Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Apple cake that's perfect for Yom Tov

With apples in season and holding a starring role for Rosh Hashana, why not pick up a few more to use in a cake? This is my adaption of a recipe I tried that originally called for more sugar and oil. It's perfect to make in advance of Yom Tov because it actually tastes better on the second day. Should you decide to make it for a regular Shabbos, bake it on Thursday rather than on Friday. The recipe  meets my standard criterion for recipes: it is delicious, fairly easy to prepare, and it requires no outlandish ingredients or equipment.
1 2/3 cups sugar
3/4 c. canola oil
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
4 cups peeled and thinly sliced apples
*optional 2/3 cup walnuts, chopped (would be omitted for Rosh Hashana when we traditionally abstain from nuts) 
Preparation: Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9x13-inch pan with Pam or equivalent or grease it to prevent the cake from sticking to the sides.
Combine all ingredients except apples. You can start with the whisk or flat beater attachment on the Kitchen Aid and then mix in the apples with a wooden spoon. Batter is on the thick side. Spread the batter evenly in the pan.
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes. You can test for doneness by inserting a toothpick. It should emerge clean when the cake is completely baked. Resist temptation to eat the cake until the next day!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

DIY Eruv Tavshilin

Can you boil an egg? If so, you can prepare an eruv tavshilin, all by yourself. There's no need to spend clost to $4 on a kit that contians a hard boiled egg and a roll and a copy of the blessing you can find here. If you bake your own challos, then you can set aside your own roll for the eruv. If not, you can either put aside a roll from the ones you're buying to be consumed on Shabbos or just set aside a matzah along with the egg.
To cover both cooking and baking, we use a representative food for each. It's traditional to use a boiled egg for the cooked item because it's simple and inexpensive. We usually all have a spare egg around. But it's fine to also use a piece of boiled chicken, fish, or meat, as well, so long as you can put it aside where it won't be consumed until the Sabbath day. The same goes for the baked item, which can be a challah or matazh.
With upcoming holiday, we will have 3 opportunities to prepare an eruv tavshilin outside of Israel and one even in Israel, as Rosh Hashana is a 2 day holiday even there. This year, Rosh Hashana, as well as the first and last days (really Shemini Atzers) of Sukkos fall out on Thursday and Friday, the days of Yom Tov only end after the Sabbath begins. That means that in order to cook food or even to set it up to heat or to light candles for the Sabbath, we have to show that we've already begun the process and will merely be continuing. That is the purpose of the eruv tavshilin, which has to be prepared before Yom Tov begins, some time on Wednesday.

Note: The eruv tavshilin only allows cooking for the Sabbath on Yom Tov, it does not allolw cooking from one day of the holiday to the next (i.e. Thursday for Friday), though it is permissible to cook more on Thursday than will be finished that day, and then consume the leftovers on the next day

