Khoresht is a winning dish in my home and has been passed from generation to generation with delight. Both of my grandmothers were amazing chefs. What we call today gourmet cuisine was her daily ritualistic endeavor. This is one of her many signature dishes with some slight modification. The smell from the slow cooking, especially the cooked dried lime, will perfume the house and becomes a much anticipated and welcomed dish for any season and mood. Even I let go of my vegetarianism to eat this dish! Side note, it can be made vegetarian too! It is a very nurturing type of dish because the slow cooking allows for the nutritious elements to stay within the juicing of the stew. The raw herbs and vegetables; radishes, cucumber, mint, and the white top of the scallion, (which are served and accompany the stew) have a cooling yin effect to balance the warmth of the yang from the stew. Persian cuisine is strong on balancing those two elements, the hot and cold. The dish will be served on top of saffron white rice which has its own aroma. Basmati in Arabic means perfume. Saffron in Arabic translates to Yellow-Gold and is the most expensive spice in the world! Saffron has been used medically to reduce fevers, cramps and enlarged livers and calm the nervous system as well as healing wounds.
Some ingredients are specific and can be purchased at a Middle Eastern market
1 large white onion
1 cup red kidney beans
1 cup white cannellini beans
1 cup pinto beans
(you can choose any kind of beans you like or mix)
In the winter use red beans which warm the body more, in the summer use white beans, and in other seasons, use a mixture!
3 bunches of organic parsley
3 bunches of organic coriander
3 bunches of organic cilantro
1 bunch of green onions
1 handful of organic spinach leaves (optional)
2-3 lbs grass fed stewing beef, cubed
3 tsp turmeric powder
6 medium dried Persian limes (for cooking, but not to be eaten)
Salt or soy sauce (to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
1/4 cup olive oil
Instructions for Stew:
Slowly cooked in a Dutch oven or big stainless steel pot
In a Dutch oven, brown the meat in olive oil just long enough to sear all sides of the cubes. About 20 minutes, add turmeric toward the end of the searing
Meanwhile, cook beans in boiling water for 30 minutes, rinse beans in cold water
Saute onion with meat until onion becomes translucent, add salt and pepper to taste
Soak greens to clean all dust, drain, discard all stems and finely chop, respecting every leaf, that is to say, in olden days the chopping took much longer than the second generation method of coarse chopping.
No food processor allowed. The chopping is essential to the release of the herb aroma. (Well, perhaps the third generation will successfully use the food processor.)
Add whole dried Persian limes. These will be discarded after cooking.
Cut onion greens and discard the lower white area. Add onion greens to the other herbs
Add the half cooked beans to the seared meat
Add 10-12 cups boiling water, then add the mixture of greens, add more boiling water as needed to cover the greens
Add 1/4 cup soy sauce. (This ingredient is not part of Persian cooking but instead of using chicken consomme or chicken broth I find the soy to add a healthy and tasty balance.)
Cover the pot and cook the mixture on the stove for 30 minutes on medium heat
Preheat the oven to 350°F and then transfer the pot to the oven for 3 hours
Serve with chelow, which means saffron steamed plain basmati rice
Instructions for Rice:
2-3 cups Basmati rice in a large volume of salted, boiling water
Cook the rice in the boiling water with a pinch of salt and tablespoon of olive oil for 10 minutes or until the rice is slightly soft but not fully cooked
Drain the rice
Add a small amount of olive oil to the same pot with a little water and saffron powder, when hot, empty and fry a thin layer of rice to create a crust for 2 minutes (do not burn), then add the balance of the partially cooked rice, add 1/4-1/2 cup of water, lower the heat to simmer and cover the rice with a clean kitchen towel to allow for the steam to escape for 20 minutes
When ready take a big flat plate cover the pot and turn the pot over the plate. (Strong steady hands and trust in your ability)
This Khoresht is served on Shabbat, on holidays and is considered comfort food. Best with Pinot Noir or Syrah.
This winter break, I was at the Sacramento International Airport bright and early for my six am flight to Hawaii where I would go on to spend a week at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, when a little girl – maybe three or four years old – sat down next to me in a sweatshirt that said in bright, white, bold letters: “Born to Make History.” I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, and generally I just try to spend any time before ten AM thinking as little as possible and drinking as much coffee as I can without inducing a caffeine seizure. But for some reason that morning I could not stop thinking about that phrase – “Born to Make History” – and what it says about our society’s values. What does it say about us that we strive to make history and be exceptional more than we strive to be kind and compassionate? Do we still value being “Born to Make History” when it comes at the expense of kindness and compassion? Why do we continue to lionize men and women who have made history, but who have also caused untold amounts of cruelty, violence, and dehumanization in our world? What does it say that we project these values on our children?
