Wednesday, October 29, 2008


A story

Entombed within his house, Rabbi Murdoch paces. He walks up and down his study, the light slanting through the shades, casting shadows upon the sefarim that line his shelves, the very walls. His desk is littered with photocopies and manuscripts, in addition to a stack of papers clearly waiting to be graded. A computer winks in the semidarkness, its screensaver glowing. Rabbi Murdoch continues pacing, stroking his beard, which is neatly trimmed and reddish-brown, contrasting perfectly with his green eyes. Though he does not know it, these features make him the object of desire of his tenth grade class, most of whom lust after him impossibly.

His glance falls upon the stack of papers, and an imperceptible frown flashes across his face. His brows furrow slightly, and he walks outside the room to the kitchen, thinking to make himself a cup of tea, after which he will sit down to grade papers. He stiffens as he hears her voice, shrill and demanding, shrieking into the phone. “What do you mean, you can’t come? One night I ask of you, one night, and this one night of all nights you cancel of me?” A pause, during which he assumes his wife is listening. “That’s no excuse!” she eagerly proclaims, continuing her conversation with the now-irrelevant babysitter. He sighs and reaches for a mug, taking out the tea chest and choosing a regular Lipton tea. He fills up the mug with hot water taken from the tap, wincing in pain as a little of it splashes on his fingers. He dunks the teabag inside his cup, and neglecting to take a coaster, and hoping to avoid Golda, he walks back to his study.

“Baruch!” she says loudly and he can see her coming downstairs, accusing and angry. “Can you believe what Rivky did to me? She tells me she has a big test coming up, so sorry, Mrs. Murdoch, but I won’t be able to come after all.” Golda throws up her hands in the air, adding to the commotion, and he can sense that she enjoys it after all; there is a piece of her that enjoys her own pain. “What am I going to do?”

“It will be all right, Golda,” he tells her calmly, looking at her kindly. She is a good woman, his Golda, if slightly given to overdramatic hysterics. “I will watch the children.”

“You?” she wails. “But I had wanted you to come with me- this was supposed to be our night, one night, where we could talk, and we could go to that new restaurant.”

He sighs. “I’m sorry, Golda- but why don’t you call up Elisheva? I’m sure she would be happy to go with you. You can have a night out; I’ll watch the kids; it’s not a problem- you deserve a break.” He smiles at her, hoping the gesture will hide his irritation. “I’m sure you will have a good time.”

She pauses as though making an earthshattering discovery. “Why, that’s a wonderful idea!” she beams, real joy in her eyes. “Thank you, Baruch; I’ll do just that!” And soon she is back upstairs, standing in front of the mirror, trying on a different outfit, her cell phone nestled under her chin as she debates the merits of different restaurants with Elisheva.

Somehow he had not envisioned it like this, he thinks, closing his eyes, ensconced within the safety of his study. Somehow he had not seen himself married to a woman who would constantly need to be reassured and validated, who saw him as the gateway to her success. She pushed him constantly; it was not good enough that he was a Rebbe at the girls high school; she wanted more, thought he could be better. Why not try for that job at the boys’ yeshiva? Or why not take another job at the elementary school, or sign on for Daf Yomi in the mornings? All her dreams and hopes were centered on him. She would cook for him, and as she would hand him the cup of soup, he saw the hope in her eyes, and it shamed and choked him. He wished he could make her happy with him as he was.

Why could he not take the job at the boys’ yeshiva? He laughed bitterly. Ah, if she knew! But she could not know, could never know. Nobody could know. This was his own private burden, his private pain and misery. There was no one who would not judge him, find him a repulsive and repugnant specimen of humanity. For such as him there was no grace, not even that belonging to God. I have heard from behind the curtain…that Aher cannot repent…no, and that fate was reserved for Baruch Murdoch as well; for such as him there was no repentance; for such as him there was only hell.

He cast off his gloomy thoughts and reached for a pen, a blue one rather than a red one. He thought that for students to receive papers inked over in red was generally a painful experience, as opposed to the softer, more soothing blue. Though he might write the same comments, students were invariably better at reading through and understanding his remarks when they were written in blue pen. And so, turning on his desk lamp, he began to write, the pen softly scratching across the tests, interrupted only by a soft chuckle when he read something amusing one of his students had written to him.


“It’s Rabbi Murdoch! It’s Rabbi Murdoch!”

The girls clustered around the stairwell, several of them hanging onto the banister. They wore their pleated skirts and blue skirts with their button-down shirts. They were laughing, carefree, happy, several of them wearing stickers that read, “Be nice to me- I gave blood today!”

Rena tossed her hair defiantly. “You guys are all crazy over Rabbi Murdoch. Hello, he’s married- and he has two kids!” She kicked her feet up against the stairs, scuffing one of them and marring it with a black stain.

Libby laughed, running a hand through her long blonde hair. “Yeah, but he’s so handsome!”

Deena found it hilarious that so many of the girls obsessed over Rabbi Murdoch. Her passion was for movie stars and rock stars, and pictures of them adorned her walls at home. Of course, officially none of the girls were supposed to have seen movies or have a taste for Pete Wentz or the dreamy Robert Pattinson, but did they really think that Rabbi Murdoch was the epitome of masculinity? He was tall enough, certainly, and impressive as he walked into the room with his suit and black hat (adorably, he always wore a vest or sweater underneath the suit jacket- because his wife liked him to, he had said), but to her he looked like just another teacher, and she found the girls’ fascination with him infantile and honestly, somewhat creepy.

Emily thought differently. Secretly, she admired Rabbi Murdoch, and she did find him handsome- only it wasn’t his looks that particularly fascinated her. It was his air, which was warm, and the fact that he always made time for his students. Countless times she had stayed after class to ask him questions, and countless times he had made time for her, smiling at her and calling her Ms. Goldfeder, because he had made it a habit never to refer to any of the students by their first names, lest he be too familiar with them. That, and he took off his glasses so as not to look at them, a practice which Rena teased him about all the time. But then, Rena was bold, and brash, and had made it her life’s goal to make the Rabbi angry with her. Of course, he had the patience of Hillel- so much so that she had composed an Ode to him, all about his peerless good qualities. Rena tried to hide it, but she was actually very sensitive to Rabbi Murdoch’s comments, and were he to make any that suggested he disapproved of her, or otherwise found her lacking, she would be very hurt.

