ROCK AND ROLES
By Gil Marks
The 40-year trek of the Jews through the wilderness is bookended by two songs. At the onset of the venture (Exodus 15:1-19), Moshe intoned Shirat Hayam ("song of the sea," i.e. Az Yashir) and, at the end of the wanderings (Deuteronomy 32:1-43), he composed Shirat Haazinu. (The latter word means "you pay attention," directed at the heavens but certainly aimed at the nation.) Moshe's first song was a response to contemporary incidents involving the splitting of the sea and the drowning of the pursuing Egyptians.
The events of parshat Haazinu, however, occurred on the last day of Moshe's life (the 7th of Adar), after he finished instructing his people, made his farewells, and installed Joshua as his successor. The Jews stood on the threshold of entering the Promised Land and leaving behind the unique period of intimacy with God. Moshe was about to ascend Mount Nevo and conclude his active role in Jewish history. At this point, Moshe, free of all responsibilities of leadership but still the consummate pedagogue, delivered a comprehensive survey of Israel's future and a warning against falling into evil ways. Shirat Haazinu, unlike his earlier song, did not relate to immediate circumstances, but rather concerned matters of posterity. Within Shirat Haazinu lies the essence of Jewish history.
Why did Moshe communicate these two disparate messages using poetry? Because song allows people to become better cognizant of their emotions as well as to more fully release them, creating greater effect upon the listeners as well as more fully expressing the greatness of God. This explains the abiding passion for the Psalms and stands at the basis of the Chasidic movement, which believes that a higher level of spirituality is achieved through song. It is why zimmerot (songs) constitute such an integral part of Shabbat meals. It is why a Jewish wedding is woefully incomplete without plenty of singing and dancing. Verse is also easier to memorize than prose, and Moshe particularly wanted the people to internalize and retain the contents and meanings of his two songs.
The commentator Yitzchak Abarbanel separated Shirat Haazinu into six distinct components, corresponding to the aliyot of the parsha. The parsha begins with an introduction (32:1-5) describing the divine in nature, God making his presence manifest in the dew and rain. The second part (32:6-14) reminds the Jews that they are chosen and protected as "An eagle wakes up his nest, hovers over its young, spreads its wings, takes them, bears them aloft on its pinions (32:11)." In the third section (32:15-18), Moshe warns the people that humans, when conditions become too easy and good, tend to forget that God is the source, "But Jeshurun (Israel) became fat, and rebelled (32:15)." The fourth part (32:19-25), warns that the result of turning away from God will be exile and persecution. The fifth segment (32:26-33) relates that the nations that enslave and persecute the Jews will be punished and destroyed. Moshe ends his song (32:34-43) with God avenging the Jews and with the nation's of the world changing their attitude and ways, "Sing aloud, you nations, of His people (32:43)." In the seventh aliyah, Moshe presents his song to the people and once again reminds them, "Set your heart to all the words that I testify against you today; that you may charge your children to observe to do all the words of the law (32:46)."
Haazinu is the first time that the Torah employs the word tzur (rock) as a metaphor for God, which Moshe used six times in the parsha. The theme is carried over into the haftarah in the poetry of King David, "The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer. The God who is my rock, in Him I take refuge (trust); My shield, and my horn of salvation, my high tower, and my refuge; My savior, You save me from violence (II Samuel 22:2-3)."
Sukkot, more than any other holiday, reflects God's protection, God as tzur (rock), representing both the Divine protection of the Jewish people as they traveled through the wilderness as well as the ultimate fulfillment of the Jewish destiny. In remembrance of the Lord's protection, a sukkah (booth) is constructed outside the home. In place of a permanent roof, a layer of branches or other vegetation covers the top, so slight that the stars can be seen by those inside, thereby emphasizing the impermanence of life and the inspiration of nature.
The geographical aspect of tzur is further played out in the agricultural nature of the holiday. In the heart of Shirat Haazinu, Moshe described the goodness of the Land of Israel, "He made him (Jacob) mount on the high places of the earth (the Land of Israel), and he did eat the produce of the field; and he made him to suck honey out of the craggy rock (stronghold), and oil (from olives) out of the flinty rock. Curd of cattle, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs, and rams of the breed of Bashan, and he-goats, with the kidney-fat of wheat; and of the blood of grapes (new wine) you drank as it were mature wine (Deuteronomy 32:13-14)."