For the five hour flight from Sacramento to Hawaii, I brought along Rabbi Shai Held’s book The Heart of Torah: a collection of Held’s essays on each parsha (the weekly Torah portion). I made my way through Held’s deeply humanist and tender commentaries, and eventually arrived at his first essay on Parsha Toledot where the Torah – in its endless wealth of wisdom – directed me towards the answer to my question. What does it mean that we value exceptionalism over compassion? To help answer this, we turn to the story of Isaac.
Who is Isaac? Isaac is the son of Abraham and Sarah, the brother of Ishmael, the husband of Rebekah, and the father of Jacob and Esau. He is at the center of one of the Torah’s most enduring and meaningful stories – the Akedah – in which Abraham is instructed to sacrifice his only son Isaac, whom he loves, to prove his faith in G-d. Isaac is ultimately spared from sacrifice, grows up, marries Rebekah, and then promptly disappears from the narrative until he is an old, blind man with two fully grown sons; the vast majority of Isaac’s life is simply not recorded in the Torah.
From this long absence, I concluded something important about Isaac; unlike his father and his son Jacob, Isaac does not do exceptional things, rather exceptional things happen to him. Assume that the omission of the majority of Isaac’s adult life is because unlike his father, his son, and most of the Biblical protagonists, Isaac does not really do something exceptional that is worth recording as a critical moment in history. Isaac does not have an equivalent of arguing with G-d over the fate of Sodom in Gomorrah, wrestling an angel, parting the Red Sea, or slaying Goliath. Even though he is a central component of one of the Torah’s most important episodes, he is merely the object of the action: a passive, ancillary factor of his own life story. Throughout the entirety of the Torah, Isaac does not converse directly with G-d a single time, and as an individual he does not leave a lasting impact on either the future of Judaism or the history of the Israelites.
However, there is one brief and often overlooked moment from Isaac’s life that Rabbi Held chose to focus on in his commentary of Parsha Toldedot that shows us what we can learn from Isaac about making meaning out of an unexceptional life. In Genesis 24:67, it is written that “Isaac brought [Rebekah] into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her.” Held identifies that the key element of this sentence is “he loved her,”; Isaac is the first character in the whole of the Hebrew Bible who is said to love his wife. Isaac’s declaration of love is also only the second mention of love between two characters in the Torah up to that point: with the first being the confirmation that Abraham loves Isaac before he takes Isaac up to Mount Moriah to be sacrificed. It is notable that the only relationships based on love in the Torah up to this point stem from Isaac.
Shortly after, in Genesis 25, Isaac prays that G-d will bless Rebekah and him with a child after the two have been childless for twenty years in a refraction of the same fate that previously befell Isaac’s own parents: Abraham and Sarah. Held identifies that in the Hebrew of Genesis 25, the authors use the word lenokhakh – which means literally “in front of” – to describe how Isaac prayed for Rebekah. Held affirms that when Isaac prayed for Rebekah that they might have children together, he prayed directly in front of her, in her presence, as a sign of his love and respect for her. Held asks his readers to use their imagination to conjure up the image of Isaac’s prayer, and to really consider what it means that the authors chose to include that Isaac prayed “in front of” Rebekah. I interpret Isaac’s willingness to pray “in front of” Rebekah as a pure expression of total mutual respect and love, devoid of any self-consciousness or embarrassment: Isaac’s love for Rebekah is so true that it has shed any illusions of vanity or ego. When I imagine what Isaac’s prayer looked like, I imagine that Isaac and Rebekah sat together in the same humble room, with Isaac perhaps holding both of her hands in his own, sharing a quiet moment of genuine and honest intimacy.
To accentuate the importance of Isaac’s actions, Held places this episode from Genesis 25 in direct conversation with Genesis 17, in which G-d promises the similarly childless Abraham and Sarah a son. Up to this point, Abraham and Sarah have been childless for decades. Their childlessness has been the central trauma of their relationship, and the foremost emotional weight for Sarah. In Genesis 17, after G-d promises Abraham and Sarah a son, Abraham falls to the ground laughing and rebuts, “If only Ishmael (his son with another woman: Hagar) might live under your blessing!” (Genesis 17:18). Abraham could clearly care less whether or not Sarah ever has a child, and is content to let her dream of motherhood fall to the wayside so long as he can still be father to a great nation. It makes no difference to him which one of his children carries his mantle, or if the people closest to him feel loved and valued, what is most important to him is that his own exceptionality lives on.