And here he was, walking up the stairs, and the girls cleared a path for him, except Rena, who, darting excitedly toward him, exclaimed, “Guess what I learned, Rabbi Murdoch, guess, guess!”

He paused, not willing to ruin her fun. “And what would that be, Ms. Schafer?” he inquired.

“Ah!” Rena exclaimed with her characteristic smile. “That would be telling. But, in short-“ and she took a piece of paper and thrust it into his hands. Rabbi Murdoch looked at the paper, and smiled pleasantly.

“I see you’ve searched my name on the Internet.”

“Yup!” said Rena. “And it says here that you won the Bronlein Fellowship! You never told us you had won a fellowship!”

“Perhaps, Ms. Schafer,” continued Rabbi Murdoch in the same pleasant tone, “that was because I did not find it particularly relevant to Halacha class.”

“But of course it’s relevant!” chimed in Libby, who had been gazing at Rabbi Murdoch with soulful eyes as they walked through the classroom door and found their seats, the rest of their classmates having already assembled. “How could it not be? The Bronlein Fellowship is a very important part of learning hilchos borer!”

“Indeed,” smiled Rabbi Murdoch, and proceeded to call roll, marking Sara as absent. His eyes betrayed concern. “Does anyone know where Sara is?”

“She had her wisdom teeth pulled,” Deena remarked casually. “So she’s home eating ice cream and pudding.”

“Aw, shucks!” Rena gaily remarked, smiling at the Rabbi. “I wish I were at home eating ice cream!”

“That’s enough, Ms. Schafer,” Rabbi Murdoch said, favoring his irrepressible student with a glance. “I see that you have controlled yourself and not pinned a picture of my face on top of Obama’s body, making do with your former attempts to relate me to Mel Gibson. That having been said, how about we discuss borer.”

Rena slunk down in her seat, blushing a little. She knew that Rabbi Murdoch found her stunts alternatively amusing or tiresome, but she couldn’t seem to stop them. Attention-seeking as she was, there was something that particularly made her want Rabbi Murdoch’s attention, his good will and his approval. However, her stormy soul and temperament sometimes placed her at odds with him, especially now, where he had somehow slipped from the class discussion to take on a tangential discussion dealing with the proper career path that one was to follow.

Rabbi Murdoch was finishing off, “….whichever career it is that allows you to perform the most mitzvot,” when Rena flew into attack mode.

“That’s ridiculous!” she exclaimed, her color high and her blue eyes flashing. “If I want to become an English teacher, but I have the ability and the aptitude to become a Chumash teacher, I must become a Chumash teacher because that way I am doing more mitzvos?”

Basya chimed in. “Don’t you think we would put ourselves in the way of doing more mitzvos if we are happier as people, Rabbi Murdoch?” she questioned. “Wouldn’t we be happier pursuing the career that we actually want, whatever that might be? I mean, I personally want to be a shaitel macher but if Rena wants to be an English teacher…”

“Ms. Schafer,” remarked Rabbi Murdoch, a tinge of amusement coloring his voice, “would it make you depressed not to be a Chumash teacher?”

“Well, it would hardly depress me,” stated Rena firmly, “but I would like myself, my life and everything about me much better if I were to be an English teacher, and so I will be an English teacher, and serve Hashem that way- and that will give me just as many mitzvos as being a Chumash teacher would be, because it will give me the opportunity to impact my students, which of course I would be able to do because I actually care about the subject I am teaching!”

“Do you mean you don’t care about Chumash?” questioned Libby, perplexed.

Rena rolled her eyes and groaned. “Of course I care about Chumash,” she answered. “You know me; you know I do! It’s only that I don’t want to feel forced or compelled to make Chumash into my career.” She met Rabbi Murdoch’s gaze, though she knew he could not see her because he had removed his glasses. “What do you have to say to that?”

“We already know that you are stubborn,” Rabbi Murdoch commented non-judgmentally. “But that does not make you right.”

“But I am right!” persisted Rena. “Do you really mean to say that God wants us only to be involved with professions that directly have to do with Torah and mitzvos, and if I choose not to do this, I am somehow less worthy, less righteous, less good before Him? You’re creating a God who loves me less for doing something that makes me love Him more! How can that make sense?”

“All that I know,” persisted Rabbi Murdoch, “is that God desires us to be involved with Torah and mitzvot at all times, and anything that will help that goal will be beloved by God. If a man has the ability to learn all day, but he chooses instead to become a doctor and make money, which of those professions do you think God would have preferred for him?”

Rena’s jaw dropped in shock and dismay. “Do you really mean to suggest,” she said dangerously, “that men are not allowed to become doctors? Doctors save lives,” she continued, stating what she clearly felt to be the obvious. “They help people. Doctors are certainly doing God’s will and God’s work.”

“If a man is not cut out to learn,” answered Rabbi Murdoch, “then he can become a doctor. But if a man is cut out to learn…” and he trailed off sadly, leaving Rena with an indignant expression on her face. “But this has gone on long enough,” he said, turning away from her and facing the rest of the class, “let’s get back to borer.”

After class, Rena and Meira came up to Rabbi Murdoch, wanting to continue the discussion. Rena felt as though all had gone wrong with the world, that Rabbi Murdoch had created a selfish world in which God demanded sacrifices from people that they should not have to make, unless they made them willingly. Rena did not want an unwilling doctor who had only pursued the job because he was “not cut out to learn” to be treating her, and she didn’t see how men could ever feel good about themselves if this is what they were told. “You set up this dichotomy,” she candidly explained to Rabbi Murdoch, “where either the men can learn or they can’t. If they can’t, you make them feel bad about themselves, worthless, and only then do they get this heter to go make a living and otherwise pursue their professional leanings. Can’t you figure out a way to make each person, each Jew, feel accepted before God? Every Jew has his own purpose- even the sages in the Gemara used to do menial jobs- they were tanners and coalsmiths! And they all used to help out in the preparation of the Shabbos meals! So how can you say this; how do you suddenly go against what is in our very Gemara?”