Transfigured by love: tshuva m'ahava

What’s love got to do with the power of tshuva? Reish Lakish makes two observations on the power of tshuva [repentance] in Yoma 86B. First he declares: “Great is tshuva, for through zdonos [intentional sins] are transformed into shgagos [accidental actions].” Then he declares: “Great is tshuva, for through it zdonos are transformed into zchuyos [merits].” The first instance refers to tshuva miyira [out of fear], which only subtracts the offense, while the second refers to tshuva m’ahava [out of love], which transforms the offense into a positive addition. The power of tshuva to erase what we regret having done is a great thing. Yet there is an even greater power to it, one that does not just leave a blank in place of the blot of the sin but that turns it into the mark of merit. The key difference is the motivation for tshuva.
If one’s tshuva is motivated by fear of the negative consequences for deliberate sins, they are effectively erased by reclassifying the zdonos as shgagos. That is akin to expressing regret for having committed an offense and, consequently, getting the punishment waived. Say, you cut in front of someone in line. Realizing that you behaved badly, you apologize and go to the back of the line. That is sufficient to have your offense erased and not be remembered as a selfish person. But when there is a deeper connection to the one offended, the regret is not only for the action itself but for harming the relationship. For example, lying to someone in your family entails the general offense of the lie plus a betrayal of the trust implicit in a close relationship. Tshuva m’ahavah means that your regret is not just out of concern for the consequences to yourself but for the rupture in the relationship to one you love caused by your action. The desire fortshuva in that case is a desire to re-establish your relationship. That resolution is powerful enough to transform the point of rupture into a new knot of connection.
In the course of married life, there are many opportunities for rupture between spouses. They can range from major life decisions, like where to live, to minor ones, like what to have for dinner. Ignoring them does not make them go away. Just as in the process of tshuva, offenses between spouses have to be brought to light so that they can be sorted out. For example, a new husband has an old cereal bowl that he has used as a child at home and in his dorm. As he feels attached to it, he brings it with him to his marital home. In his wife’s eyes, the bowl is a rather battered piece of plastic that is not fit to be seen alongside their beautiful, new set of dishes, so she tosses it. The next morning her husband takes out the cereal and looks for his usual breakfast bowl. When he can’t find it, he asks his wife where she put it. “That old thing? I threw it out! Use one of our nice new bowls.” What she doesn’t realize in being so casual about it is that her husband is upset that she took something that he was attached to and got rid of it without asking him first.
Though he can remain silent about it, avoiding the confrontation would not give his wife the opportunity to clear her transgression. If he explains his point of view, his wife should not say, “ It’s just a cheap plastic bowl!” Instead, she should feel sorry that her husband finds what she did inconsiderate. Her regret attests to the fact that if she had known what the effect would be, she would have acted differently. Consequently, she would be forgiven as a shogeg, one who acts without malicious intent. But she can take it a step beyond that. She can realize that this about more than just the bowl in question; it is about not taking it for granted that her husband would see things her way. Appreciating this and applying it to other situations would transform the zadon of throwing out the bowl into merit as a reminder to check with her husband on future. Likewise, if a husband schedules something for the day his wife expected they would celebrate an anniversary, he can turn the negative into a positive, not by being defensive, but by sincerely apologizing for something she felt diminished their connection and resolving to mark his calendar with the date in future.
The transformative power of tshuva is is a classical lesson for the Yamim Noraim [Days of Awe] when we focus on spiritual cleansing to achieve tshuva. In the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we regard ourselves asbeynonim – neither wholly wicked nor wholly righteous – and we seek to tip the balance to the side of righteousness through tshuva. While tshuva meyira removes the negative weight, tshuva meahava actually succeeds in transposing it to the positive side, as the zdonos become zchuyos. Love has the power the transfigure our actions in our relationship with Hashem and with each other, especially with our spouses.

Remembering on Rosh Hashana

The whole month of Elul, we anticipate the holiday that marks the Jewish new year.  The shofar is blown at the prayer services throughout the month.  Sephardim have the custom of reciting special prayers late at night or early in the morning for all of Elul, while Ashkenazim begin the week before.  For the whole month through the holiday of Shmini Atzeres, the psalmLeDavid Hashem Ori is added on to the end of both the morning and evening services. People also think about the significance of this time that is designated as preparation for the High Holy Days. 
One of the things we work on is earning forgiveness. That is not merely a matter of fasting and prayer. It is also a matter of earning the forgiveness of our friends, neighbors, and relatives because G-d does not offer forgiveness for offenses to other people. Each person has to consider what s/he may have done to hurt someone else and seek out the person to ask forgiveness.  While readily forgiving is the right thing to do, the burden is not on the victim.   Anyone who suggest that "forget and forgive" is what the month of Ellul is about completely distorts the way things work. 

 The spiritual work of attaining forgiveness calls for a person to remember and then to forgive. We have to remember what we've done, not call upon others to forget it to feel exonerated. This is clear from the prayer service.  There is a special prayer to be said on the eve of Yom Kippur in which a person declares s/he forgives everyone. However, those who think they can relax because the person harmed will make this blanket statement are specifically excluded, as are those who still owe the individual a debt.
One of the names of Rosh Hashan is Yom Hazicharon, the day of remembering.  The prayer services are divided into sections devoted to kingship, shofar, and remembering.  We try to focus on remembering the good things, but we know that we can't simply forget about the past that was not all it should have been.  This is not a morbid idea but one of facing the truth and resolving to improve for the future.  Included in that is the necessity for a spiritual accounting of how we've treated other people and how we may have hurt them.   Putting things out of our own minds does not necessarily put it out of the minds of those we have hurt.  What we are supposed to do is remember and take what steps we could to remedy the situation and attain forgiveness.  Each year is a new beginning, but it is built on the past.  Remembering allows us to fix the past to prepare for a better future.  We should have cleared any bitterness to truly appreciate the sweetness of the honey on Rosh Hashana.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The lesson of the beautiful woman

Have you ever heard anyone dismiss certain halachos as "that's for people on a really high level?" I have.  In fact, I read someone's expression of that sentiment quite a number of months back. That's when I thought of this parsha but waited until we came to its weekly reading to write about it.