The stark contrast between Abraham and Isaac, between father and son, illuminates what we can take away from Isaac’s story. Abraham is an exceptional man; he changes the course of history and performs amazing feat after amazing feat. The Torah is full of stories about Abraham, but on the other hand, Isaac is unexceptional and largely absent. Genesis omits the story of his adult life, and he is more important as his father’s son and his son’s father than he is as himself. And yet, when it comes to their closest relationships Abraham is callous and apathetic, and Isaac is a paragon of love, respect, and compassion. Why do we revere Abraham more than we revere Isaac, when it is clear that Isaac was the more loving and compassionate man? Why do we encourage our children to be more like Abraham and less like Isaac when we give our children sweatshirts that say “Born to Make History” instead of “Born to be Loving”?
And what does this say about the moral cost of the value we place on being exceptional? We qualify Abraham as exceptional because he is exceptional in a way our society deems valuable: as a nation founder, an idealogue, and a revolutionary. We look past Abraham’s coldness, his self-importance, and his rationalization of violence and cruelty as necessary to his faith and goals because we live in a similar society where we rationalize the lives of arguably amoral individuals because we agree with their core missions. We lionize our Washingtons and our Jeffersons, our Maos and our Lenins, our Guevaras and our Castros, our Nassers and our Arafats, and our Begins and our Ben-Gurions, and we look past the trail of violence, hatred, and cruelty that each and every one of them left in their wake in one way or another so long as we can rationalize that they have the right end goal in mind. We qualify them as exceptional, as people who have made history, at the cost of moral scrutiny and the values of kindness and compassion.
The story of Isaac can teach us that there is another way. It teaches us to reconsider the value we place on being exceptional, and to instead think about how we can change the world not through radical upheaval, but through compassion, kindness, and empathy. The story of Abraham, and our own recent history, demonstrates that being exceptional comes at a high price, and often results in consequences that should give each and every one of us pause. We need to seriously consider if exceptionality is worth what we have to look past and rationalize, or if we should consider a new path. A path not based on Abraham and exceptionality, but on Isaac and love. We should consider that most of us, like Isaac, will have our stories omitted from the grand narrative of history, and yet all of us are capable of being compassionate, respectful, and empathetic. All of us are capable of making deep and valuable change simply through choosing love.
If I could go back in time to that morning in the Sacramento International Airport, I would tell that little girl that she shouldn’t worry too much about making history. Instead I would tell her that she should simply do the best she can, and always take the time to consider other people’s thoughts and feelings before she speaks and acts. I would tell her that if she can do these things – to always remember, like Isaac, the value of love and compassion – then her generation will be the one to heal the world.
Akiddush cup full of wine, challah, a bowl piece packed with pot, and Shabbat candles: one of these things is not like the others. Yet, with cannabis’ state by state legalization, it is possible that Jewish homes and communities could have a few reasons to add a new ritual item to the Shabbat table. Removing cannabis’ taboo could increase the amount of positive feelings about medical and recreational usage that people have for this historically infamous and stigmatized plant. With that said, people who disagree with any cannabis usage may hold more tightly to their beliefs against it. Positive and negative opinions aside, cannabis has a relationship with Judaism that is as old as the Bible, and legalization could provide a new outlet for Jews to embrace cannabis in the modern world.
In “Marijuana Has Always Been A Part of Jewish Life From Ancient Israel to the Shtetl,” published in The Forward, Madison Margolin discusses how in Exodus 30:23, “kaneh-bosm” was used in the recipe for the anointing oil that was used to sanctify tents, the holy ark, and other religious items. Kaneh-bosm is believed to be cannabis because it is also referenced in other Jewish texts such as the Shulchan Aruch—or Code of Jewish Law—and the Talmud for its use in producing the wicks for Shabbat candles, prayer shawls, and roof coverings. Meaning, kaneh-bosm was likely a form of hemp. Cannabis products did not always have a taboo attached to them. While no one can confirm if Moses himself got high, cannabis products had a use in ancient Judaism.