Rabbi Murdoch answered her by explaining how special and wonderful it was for a man to learn, how this was his highest purpose, his ultimate form of meaning and self-expression. A man was permitted to support himself, but every moment he spent away from his learning or from his Torah was supposed to pain him, to hurt him to his core. Rena listened unbelievingly.

“That’s all very well and good,” she said, “if your men are saints. But most of them are not saints, and they are being raised in this world, in this place- in the United States of America, for God’s sake! And you want them to give up all the material things they want and the jobs they might long to have, for the sake of an abstract ideal the majority of them cannot even appreciate? And then, if you actually do allow them to pursue what they actually want- suppose that some man could learn or be a brilliant artist, and he wants to be an artist- you’ll only give him permission if you make him feel horrible about himself, about how he can’t learn, about how he’s no good at what really matters- and only after making him feel awful about himself will you let him go!”

It truly pained her, the concept, for she could well imagine how she would feel were she in that man’s situation. Though she had often wished to be born a boy, because she longed for the learning and training they possessed, she was happy to be a woman because of the times that she was allowed to be free, and did not have to come up with excuses to be so. She believed that one was supposed to serve God with his whole soul, with whatever medium was his. The brilliant artist was meant to paint, the brilliant writer to write, the genius of music to play his music. God had given them all talents to develop, and it was these talents she longed to bring to fruition, not just for herself but for all the other, equally yearning teenagers in the world.

Rabbi Murdoch simply smiled at her, and turning to Meira, inquired, “Isn’t she stubborn?”

“Oh!” exclaimed Rena, pretending to be offended (and she was, a little), but seeing this as another aspect of the game, the neverending game of words and expressions that took place between herself and Rabbi Murdoch, to be ended only when he had succeeded in making her cry or otherwise had hurt her far beyond his intentions.

Meira nodded her head gravely, her black curls framing her sweet heart-shaped face, green eyes dancing. “Yes, she’s stubborn,” she agreed. “What would you think if I married someone like her?” she inquired.

“I would think you shouldn’t marry her,” said Rabbi Murdoch, and picking up his papers and placing them inside of his attaché case, he swept out of the room, leaving a somewhat bewildered, somewhat hurt Rena within.


After class he headed over to the Kollel, where he learned for part of the day before returning home to eat supper, watch the children, and prepare for the next day of class. The Kollel was a wonderful place, filled with many bright young men and other Rabbanim like himself, who worked half the day and learned half the day. Today Rabbi Murdoch was learning Kerisos, specifically Kerisos 19a.

“If a man eats either a piece of cheilev or another piece of non-kosher meat,” he read, and continued to read through the list of transgressions a man may commit, including sleeping with his wife while she is a niddah or alternatively sleeping with his wife’s sister, or doing a melacha between Shabbos and Yom Kippur and not knowing on which day he did that melacha, does he bring a chatas? Different sages argued differently, depending on difference in the wording and the text, as to whether a chatas was required and under what circumstances. One sage was of the opinion that a chatas would be required in the first two cases but not the third, because in the first two cases, no matter which action it was that he had actually committed, it was definitely forbidden and he had gained benefit, or pleasure, from it. In the third case, it would not count because of the special situation of melachas machshavas, a thought-through and thought-out melacha, which was the way in which melachos needed to be committed on Shabbat in order to be assur d’oraisa.

Poring over the text, he then reached an interesting question of a mohel who has two infants to circumcise, one of whom is supposed to be circumcised on Shabbos and the other of whom is supposed to be circumcised on Sunday, and who mistakenly mixes up the infants. Now, is he chayav or not? He caused one of the infants to bleed on a day when one is not allowed to wound anyone, but his intent was pure, because he intended to perform the milah of the right baby!

Caught within his world of fascinating Talmudic problems, Rabbi Murdoch did not notice one of the younger boys, Melech, come over to him and stand attentively, waiting for him to turn. Melech was just thirteen, a handsome boy with Sephardic looks, deep brown eyes and darker skin. Finally, Rabbi Murdoch noticed him standing at his side.

“Rabbi Murdoch,” inquired Melech helplessly, “can you help me understand this Gemara?”

Baruch licked his lips nervously. He would rather not go anywhere near Melech, not because he disliked the boy, but for precisely the opposite reason. At the same time, he wanted to help the boy, and a quick glance around the Beis Midrash demonstrated that most of the others seemed busy. Also, the boy had clearly chosen him, in approaching him specifically and asking for his help.

With a sigh, Rabbi Murdoch ran his fingers through his beard and tried to ignore the evidence of his own arousal. Desperation flooded through him, but he remained calm, and seated at his table in the Beis Midrash. He generally preferred the Kollel because the men who learned here were older, most of them working jobs, but sometimes they would bring their sons, or the boys would come here to learn on their own time. Melech was such a case.

Fighting his desire, he answered the boy, and then, reaching for his attaché case, he stood up to leave. He forced himself to walk out of the Beis Midrash calmly, putting on his coat, then holding his attaché case at a slight angle as though in that way he would be further able to hide the evidence of his perversion from others.

He walked to his car, opened the door, then shut himself inside. Closing his eyes, thoughts flooded through his mind, thoughts that were perversions and unclean, of the things that he would like to do to Melech, with him, having undressed him in his mind, having taken his clothes off, fondling him, his fingers just there- and fighting within himself he felt the desire to stop, to shut this off, to retain a humanity that he knew he had completely lost when he fell prey to this desire. He knew that he was sick and he was ashamed but just now he had forgotten that- only for a moment, because he had to, because his lust overcame him, and his desire; it was boys, young boys, little children, ranging anywhere from seven to thirteen. He could not look at them or work with them because he felt sick with lust for them, and nobody knew except he himself, and what was more, he remembered when it had been done to him, how little he was.

