April 21, 2024
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April 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Toledot: The Hunger (Bereishit: 25: 29-34)

Red Lentil Soup *

Time: 45 minutes

3 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling

1 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Pinch of ground chili powder or cayenne, more to taste

1 quart chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup red lentils

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste

3 tablespoons chopped, fresh cilantro

1. In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons oil over high heat until hot and simmering. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes.

2. Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper and chili powder or cayenne, and sauté for two minutes longer.

3. Add broth, 2 cups water, lentils and carrot. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.

4. Using an immersion or regular blender or a food processor, purée half the soup then add it back to the pot. Soup should be somewhat chunky.

5. Reheat soup if necessary then stir in lemon and cilantro. Serve soup drizzled with good olive oil and dusted lightly with chili powder if desired.

Yield: 4 servings.


(This story is best understood with a bowl of this particular soup steaming in front of you.)


His wife had given him very specific instructions. She had made the lentil soup, as she did every year—the Shabbat of parshat Toledot. She lovingly combined all the ingredients, sautéed them, chopped them, ground, puréed, and boiled them. All was done for her magnificent red lentil soup. She just needed it to cool down before she put in the fridge for the night. But she was exhausted from a full day of working, shopping, helping the kids with homework and cooking. She needed to go to sleep. She had had it. All he had to do was wash the dishes, wait an hour, and put away the soup.

Oh, there was just one more piece of instruction. No eating the soup!

They were having the Zuckermans over for Friday night dinner, with their four children. Along with their own two kids, that made ten. She had doubled the recipe, but even so, it would be tight. She needed every drop of the soup for dinner; there was none to spare.

He loved soup. He really did. On a hot, humid day in August, at an outdoor café, everyone else would be having lemonade and some cold dish. Him? The split pea soup. He would often drive five miles out of his way on his route home from work for a good mulligatawny. His eyes once teared up from an especially exceptional French onion soup. He claimed it was the onions that did it, but truth be told, it was an emotional response. The soup had simply been that good.

Now his wife was trusting him not to touch the red lentil soup. It was definitely a challenge, but he was confident he was up to it. He was a grown man with a family. He could accept a little responsibility.

The soup was not on his mind while he was cleaning up. He was focused on scrubbing all the food particles and grease from the pots and pans his wife had used for cooking everything for Shabbat. It was a deal they had made early in their marriage. She cooks the food; he cleans the dishes and utensils.

But as he was drying the big frying pan that must have used for the schnitzel, he started to smell the soup more and more. The lentils were pungent. The garlic was tickling the back of his nose. He started to feel a knot in his stomach, and it was growing.

The dishes were done, and he still had 40 minutes to go until he could put away the soup. He left the kitchen, went into the den and turned on the television. Perhaps he could watch the news or some inane situation comedy to pass the time.

Was that cumin he was smelling? It was wonderful. And could that be cilantro? Yes, it was definitely cilantro. And of course who could miss the chili powder? At this point he was pretty sure he could even smell the carrots.

He was doing well, with only 20 minutes to go, when an advertisement came on about a Mexican restaurant. Oh, no. Look at that chili. It looks so good. And that quesadilla? Amazing.

He walked back into the kitchen. Listening carefully to make sure no one else was awake, he leaned over and sniffed deeply. The steam rose up his nose. To him, it was a gentle caress. He fished a spoon out of the utensil drawer. Just a taste. It couldn’t hurt.

He didn’t even remember filling the bowl with the marvelous red liquid. The next thing he knew he was shoveling it down his gullet. It was perfect, definitely his wife’s best soup, and she had quite a repertoire. How many bowls did he have? He wasn’t even sure.

He considered covering up his crime by adding water to the pot, but you can’t tamper with a masterpiece. He covered the pot and put it in the refrigerator. Tomorrow there would be hell to pay, but tonight he was a happy man.

He thought about that week’s Torah portion, Toledot. He definitely knew how Esav felt when he sold his birthright for a bowl of ha-adom haadom hazeh, that red, red lentil soup. When you read the parsha it seems absurd that he could have done it. It was just soup. How hungry could he have been? But when you look down into that pot—especially if you’re a “soup person”—how could he not have done it? What is it that he said? Hinei anochi holech lamut, velama zeh li bechora? Behold I am at the point to die and what profit shall the birthright do for me?

You and me both, Esav, you and me both.

He only hoped the soup was that good.


*Special thanks to the Maggedet, Chana Stiefel, for her awesome red lentil soup recipe.

By Larry Stiefel

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