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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lentil Soup Is Not Red

Some people are troubled by Evolution, Intelligent Design, Prophesy and the Oneness of G-d. I’m cool with all that.

I’m troubled by Lentil Soup.

Lentil Soup Is Not Red. Even the reddest of lentils always turn yellow when cooked.

So what was that Red, Red stuff that Eisav demanded and why was Eisav called ‘Edom’ (Red) from that day onward?

I’ve asked dozens of people without receiving a satisfactory explanation. It seems that people of all ages and around the world (including you) choose to believe in Red Lentil Soup (RLS) despite demonstrable evidence to the contrary. They make excuses: Lentils were different in those days, Red was different in those days, and pots were different in those days. I don’t go for that.

I cannot prove beyond a doubt that there were no other red ingredients in the soup, but I do think it is highly unlikely. The Torah is clear that lentils and their redness were the basis of the story. Also, contemporary mourners have replaced lentils with hard boiled eggs, and I have NEVER heard of anyone mixing ingredients into an Aveil’s egg (to make devil’s egg, for instance). It is most likely that the lentils were eaten plain. Tomatoes are the obvious red ingredient and it is well established that Yaacov Avinu never saw a tomato.

Enter my new hero, Gil Marks. Gil has an entire essay devoted to RLS, he writes:

“There is something unexpected in Esau’s request, for despite his evident hurry and bluntness, he says “na.” This term, like many things in this parsha, can be taken two ways: it usually means please [or immediate - SH], but can also translate as “raw” (Exodus 12:9).  In other words, Esau wanted the stew before it was even fully cooked, which for red lentils is a relatively short time, in as little as ten minutes once the water is boiling.  This corresponds to the tenor of the rest of Esau’s demand to literally “pour the red stuff down his throat,” not even taking time to chew or savor it.  And, in fact, since red lentils tend to turn pink or golden as they cook, a red hue would seem to indicate an underdone state.  Thus Esau was certainly no gourmand, practically begging to wolf down an undercooked, unsophisticated dish.  It was an act of animalistic gratification, far from a spiritual expression and not even a matter of enjoyment.”

There is no such thing as Red Lentil Soup or Stew. The only reason it was red is because it was still raw!

Eisav lived for the moment. He scorned the Birthright by bartering it for immediate gratification. A person who is not even willing to wait for his soup to cook can have no appreciation for something as esoteric and responsibility laden as the Bechora.

I emailed Gil to thank him and to ask for the source of his new insight. This was his response:

“Sender,

Thanks for your compliment.  Glad my writing was helpful.  The pshat on the rawness of the lentil soup is actually mine, developed from my knowledge of food.  I noticed it one time when I was making red lentil soup. 

I believe that is why Hashem made us all different, each of us has knowledge and strength in specific areas that allow us to understand Chumash in a new and special light, and thereby contribute unique chidushim.  Next time you read the parsha, try looking at various items and events in light of your specific strengths and knowledge.  You might be surprised with the chidushim you devise.

Gil Marks”

We need to explore and reevaluate our understanding of the Torah each and every year. Even if, as children, we learned that Yaacov made Red Lentil Soup, we can still take a step back twenty five years later and say “but hey, Lentil Soup isn’t Red!”

It just plain isn’t.

Postscript: My esteemed cousin, Rabbi Avi Horowitz recently pointed me in the direction of of the commentary “Mar Keshisha” written by Rav Yair Chaim Bacharach (1639-1702). He gives an almost identical explanation of Eisav’s red lentil soup.

Posted on 11/25 at 05:10 AM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at senderhaber@gmail.com