Showing posts from 2013

Thoughts on Midrash

Over three years ago I wrote about Midrash on this blog. Today I thought of another analogy -- animation. Quite a while back, the New York Hall of Science had an exhibit on animation. Cartoons are produced by bringing together a number of elements. There are the characters that convey the action -- the plot. There is the background to provide a setting and to indicate movement. There is also the aspect of sound, which is not only a matter of dialogue but of sound effects and music. Now you could have the basic story just told by a character with no background (like on a stage with no scenery) and get the basic gist. But the extra elements add aspects of mood and possible depth to the story.So in the case of pshat in Tanach, we have the basic story line as understood from the text alone. But what the Midrash comes to add is not simply extraneous matter that we would be better off without but like music and backgrounds that enhance the story, bringing out particular nuances of meaning.

The thought that counts for gifts in the Torah

Chanukah really was the time of gifts over 2,000 years ago when the nesiim of each shevat brought their offerings, and the way they did it tells us much about the Torah perspective on bringing gifts.
I was very impressed by this particular dvar Torah from Rabbi Yissocher Frand. I'm also taken by "herring from New York," as the ultimate standard of luxury. In NY itself, herring is of no account for most kiddushes today, and you'd have to set out sushi platters to really make a statement.
The Torah Readings Of Chanukah the Mishkan was completed on the 25th of Kislev. The actual inauguration of the Mishkan was put off until the first day of Nisan, which is when the Nessiyim started bringing their offerings. But since the Mishkan was actually completed on the 25th of Kislev, we read the section of the Nessiyim on Chanukah, to link the rededication during the Chanukah period with the original dedication of the Mish…

Thinking outside the box about Dina

The upcoming parsha has one of my least favorite episodes in TaNaCh (ranking pretty close to pilegesh bagiva) I have a particularly negative feeling about it because of the spin that BY teachers tend to put on Dina's abduction, saying she should have stayed home. Her curiosity about what was going on in the town is what put her in danger. That's just one step behind the "she was asking for it" argument that some use to justify rape.

However, the Torah does not present Dina's experience as what was coming to her at all. The man who took her and abused her (see Rashi on that) is held fully culpable. In fact, the whole town is held culpable for allowing her abduction to happen. Dina brothers who plotted to kill out every single man justify their extreme measures to their father, and he has no answer to them.

If you bear in mind Dina's age and the Torah's timeline, not to mention the fact that her rapist calls her "yalda," a young girl, you may rem…

What's up this coming Tuesday?

A larger than average number of weddings, according to news reports. Find out more in

Is a diamond ring essential?

The problem is that it's one of the items on the list of prescribed gifts for engaged couples, but if you think about it, the expectation for it really is a product of marketing rather than true tradition. See the article and the links in Is a diamond ring essential?

Keeping up the system is not solving what you say is wrong with it

Before I began scoring SAT essays, I looked into working as an SAT tutor for Princeton Review, not at all related to Princeton University.( Let me go on record as saying I do not work for the test prep company. It is considered a conflict of interest with the work that I do for Pearson.) During the presentation about the company, I was struck by how it claimed a sort of rebel cause against the SAT, which, according to the founder is given far more weight than it should and is taken as a measure of intelligence, which it isn't.

 So how to take down the evil empire? Not by destroying the Death Star in this case.  Princeton Review claims to undermine the test by teaching a few tricks to help you improve your performance on  the test. Really, all it guarantees is a 100 point improvement, and that guarantee depends on the students doing all homework assignments. As you can gather, if you do all that prep and practice on your own, it's almost certain that you would improve your sco…

Tznius = Torah?

This topic was addressed at great length in a post on the Divrei Chaim some years ago. Shortly thereafter, I received a surprise in the mail for winning the wager. You can follow the whole debate in the comments there, but the gist of the difference between misrepresentation in the Falk book and what sources actually say is this: I only said, categorically, that it does not exist in the Gemara. I also said I had my doubts about the GRA making that wholesale equation of tznius keneged kulam, as well.
Anyway, as I believe in checking what sources say rather than speculating on them as possibilities, I did crack open the Wizard of Oz's tome (we got it from a neighbor who thought it was not for her) to the pages that Chaim told me was missing from the text available online.On p. 36, Falk begins a section C. entitled "What Torah Does for men, tznius does for women." 1.Tznius is an antidote to theyetzer horah. On p. 37, he says, "a woman, whose function is to establish and…

I read it on the internet, so of course it's true

To set the record straight, I posted a number of articles on the Jewish wedding customs. They're indexed at

The way out: a true story and allegory

This morning, after dropping my son off, I left my car window open because it was hot and I was planning to go out again just a couple of hours later. When I got into my car, I saw feathers (pictured here) and other evidence of a bird's presence. I thought, "I hope it founds its way out."

