We are living in times when the country is quite divided. There seems to be almost nothing we can agree on, the liberals keep getting more liberal, and the Conservatives more Conservative. News sources are split between right wing media and left wing mainstream media, and almost no one gets their news from anyone but their camp. We can’t seem to agree on anything; not Ukraine, not the US economy, not on the government’s role in schools, not on vaccines, not on policing, not even on how to deal with crime and criminals. But there is one thing that almost all Americans agree on, and that is that gooey red goop we all seem to love, ketchup.

As you read this, at least 93% of homes in the US have a bottle of ketchup in the fridge, and 95% of Americans have eaten ketchup in the past year. We eat it on our fries, we eat it on our burgers, we eat it with tater tots, we douse our hot dogs in it, we put it in our sandwiches, we eat it with scrambled eggs, we put it in sauces, and some of us even put it in our cholent! Thankfully, there is one thing we can agree on in this tumultuous time.

The history of ketchup is quite fascinating, and takes us all around the world throughout three millennia! Fascinatingly, it has nothing to do with our current version of ketchup, which is almost entirely made of tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, and salt. As a matter of fact, only one of those ingredients was found in the original ketchup; salt. The rest of it was made from rotting fish. The word ketchup comes from Catsiup, the name of an Asian fish sauce, but the Asians definitely didn’t have a lock on that fish sauce, it was found in Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, and all over Southeast Asia. How did fish sauce become the food we put on our French fries?

Let’s go back to ancient Sumer, the civilization in the Middle East about four thousand years ago. We know they had condiments because our Medrash tells us that Avraham served his guests tongue with mustard, but besides mustard, we have ancient Sumerian texts talking about fish sauce as well. How do you turn fish into sauce, and more importantly, why would you turn fish into sauce?

Imagine you were a fisherman 4,000 years ago. If you hauled in a nice catch of big fish, you would bring them back as fast as possible and sell them to be eaten that same day. But what if you hauled in your nets and found thousands of little fish like anchovies or sardines? People could make fish fry out of them, but how much fish fry can you make?

You would want to salt them to preserve them, but the problem is that each fish has a small sac of guts called viscera, and it contains enzymes used by a fish to digest their food. When the enzymes run out of food to break down because your dead fish isn’t eating anymore, the enzymes start breaking down the fish itself! If your salting bigger fish to preserve them, you have to cut out the viscera first, but gutting each tiny anchovy is extremely time consuming. That is when the Sumerians discovered that instead of cutting out the guts, you could just leave them in the salted fish, in the hot Sumerian sun, and over time the gut enzymes would break down, or ferment, the entire fish into am amber colored liquid that was quite delicious. Fish sauce was born.

The Ancient Greeks recorded their process for making the fish sauce, they called it garos, they made it in great quantities, and they used it to give extra taste to everything from meat to vegetables, they dipped their bread in it, and they poured it on their fish. The sauce added something known as umami, which is a hard to define flavor, but one of the five primary tastes (along with sweet, salty, sour, and bitter). It is often described as savory, but essentially it just gives richness and depth to whatever you’re eating.

When the Romans became the dominant force in the world, they tried to copy the Greeks in so many ways, their philosophy, architecture, politics and of course food. They were obsessed with the fish sauce, which they called garum, and elevated the production to an industrial scale. Along the Mediterranean coasts, there were fish sauce factories every few miles, where they would make massive vats of sauce, each containing thousands of gallons of garum. The food became such a staple that Roman soldiers would carry it with them wherever they went. We still find fish sauce vessels in archaeological digs wherever we find Roman ruins! And since the Roman Empire was so massive, they brought the fish sauce to peoples all over Asia, North Africa, and Europe, people who were delighted to find this alternative to the simple salt and herbs they has been using until then.

Fascinatingly, about 1500 years ago, fish sauce seems to disappear from the European world. It is likely that the production and sale of it relied on the strong Roman bureaucracy which provided excellent roads, protection for traveling merchants, capital markets to finance factories, which all ended when the Roman Empire fell. People likely still made it on the coasts, but the international trade of fish sauce disappeared for about a thousand years.

Fish sauce reappears when the Europeans start discovering trade routes to the Far East, where it seems fish sauce was a big part of their diet for the same reasons it was in Sumer and the Mediterranean coasts, hot locales with access to abundant small fish, and no better way to preserve them than in fish sauce. In Asia, it was called catsiup, and when Dutch traders started bringing back the fish sauce to Northern Europe in the 1700, it became all the rage again! British and French cookbooks contain thousands of recipes including the fish sauce, even sometimes including it in desserts!

