“Love people. Cook them tasty food.” - These are the words, on a bumper sticker, that hangs above my cookbooks. As I think about this week’s Torah portion, Emor, I consider why this saying resonates so much with me. I think about my Bubby who taught me how to bake cookies and I think about my mother who also taught me how to bake cookies. For both, the time spent in the kitchen with me was precious and the baked goods we created were an expression of nurturing those they loved.
From both my grandmother and mother, I learned how to follow a recipe’s rules, and with both women, I understood the warm feeling you get when someone takes a bite of the fragrant, gooey confection you made for them. Bubby taught me to follow recipes word-for-word, sifting when ordered to do so, and never using regular flour when cake flour was called for. In contrast, Mom taught me to cook by smell, taste, color, and texture. Certainly following the recipes, but modifying when expediency, availability of ingredients, or creativity suggested you pivot.
So, what does learning how to cook have to do with this week’s Torah portion? The portion, Emor, means to “Speak” or “Say.” In this parashah, we find an extended discussion of the regulations regarding the priests who must remain in a state of “holiness” in order to offer sacrifices in the Temple. In order to remain holy, the priests are given rules governing the allowable length of their hair, restrictions regarding their clothing, rules prescribing their actions during mourning and who they may touch and who they may marry. There are also rules about the temple service, the keeping of Shabbat, conduct during Pesach and other holidays, and the exact kind of olive oil to be used during ceremonies. But the parashah then goes on to admonish that all of the instructions are to be shared (‘said”) to the next generation. The teachings told to parents cannot rest with them, but must be carried on to their children, and through their children, to their children’s children, generation after generation. The rules, while strict and seemingly uncompromising or random at times, may also be viewed as a way to pass along values and provide guidance for future generations. Viewed from this perspective, the recipes my grandmother and mother shared with me weren’t simply recipes for the best chocolate chip cookies or hamentaschen, but instead were one of the ways they taught me what was most important to them, shared family stories and history, and imparted the wisdom of nurturing those we love.
Just as I still often rely on the stained, familiar recipes my Bubby and my mother shared with me, I hope that I have left and continue to leave “recipes” for others. Those recipes may be for my sons, or as a leader within WRJ, maybe for others within the organization, or as a past president of my sisterhood, maybe for my fellow sisterhood members. As my sons begin their journeys towards independence and cook in their own kitchens, I wonder what they learned from the time we spent baking together. I know they didn’t learn to sift flour (while a beloved remembrance of my Bubby, the flour sifter she gave me sits, untouched, on a shelf), but I do hope I provided them with a link to their past and a foundation from which to make choices about their own futures. Although I am no longer on the board of my sisterhood, I hope the president’s letters I wrote, the bylaws I helped revise, and the meeting minutes chronicling the decisions we made as a board will serve as the recipes for guiding new board members as they take their turn as leaders. And I hope, whether it’s knowledge shared with my own children, with other WRJ members, or with my sisterhood, that the recipes I have taught include the joy of nurturing and supporting those we love, and that along with each person’s interpretation of the rules contained within the recipes, those values will be passed forward to the generations yet to come.
Deborah Radin is a member of the Executive Committee of the North American board of Women of Reform Judaism, where she serves as chair of the Individual Membership committee. She was a participant in the inaugural WRJ Wilkenfeld International Women’s Leadership Seminar, as one of 20 rising global leaders, and is the chair of the Pacific District Speaker’s Bureau. Deborah graduated from Brandeis University with a B.A. in American Studies and received her J.D. from Golden Gate University, San Francisco. She is the managing partner of Kramer Radin, LLP, a firm she co-owns with her mother, Linda C. Kramer. She is a member of the California bar and the Supreme Court of the United States and is certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization as a specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law, where she served as 2017-2018 chair of the Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law Advisory Commission.