This week's parsha touches on a unique halacha that seems quite inconsistent with the accounts we read about earlier in the war against Midyan. This halacha of eshes yifas toar permits a Jewish soldier who is smitten by the beauty of one of the women taken captive to marry her. There's a whole procedure that extends for a month to allow her to adjust and be seen as she is without adornment, and after that time, she either becomes his wife or is set free.

It seems so contrary to the Jewish ideal of union, which is supposed to not be a response to mere physical attraction. (See http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2012/07/the-persistent-prostitute.html )There is a mystical interpretation of what the beauty is really about according to the interpretation of the Or haChaim, as explained here:   http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/57211/jewish/The-Cry-of-the-Holy-Sparks.htm. However, I would like to look at this in the plain sense to appreciate another very profound lesson from the Torah.

Chazal explain that the permission granted in this unique case during a time of war when emotions tend to run high is to counter the yetzer hara. In such a situation, one may find himself unable to resist what he normally can. It's like passing Dunkin' Donuts when you haven't had time for breakfast and lunch. Though you may normally be able to tell yourself that the empty calories are not the best nutritional choice, your brain's rational arguments will be overshadowed by the desire to put hunger to rest delicious carbs. It's really not the best thing to do, but the temptation can be just too strong for some people to resist.

That's the way this is taught to children in school.  But there is something even deeper here. It demonstrates that the Torah is truly designed with human frailty in mind. It does not demand anything that is beyond the average person's capability.

The law of eshes yifas toar  proves that their assumption about certain mitzvos being beyond one's reach to be faulty. The fact that something that seems so far off the norm for relationships within Jewish circles is permitted just for the sake of some individual failing to resist temptation proves that the Torah laws were not made only for those on really high spiritual levels but for all of us.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Purim in Av

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had two particular thoughts about the connections between what we are experiencing now and TaNaCh.  This is the second one: the parallels to Purim. Odd, yes, that’s the most joyous of holiday in the month during which we say, mishenichnas Adar marbin besimcha. The whole month of Adar is considered a happy one, quite the opposite of this time of year.

We are coming upon the 9 Days now, the start of the month of Av, about which our Sages say, mishenichnas Av mema’atin besimcha. We don’t hold celebrations during this time and even abstain from meat and wine during the days leading up to the date when the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed. The build up to that began even earlier on the fast day of the 17th of Tammuz. I’m sure that for many people, the feeling of bein hametzarim came even earlier this year, with what has been going on in Israel. We have experienced a great deal of pain and been subjected to naked hate by people around the world who seize this opportunity to express their hostility for all Jews on the pretext of caring about other people.  

The Hamas plot that has been exposed through the ground invasion targeted at tunnels was nothing less than an attempt at genocide.  See http://israelmatzav.blogspot.com/2014/07/what-hamas-planned-to-do-with-terror.html Just like Haman plotted so long ago, the forces of hate were to be gathered to together to murder all the Jews when they least expected it. Mordechai discovered the plot, but that alone wasn’t enough. Esther had to step up and speak out – even at the risk of her own life. She had to reverse the policy she had been practicing of laying low and come out as a Jew to the king who had no great love for them himself.

And here’s the thing that we must remember about who and what we are. We do what is right, not what people with particular political views want us to do, but what we have to do to survive and defeat evil.

What was right in Purim story was to make a public proclamation of the Jews’ right to defend themselves and to exterminate the forces of evil that sought their destruction. The Jews defeated their enemies, and we celebrate the day after the battle because we are not happy about killing but we are happy to survive.

When Haman told the king of his plot, he could not claim the Jews had oppressed anyone. They were exiled from home and pretty powerless then. But where the Jews or what they do has nothing to do with it because as people like to say today, haters gonna hate. The reasons for their hate lie in them It  has nothing to do with supposed sins of a state. That is abundantly obvious to anyone who has even the faintest understanding of history.. The Jews were persecuted throughout their exile in countries like England, Spain, Russia, Poland, Germany, and the list goes on and on.  None of those persecutors could attribute their hate to Jewish statehood. Clearly, the only constant is hate for who the Jews are rather than for what they do.

We learn from the Purim story that Jewish survival depends on fighting against those who seek to destroy them. But we also learn another thing: we must stick together to be strong. When Haman slandered the Jews to Achashverosh as worthless, he said that they are separated and scattered. Yes, we were scattered and still are today. But what the Jews achieved was coming together as one.