People couldn’t get enough of this brownish liquid, and it was one of the biggest imports of the Dutch East India, which created a disaster when the Dutch were kicked out of many of their Asian ports and could no longer bring it back to Europe. People needed their umami, their food was just too bland without it. But now people starting getting inventive and started making knock offs of the brown liquid from all sorts of other ingredients, and as long as it had some sort of tang, they would call it catsiup, or as they started calling it, ketchup.

They put anchovies in it, they added vinegar, and any combination of tamarind, spices, mushrooms, oysters, mussels, even fermented green walnuts! The ironic thing is that catsiup in Asia always meant a fermented sauce, and vinegar stops fermentation in its tracks, but that didn’t seem to bother anyone. Any European cookbook from the 18th century will tell you how to make a variety of ketchup variants.   

So how did the tomatoes get involved here? When the Brits colonized the Americas, they discovered this new vegetable that became known as the tomato. Despite early superstitions that they were poisonous, they actually were quite delicious, and importantly, they have a lot of glutamate, which is a key umami flavor. In 1812, James Mease, a famous Philadelphia scientist, horticulturist, and doctor, publishes an article where he writes that “Love Apples” make “a fine catsup.” Those love apples he was referring to were tomatoes, and now finally the modern ketchup starts to take off.

The early ketchups, much like the fish sauce that inspired them, were more of a liquid, and unlike the fish sauce that inspired them, were not very shelf stable. Now it’s time for the Heinz family to get involved and make the final evolution of the ketchup.

Henry J. Heinz, the 25 year old son of German immigrants, started a company with his buddy, L. Clarence Noble to produce canned and bottled foods. (Interesting fun fact, Henry’s mothers maiden name was… Trump.) It was the perfect time, as canned foods only really took off after the Civil War, when scientists had discovered how to keep food from rotting in a can, and the science of food preservation was greatly expanded. While they initially focused on sauerkraut, horseradish and pickles, they soon turned to the condiment that was on a meteoric rise in the US, ketchup.

At first, Heinz made a few different ketchups, one with cloves, pepper, cinnamon and allspice, another with horseradish and mustard seed, and yet another with salt, vinegar, and slippery elm bark! But the one that made Heinz a household name was the tomato one we now know and love. I

In order to make it shelf stable, he used a thicker tomato paste instead of just mashed tomato, because removing the water content made it less susceptible to spoilage. He added a ton of salt and vinegar, but to balance out all the bitterness and salt, he added a ton of sugar, and the modern ketchup was born. His ketchup was much thicker than other competing ketchups because of the tomato paste, which means it was slow coming out of the bottle, but he even turned that into a positive when he trademarked the phrase, “The taste that’s worth the wait!”

Over a hundred years later, we now have plastic squeeze bottles so we don’t have to endure the wait to get the taste, but we sure do love the taste! So next time you squirt some ketchup on your hot dogs, your fries, or your tater tots, feel free to reflect on the crazy journey that ketchup has taken, over the past 4,000 years, across the globe, and all the way to your plate!


What ketchup, and indeed before it catsiup, is so good at is adding umami to your food. As mentioned above, umami is the flavor enhancer that just adds depth and richness to anything you eat. You can eat fries and they’re good, or you can eat them with ketchup and they are great. You can eat a hot dog and its good, or you can eat it with ketchup and it’s awesome. It’s the same food, but just on a whole other level.

In Judaism, the umami is something called Kavana, intentionality. You can do certain deeds by rote, and they will be good, but you can do them with intentionality and it adds so much depth and richness to what you’re doing. Prayer on its own can get quite bland, but try to actually spend some time thinking about what you’re saying and it gets so rich so quick! You can shake a lulav without thinking much about it, but shake it while thinking that you’re showing G-d gratitude for the winds that come from all four directions to help us stay cool and grow our plants and the rain above and the dew below, which all combine to give us so many delicious foods and such wealth and prosperity, and it becomes a much richer experience.

