Earlier this week, I was reading a food review in The Wall Street Journal. Musician/Author John Darnielle was asked to review a new ultra-strong Rum. After thinking of different ways to utilize the drink, he decided to try something more difficult. Darnielle, “turned to Dolores Casella, whose “A World of Baking” is an all-time classic, and looked up “rum” in the index. There, he saw a recipe for Rum Chiffon Pie I, in response to which he said “Oh hell yes” loud enough for the neighbors to hear....But Rum Chiffon Pie I is not any standard cake recipe, or pie recipe for that matter, and this is where our little rumrunner hit rough waters. Fruit pies are easy; custard pies are harder. If the recipe calls for gelatin and you don’t want to use any, which I didn’t, they’re harder still. So I combed through the rest of my cookbooks, and I scoured the internet for substitutes, eventually settling on a combination of tapioca and corn starches. And while I suspect that if it’d been small-pearl tapioca instead of tapioca starch, my pie would have won several awards in contests it hadn’t even been entered in, there were no pearls to hand, and the custard did not cust. I was left with a pie shell filled with a dark yellowish unfinished-pudding-thick sauce. This may not sound very appetizing to you, but the aroma was positively intoxicating, the stuff of dreams. It owed this almost entirely to the rum, which had been heated in a double-boiler with sugar until the kitchen took on the character of a mythical pirates’ brig where the pirates were all secretly swell people who’d never hurt a living soul, just sitting around singing mid-tempo dirges all day. I refrigerated the non-pie overnight, and in the morning I spooned a bunch of it over some vanilla ice cream.”
In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Bo, we are given the mitzvah of The New Moon Festival/Rosh Hodesh/ראש חודש. God instructs Moses, “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you/הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים, רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה (Ex. 12:2).” Rashi, quoting an earlier Midrash, teaches that Moses had difficulty (נתקשה) in calculating the beginning of the new month. However, Rabbi Levi Yizthak of Berdichev sees something else happening in that Midrash. The difficulty was not a passive lack of understanding on Moses’ part. He was actively causing difficulty and not wanting to accept this mitzvah. By accepting a mitzvah that is attached to the waxing and waning of the moon, he is accepting that the moon is still diminished from its original state (as the Rabbis tell of the moon’s punishment to be decreased in size in the b. Talmud Hulin 60b). Taking on this mitzvah means that we accept that the world is imperfect, and that redemption has not yet come (may it come speedily and in our days).
Yet, ultimately, Moses accepts this mitzvah, as we know from our routine and recent celebration of the New Month. It is often difficult to accept that we live in a world that is not the world we want to live in. Yet, we must not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Sometimes, a botched pie is delicious, even if it does not look the way we want it to. And despite our lackings and imperfections, thanks to God, good things happen all around us in every moment/hamehadaseh b’tuvo bchol yom tamid/המחדש בטובו בכל יום תמיד (Page 107 in Siddur Sim Shalom). This week, let us open our eyes to the miraculous and renew our sense of wonder in a world that is often difficult, yet never lacking in beauty if we can accept it.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.