He had gone to buy candy from the candy shop and the man, who was religious, and whom his parents had told him he could trust, had told him to step just behind the counter for a moment, because he had a surprise for him, and Baruch, trusting, fearless, had done that. Except then the shop-owner had reached over to him and touched him, right there- rubbing against him with his hand, just the lightest of touches, and then, he handed Baruch a bag full of candy and told him to run on home and keep this their little secret.

And that had continued for a period of years, except that instead of just stepping behind the counter, Baruch graduated to being caught using the bathroom by the shop-owner, who stepped inside and did things to him, things which had permanently damaged him and which he had not told a soul. And when he felt this desire within himself, realized that he too was attracted to what was innocent and pure in others, he had felt sick, sick and disgusted with himself, and he struggled within himself so as to be clean once more, and to run from what he was.

His parents had not known what was wrong with him during those teenage years; he had been moody, depressed; he had not been interested in his learning; he had felt disgusted by himself. And yet every time that he had seen this shop-owner, who was a reputable man in the community, he had forced himself to smile even though inside he was screaming with fear. And to become what he had hated, and to lust to assert his power and control over a being weaker than him, disgusted him. He was disgusted with himself, disgusted by the way he lingered at the park to watch children not his own, the fantasies that absorbed him and pleased him. He was disgusted even as he groaned with pleasure, images of naked children dancing through his mind.

And then there was one time—but that he had not forgiven himself for, could not forgive himself for. For that, he knew, he was damned. God had no mercy upon a person such as he; he had transgressed every law and afterwards, wracked by pain and guilt, he had seriously considered cutting off his hands, somehow torturing himself in order to repent. But there was no repentance for someone who could commit such an act. And so he fled, disappeared, changed and became someone new. He stayed far away from the city where he had perpetrated the crime, the campgrounds on which he had committed this violation. He was too scared and too ashamed to turn himself in, and he prayed and prayed that the child he had hurt would somehow survive the trauma and perhaps even forget. He lived in fear, because what if the boy ever found him…what would he do then…he fought within himself, to tell the truth or to lie- and he knew, that no matter what would happen, he would have to lie.

Because of all the criminals hated by society, pedophiles- and that is what he was- were hated most. Worse than murderers and worse than rapists, pedophiles took a child’s innocence and purity and shattered it, murdered the child’s future for the sake of their own desire. A thousand times he had damned himself with shameful, painful memories, a million times had he sobbed out before God that he was sorry. But it was not enough and he knew that it was not enough.

He had fled to the embrace of the life that he was meant to live, a life where he dedicated himself to the service of God, where he married a good and devoted wife, and yet inside himself he felt unsatisfied. He slept with his wife but he felt no desire toward her, in the same way that he felt no desire toward any of the girls who were in his class. He had a peculiar preference and predilection; he could not control what he felt no matter how he struggled with himself and within himself, and he could not admit to anyone…for who would refrain from backing away in fear, who could see a man in such a monster…and he knew he was a monster, and he suffered for it!

And so he told no one, but went about his life, going home, playing with his children- who, thank God, were different in terms of his preference- behaving kindly toward his wife, toward his students, and trying through his life to make up for his existence. But it all weighed on him, burdening him, and he lived within the shadow of that burden, frightened always lest that boy or his parents find him, accuse him and blast him out of the contented suburban existence he had carved for himself. What to do then? His name, shamed; his reputation, ruined beyond repair. His family members and his children ruined as well…and for what? For his own faults, for a desire he could not undo, for the fact that he was sick, sick and perverted in his fantasies and his desires. Inside himself he struggled to find mercy- yet even within himself he could not find it, for he believed he deserved nothing but pain.

Was it God who had tested him in this manner? Was it his own failure to control his desire, so monstrous a creature was he? He did not know who was to blame for it; he did not know what he should do. He did his best to stay far away from children, but it is impossible within a community as close-knit as this one is…how does one remove children from one’s life as an Orthodox Rabbi…how does one commit oneself, how does one confess…how does one shame oneself and shame one’s whole family…

“Baruch?” his wife calls from upstairs, as he steps through the door and into the house. “I have an idea for you. I was thinking, that Rabbi Davis; he has a boy who needs to be tutored for his bar mitzvah…and he noticed that you lein beautifully and so he wondered…a favor…”


Credits: Little Children

Disclaimer: None of the people in the story are meant to depict real people, and if you think you recognize any of the characters, kindly realize that they are not in any way related to the characters I have created here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dare The Rain

The leaves are slapped against the hard wet pavement, almost as though a child stuck them there, taking pieces of colored paper and firmly pressing his palm over them, the wad of glue underneath expanding to accommodate the foliage. The rain is driving down and people walk with their heads bowed, heading ever onward in the direction of something meaningful. They walk through the dark, toward the faint lights winking in the horizon. They hail cabs and gratefully shake out their wet umbrellas before climbing into the yellow safety of the taxi. The car is your refuge; it keeps you safe.

But there are some of us who prefer to taste the rain. Grungy, our wet hair streaking over our shoulders, our eyes rimmed with the faint smear of nearly washed-off eyeliner, our nails cut short and unpainted, wearing boots that are far too big for us, if they are even boots at all. In my case, they are slippers. I’ve paired these with a pair of black pants, and a black skirt thrown over for effect. And I walk the night, to embrace its darkness, to become acquainted with it and it with me. Within that darkness I can feel myself alive, and there is the faintest touch of a shimmer about me. But I’m the only one who knows it is there.

I shake out my hair and smile, the rain blinding me. Tears shed by an anguished God, liquid mercury droplets that have lost their silver shine as they slip through the sky and onto my nose, my tongue. I shiver and lick my lips, the taste of tainted water on them. Water beads on my nose, my cheeks, slips slyly down my face. It rings my wrists and forms a bracelet, dabs patches of shadow on my sweatshirt. I put the hood up, walk with my head to the ground. I admire the concrete and its slick, slippery sheen, the coating of a newly-waxed floor. Everything is alive again, and in that living I rejoice.

