless people, and elders.
I hear a lot on the media about why we can’t do anything about climate change. The Green New Deal was pooh-poohed by conservatives, and they talk about what other countries are or are not doing, or they say the whole thing is “fake news.” Environmental advocates have been less than diplomatic in their rhetoric, which I understand but “I told you so” never contributed to progress.
If you have personally never been affected by climate change, there are lots of places where you can see it in action: my house, most port cities, and the farms in the Midwest. Or you can take a cruise to the island nation of Kiribati, which is quickly submerging into the Pacific.
We have made a mess, folks. I’m as responsible as any individual. We need to change. We need to think in terms of what we CAN do. We need to quit using others’ behavior as an excuse. Because as the midrash teaches, this is the only world we’ve got.
Image: Linda holding Princess, the poodle. (Photo: Ruth Adar)
My wife and I have three aging toy poodles. They all came from Poodle Rescue, and we have had almost ten happy years with them. Now we’re all getting older together: Linda and I are 70 and 64, and the poodles are 14, 15, and somewhere past 20. Their names are Jojo, Princess, and Gabi; we call them our Jewdles.
Princess is having the hardest time with aging. She’s Exhibit A for “Why Puppy Mills are Bad” – she has every kind of deformity or ailment associated with toy poodle inbreeding. She’s an affectionate little bundle of fluff, and when she stopped eating last year, we were distraught. She didn’t have extra weight to lose, and soon she was nothing but fluff and bones.
The vet looked at her sadly, and suggested that maybe if we offered her a bit of chicken and rice, it would tempt her. Sure enough, when I gave it to her, she showed the first interest in weeks. Apparently “people food” was the ticket. I got instructions from our vet, plus a cookbook by a vet in Hawaii, and went to work. Since the food I prepared started out with chicken as the protein, we called it “chickie.”
It was wonderful seeing Princess return to life. She gobbles chickie as fast as she can (not very fast, since she’s missing a lot of teeth.) But we were amazed at the changes in the other dogs, as well. Gabi (age 20+) had never seemed to care about food – until chickie. Now she is a chow hound, and her coat has returned to its original silky beauty. Jojo has always been a chow hound, but she’s looking good, too.
It has made me wonder what was really in the expensive commercial dog food we used to give them.
I’m committed to chickie-making now; there’s fresh in the fridge and frozen in the freezer. I make a couple of batches a week. As I said, it’s my new hobby. I thought that I’d write it up and add it to the blog, in case someone out there in Internet-land has an old dog that has quit eating.
The master recipe is simple:
1/3 protein, usually meat or leftover meat.
If the meat is extremely lean, I add a bit of olive oil.
1/3 pureed vegetables and fruit
1/3 whole grain (brown rice, oats, or quinoa)
Plus enough water to cook that amount of grain.
A bit of sea salt, for the minerals. (The vet’s recommendation.)
I make chickie in an Instant Pot or a dutch oven in my oven. Cook the meat, add salt and olive oil, add the veggies, grain, water, and cook. In a pressure cooker, I cook it for 1 hour. Otherwise, I cooked it on low overnight in a Dutch oven in the oven.
For protein I’ve used turkey, chicken, beef, or eggs. Occasionally I’ll make “cold chickie” which includes some leftover yogurt, cottage cheese, and hardboiled eggs that have been sitting around in the fridge.
Leftovers are also great for the vegetables. I include produce that is past its prime. I puree all of it so that it mixes into the protein and the dogs don’t just pick out their favorites. I’ve thrown in everything from old lettuce to seaweed. If you decide to make chickie, please do check out this list of foods that are bad for dogs – don’t use those!
Grains were easy. I started with the rice, but then got close to the bottom of a box of quinoa, and thought, why not? They loved it. Same with oats. I buy the grains in bulk now, which cuts down on packaging.
The water is usually just water, but when I have cooked a whole chicken or something else that has bones, I boil the carcass to make a broth that I can put in the freezer to use for chickie. Bone broth has good stuff in it for arthritic joints – and everyone in our house has arthritic joints!
This has also cut down on waste at our house. I keep an eye on the produce in the fridge, and chickify anything that’s still healthy but past the point of us picky humans eating it. Proteins are often leftovers, too, although to keep up with the demand I’ve used ground meat from the store, too.
There’s one more thing: because our dogs are very old, and Princess is in the early stages of kidney failure, the vet suggested some powdered supplements that we sprinkle on top of their food. If you decide to go the Chickie route with your dog, check with your vet for breed-specific or dog-specific needs.
You might ask: why is it worth my time to cook food for three old dogs? And why is it worth space in this blog?
Torah is not limited to “holy things.” A life of Torah is one in which everything is made holy – even pet food. Here are some of the Jewish values I experience and act out in making chickie for the Jewdles:
Tza’ar ba’alei chayimis the Hebrew name for kindness to animals, an important Jewish value. For example,Rebekah extends hospitality to the camels as well as a human visitor in Genesis 24:19.
Hakarat tovah is gratitude. These little dogs have been our faithful companions and comforters for ten years. I express my gratitude by taking care of them now that they are old.
Bal tashkeet is the Torah commandment not to be wasteful. A lot of things I used to throw away now go into the chickie: faded produce, leftovers, and little bits of whole grain from the bottom of the package. I don’t buy packaged grain at all any more: rather than buy a plastic bag or box of grain, I buy in bulk, using reusable bags, and store the grain in permanent jars in the kitchen.
So there you are: the story of my peculiar new hobby. It gives me a lot of pleasure to see Princess gumming her little dish of chickie, while Jojo and Gabi gobble theirs up.