We can rattle off blessings on food, but when we stop to reflect on what a blessing it is that delicious apples just pop out of trees, and peppers pop out the ground , and all that was done by G-d for our pleasure, and the blessing has so much more meaning. Listening to the shofar blasts is good, but when we have the kavana of thinking about the broken blasts representing our own brokenness that is uplifted by the next straight blast, our brokenness being made whole by coronating Hashem and joining in his legion, it has so much meaning. When we give tzedakah it’s good, but when we focus on our giving being an expression of our gratitude for the bounty Hashem blesses us with, giving tzedakah is amazing.

You can layer kavana on top of everything, there’s nothing that’s not better with a dose of umami. And while it might take some effort, and take a little extra time, it’s the taste that’s worth the wait!

Parsha Dvar Torah

In this week’s portion Moshe commands the people to set up a meticulous judicial system in the homeland the Jews are about to inherit, including courts in every city.

“Judges and officers shall you place for yourself, in all of your gates which HaShem your G-d gives you…” [16:18]

The commentators all discuss the fact that the Torah says that the judges and officers should be “for yourself,” in the singular. This means that besides the general command that the people set up a judicial system for the nation, we are also being told to set up  some sort of judicial system for ourselves. Moshe was hinting to the Jewish people that before they take care of judging other people they should be judge themselves.

That being the case, what exactly are the judges and officers that we should set up for ourselves? I would understand the idea of judging ourselves, or judging the actions that we are about to engage in to make sure they are in line, but what exactly would be the role of the officers which we should be setting up for ourselves?

We can perhaps understand this using an insight from Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (a.k.a. the Ramchal, 1707-1746, Italy-Amsterdam-Israel) in his magnum opus, the Messilat Yesharim. In the third chapter, when discussing the different aspects of the character trait called watchfulness, the Ramchal says that there are two times when a person needs to contemplate his actions to ensure that nothing he does is negative or harmful. The first is at a time when he is not involved in anything. At some point during the day, a person should set aside time to meditatively look through all his actions and judge them. However, a person also needs to pay careful attention to what he is doing while it occurs, because often a person can get caught up in the emotion and charge of the moment and forget or disregard what he previously thought about.

An example of this would be someone thinking over his day’s actions, and noticing that he got angry and lost control that day. He then thinks about how negative that experience was, and comes up with strategies to avoid losing control the next day. However, the next day, when one of his children spills hot chocolate over his freshly pressed pants, he will need to once again stop and think about what he is about to do. Is he going to yell at the child? How loudly? Is he going to say things that attack the child as a person, as opposed to what they did? In this way he thinks about his actions twice, once away from the situation when his emotion is not charged, and once in the heat of the moment.

Those two thought processes are the judges and officers that Moshe was telling us to set up for ourselves. The judge is the time we spend removed from all other activity, thinking about what we have done or will do, and judging those actions. The officer’s job is to enforce those judgments during the moment of action, when we need to regulate ourselves a little more carefully due to the strong emotions that are at play.

With our judges and officers in place, we will be able to properly reach the places we want to go, and lead the lives we want to lead!

Parsha Summary

This week’s parsha, Parshas Re’eh, begins with the declaration that ultimately, we are faced with a choice between blessing and curse, between good and evil, between following G-d’s commandments or ignoring them. G-d then tells us about the ceremony that would take place soon after the Jews entered the land of Israel . They would travel to an area that had two mountains, Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Eival . The tribes would be divided between the two  mountains with the tribe of Levi, holding the ark, in the valley. They would enunciate certain blessings, followed by inverse curses, facing the mountains and the Jews would answer Amen to each one. (We will see this in more detail in a later Parsha.) This was supposed to be a formative experience for the Jewish nation as they entered the land of their destiny.

The Torah then reminds the Jews that when they enter the land they should destroy all idols, altars, and trees that were served as idols, so as not to leave any temptation around. (This would be similar to telling an alcoholic to remove all alcohol from the house if he wants to stay clean. Having bottles of gin hanging around the house in various places is simply not conducive to an alcohol free lifestyle.) The Torah also goes into detail describing the laws of bamos, mini altars that Jews were allowed to have at times when the Tabernacle was in a transient state. One could only bring certain types of offerings upon them (optional donation, not mandatory sacrifices), and once the First Temple was built, bamos were forbidden forever.

