Torah, like matzah, is unending lesson

By Ellie Grossman

In the Hebrew month Tishri, the season of renewal is not complete without Simchat Torah, which means “Rejoicing the Torah.” This celebration marks the completion of the annual cycle of weekly Torah portions, which is actually five books in one. The Five Books of Moses — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy — teach us how Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai.

On Simchat Torah, we read the last Torah portion in Deuteronomy, then roll back to the Creation Story in Genesis, which reminds us that the Torah is a circle and never ends.

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

On this holiday, Jews sing and dance around the synagogue with the Torah, while the children march and wave mini scrolls and flags. If ever God permits Jews to raise a toast and party hard like they’ve reached the Promised Land of Israel, Simchat Torah is the time.

In my perspective, the Torah is like a recipe book on how to live a good life. The ingredients include a mixture of fascinating stories about the origin of the Jewish people, our first fathers and mothers, and our escape from slavery in Egypt. Then we add the Ten Commandments and stir together a hearty portion of rules, laws, customs, and rituals.

Like the handwritten Torah pages, a recipe scrawled by your late great-grandmother herself on a tattered and faded piece of paper is a historic document that will be lost if not delicately preserved and carefully handled. Both the Torah and Bubbeh’s strudel recipe are meant to be handed down from generation to generation.

Like the lessons in Torah, some recipes must always be preserved. For example, how to make the perfect matzah ball may not be in the Holy Scripture, but the tradition will never die in our family. When my mom told me the other day that she was thinking for the first time of buying matzah balls (a dollar a dumpling) at a nearby deli to heat with her homemade chicken soup, I had mixed emotions. I was relieved that she resolved not to slave as much in the kitchen in preparation for my brother and his wife’s annual visit from Florida, but I was sad that the tradition of her matzah balls would come to an end. I felt that it was sacrilegious to serve a matzah ball at a family meal that was prepared by a stranger’s hands.

So my husband, Scott, who would much rather do the dishes than make any kind of dinner other than blueberry pancakes, came to the rescue and vowed to save his mother-in-law’s matzah balls from extinction. He solicited the help of his Grandma Ruth, who has memorized the recipe over her 87 years and practically can cook them with her eyes closed. I observed in amazement how the whole family joined the fun — Sari cracked the eggs on the rim of the bowl and let each one slide into the matzah meal mixture without one shell in the way. Jack stirred the melted butter, salt and warm water into the batter. I admired how Scott wet his hands and proudly rolled the thick, sticky dough into the perfect size ball and dropped each one into boiling water.

Like scientists in a laboratory, Scott and his grandma watched the dozen matzah balls pop to the top of the big pot on the stove. Finally, the experiment was a success, and I got to taste the solid, yet soft, matzah ball before it was introduced to my mom’s rich, flavorful chicken soup with Kluski egg noodles and sweet, tender carrots. Needless to say, the matzah ball soup was scrumptious, maybe better than ever because of what it represents. Like the Torah, the matzah ball is a circle that never ends.

The Mishegas of Motherhood is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, toy poodle named Luci, and her husband, but not necessarily in that order. Feel free to send any comments, prayers or recipes to [email protected].