Just like Haman’s plot depended on mental terror, building up fear, and lowering morale, so does Hamas’s plot. I talked about the corruption of justice and morality in its strategy in my previous blog post and linked to an article on the role of media, so I won’t go over that. But there is another part in which the reporters are complicit. They are playing the role of Tokyo Rose.. They try to undermine us by saying we’ve lost the world’s sympathy and that must prove us to be wrong or doomed. Whoever claims they lost sympathy because of Gaza would have found another reason to point to for not supporting Israel. Those who think otherwise are delusional.

In Israel the overwhelming majority support what the IDF is doing. Considering how very divided the country normally is, that is absolutely amazing achdus. Sure, there are always some political extremists who will go against the grain, but there are also people who will insist they are Napoleon. They are not the ones who define the reality of klal Yisrael. Realistically, you cannot have 100% because of that. And remember, even at the culmination of one of the greatest triumphs in Jewish history – the Purim story itself – the hero Mordechai could only claim being like by most. So that’s reality. Let’s capitalize on that most for achdus and strength to stand up for Jewish survival.  That's the way to counter the sinas chinam that stands against us. Practically speaking we can also employ the trifecta of tefila, tzedaka, and chessed to come together in support of our troops. 

Chamas: the broken moral compass

I've been blogging since 2005 (the same year Israel pulled out of Gaza, forcing its own citizens to leave their homes to clear the land for others). In all these years, I have eschewed politics. But I just cannot remain silent on this. I thought of 2 key connections in TaNaCh for the situation, and here is one of them:

You may have heard that it’s better to have a stopped clock than a broken one that keeps going. The reason for that is that the stopped one is at least right twice a day. Likewise, a broken compass is more dangerous than one that simply doesn’t move because you think you’re going in the right direction when your orientation is all wrong.  If your compass just doesn’t move, at least you know that you’re lost and you’ll have to find some other means of getting on the right track. The same holds for a broken moral compass, which so many are brandishing.

The name Chamas is about more than a terror organization; it’s about utter corruption of justice. That’s the word used for what brought the decree of the mabul. The land was filled was chamas. The word is sometimes translated as robbery and sometimes as extortion. The text doesn’t tell us that the judgment came because of arayosm, though that was rampant but because of what really amounts to a misdemeanor.  Why is that so bad?

The generation that fell into chamas was considered unsalvageable – unlike the generation that set up the Tower of Babel in an attempt to defy a Deity over them. Our tradition teaches us that G-d can even find good in people who think that can fight him so long as they show a spirit of unity and cooperation. He does not, however, find any hope in a society that shows no regard for each other.  When this is taught to children, they learn the profound importance of love for our fellow man – which has positive effect even for the worst sinners. That’s not only important but central to Jewish thought.

Those of us who are adults should be able to appreciate still another aspect of this lesson. The chamas of that generation was not just a matter of people who made a habit of causing harm to others. The reason why it was so bad is that it corrupted the whole system of justice. Extortion is not technically stealing, so the one who got money out of his victim that way could say, he acted within the law. Those who did steal outright did would claim that he only took an amount that didn’t meet the legal minimum for crime and, consequently, was not subject to persecution.

 Though many laws translate into “thou shalt nots” there is also a key “thou shalt” that all civilizations must follow in order to survive: that is to set up a system of justice.  When people find out a way to perpetuate crimes with impunity, and so justice is never served, we have an utterly corrupt society.  Now we have that situation in the way terrorists manipulate people’s sympathies to exonerate them from all the harm they do to their own people as well as the Jews they hate.

I have heard people respond to all the evidence you can offer about what Israel actually does do versus what Hamas does, and  their response amounts to this: “War is never justified, and so even if Israel is attacked, it cannot defend itself.”  They even admit that all reason goes out the window when they see a heartbreaking picture of a dead child (never mind that often those pictures are really from Syria where there countless more Muslims are murdered by Muslims). As for the knee-jerk reaction to images that sells news, read Simcha Jacovibi’s analysis of how the media perpetuates the broken compass, pointing people in the wrong direction and actually rewarding Hamas for using their own people as human shields in: Those TV cameras responsible for civilian deaths in Gaza.

I have read people seriously declare that Israel can’t fire at the places where rockets are known to be stored if there is even the possibility of a civilian casualty. You can cite all the atrocities of Hamas, but they just wave the pictures of Gazan children as the only definitive point of a moral compass. That is not to say that Israel should or does go after children. It does everything in its power and evens risks the safety of its own troops (through warnings, through ground invasion, through avoiding the annihilation through bombs that could easily have pulled off in just a day if it truly were bent on genocide as their accusers claim).