The Torah also talks about the laws of eating non-sacrificial meat. Rashi points out two very interesting things we can learn from this portion. The Torah begins the discussion “When Ad-noy, your G-d, expands your border as He promised you, and you say, “I would like to eat meat” because you have an appetite to eat meat; to the full extent of your appetite eat meat. When the place is distant from you that Ad-noy, your G-d, chooses to set His presence there, you may slaughter some of your cattle or your flocks that Ad-noy gave you, as I have commanded you; and you will eat in your cities with all your appetite.” (Deut. 12:20-21) The first thing Rashi mentions is that the Torah is teaching us the proper way to live. We should not expect to eat a lot of meat until after G-d expands our borders (i.e. makes us more wealthy). This is a prime lesson in living within your means.

The second thing he shows us is that in the second verse, the Torah tells us to slaughter animals “as I have commanded you.” The only problem is that no where in the entire Torah does G-d tell us how to slaughter. This is one of the indicators that the Torah was given in two parts, the Written Law which contains the mitzvot’s basic info, dialogues with G-d and our leaders, and events that happened to the Jews, and the Oral Law which gives details to many of the mitzvoth that were only outlined in the Torah. This is just one of many indicators that a Jew can’t say “I will only do what I see written in the Pentateuch,” as it is clear that it is impossible to do so successfully. How would someone like that slaughter animals? It is not until we study the Oral Law that we find the laws of slaughtering. (Originally, the Oral Law was meant to be transmitted only orally, as to preserve the Torah as a living experience not a simple subset of facts you could leave to collect dust on your shelves. However, when the Jews started to forget that which was transmitted, R’ Yehuda the Prince decided that he must commit those teachings to writing lest they be lost forever.)

The Torah continues with the prohibition against adding or subtracting from any of the mitzvot i.e. wearing 3 tzitzit fringes instead of four, or keeping two days of Shabbos.  The Torah then warns us about a false prophet. This prophet may perform miracles and do wondrous things, but if he dares to advocate idolatry or attempts to permanently delete any of the mitzvot, then we know he is a false prophet and he is given the death penalty. This same penalty is given to an individual who tries to seduce other people to serve idols. The Rabbis tell us that one who influences someone to become evil is in a sense worse than one who killed someone. A person who kills someone takes away the ephemeral world, Olam Hazeh, whereas one who sways someone to evil robs him of the infinite world, Olam Haba. This is why we treat someone who tries to seduce others to serve foreign gods with such severity.

The Torah continues talking about the severity of idolatry, by discussing a city in which the majority or all of the inhabitants have turned to idolatry. The law regarding such a city is that all the guilty parties (people who served idols) are put to death, while all the property of the city must be burned and left as a heap, never to be rebuilt.

The Torah continues with the laws of which animals are kosher (ones that have split hooves and chew their cud), and which ones aren’t (ones that don’t), which fish are kosher (ones that have fins and scales), and which birds are kosher (all except 24 enumerated species. Since we are no longer certain what all of those species are, we only eat birds which know are OK through tradition).

The Torah then commands to take a second tithing on our crops (the first one goes to the Levite – that’s me!) and, depending on the year of the Sabbatical cycle, either give it to the poor or bring it to Jerusalem and eat it there. If you can’t bring it to Jerusalem you can redeem them by transferring its sanctity onto coins of the same value, and bring those coins to Jerusalem where you use them to purchase food. Next, the Torah  mentions its loan forgiveness program, i.e. every Sabbatical (Shemita) year, all debts that have no collateral or liens are forgiven. The Torah continues by commanding us to loan money to the poor and destitute if we have the means to do so (an incredible mitzvah as it gives people a method to get back on their feet without having to be reduced to begging door to door). And the Torah tells us not to worry that the debt will get wiped away by the Shemita/ Sabbatical year, as G-d will take care of those who take care of his most vulnerable children, the poor and the destitute.

The Torah continues with a discussion of the Jewish bondsman, see my email from Parshat Mishpatim for more details (I am quite confident that all of you have been saving each and every email you got from me, so it should be no problem to pull up the one on Mishpatim.) The Torah concludes with a recap of the three festivals, Pesach, Shavout and Succot, and the commandment on the Jews to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to spend the festivals in the holiest city on this great green earth with which the Lord has blessed us!

“Lessons in life will be repeated until they are learned.” – Frank Sonnenberg

Random Fact of the Week: A Boy Scout must earn 21 badges before he is eligible to become an Eagle Scout.

Funny Line of the Week: Men are from Earth, women are from Earth. Deal with it!

Have a Splendiferous Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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