Recently I posted Why a Mezuzah? that looked at the various reasons Jews affix a mezuzah to our doorways. That gave rise to a good questions from a student in my online Intro class: Why is the mezuzah usually slanted?
It all goes back to a family debate and technical discussion. Rashi and his grandson Rabbeinu Tam disagreed about the proper way to hang a mezuzah. Rashi believed that the mezuzah should be upright, just as the Torah scroll is upright when it is properly stored in the Ark at the synagogue. Rabbenu Tam said, no! – the mezuzah should be horizontal, just as it is when it is laid on the table to read it.
We get this story from Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, the great Jewish legal writer. He writes in the Tur, his code of Jewish Law, that “careful people” will do their best to fulfill BOTH directions by placing the mezuzah on a slant. However, while that is the custom in the Ashkenazi world, Sephardim prefer to follow the ruling of Rashi and hang their mezuzot vertically.
There’s an expression rabbis sometimes use, “We build a fence around the Torah” to explain some rules for Jewish living.
There are two kinds of mitzvot (commandments) in Jewish practice: those derived directly from the Torah, which we call d’oraita (day-oh-RITE-ah) and those which come from the sages, which we call d’rabbanan (deh-rahb-bah-NAN.)
An example of a d’oraita commandment:
Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do. .
This commandment is explicitly written in Torah. We may still have to discuss exactly what it means, but there it is, in the document.
D’rabbananmitzvot do not appear in the Torah. One kind of d’rabbananmitzvah is set to keep us from accidentally breaking a Torah commandment. For example, The Torah commands us not to work on Shabbat. The rabbis extended that idea to include not holding a tool on Shabbat, so that we do not accidentally forget and use the tool, and thereby break the Sabbath.
Even for those who are not halakhic Jews, who don’t observe Shabbat in the traditional way, this idea can be very useful. Determined that you will focus on family and not do business on Shabbat? You may decide to turn off your smartphone, or even put it in a drawer for the day.
Another example: at Passover, Ashkenazi Jews do not eat rice. Nowhere does it say in the Torah that rice is forbidden on Passover. In Ashkenazi tradition, rice, corn, and beans are not chametzbut they might be mistaken for chametz (because cornmeal, for instance, looks similar to flour.) In that tradition, foods which might be mistaken for chametz that are therefore also forbidden, and they are classified as kitniyot. Kitniyot means “stuff that might be confused with chametz” and not eating it is a d‘rabbanan rule for Ashkenazi Jews. Recently, some Conservative authorities have questioned the idea: of course we can tell the difference – so is this fence a silly fence that limits our diets but do not make us better Jews?
A fence around the Torah is a rule intended to keep us from accidentally wandering off the path of Jewish practice.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that phrase this week, “Fence around the Torah.” There is an assumption in it that we build the fence to protect ourselves, to keep ourselves safely within the bounds of Torah. That’s a good, safe thing, reminiscent of baby-latches on kitchen cabinets and the fence that keeps my little dogs safely in my back yard.
But we live in world in which fences mean other things, as well. The security fence in Israel has put an end to the sort of bombings we suffered in 2000-2004, but at a very high cost: not only does it keep violence out, it is a form of violence itself. President Trump is insistent that the United States needs a fence to keep people from Latin America out. Some of us are old enough to remember the Berlin Wall, which kept East and West Germany separated, and kept people from escaping their East German government.
I want to examine the fences I build in my life. Am I protecting something valuable in a good and useful way? Or am I constructing a barrier that will only make matters worse? Do I build out of protection and strength, or in fear and weakness? What fences do I build to help myself be a better human being, a better Jew? Are any of my fences silly?
Good questions, all. What fences do you keep around the Torah in your life? What fences would you like to tear down?
Image: Two hands writing a letter. (Stevanovik/Shutterstock)
The atrocity at our southern border on November 25 fills me with tears and rage. It is wrong to use tear gas on little children. The fact that these children were in the arms of parents who wished to apply for asylum from violence in Central American makes it more, not less wrong.
Customs and Border Protection agents used tear gas against migrants attempting to seek asylum at the San Ysidro port of entry at the Mexico/California border. Note: these people were doing nothing illegal. It is legal to apply for asylum. Our government has systems in place for evaluating the stories people bring, and the danger they actually face. Then, after evaluating their stories, some people get to stay and many people do not.
I have known many people from Central America. My Spanish teacher in college was from Guatemala. My son worked in orphanages in Costa Rica during his summers in college. I’ve had friends from Honduras and Nicaragua. They are not monsters. They are people like you and me.
Yet today my tax dollars paid for Customs and Border Protection personnel to fire tear gas rounds at these people, ordinary people. People fleeing trouble, carrying their children. We tear gassed children.
Tonight I wrote postcards to my Senators and to my Representative and I begged them to do something to stop this cruelty. Tomorrow I will phone them to make the same point.
Please join me in pleading for mercy for these poor people. They have not done anything to us. They are not doing anything illegal.
You might ask, What does that have to do with Basic Judaism?
Getting a flu vaccination if we are able is a mitzvah.It is in fact one of the most urgent commandments, the one known as the preservation of life.
The flu kills. It kills little children and old people. It kills people with compromised immune systems. It kills little babies who are too young to get the vaccine, and people who are too sick to get the vaccine.
It sickens people with whom we may have had only the slightest contact, who are unlucky enough to touch a railing after we have touched it, if we are carrying the flu.
Don’t spread the flu.
The best way we can avoid spreading the flu during flu season is to do two things:
The nasal spray vaccine will be available this year, according to the CDC. If needles give you the heebeejeebees, ask if it is an option for you. As for me, I’ll be getting a shot. I hate the flu, and I hate the thought of killing someone with it even more.