Cannabis’ psychoactive tendencies are also known to Jewish communities, specifically ultra-Orthodox communities. Yoseph Needelman, an author who wrote extensively about Jewish cannabis usage, discusses in a Times of Israel interview that Hasidic Jews were criticized by the Vilna Gaon, a rabbi against the early Hasidic movement, because the Hasidic Jews would “dance, sing, and smoke.” He also discusses how the Baal Shem Tov, a rabbi that created the Hasidic movement in the 18th century, smoked from a pipe in order to achieve aliyat neshama or “ascension of the soul.”
The Vilna Gaon was against the Hasidic movement because of their general way of life that coupled prayer with joy and the psychoactive with the spiritual. As discussed in “Is Marijuana Kosher?” on Chabad.org, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein enumerated multiple reasons against drug use in a 1973 letter in reference to Israeli yeshivah students using hashish. He believed that people should avoid drug use because of their possible negative physical and emotional effects, because people should not indulge themselves, and because people who depend on drugs could possibly go to dangerous and illegal lengths in order to maintain their usage of drugs.
It is fair that Rabbi Feinstein maintained that the drug use could have dangerous effects on the mind and body because for too many people, drugs do have negative effects such as withdrawal symptoms and addiction. Cannabis may cause paranoia, memory loss, and increased anxiety depending on the user. Feinstein’s letter references the addictive nature of drugs, yet in an article from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the author claims that it can be difficult to estimate how many people are actually addicted to or dependent on cannabis. The article defines addiction to cannabis as abuse that interferes with and controls a person’s life. Dependence, however, is when a person experiences withdrawals from stopping usage, yet does not experience profound negative effects on their life because of their usage. The students who Rabbi Feinstein referred to possibly could have been addicted to cannabis, but it is also possible that their usage was not negatively impacting their daily lives, but simply distracting them from study, like the way a hangover can make it particularly difficult to prepare for a midterm. The reality is that there are drugs that are completely legal and regularly prescribed by doctors that result in addictive habits can endanger peoples’ lives. The opioid crisis in America has killed millions of people, yet prescription drugs remain legal. Can cannabis dependence be compared with opioid addiction?
Modern study and use of cannabis has revealed that the drug can create an altered state of mind, and can also help people recovering or suffering from chronic pain, seizures, eating disorders, anxiety, and a variety of other mental health problems. Chemical CBD, the non-psychoactive chemical found in cannabis, has been proven to help treat pain from inflammation, much like ibuprofen, as well as inflammation of the brain that causes epileptic seizures. The drug has been prescribed to cancer patients to alleviate the pain of chemotherapy and to children to cure such severe seizures that prevent them from interacting with their surrounding world. Even if rabbis and scholars debate the spiritual and medical use for cannabis, many people already have their own reasons to medicate with it as needed. There is no reason why they should not have the opportunity to use cannabis as a potentially spiritual plant as well.
Jews have used cannabis in order to enhance their prayer experiences to a more focused level. For many, the ideas behind prayer and celebrating Shabbat come from putting oneself in a place that is spiritually above the mundanities of everyday life. Shabbat can be about creating a deeper sense of focus in prayer as well as providing a space for greater joy and celebration. With legalization of cannabis, Jews across denominations that wish to feel the joys of the religion in a different way have opportunities to welcome cannabis usage into their rituals if they so choose. For example, holidays like Purim and Simchat Torah are meant to be celebrated with alcohol and merriment, and smoking or adding cannabis to traditional foods could add spirit as well. Cannabis can be the second soul that enters Jews with the coming of Shabbat and the aid for reentry into the rest of the week. Medicated hamantaschen may offer alcohol-abstaining Jews the chance to boo Haman with extra fervor. The addition or replacement of alcohol with cannabis could allow for elevated celebration and the inclusion of people who don’t drink alcohol.
As is quoted in The Forward’s article, Orthodox Rabbi Simcha Green said, “In the Hebrew concept [of prayer], you’re not asking something [from God], you’re judging yourself.” When it comes to judging the use of cannabis in Jewish communities, it is up to individuals to decide if cannabis usage is right for them and their Judaism. People may choose to use a plant for their medicine or to aid their spirits, and it should not be up to others to decide whether these people should or shouldn’t use cannabis recreationally, as a medicine, or in order to experience the psychoactive effects. Hopefully, as people continue the journey of understanding cannabis as a plant and substance, Jews can choose to accept it as equally important and useful as Manischewitz.