Sunday, April 25, 2010



I knew that we would focus this week on Parshat Kedoshim (lots of nice sweet mitzvot) and not Achrei Mot (the Azazel-goat). First I selected a handful of the most accessible mitzvot in the parsha - respecting elders, respecting parents, not speaking lashon hara, loving your neighbor, etc. (cleverly omitting the prohibitions again incest and child slaughter) - to review and discuss. Originally, I thought that we would make a "mitzvah tree" so that we could keep track of when we fulfilled any one of these. I nixed that because they (and every other Jewish preschool) have a mitzvah tree at school and I generally try to avoid having the walls of my home look too much like a preschool bulletin board. So, my revised idea was to create a "mitzvah jar." If you google "mitzvah jar" (which I did), you will find many ideas for Bar Mitzvah favors - jars filled with jelly beans customized with slogans like "I partied at Justin's bar mitzvah" - this is not what I was looking for.

There was only one that was relevant to my project - a facebook group - this is the description of the group:
“Mitzvah” means good deed, in Hebrew. When my children were very young, one and three years old, we began using what we called a “Mitzvah Jar” to encourage good behavior. When a good deed was done, we’d write it down on a piece of paper, fold it up, and put it in the Mitzvah Jar. Every so often, we’d take all the pieces of paper out and read them, to remind us of all the good they’d done. Reading all the good deeds was inspirational, no matter how simple the nice gesture was (one of my favorites…“Zachary helped Joshua open the refrigerator”), and motivated the whole family to be kind and helpful to others. Let’s take helping others to a new level! Share your acts of kindness and let’s inspire each other to make a difference! Do it in groups, do it alone, something big, something small. If you have an idea but need more manpower, post it! Who knows? Maybe through this group you'll connect with people in your area that would like to be a part of your project! Let's inspire and be inspired!

I don't know who Sue Naiditch Mirman is but this is just what I had in mind so a "mitzvah jar" it was. No shopping required. In my endless and futile attempts to have my home look like the Container Store, I have plenty of extra storage jars for dried goods.

First, I found lots of fun "google images" to represent the mitzvot we were discussing like:

Then, we got to work coloring, cutting, and pasting.

Avital decided to cut something other than paper - her hair!!!! - when I wasn't looking... but that is for another blog...

Our finished project is not gorgeous but it sits next to our shabbat candles and will hopefully gradually fill up with "mitzvah notes." On Friday, we put in the following notes:

"Maya helped her teacher do the dishes"
"Avital listened to her imma and left her bag in the car"
"Imma helped a friend cook Shabbat dinner"

While I like this project, I am somewhat wary of becoming the overly enthusiastic mother who is constantly saying in a sing-song voice things like "Who wants to be a mitzvah girl?" and "Someone did a mitzvah!". You can take the girl out of yeshiva, but...



Yup. We skipped Tazria-Metzora. My bat mitzvah parsha. As I read through these parshiot, I recalled the torture of coming up with a relevant dvar torah about leprosy and menstruation over twenty years ago. Of course, I am aware of the rabbinic connection between tzaraat and lashon hara and that that is the most common, relevant, and inspiring way to go. But, I just couldn't do it. First of all, it is nowhere in the text. The parsha simply has nothing to do with lashon hara, so I cannot justify dedicating a "parsha lesson" to something that is completely midrashic. And, more importantly, I am concerned about transmitting the message that we assume people with physical external ailments (such as swellings, rashes, and discoloration) have committed some morally offensive act(like lashon hara) and therefore must be banished (albeit temporarily) from the community (outside of the camp). This seemed like dangerous, uncomfortable, morally problematic territory to me. Not to mention, it makes for a weird craft. Of course, I did find the following "leper puppets" online as a way to teach the Christian Bible story of Jesus healing the ten lepers:

But, that was just not my thing. It doesn't seem to appeal to other Jewish educators either. The parsha sites that I visited generally used this week to teach Sefirat HaOmer or Yom Haatzmaut (both timely cop-outs) instead of touching this Parsha's unseemly topics. I however, in my unwavering commitment to the parsha, would rather skip it altogether than pretend it is about lashon hara, the omer, or Israel. Ok, fine, it was also Maya's 5th birthday and I had tea parties to plan and pinatas to stuff.

Thursday, April 8, 2010



Ok, so I have to admit that the combination of Passover chaos and Leviticus gore has not been very conducive to consistent Parsha Projects. But, the girls were home from school the Friday before Pesach so I was determined to get back on track (despite the fact that we had plenty of Pesach-related projects to keep us busy!)

On Thursday night, I opened up to read Parshat Tzav. In short, it is about korbanot, ritual sacrifices - the burnt offering, the meal offering, the guilt offering, the thanksgiving offering...It is not that I don't appreciate that there may be deep significance in this ancient form of worship, it is just that I am not equipped to even begin to convey what that might be to two preschoolers!

So, I zoomed in on one of the early verses that describes the "ketoret" or the incense that was burned on the altar as a "pleasing odor to the Lord." I have always liked the idea of sending sweet smells in God's direction (even if practically it might have been necessary to cover up the smells of burning animal flesh and skin). I was able to explain to the girls that the Israelites wanted the Mishkan to always smell special and beautiful - they got that.

For the project, I originally thought that we would recreate the Ketoret. Nothing like a multi-sensory craft. First, I looked into the ingredients. It says in Exodus 30 (this would probably be a better project for that parsha - Ki Tissa): "God said to Moses: Take fragrances such as balsam, onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense, all of the same weight, as well as other fragrances. Make the mixture into incense, as compounded by a master perfumer, well-blended, pure and holy..." According to the Rabbis, the ketoret was comprised of 11 spices:

Aromatic Bark

My first idea was to run to Rainbow Grocery and try to find as many of these whole spices as possible (not even knowing what half of them were!). Then I thought, "Emily, it is four days before Pesach, just use what you already have at home. They won't know the difference!" So, on Friday morning, we gathered together what we already had in the house - cardamon, cinnamon, vanilla, cloves and rosemary.

We had fun smelling each of them individually and then combining them into organza drawstring sachet bags (10 for $1 - best purchase ever!)

I decided that I wanted this project (like the welcome mat and kohen aprons) to be something that we could actually use regularly and not just throw out. So, we turned our ketoret into besamim or spice bags for havdalah. I still have the puffy fabric paints from the Kohen aprons so they used them to decorate their bags.

The whole project didn't take very long and there were plenty of bags and spices so I let them make as many as they wanted. In the end, we probably made about 10 bags. Maya was SO excited to give the extra bags out as gifts.

It is a regular tradition that friends gather at our home in the late afternoon on Shabbat and stay with us for Havdalah. On the rare week that nobody is around, both Maya and Avital moan "when are our friends going to come???" Thankfully, this week, our home was filled with guests and Maya was able to distribute spice bags to everyone for Havdalah and to send each of them home with this sweet gift.