Thursday, April 3, 2008

Kugel and Jeremiah

For those of you who don’t know already, I grew up Jewish.  And while I did have a Bar Mitzvah and all of that, I was more of a culinary Jew than anything else.  I liked the food.  One of my favorites is a dish called kugel, which is a sweet noodle pudding.  It’s quite possibly one of the most unhealthy foods imaginable.  It’s made with butter, lots of eggs, cottage cheese, plus carbohydrates galore; sugar, noodles, sugar, raisins (which are basically black, wrinkled sugar) and, did I mention, noodles?  And then you put sour cream on top.  You might as well inject lard straight into your veins.  With all those tasty calories packed in there, I think it must have originated as a way to bulk up for cold Russian winters.  As you can tell, it’s one of my favorite things to eat.  That’s why we don’t make it that often.  If we did I would have a girth equivalent to that of a walrus….or a woolly mammoth.  Needless to say, the love of kugel is a trait my son Brehm has inherited.  Which brings me to the other night. 

Since Brehm is four, he spends a lot of time sitting in the “time out” corner.  People will spread all sorts of propaganda about the “twos” but they’re lying.  At two, they can’t talk well or reason.  By four they can give any attorney a run for their money.  So Brehm needs to take some time, periodically, to sit and think about what he’s done or said.  It’s not that he is a bad kid.  In fact, he’s a great kid.   He’s just really smart and has an Old Testament sense of justice.  Especially when it pertains to his little brother.  Anyway…I don’t even remember why he was in “time out” but there he was, crying and trying to bargain his way to freedom.  But this is the interesting part.  I was in the kitchen the whole time making kugel.  He’s in time out and I’m making his favorite food.  He can hear my voice telling him he needs to stay in  “time out” but he can’t see what I’m doing.  While he is experiencing my discipline, I’m preparing a future blessing for him.

That’s exactly what is going on in Jeremiah 29:11 when God declares, “ I know the plans I have for you.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you hope and a future”.  That verse is often tossed around to make people feel better.  And it should make us feel better.  But not in the way the coffee mugs and throw-blankets emblazoned with that Scripture would have us believe.  The context of that verse makes it both richer and more beautiful but less warm and fuzzy to a modern American.  We like to think that this verse means God will remove all hardship.   Right now.  We want to think that His plan for us is involves bon-bons or endless fishing trips or checking accounts perpetually in the black.  However the context of the verse points to something very different.  Something more like kugel and “time outs”.  God is speaking through Jeremiah to Jews in exile.  Exile is just a fancy word for a National “Time Out”.  And not just any Jews in exile, but the ones who had a chance to return to the promised-land but didn’t.  I’m not sure why they didn’t go.  Maybe it was the fear of the unknown, maybe they we too comfortable where they were, or maybe they were simply being disobedient.  Regardless, they’d missed their chance and, more than likely, were hearing reports of how good it was for those who did risk everything to go back.  And so God speaks.  And, backing up a few verses, says (my paraphrase), “ get comfortable.  You’re not going anywhere for a while.  There are consequences for your decisions and you should put down roots here in exile.  Have families, build houses, and all that because you’re stuck here.”  In essence God is saying, “ You’re not done with your time out yet.”  And then, He gets to verse 11 and says “But”.  That is one of the most beautiful words.   It means “however”, “in spite of all that”.  And then He continues, “I’m making kugel you don’t even know about, yummy things that will make you happy and fat.  And even more than that, I’ll give you my Shalom., my peace and hope.”  Can you see why that is less comforting but more comforting all at the same time?  It’s a call to trust God, even as we are told to make our home in confusion and apparent (or literal) exile.  It’s a bold call to faith; to believe that there is a loving father, preparing spiritual kugel for us.  And His kugel….well…’s the best there is.