Devarim: Its the message, not author, thats critical


Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22

Isaiah 1:1-27

Neiman-Marcus never made chocolate chip cookies until recently, when it concocted one to capitalize on the following fictional account that's circulating on the Internet:

According to the story, a woman dining at a Neiman-Marcus store ordered the Neiman-Marcus cookie for dessert. It was so good that she asked for the recipe.

The waitress said she would have to charge "two-fifty" to her Neiman-Marcus account. The woman agreed, and was given the recipe.

When her bill arrived, she was shocked that she had been charged $250, not $2.50. Repeated complaints to company headquarters were ignored, which made the customer so angry that, in revenge, she sent everyone she knew copies of the recipe.

Like most myths, it is virtually impossible to determine the origin of such stories, which like folk tales have many variations. There are hundreds of renditions of Cinderella. There are 1,400 different versions of the biblical story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife.

There are also many versions of the Chassidic story of Yankel the tailor, but the original can be found in "Tales of 1001 Nights."

Yankel, a tailor from Krakow, dreamed there was a pot of gold under a bridge in a distant city. He went there only to find the bridge guarded. Finally, the guard asked him why he was loitering, and he told the guard about his dream. "You Jews are such fools," said the guard. "Why, if I acted on every dream, I would go to Krakow to the home of Yankel the tailor and look under his stove because I dreamed that there is a pot of gold there."

Recognizing the house in the guard's dream to be his own, Yankel raced home to find that there was indeed, a treasure in his own home.

Like folk tales, many songs also have unusual origins. A popular "Adon Olam" is actually a German beer hall folk melody. The best-known melody for "BaYom HaHu" is closely related to the tune for "The Farmer in the Dell." "Hatikvah," the Israeli national anthem, is from a musical composition by the Czech composer Smetana, who reportedly borrowed from folk melodies.

The search for the folklore origins of stories prompts a brief inquiry into the source of the Book of Deuteronomy that, on first blush, appears to be a recapitulation of the Book of Exodus. Much is repeated, including a second declaration of the Ten Commandments. However, the book had to have been written centuries after the first four books of the Torah because Deuteronomy makes references to the rule of kings and worship in one centralized location, events that did not take place until 500 years after the Exodus.

Deuteronomy probably made its appearance around 621 BCE, during the reign of King Josiah, who led a reformation that threw off foreign customs and rituals.

Theories about Deuteronomy's author and date of composition are educated guesses. However, it isn't necessary to find the ancient author — or the creator of the cookie legend — to understand its inherent message.

Deuteronomy and other sacred documents are termed "transformative" texts, "warrant" or "charter" myths. In each, authorship is unimportant because the message speaks of a consecrated relationship between God and the Jewish people — a message that finds currency in every generation. Thus, we are grateful to the unknown author who recorded the experience of our people when we reached for the divine in the world, reminding us that the message is often far more important than the author.

Even though this is not a Neiman-Marcus recipe — the Dallas-based store has since come up with its own version — here is the recipe circulating on the Internet:

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup butter

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

2-1/2 cups oatmeal, pulverized

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

12 ounces chocolate chips

4-ounce Hershey bar, grated

1-1/2 cups chopped nuts.

Cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients and beat into butter mixture. Add chocolate chips, Hershey bar and nuts. Roll into balls and place 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet; bake at 375 degrees until brown. Makes 55 cookies.