I am seized by an impossible desire to run, as though by doing so I can outrun my fate. I can dance ever onward in darkness, in the storm that embraces me and stirs something in my soul. There is light around me, light beside me, light that wreathes me and becomes me. Can’t you see it? It’s the faintest shimmer of something red, tingling, just there, at the edge of my fingertips, and then see how it forms into a chain, becoming golden, then a deep emerald green, then blue once more, the flaming blue of a spark lapping at coals, kindling its own blaze. I am warm then, the light on my eyes, around me, within me, and submerged in light, I fall deep, beyond the sidewalk with its plastered-on leaves, the paint that makes the colors run, into a dreamy universe conceived of by a master, understood only by His lover.

If you were to picture a fairy, picture her like this: a child dwarfed by an oversized coat, or perhaps a sweatshirt, her hair fanning out across her shoulders, dripping wet from the rain, her large blue eyes opened to take in the world, her fingers delicate, with short and unadorned nails. See her practical rainboots, which reach to the knee, take in her waifish appeal, and the hunger in her gaze. This is your fairy, but you can only find her if you dare the rain for an evening…and refuse the cab.

Kallah Teachers & Shadchanim

Tell me, please, where can I find a list of Kallah Teachers (and their contact information) spanning the entire Jewish spectrum? Lubavitch, Chassidic, Litvak, Chareidi, Modern Orthodox...all those people.

I also need a list of very prominent Shadchanim/ Shadchanos. You can include people in other countries.

[And before you ask, no, this is not for my personal use.]

Monday, October 27, 2008

Things I Have Learned Of Late

1. An Artscroll book which is "adapted" includes examples and quotes that are not the work of the original author. Or in short, Artscroll Adaptation stands for "Includes My Own Personal Reflections and Clarifications On This Text, Which You Might Inadvertantly Assume Are Actually the Examples Offered By The Author, Heh, Heh, Heh." And if you are a poor student who would like an English translation and picks up an adaptation, woe betide you, because in short...*dramatic denoument* Artscroll lies!

2. Everything I need is ALWAYS in Gottesman!

3. Shake N'Bake Chicken is extremely unappetizing, to the point where I will eat salted-and-peppered tomato slices. (Tomatoes, people! I hate tomatoes!)

4. Preparing ahead of time only to forget before class just makes you irritated with yourself.

5. Rabbi Kanarfogel's test is going to run me over like an extremely well-oiled and charged up truck, leaving me flattened in the dust making faint moaning sounds of choke....squee....argh....eep.

6. I still don't know how to install the Hebrew language pack that would enable me to press ALT/ SHIFT and Shazam! I could type in Hebrew on my computer. And this makes my life inconvenient and meaningless.

7. Speaking up in Gemara class when you don't have the exact, precise wording on your lips is guaranteed to make you feel stupid (even when you actually do know the material, and just can't express it the way you want to.)

8. Laughing at yourself makes most things better.

9. I am not the only one hated by large, looming shadows who exist in strange universes not entirely of my own creation.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Save The Date: November 2, Tanach Yom Iyun!

For everyone who enjoyed last year's fabulous YU Tanach Yom Iyun...the opportunity has come again! Welcome to the NOVEMBER 2nd production featuring controversial figures in Tanakh!

Did you ever wonder about Shimshon's marrying non-Jewish wives? What about Hoshea having to marry a prostitute? Were you ever curious about how these people fit into the spectrum of Judaism and Jewish life?

Well, here's your chance to find out more! Just join us on November 2nd at the Wilf Campus from 9:00 AM-1:30 PM to hear some fabulous speakers...and enjoy!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Cruelty Undone

The latest episode of "House" begins with the song "Cheap and Cheerful" by The Kills. There is one line there that struck me.

...I want expensive sadness...

I can think of situations where that is true. That's pretty depressing. But...House & Wilson! Thank the gods!

Other than that, Chuck & Blair! Chuck & Blair! Chuck & Blair!


(Set opens to Blair's room, beautifully arranged, with lots of tall candles- she is in the middle of the bed, wearing stunning lingerie)

Blair: What took you so long?
Chuck: (very deliberately) If you thought that was long, you have no idea what you're in for.

*insert the beginnings of a love scene*

Chuck: Say it.
Blair: (breathless) Say what? I'll say anything.
Chuck: Say those three words you wanted me to say.
Blair: Are you kidding?
Chuck: Not quite. Eight letters. Three syllables. Say them and I'm yours.
Blair: (impatient, apprehensive) But- I'm already yours (deflecting) -you're ruining the mood, all this talk!
Chuck: You can't say it. (pause) You wanted it from me.
Blair: (reconciliatory tone) I'm prepared to settle.
Chuck: Maybe I'm not.
Blair: Chuck Bass- (pause)- I- will never say those words to you.
Chuck: Then you will never have me.
Blair: Is this because of Vanessa? It was a game, Chuck. That's it.
Chuck: Maybe I want to raise the stakes. We've already played that game; I chased you for long enough. Now it's time you chased me.

Brilliant scene because it finally makes Blair seem vulnerable (hurrah vulnerable!) Nasty, cruel, vindictive and manipulative as she is (and as cold as Chuck sometimes seems), the entire reason anybody watches Gossip Girl is to find out that the cruelest people have feelings, too.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The World's Sexiest Raincoat

The World's Sexiest Raincoat... belongs to ME!!!!

Not only that, I can double as Trinity on Purim! I have a new Purim costume! All I need are the glasses and the gun (I already have the boots) and voila, we have Trinity.

Calvin Klein is awesome.