As with the other Pilgrim Festivals, Sukkot has an agricultural/nature connection, representing the final harvest of the agricultural year. At this time, all of the summer's fruits and vegetables have been gathered. The grapes have been pressed to make wine and the olives to make oil. Root vegetables have been securely stored in cellars or pickled to sustain the family throughout the approaching winter. Thus, another name for this festival is Chag ha'Asif (Holiday of the Ingathering). Alone among holidays, Sukkot is called Z'man Simchateinu (the Season of Our Joy), a time of unsurpassed rapture for a people thankful that the land had yielded its bounty and hopeful, after the introspection of the High Holidays, in the future. Emphasizing the special regard felt toward Sukkot is another of its names, Ha'Chag ("the Festival" par excellence).
Yet having harvested the year's bounty, a person might be tempted to forget about God and think himself the ultimate source of his success. Thus Haazinu is read on the Shabbat following Yom Kippur and before Sukkot, a reminder of what happens when we become too egocentric and complacent. In the midst of the celebration of Sukkot in the synagogue, we take the etrog (citron) and lulav (palm branch) and march around the bimah (platform) reciting Hoshanot (poetical prayers, literally "save, I pray"), a continuation of a Temple ritual. During the holiday of our greatest joy, we specifically pause to ask for God's help, in order not to fall into the self-importance and disobedience described in Haazinu.
Most Sukkot dishes reflect the harvest and joyous nature of the holiday, incorporating a bounty of fruits and vegetables. Historically, housewives astutely prepared fare such as casseroles that was easy to shuttle outside to the sukkah. The most common Sukkot dishes are filled foods, symbolizing bounty. Stuffed vegetables, a most ancient Sukkot dish, are common sights on many holiday tables. Pickled vegetables, eggplant spreads, and cucumber salads are also common to most Jewish communities. Traditional Ashkenazic Sukkot foods include tzimmes, roasted stuffed veal breast or poultry, knishes, filled dumplings, strudels, vegetable soups, fruit salads, compotes, fruit fludens, mandelbrot, and fruit or vegetable cakes. Sephardim have less specific dishes, but traditional Sukkot fare includes eggplant stews, green beans, vegetable salads, and filled phyllo pastries. Greeks and Turks serve eggplant casseroles, such as moussaka and saku, stuffed zucchini and grape leaves, and baklava.
Moroccans enjoy roast lamb, pastilla ("pigeon" pie also called basteya), assorted salads, and couscous with a melange of vegetables. Syrians might offer kibbeh fil seeneyeh (meat-filled bulgur pie), chuderah fil meh'leh (sweet-and-sour vegetable stew), bastel (meat-stuffed pastries), and banjan m'snobar (eggplant salad with pine nuts). Persians prepare polo (rice with vegetables), turshi (pickled vegetables), and dolmeh bey (stuffed quinces).
Here are a few traditional Sukkot dishes, reflecting the bounty of the season.
About 12 patties
Syrians tend to prefer their pumpkin pancakes spicy, while Sephardim from Turkey and Greece generally favor them slightly sweet. In either case, these colorful pancakes are both traditional for Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, and Hanukkah as well as make a tasty side dish for any meal, the many seeds a symbol of fruitfulness and abundance.
1. Soak the bulgur in warm water for 20 minutes. Drain.
6 to 8 servings
Cooking vegetables with tomatoes and olive oil, a sign of Turkish-Jewish cooking, is traditional Sukkot fare. Use olive oil and lemon juice if serving the vegetables cold.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the squash, tomatoes, water, parsley, sugar, salt, pepper, and, if using, lemon juice. Cover and simmer over low heat until tender, about 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, if desired, accompanied with yogurt.
6 to 8 servings
This moist, tender, and once relatively inexpensive cut of veal is a holiday favorite in Ashkenazic communities. Only the smaller seven ribs have sufficient meat to make a pocket, so the bones after the seventh rib are sometimes removed. It is easiest to have your butcher make a pocket in your veal breast. To cut a pocket, place the veal meat side up on a flat surface and, using a sharp, thin knife, cut a slit along the widest side of the breast, as close to the ribs as possible.
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Soak the bread in water until moist. Drain, squeeze dry, and tear into small pieces. Add the egg and seasonings. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the celery, onion, and garlic and sauté until softened (5 to 10 minutes). Stir into the bread mixture and let cool.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and garlic and sauté until soft (5 to 10 minutes). Remove from the heat and stir in the bread crumbs, fruit, and parsley. Let cool.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and garlic and sauté until soft (5 to 10 minutes). Stir in the potatoes and bread crumbs. Remove from heat and stir in the eggs, salt, and pepper. Let cool.
Gil Marks is the author of the James Beard Award finalist The World of Jewish Cooking, The World of Jewish Entertaining, and the recently released The World of Jewish Desserts. If you have a special request for a future recipe, forward them to email@example.com