Serah, Joseph & Speech



Everybody knows Sarah, the matriarch, but who is Serah?

Serah is mentioned in this week’s parshah along with Yaakov’s descendants. She is Asher’s daughter, which makes her Yaakov’s granddaughter. In fact she is the only granddaughter mentioned in this genealogical list. This has led the commentators to believe that she is a person of significance.

The best-known of the midrashim about her tells of how she was the first to inform Yaakov that Joseph was still alive. Fearing that the news would be too much of a shock for the old man, she informed her grandfather by playing a harp for him, gently mixing in the words that Joseph is “alive and the ruler of all Egypt.” In return, Yaakov blessed her, saying “May you live forever and never die.”

This teaches us that we should be careful when being the bearer of news, even if the news is good.

In fact there are other occurences or references to careful speech in this week’s parshah. Thus at the beginning of the portion, Judah chooses his words carefully to win his brother over, makes a moving speech and succeeds.

Then only minutes later, according to Rashi, Joseph proves his identity to his brothers by speaking to them in לשון הקדש. This is understood by Rashi as his having spoken Hebrew to convince them. Yet Rabbi Twerski sees it as also meaning that he had changed his way of speaking. Joseph who used to tell tales about his brothers, thus making himself guilty of lashon hara, has changed and can now use speech to do good.

Finally when his brothers prepare to go back to Canaan so as to bring their father to Egypt, he warns them:

אַל-תִּרְגְּזוּ בַּדָּרֶךְ

For Rashi, Joseph is saying: “don’t argue with one another regarding whose idea it was to sell me”. Josef knew that his brothers were embarrassed and ashamed because they had sold him. He didn’t want them to quarrel and blame one another on the way.

This parshah reminds us that words are a powerful tool and like all powerful tools should be used carefully.

Judaism has laws about speech, about the what we may say (or not) and how. The Chofetz Chaim has written extensively on the subject. More recently Rabbi Telushkin has tried to raise awareness on this aspect of Jewish law; a good book to start with is Words that Hurt, Words that Heal: How to Use Words Wisely and Well.

New Siddur to be Published Soon

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The Koren Sacks Siddur is due to be released in 2009. It is he first major bilingual Orthodox synagogue prayer book to be released since the ArtScroll Siddur in 1984.

Here is a short review of some of its features:
– It includes a translation and commentary by Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth (based on his 2006 Authorised Daily Prayer Book).
– The layout of The Koren Siddur is innovative in several respects. Contrary to the convention of nearly all bilingual siddurim, the Hebrew appears on the left page and the English on the right. This is not the case in the Hebrew Daily Prayer Book.
– In addition to the translation and commentary, the Koren Siddur includes italicized English instructions on both sides of the page.
– The Koren Siddur, presumably because it is a bilingual edition of an Israeli siddur, is much more Israel-conscious than the ArtScroll.
– The Koren Siddur is more inclusive of women both in terms of its content and in terms of its instructions.

I own the Hebrew Daily Prayer Book translated and commented by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and am more than glad to see that the OU is publishing an American version.

This post is based on a much more detailed review where the translations found in both the ArtScroll and the Koren siddurim are compared and commented.
On the Main Line has also written an enthusiastic review of this new siddur.

Our Red Houses



Red-brick houses are a common feature in the North of France, Belgium and the UK. This photo was taken in my street this afternoon and includes my own place. Can you guess which one it is?

On Tuesdays, just post any photo you like (it must be one of your own) that contains the color RED and then link to this blog.


Different Options



I’ve just read The Family Markowitz by Allegra Goodman. This is how the author presents her book:
While many people read this book as a novel, I wrote it a series of short stories exploring three generations of a Jewish-American family. As a collection, the stories create a family portrait from multiple perspectives.

The characters are Rose, the matriarch; her sons Henry and Ed; their wives and Ed’s four children. Ed’s daughter, Miriam, has become more religious than her Conservative, occasional synagogue-goers parents since she went to college. When she comes back home, her observance makes the family feel akward. In a memorable chapter, entitled The Four Questions, the narrator shows the discomfort her parents experience as they hold their traditional family seder while Miriam wishes to follow the rule, following the service from her own Haggadah..

Ed is looking at Miriam and feeling that she is trying to undermine his whole seder. What is she doing accusing him of shortening the service every year? He does it the same way every year. She is the one who has changed – becoming more and more critical. More literal-minded. Who is she to criticize the way he leads the service? What does she think she is doing? He can remember seders when she couldn’t stay awake until dinner. He remembers when she couldn’t even sit up. When he could hold her head in the palm of his hand.

As someone whose spiritual choices are different from my parents, I obviously identified with the characters. In fact I could relate both to Miriam, whose options are closer to mine, and to Ed who is more my age. I only hope that I am a bit more sensitive than Miriam. I also like how Goodman highlights Ed’s love for his annoying daughter in the last sentence of the paragraph.

Two years ago West Bank Mama wrote a similar story about her own family.

My Thoughts Go To Israel



Although Israeli authorities have repeatedly warned Hamas against sending rockets towards Israel or else they would retaliate, the terrorist organization has chosen to ignore this exhortation. Now Israel has struck back and the world is asking them to stop. Pity they didn’t ask Hamas to stop shelling Israel in the first place.

I don’t consider myself warmonger and yet I fail to understand – or maybe I understand too well – why Israel is asked, when not ordered, to tolerate a state of terror no other free and independent state would be ready to accept.

The inhabitants of Gaza who wished to dissociate themselves from Hamas have had ample time to move far from Hamas positions, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has ordered the Rafah crossing to Gaza partially opened to allow in medical supplies and basic humanitarian aid, nevertheless it is the Jewish state which is blamed and accused.

Therefore my thoughts go to Israel, to my friends, fellow bloggers and readers there, particulary Baila, Shimshonit, Batya, RivkA, A Living Nadneyda, Robin, Mrs S, Michael, Mimi, , RR, Trep and numerous others.

Talking about which, Treppenwitz has commented the latest events with his usual verve.

Facebook Games



Over a month ago, I wrote a post about Facebook and wondered what information we should leave online for other people to see. Since then I have succombed to the spreading fever, updated my data and added a few friends.

Two days ago I discovered that you can also play on FB. I’ve tried and thoroughly enjoyed quite Geo Challenge, Who Has the Biggest Brain and Word Challenge. Be warned these games are great fun but also very addictive.

What’s your favorite game on Facebook?

Star Ferry


The Star ferry is a passenger ferry in Hong Kong. Its principal routes carry passengers across the Victoria Harbour, between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. It has operated since 1888. The boat in the photo is a replica of the original.

Mary The Teach has created a new meme, Sepia Scenes. Click here to join in or learn how to apply a sepia tone to a photograph.