The frantic flapping I heard indicated that  my hope was in vain. Clearly, the bird had not managed to find that the opening that had let it in was the only possible exit. I got out and opened the trunk back of the mini-van and was sure to stand out of the way. A very small bird (amazing that it had that many feathers to spare!) quickly flew out.

I thought about this in connection to Yom Kippur. The idea is connected to Rabbeinu Yonah's image of escape from a prison.  A lot of us feel trapped in a spiritual sense. We can't find that small opening where we fell into the trap and so feel that we can't ever get out. The gift of Yom Kippur is that another exit opens up, and we c…

On 9/11, faith, and the fifth question

This afternoon I heard Rabbi Eli Mansour give the best  shiur I've ever heard on emunah [faith]. What I mean by "best" is not most entertaining but the most substantive and honest approach I've ever heard. It was videotaped. Look under "Ohel Sarah Amen Group" to find it at Really, I can't do the shiur justice here, so I urge everyone to take the time to listen to it. It's now up at; another version in the link below.*

He speaks a bit about September 11th at the end, though he starts off by talking about Amen as an affirmation of faith and the perennial problem of tzadik vera lo. What impressed me in particular about his approach is the approach to faith devoid of Pollyanna perspective. 

The fifth question is something he brings up in relaying what a rabbi answered him about a question on faith when confronted with the apparent lack of fairness in a world in which the good do suff…

not in a bottle

What doesn't come in a bottle. It takes a lifetime of work.

Shana tova and roundup of Rosh Hashana posts


Swimming in the city

Apparently, the city does provide separate swim hours in parts of Brooklyn. However, they refuse to commit to providing the requested female lifeguards. From Out of Enclaves, a Pressure to Accommodate Traditions"
“We don’t have a formal policy, but we can’t commit to providing a female lifeguard because it would run against the establishment clause of providing a service on the basis of a religious belief,” Liam Kavanagh, first deputy commissioner for parks and recreation, said of the Hasidic request.
Sounds like gobbeldygook to me. It seems to makes sense that women who want to go to a pool without men wouldn't want a male lifeguard (though are some who would permit it from a halachic point of view).

Rav Aviner allowed a leniency, though the assumption here is that there is a shortage of female lifeguards, something that I doubt exists in NYC. On the Air with Ha-Rav Shlomo Aviner
From Ha-Rav's weekly radio programs in Israel 29 Kislev 5769 – #65 Prepared by Rabbi Mordechai…

Site news

Today someone asked me where to find a certain Kallah Magazine article. It had been on the old site, but I had posted a lot less to the new one. So I now added two more pages  to http://kallahmagazine.weebly.coml. One contains most of the Divrei Torah that were posted on and one contains two of the Money Matters pieces. Find them at and

Follow me on Twitter @AriellaBrown and circle me at Google+ For wedding tips and insight, as well as recipes and practical advice, visit

It's not just the best policy (part 2 of 2)

Continued from part 1

I was absolutely amazed by Rabbi Paysach Krohn's approach because I always feel out of sync with the rest of the world in my belief that you should only say what you mean and avoid lies, especially to children. Though it was more than 20 years ago, I vividly recall hearing a man get up to say a speech in honor of his elderly mother on her birthday. He recounted that one time she was going out with his father, and he was upset about her leaving. To quiet him, she said she would buy him a special toy (he said it was the equivalent of an Erector set). She didn't buy it, though, admitting that she only said that to get him to behave the way she wanted. I was doubly  appalled: One, at the fact that she lied to her son in that way, and two that he publicly recounted this story as if it reflected well on her. Though I was years away from being a mother at the time, I thought that 's really not the most vivid memory I'd like my kid to have about me. But h…

It's not just the best policy part 1 (of 2)

According to the shiur I heard from Rabbi Paysach Krohn on Tisha B'Av, honesty is essential. Toward the end, he mentioned the pasuk everyone quotes for avoiding lashon hara with a reminder of what the last part of it says. "Netzor leshoncha mera usfathecah midaber mirma" It's not just a matter of avoiding evil speech but of avoiding twisted speech, that is prevarication.