On Driving, Jelly Beans & Shitake Mushrooms

(Courtesy of Flickr)

This past Chol Hamoed Sukkos, my father decided that he would take us on an exciting adventure to an unnamed destination. Much of the excitement was due to the fact that I was trusting my sister Dustfinger with my life. Dustfinger, happily, knows how to drive (with a permit), and collects hours whenever she can. So my father decided the drive to Wisconsin, with all the children and himself in the car, would be the perfect time to test her abilities. To give credit where it is due, she drives quite well. Nevertheless, at the beginning at least, I was terrified. And she knew it! Minx.

The boys, on the other hand, had quite comfortably lain back in their seats so that we could watch the Flintstones. The Flintstones are great. They offer you practical advice that should be obeyed in every marriage *wink*. And then there is a cry of "Shitake Mushrooms!" to enliven your experience. This is due to the fact that Wilma has been taking judo, and beating up prowlers because of it.

So you can imagine me, the terrified patient introduced to this new form of therapy, lying back in the chair, clutching the seat tightly, scared stiffless of my sister's newfound ability, and attempting to pay attention to Wilma onscreen. This after I irritated my brother profoundly by beginning a mantra that went, "Dustfinger drives very well. Dustfinger drives very well. Dustfinger drives very well," as though by repeating it more frequently, that would make it more true.

In any case, my father took us to the Jelly Belly Factory in Wisconsin!

Now, this factory is quite interesting. Firstly, Jelly Belly, after two years of hard work and effort, has acquired an OU. However, this OU applies only to products explicitly labeled as such or bulk products sold at the factory. Jelly Belly beans packaged with other hechsherim are "not recommended" by the CRC (Chicago Rabbinical Council.) Interestingly, we spoke to one of the workers (the one selling the candy) after our tour, and he mentioned that he had been personally involved in overseeing the change and noted that he'd been part of the crew cleaning and washing out bowls and vessels with hot water. This was after my father took it upon himself to explain why so many Orthodox Jews had chosen this particular day to flood into the factory. We did not, however, ask about the chocolates manufactured there, so we have no idea whether the chocolate products are kosher.

As to Jelly Belly itself, well, you get to ride on a train and go for a tour...and you get to wear a pretty hat...and you get to learn all about how Ronald Reagan popularized jelly beans! So much so, in fact, that Jelly Belly invented the flavor "blueberry" in order to give him an inauguration gift of red, white and blue jelly beans, and the Jelly Belly jelly beans were taken everywhere subsequently. This to the point that the President's private plane had a special ledge built to hold the jelly bean container, and the jelly beans were on Air Force One!

I found the mosaics pretty interesting, too. Did you know people actually make artwork out of Jelly Belly beans, including presidential? You can see pictures here.

And I learned how they make taffy with the shapes in the middle (like Christmas trees, or other shapes.) It's all pretty interesting.

Well, after the tour, my siblings and I went on a brave sampling spree. I refused, but my siblings decided to enjoy "Baby Wipes," "Toothpaste," and other similarly disturbing flavors (it's Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans brought to life.) I preferred Kiwi and Pomegranate, but my favorite flavor is Very Cherry. But then, I don't really like jelly beans. I'm much more of a chocolate/ cake/ brownie person. And we procured lots of "Belly Flops"- which are the jelly beans that are misshapen or misformed, and which Jelly Belly therefore sells as oddities, but not as their official product.

And then came the return ride! Along the way, I acquired a new piece of luggage (meaning that I will no longer suffer from clothing falling out of my duffel bag, hurrah!), the boys got sneakers, and Dustfinger enjoyed Aeropostale. And of course, we all got to experience the joy that is Dustfinger laughing uncontrollably on the highway while pushing seventy-five or so- and the thrills that entails. The next time you are in the car with someone whose head is bobbing up and down while they shake uncontrollably with laughter- and they are driving- do let me know.

I wonder what candy I would popularize if I were President. I think I would go with Reese's. Or Godiva. But probably Reese's. Somehow I never really thought of the presidency as a candy endorsement job until now.

As I side note, I think Sting's "Russians" rates high on my list of personally preferred political songs (and yes, higher than Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire.") "Russians" is more my thing- the tune is more my speed, alongside the lyrics. Aside from which, the line he uses is a reflection of Golda Meir's statement. What's your favorite political song (which is not actually official- i.e., not the national anthem?)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Thank God For The Boys (& The Girl)

Last night, slumped against the refrigerator, I began a litany of complaints that tried the patience of all who came into contact with me, until I thought of composing a little ditty that went like this:

Maybe I will become a cockroach.
Maybe I will become a banana peeler.
Maybe I will become the vitamins inside a bottle of water.
Maybe I will become a necklace.
Maybe I will become a doctor.
Maybe I will become a lawyer.
Maybe I will become a drumset.
Maybe I will become a chicken with it's head cut off.
Maybe I will become a Queen.
Maybe I will become a saw.
Maybe I will become an axe.
Maybe I will become a cereal bowl.
Maybe I will become a potato chip factory worker.
Maybe I will become a garbageman (sanitation worker.)
Maybe I will become a bowtie.
Maybe I will become green tea.
Maybe I will become ice cream.
Maybe I will become a warrior.
Maybe I will live in a cardboard box forever and ever.

To which Taran replied: There's always Charlie (reference to the homeless man who wanted to go out with me.) And later- You'll be all warm and snuggly in that cardboard box.

Anyway, after spending a good thirty minutes assuring me that I will not be a failure at life, Taran arose from his spot at the kitchen table- at which point I anxiously asked, "Where are you going?" - clasped my hand and informed me that we were going for a walk. "A walk?" I questioned. "A stroll," he replied, as he led me up the stairs and in the direction of my room. We paused for a moment outside of the Boys' bathroom. Urchin was cleaning his ears. "Maybe I will become a Q-Tip!" I said brightly. "How much Bud Light has she drunk?" Urchin questioned Taran, who simply shook his head wisely and led me up the next flight of stairs to my room. Dustfinger had esconced herself by my computer and was typing feverishly. Taran ignored her. He turned on my Shabbos lamp, took me to my bed, and then suggested to me that I get into bed and lie down. My head was still pounding- it had been pounding consistently. But I lay down in bed, after which my brother solicitously covered me up with the comforter, removed my glasses and placed them on the teddybear sitting on my nightstand, and then, taking out his book, proceeded to read aloud to me.

