Have you ever seen a fight end well? On the 9th of Adar the bloody war between the House of Shammai and House of Hillel began. The war broke out over 18 decrees that Shammai made and only ended after 3,000 people died. The peaceful constructive conflict we remember between these two great houses, burned into a violent mess.
The commentaries debate the merits of Shammai’s decrees. Were they just? Were they worth starting a war? Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Eliezer see the decrees differently. The metaphors they use have become a famous representation of how to understand and order our priorities.
There are two ways to prioritize any list of things. You can begin with the large number of small items and then add the few big, important items to the list. You will certainly get more accomplished. Or you can begin with the large, difficult but vital priorities. Then, add the many smaller concerns to your list. In the discussion concerning the 18 laws of Shammai on the 9th of Adar, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua elucidate this concept in real terms by using food.
First, Rabbi Joshua chose the first construct to claim that Shammai’s 18 laws were negative and unworthy of conflict. “ A tub full of honey, If one puts pomegranates and nuts in it, the tub overflows.” This means that when you begin with the largest quantity of small objects you will never have room for the bigger and heavier problems. Modern philosophers have borrowed this metaphor with the fable of the professor who uses rocks, pebbles and sand to fill a jar as a metaphor for how to focus on the challenges and tasks of life. You can fill your jar with sand and then the pebbles but in the end there will be no space for the rocks. “Your tub overflows” . This story borrows the idea our sages discussed ages ago here.
In the spirit of constructive conflict resolution think about your priorities. Do you live life like Rabbi Joshua’s interpretation of the 18 decrees of Bet Shammai? Or will you try to prioritize like Rabbi Eliezer? Rabbi Eliezer claimed that these decrees were like a “basket full of cucumbers and gourds: a man puts mustard (grain) therein and it holds it.” This is the second image. In this interpretation, the large and difficult priories go first, and then the many small concerns can still find their place; Like in the modern version, where you begin with the large rocks, then add the smaller pebbles, and in the end the sand can wend its way into the spaces to completely fill the jar.
In today’s world we have many conflicts in every arena of our lives. We can choose to be positive and deal with the big areas of disagreement and let the small differences fit between the cracks. Or we can be negative and let the small differences take up all of the room so that peace is just out of reach and the like the great houses of Hillel and Shammia the righteous conflict can become a terrible tragedy..
A fun way to remember to prioritize the big issues in our own families, local communities and global jewish home is to use the ingredients mentioned here in your meal after the fast.
Here are my two Healthy Recipes for 9th of Adar Break-fast Sueda in memory of Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Eliezer.
Rabbi Eliezer’s Thai Pumpkin / Cucumber Soup
2-3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
8 Cups of Vegetable Broth
½ Cup Thick Coconut Milk
2-3 Cups peeled Pumpkin or Squash cut into bite sized cubes.
1 Medium Cucumber cut into bite sized cubes
1 Red Bell Pepper diced
1 Red chili De-seeded and sliced, or ½ -1 tsp dried crushed chili pepper
1 Lemon worth of zest
3 Cloves of Garlic minced
1/3 Cup Purple Onion diced
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Fish Sauce
2-3 Teaspoons Honey
Large Handful of Basil (substitute parsley or cilantro
Salt to taste
- Add the Olive Oil to the bottom of a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion and the chili.
- Heat Briefly do not burn the garlic and then add the stock. Bring to a boil.
- Add the pumpkin and reduce heat to a low simmer. Add the lemon juice, fish sauce and sugar.
- After the pumpkin softens about 10 minutes add the diced pepper and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Then stir in the coconut milk and cucumber. Taste an adjust the flavors as needed. More coconut milk, chili or fish sauce.
- Serve Hot immediately with your favorite fresh herbs.
For Dessert try this. Breaking Bread together is a great way to mend a conflict. Dessert is often where we can acknowledge our common ground with a cup of tea and a sweet treat.
1 ½ Cups light honey
1 Cup raw (dermarara) sugar
1 Tablespoon rosewater
1 Cup plus 2 T pomegranate juice
Seeds of one pomegranate, divided in half
2 Teaspoons whole cloves
1 Teaspoon ground cardamom 1 tsp cinnamon
1 Teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 Cup slivered almonds
1 Cup chopped walnuts
1 Cup chopped pistachios
½ Vanilla Bean, scraped
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
1 Package phyllo dough
Syrup: Combine the sugar, honey, juice and rosewater in a heavy small pot. Stir constantly while bringing to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat at let cool, then add ½ pomegranate seeds.
Preheat the oven to 425
- Mix spices, nuts, and vanilla bean seeds into ½ stick of melted butter. Butter a 13 x 9 inch glass pan.
- On a clean work surface, unroll the phyllo and generously butter one layer at a time and lay it in the pan, then repeat until you’ve used half the dough.
- Spread the nuts and other ½ of pomegranate seeds evenly over the pastry, reserving about ¼ (mixed nuts and seeds) for the topping.
- Continue buttering and layering the dough on top of the filling until all the dough has been used. Brush the top with remaining butter. With a small sharp knife, cut the pastry layers into diamonds, then bake for 50-60 minutes until golden, watching carefully to see that it doesn’t burn.Toward the end of baking, scatter leftover nuts over the top.
- When baking is finished, pour the syrup over the hot pastry, and serve when cool.
This post is part of the 9 Adar project, an initiative of the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution, part of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.