One fundamental error made in this argument about who is moral in war is in automatically favoring the side with the heaviest losses. Pointing out civilian casualties doesn’t prove who was in the right. If so, we’d have to say that instead of honoring Lincoln, we would castigate him for calling for a war in which the north pummeled the south and caused the death of more than 50,000 civilians there.  We would be forced to say the Allies were wrong simply because they had superior weapons and won the war against the greatest force of evil the world had seen until that time.

Incredible as that sounds, that’s exactly where this broken moral compass leads, as those people who claimed they are motivated by compassion and the cause of human rights lead rallies in which they call for a Jew-free country and extol Hitler’s Final Solution. Yes, in our supposedly more enlightened time, and it will get far worse if it is not stopped.  

Giving in to Hamas tactics would forever tie the hands of all victims of terror. All the terrorists would have to do is put some kids in front of their arsenals and say, “You can’t touch me because your self-defense will be twisted into a war crime.” That is a cynical corruption of justice; that is chamas.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014


This is generally a topic for Ellul and Tishrei , but some incidents that have just come to light made me think of their current application. When it comes to making an account of our sins, we talk about din v'cheshbon. Why the double language? There are various interpretations, including one attributed to the Vilna Gaon  that offers an economic term to understand it. The din is for the wrong that was done, and the cheshbon is the opportunity cost -- the time lost to accomplishing something positive because it was put into a negative action.

 That interpretations makes sense for understanding how zdonos  can turn into zchuyos, merits. If one accomplishes teshuva, then the bad action actually led to a good one, and so both the action and the time spent on are transformed into a positive force. As for the lower level of teshuva, the zdonos become shgagos, unintentional actions, mistakes. One erases the bad but hasn't turned it all to the good, so the cheshbon, the time spent becomes neutral and still has not become a positive use. 

Today, as I was thinking of some of the scandals in the frum community that have come to light,  I thought of another possible take on the double language. The person who has acted wrongly and hurt others directly is culpable for the din. However, those who knew about it and swept it under the rug would have to give a cheshbon.  I'm sure they can give a list of reasons for why they contributed to the cover-up, ranging from not quite believing to trying to avoid a scandal that would cause harm to the spouses and children of the person who had done wrong. 

 Nevertheless, they thereby exacerbated the pain of the victims, particularly those who bravely came forward in order to prevent other from falling prey to people who were considered beyond reproach. I'm certain that there many more victims than those who spoke up; they remained silent because they knew that they would bring upon themselves vicious attacks from those who refuse to believe that a person they have placed on a pedestal not only had feet of clay but a complete disregard for betraying others' trust. 

If there's one lesson we should all take from Pinchas, it's that you cannot let a person's position blind you to what is morally right. Obviously, we can't all lay claim to being kanaim, but we still have the obligation to remove those who pose a threat. I would go further and say they should receive a punishment beyond removal from their posts of authority, but even that first step seems to be more than some are willing to take. 

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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Blueberry cake

It's blueberry season. Pick up an extra pint of these to use in this cake,  like this recipe, not only because it is easy, but because it is oil rather than butter or margarine based -- even for the crumbs. That means less saturated fat. The following recipes serves 8, for more people, simply double the recipe and bake in a 9 x 13" pan.

Crumb topped blueberry cake
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
 1 egg
1/3 c. canola oil

1/3 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. milk (for a pareve cake substitute soy or almond milk, or 1/4 c non-dairy creamer and 1/4 c. water)

1 c. fresh blueberries 
1 tbsp. lemon juice

Crumb topping

1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 c. flour
1/3 c. sugar 
2 tbsp. canola oil
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Sift dry ingredients together. Beat egg. Add milk and oil. Pour into flour mixture and stir until batter is smooth. Turn into oiled 8 x 8 x 2 inch square pan or 8 x 1 1/2 inch round pan. Add lemon juice to blueberries. Scatter over batter.
Prepare crumb topping by working ingredients into crumbly mixture. Sprinkle over blueberries. Bake about 40 minutes.