He read for a good ten to fifteen minutes and slowly, my headache dissipated. Dustfinger was still typing away at the computer, illuminated only by its blue glow; Taran was reading and Urchin had brought his book, Brisingr, to read as well, though quietly. I watched Taran as he sat on my bed and read to me by the light of the Shabbos lamp, and slowly my fears ebbed away and it seemed like, no matter what happened, it would somehow be all right so long as I was assisted by the good temper and good humor of my incorrigible brothers and sister.

At about 11:30 I determined that we should all go to sleep, and bade Taran to shut the light, but they did not depart before we had a beautiful conversation in which I rediscovered the depth and wit of my siblings, who have combined a talent for being exceedingly humorous with that of understanding situations and people very well. There, in the dark, with one of them having swiveled about to face us in my computer chair, while the others sat on my bed and I lay down and looked at them in the night, I realized- yet again- how lucky I am.

Thank God for the Boys- & The Girl.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Like Clay In The Hands Of The Potter

ו הֲכַיּוֹצֵר הַזֶּה לֹא-אוּכַל לַעֲשׂוֹת לָכֶם, בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל--נְאֻם-יְהוָה; הִנֵּה כַחֹמֶר בְּיַד הַיּוֹצֵר, כֵּן-אַתֶּם בְּיָדִי בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל. {ס} 6 '

O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay in the potter's hand, so are ye in My hand, O house of Israel. {S}

~Jeremiah 18: 6


Arguably the most famous piyut on Yom Kippur is "Like Clay in the Hands of the Potter:"

Like the clay in the hand of the potter-
he expands it at will and contracts it at will-
so are we in Your hand, O Preserver of kindness,
look at the covenant and ignore the Accuser.

Like the stone in the hand of the cutter-
he grasps it at will and smashes it at will-
so are we in Your hand, O Source of life and death,
look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser.

Like the ax-head in the hand of the blacksmith-
he forges it at will and removes it at will-
so are we in Your hand,
O Supporter of poor and destitute,
look at the covenant and ignore the Accuser.

Like the anchor in the hand of the sailor-
he holds it at will and casts it at will-
so are we in Your hand,
O good and forgiving God,
look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser.

Like the glass in the hand of the blower-
he shapes it at will and dissolves it at will-
so are we in Your hand,
O Forgiver of willful sins and errors,
look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser.

Like the curtain in the hand of the embroiderer-
he makes it even at will and makes it uneven at will-
so are we in Your hand,
O jealous and vengeful God,
look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser.

Like the silver in the hands of the silversmith-
he adulterates it at will and purifies it at will-
so are we in Your hand,
O Creator of cure for disease,
look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser.


This piyut is generally seen as being terrifying, because our lives and destines are malleable and in God's hands, and it is He who may do as He desires with us.

Yet there is another point of view, an optimistic one, espoused in Lloyd Alexander's Taran Wanderer, page 271:

"As for my parentage," he added, "it makes little difference. True kinship has naught to do with blood ties, however strong they be. I think we are all kin, brothers and sisters one to the other, all children of all parents. And the birthright I once sought, I seek it no longer. The folk of the Free Commons taught me well, that manhood is not given but earned. Even King Smoit in Cantrev Cadiffor told me this, but I did not heed him.

"Llonio said life was a net for luck; to Hevydd the Smith life was a forge; and to Dwyvach the Weaver-Woman a loom. They spoke truly, for it is all of these. But you," Taran said, his eyes meeting the potter's, "you have shown me life is one thing more. It is clay to be shaped, as raw clay on a potter's wheel."

To be a shaper of clay is to have power. Here, Taran has realized the ability and responsiblity one has to shape one's life, and to have the incredible power of being able to do so, and to make it as we so choose.

In our case, we as clay are also shaped, and who better to be shaped and molded by than God? On the one hand it is terrifying, but on the other hand, it gives me a sense of happiness to know that I, Chana, am lucky enough to be the clay in the hands of God, who has taken the time and invested the effort in forming me, creating me, in my own fashion and with my own function. How lucky am I that of all the hands that I could possibly be in, it is God Himself who molds me and forms me, who holds me in His hands and shapes me!

On that note, there is a beautiful midrash in Genesis Rabbah 32:3:
    It is written: “The Lord seeks out the righteous man, but loathes the wicked one who loves injustice” (Ps. 11:5). Rabbi Jonathan said: A potter does not check the quality of fragile vessels, which he has but to strike once and they break. Which does he examine? The sturdy vessels, that even if he strikes them several times they do not break. Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, does not put trials before the wicked, rather before the righteous, as it is said: “The Lord seeks out [Heb. yivhan, also meaning “examines”] the righteous man.” It is also written (Gen. 22:1): “G-d put Abraham to the test.” Rabbi Jose ben Haninah said: When a flax worker knows that his flax is good, the more he pounds it, the better it becomes, and when he beats it, it becomes finer; but when he knows his flax is not good, he has but to pound it once and the fiber breaks. Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, does not put the wicked to the test, but rather the righteous, as it is said: “The Lord seeks out the righteous man.” Rabbi Eleazar said: This may be compared to a landlord who has two cows, one robust and one weak; on which would he put the yoke, not on the robust one? Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, puts the righteous to the test, as it is written, “The Lord seeks out the righteous man.” [4]

We are clay in the hands of the Potter. And what does God make of us? Vessels, of course, just as He created Adam as a vessel of clay, which he then infused with a spirit and a soul. And what kind of vessels does God make of us? Why, sturdy vessels which will not crack. Yet we are all tested. We are tested with trials and tribulations and opportunities to sin- and this is because of who and what we are, these vessels created by God.