He mentioned that the three letters of Emes in Hebrew, aleph, mem, and taf are stretched all over the alphabet because you have to really look around for truth. In contrast, the three letters for lies -- shin, kuf, and reish are all together because lies crop up all the time.

Rabbi Krohn included setting appointments that you don't intend to keep on time under the dishonest category. Saying directly that this is important for all doctors, he said, it is dishonest to double (and triple, quadruple) book appointments because, then the time you tell your patients to come is a lie. He pointed out that…

The younger, the better?

I've addressed so-called solutions to the shidduch crisis, that include bribing people to match younger men with older girls,  in the past Orthnonomics also address it:
Chaim Yudkowsky point out in In Response to the Proposal Encouraging Our Young Men to Marry Very Young, it's not all positive.
I have suggested that instead of pushing for younger bachurim, they should not  push girls of 19 into shidduchim at all. That's not to say that that no one should marry young, but as ► Myth: Marrying young is a good thing, say age 19 or 20. ► Truth: Marrying young is great in the short-term, and gives parents a sense that they have “made it.” However, no couple that age can be financiall…

On Paragons

I recently heard a speaker give an inspirational talk about doing better, aspiring higher, etc. She referred to someone in her life who had great difficulties and suffered more than most people, yet she declared, that was always smiling and never complained.  My rebellious internal  response, was that sounds most admirable but beyond human capacity. We even see that such paragons as Moshe, as well as the avos and immahos  had their moments when they were, shall we say, not smiling.

(It's possible that this person was careful never to show a feeling of misery around others, as in the story of a rabbi who said he suppressed his crying when his mother was around and only let himself go -- as a baby yet -- when she would not hear).

We see multiple instances of great people having difficulties and not remaining calm. There were points at which Moshe lost patience with the complaints and rebellions of the people he had to lead.  Rachel had an altercation with Yaakov, who responded fairl…

True bridal beauty

This is not the time when we think of weddings, but one of the points here was recounted in this morning's shiur by Rabbi Frand, and the theme was the 9 Days, so do bear with me. .

The traditional praise sung for a bride is "kallah na'ah vechasudah" [the bride is pleasant in appearance and kind] (rather like the fairy-tale descriptions that say "she was as good as she was beautiful"). Certainly, brides aspire to look their best for their wedding day. Some even demand that the women around them only wear certain colors to set them off in what they consider a flattering setting. But the Jewish ideal of beauty is not that of a self-absorbed bridezilla (a word Rabbi Frand brought up in his talk).

Rabbi Frand recounted a story that a rabbi from Dallas told him. The source of the story was a pediatrician who worked in a hospital emergency room in Israel. She said that one day a bride came in in full bridal regalia --the gown, veil, etc. She asked why she had come…

My lifetime of dressing modestly

Obviously, my title is a twist on Lauren Shields' "My year of modesty"  (it should be 9 months of modesty, if the title were precise) In some ways, here project parallels that of Pheobe Baker Hyde, who was also featured in Salon for her year without makeup. Both seem to have inspired by some protest against the beauty industry. Shields makes that clear in this paragraph:
Why, if beauty didn’t matter to me, did I have more than $600 worth of makeup in my closet (and I never left the house without at least some of it on) and more shoes than any sane individual needs? Why was I convinced that if I didn’t look “sexy” or at least attractive no one would listen to what I had to say?
In eschewing  a lot of makeup and hair products, I'm not exactly motivated by a protesting an industry that suggests that women have to shell out a fortune in order to feel confident about themselves. However, I can appreciate that point. As for me, it's really more a combination of not feel…

The end of the triumvirate

This past Shabbos, I posed the question: if Moshe and Aharaon were told that the reason they were barred from entering E"Y and were to die in the midbar, why did Miriam have to die? My husband searched around a bit and found:

ג] ותמת שם מרים, זו מתה בלבד מכל
 הנשים שיצאו ממצרים, שלא מתה אשה
 במדבר, שנאמר (יהושע ה, ד) כל העם היוצא
 ממצרים הזכרים כל אנשי המלחמה מתו, ולא
 הנקבות, תו למה מתה מפני הבאר שנתנה
 בשבילה שלא היה אפשר לה שתהא קיימת והבאר
 שנתנה בזכותה מסתלקת. דבר אחר, מפני שהיא
 שוה למשה ולאהרן בגדולה, ששלשתן היו
 פרנסים טובים לישראל, שאינו בדין שיסתלקו
 ומרים קיימת לכך קדמה תחלה ומתה.
  (מדרש אספה)

To translate: Miriam was the only one among the woman who left Egypt who died. None of the others dd , as we learn from the verse in Yehoshua, which tells us that all the nation that left Egypt died. The males, all who went to war died, and not the female. She died before the well that was in her merit was removed, for…

Jane Austen on Mr. Right

Though Elizabeth is the heroine that most Austen readers love to identify with, most will not be int her situation. The overwhelming majority of women will not get to marry the equivalent of  Mr. Darcy, nor should they. Jane Austen is fully aware that not all marriages will made of matches that appear quite that light an bright and sparkling. As a realist, she offers different models for marriages. While some are from ideal, as featured in Pride and Prejudice, Austen shows that a match need not be spectacularly impressive to be right.  There are other marriages that work out quite well for people who know how to recognize that Mr. Martin is not just "good enough" but really the right man to marry and don't delude themselves into thinking they will get Mr. Knightley.  What makes the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth work is not that he has the most money to offer, but that she learns to appreciate his integrity and realizes that she can trust him. The theme is also p…

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Everything looks like a nail when you're a hammer

Everything looks like a nail when you're a hammer is the reaction I had to  It's Not About The Nail
making the rounds on social media. I notice that most of the people sharing appear to be males, as they find it perfectly expresses their frustration of wishing to solve an easily solvable problem when their female significant others prefer to talk in nebulous terms about the effects of the problem and turn aside any suggestions for a solution.
What the video doesn't get that in real life, most problems are not nails that can easily be removed with no problem. In fact, many difficulties have no simple solutions at all and require an approach to deal with that. And trying to reduce everything to a situation that will be solved as easily as removing a nail is not going to help when empathy will.Yes, I do get it. And I'm sure it appeals to the "Men are from Mars/ Women from Venus" fans who like everything put into simple terms of gender division. Seehttp://www.psy…

The mezuzah app

Further proof that smarter phones lead to ... well, people who feel they don't need to actually learn stuff for themselves. And now, we bring you a mezuzah app: First off, I'm sure they mean well, and they really deserve credit for stressing a kosher mezuzah. So many people think "it's the thought that counts" rather than the klaf.  I wonder if they also point out that the concept that you can live in your permanent home for 30 days before affixing the mezuzah is a distortion of the halachic definitions.

However, really, how complicated is all this? You just have to know to:
 1) buy a kosher mezuah
2) pick out a cover that fits it and appeals to your taste
3) hang it up on the right side of the doorpost  in the bottom of the top third at a slight angle toward the room entered by the door. You really don't need a measuring tape or a level or even a protractor to figure this out…

Recipes posted

Easy dairy dishes, including a crustless cheesecake that's perfect for Shavuout are now up at

Follow me on Twitter @AriellaBrown and circle me at Google+ For wedding tips and insight, as well as recipes and practical advice, visit

The physical and metaphyical

Recently, I commented on a misinterpretation of the saying of Chazal recorded on p. 31 of Tractate Niddah  isha mazria techila yoledes zachar. The conception of a boy is attributed to the female in this case. While some like to point to this as "proof" that Chazal were ch"v wrong about biological function, in truth Chazal's understanding of conception encompasses the biological and the metaphyscial.

See p. 23 of Eyt Dodim the paperbound supplement to Rav Elyashiv Knohl's Ish V'Isha reviewed here. The gist of it is that the mazria does not refer to ovulation, but to the si-- to use the Hebrew term. (Hamevin yavin, as we say.)  As it says in other parts of the same page of that Talmud, this is offered as advice to men who wish to have sons.  Rabbi Knohl explains, Chazal were not offering this as a biological  fact but as a "amira musarit" for the man who would be concerned about his wife and not just himself  will merit that the Holy One Blessed be …