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Monday, June 02, 2014

Decking the bride

The terms used to describe the veiling of the bride is most often spelled  bedeken, but also occasionally spelled badeken,  badecken, or even badekin,   as 
there are no hard and fast rules about the English spelling of Yiddish words. 
 The Ashkenazic custom is for the groom, accompanied by friends and relatives who sing and dance around him, to approach the bride and pull the veil down over her face.    This is one of the key moments that any Jewish wedding photographer knows is a must-have shot.  Remember, the bride and groom have not seen each other for some time now.   They are usually quite happy to meet up, and their joy is reflected in their faces.  The veiling is traditionally followed by the bride getting blessed by her father, mother, and, possibly, grandparents who lay their hands over her head -- another great picture moment.
The question is: why go through this public veiling, and why make the groom responsible for it?  The practice goes back to really ancient history.  Brides would cover their faces out of modesty.  We see that in the Bible when Rivka [Rebecca] is brought over to her groom, Yitzchak [Issac], she covers her face.  
In the next generation, the cover of the bridal veil prevented Yaakov [Jacob] from realizing that he was, in fact, marrying Rachel, for his duplicitous father-in-law put her sister, Leah, in her place.  To avoid such bridal switches, the groom ascertains that the woman behind the veil is the woman he means to marry by putting it on himself.   Some also suggest that putting on the veil points to the groom's obligation to provide for his wife's clothing and other essentials, as stipulated in the kethuba.
In his book Beyom ChasunasoAn Explanation and Analysis of of the Laws and Customs of a Jewish Wedding(2007)Rabbi Zev Cinamon gives another reason for the groom's role in the veiling.  According to some opinions, the bedeken, in spreading a covering over the bride constitutes the chuppah.  Consequently, they would suggest that the groom be the one who owns the veil that he spreads  over his bride.  Some would even designate witnesses for the bedeken as an actual act of marriage (Cinamon 37).

In Megillas Ruth, the heroine of the story tells Boaz, "uparashta knafecha al amatecha" [you should spread your wings over your handmaiden] (3:9) Rashi elucidates that term to mean, spreading the wings of the garment, that is to cover her in a tallith in the terms of nesuin - marriage.   
Some people like to ascribe further meaning to the veil, by declaring it a symbol of  the fact that what's inside is the real measure of a person rather than physical beauty.  But I haven't seen that reason in historical written sources.  It also does not completely fit the custom of declaring the bride to beautiful and kind.  According to the ruling of Hillel, which trumped the ruling of Shamai, the proper thing to say at a wedding is,  "kallah na'ah vechasuda," regardless of the objective assessment of the bride in question. We literally sing the bride's praises by declaring her to be beautiful, as well as good.
 As everyone watches the bride walk down the aisle, the veil gives her some small measure of privacy.  Nevertheless, at a standard Orthodox Jewish wedding, the wedding veil will be made of the standard tulle or illusion fabric, which is very close to sheer.  Hasidic brides, on the other hand, do wear opaque veils that completely obscure their faces.  Happily, the bride is not left to make her way on her own, so her blocked vision should not result in any missteps.

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Flowers for Shavuoth and weddings

Whether you spell it chuppah, chupah, chupa, huppa, huppah, or hupa, it all refers to the wedding  canopy.  The chuppah  represents a home that the new couple enter into for the nesuin aspect of the wedding ceremony. The chuppah may be constructed of a tallith or other cloth held spread over poles. The poles may be held by four people or mounted in place. It is the custom of some Sephardim and Yekkes (Jews of German extractions) to lay a tallith over the couple during the chuppah. That practice appears consistent with the view of chuppah being constituted by draping an article of clothing referred to in the section on badekin
                    Roses now in bloom in the Cranford Rose Garden of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

When the chuppah used is a permanent structure, it is often decorated with floral arrangements. I haven’t seen an authoritative source referring to placing flowers on the chuppah, but it would fit with the wedding ceremony’s evocation of the experience of Israel at Mount Sinai.
The Sages learn from the verse vayithyatzvu bethachtith hahar (Exodus 19:17) describing the people of Israel as encamped at the foot of the mountain that they were , in fact , under the mountain: chapa aleyhem har kegigis [G-d held the mountain over their heads like a roof or canopy] (Tractate Shabbath 88a). Though the mountain was located in the desert, it is said to have miraculously bloomed with grass and flowers when it was honored as the place where the Torah was given. This Midrash, which I’ve found ascribed to Medrash Talpiyos Os Dodoim , is often quoted as the explanation for the custom of decorating the home and synagogue with flowers on the holiday of Shavuouth. But it is possible that decorating our chuppahs with flowers reminds us of the blossoming Mount Sinai at the wedding, as well.
Follow me on Twitter @AriellaBrown and circle me at Google+  For more on Jewish weddings, see kallahmagazine.weebly.com