So when we recite this piyut, on the one hand, it is indeed terrifying that God has the ability to dash us to the ground and destroy us, that he can erase us from existence, that we are malleable clay in His hands. But it is also true that God takes this clay and creates us from it, forming us into special and beautiful vessels, which He then tests. It is through these very tests that we might perhaps fall, and the Accuser would have room to argue! Yet that is impossible, because God Himself can testify that He is our creator, the Potter, and that the vessels are sturdy, even if they seem cracked- or if they are cracked, that they can become whole once more. Yes, we are clay in the hands of the Potter, and He has absolute power over us. But we are also clay in the hands of the Potter- in the hands of God! I was formed and created and had life breathed into me by God, and it is God who can testify that He made me well, and the vessel may yet be whole.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Curious Jew Podcast: Jewish Education

Hello everybody! This is just an experiment. I wondered whether perhaps there are those of you who would prefer audio posts to written ones, and so I figured I'd do one, and hear your feedback. Thanks!

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Adulteress

A story

I remember the day I was married. I was so happy then. We danced at the chuppah; we laughed and cried. I sparkled in a dress that I had taken much time and care choosing, and the look on Josh’s face showed me that he treasured me, that he was utterly and completely happy.

I was only twenty-one. This is the way things are done in my world; this is the way that we live. I had followed the dance as I had been taught, the dance of courtship and little nothings, the polite exchanges and interchanges between me and him. I had been dating for two years by that point, as most Orthodox Jews do. You see, we marry young when we are Orthodox Jews. It is like a bazaar, and the men come and choose those amongst us whom they see as prettiest and most beautiful, the ones about whom they can dream, the ones who fulfill their fantasies. We smile at them and adjust our clothes becomingly, while we talk politely, never raising our voices, never speaking out of turn.

I was a little different. My name is Aurora, and this means I have the fire of the sun in me, or at least, of the dawn. With the dawn comes beauty, and they tell me that I am beautiful. I have long curls, auburn, that reach to halfway down my back. My eyes are dark as well, and they are fringed with long black lashes. They are the kind of eyes that seem to be looking on and on, unerringly, as though they have found what they sought. People often think they can find themselves in my eyes. It is not true. It is that I am looking them through and through and searching for something which remains elusive, something which I still cannot find. I found it in Josh, or so I thought.

I met him at a birthday party. Crowded, with music pulsing all around me, I was engrossed and repulsed by the spectacle. These were all people I knew, people who went to college with me or attended other colleges in the New York area. I watched them dance and play and laugh loudly, convincing themselves that they were having a good time. And then I saw Josh, who stood a little apart from them, just as I did. That intrigued me. I had determined to observe, and observe I did, noting the dark hair which fell a little into his eyes because it was overly long, and which he had to continuously sweep back. I memorized his lips, the shape of them, and decided I liked his face, which, in addition to being handsome, simply conveyed a sense of honesty I admired. He was well groomed, and his clothes fit him well. I looked at him and watched him interact with the others. Then I turned my gaze away, focusing once more on the mingling bodies, the pulse of humanity all around me. Why did I feel dead in this room that vibrated with life? And yet, if anything, it saddened me, frustrated me. I rose to my feet, determined to walk out the door after making my goodbyes. But before I could do that, I was introduced to Josh. Josh was a student at Columbia, and he was instantly witty and charming. And so I laughed with him, and teased him about his books, and soon I was taking part in a conversation the content of which I actually valued.

Josh and I were friends for a while. I would not call it dating; I am not the kind to date- not conventionally, anyway. We would go to places we both enjoyed. We laughed together, we played together. I was infatuated. Of course, I denied that to anyone who asked me about it, because there was a surety, a sense of assurance that he was of course the one destined for me, destined for me from the beginning of time. An angel announces which person is meant for whom when we are born. And I was certain, whenever I looked at Josh, that it must be he. And so we spoke and laughed and drank cups of coffee at Starbucks together, despite the fact that I hated Starbucks, and I decided he was charming and all was well.

Over time, this evolved into a stronger bond. By this point my friends were aware of the relationship, and each of them eagerly pressed me for information about myself and him, appraised me in the mirror and nodded approvingly before I would venture down the stairs and walk outside with him. He was unfailingly kind, and everything was as it should be. I was in love with him. How could I not be? Everything pointed to it. I enjoyed his company, and I pushed aside the things I minded. Why should it bother me that his interests lay in a different field than mine? That was not something of import. Or why that I was more earnestly devoted to my religion and my God than he? He had a more spiritual take on his religion; it was one that was not rooted in the books and academic sources I so craved.

It was three and a half months, and I met his parents. He met mine as well, and all was arranged. He surprised me shortly thereafter, and we were engaged. Although of course I would not profess to care overly much about my diamond, it was a beautiful one, and sparkled on my finger. And every time I looked at Josh I thought of how much I loved him, and how everything would be perfectly wonderful. Of course, I knew that we would have to work at marriage. Everyone had told me this. They had also told me that the first year would be the most difficult, and had advised me about my responsibilities and duties. But I was ready. I knew I was ready. After all, was I not flooded with feelings for Josh, and did he not return them utterly? I knew that everything was as it should be.

At my shower, my friends laughed and teased me as I ripped off the wrappings, showering the torn scraps of metallic paper to the floor. I laughed gaily and threw my head back with joy. Each gift was a practical one- a Cuisinart blender, a Black & Decker set of bowls and knives. Soon I was receiving advice about how to pick out china dishes in my bridal registry, and I ventured from store to store choosing precisely what I liked. My parents were happy for me. Everyone smiled down upon me. And I- I had eyes only for Josh. I existed for Josh, to make him happy, to help him and to heal him.

My wedding was beautiful. A lavish affair, with a varied smorgasbord (that sign of interest amongst the Orthodox), exquisite centerpieces, a simply divine band. My friends surprised me with their entertaining comments and posters, which were used as shtick. Josh and I danced and greeted people and threw each other longing looks over the mechitza which separated us. I could feel his desire, and that made me happy. But I was shy.

At long last, the guests had all departed and I was free to walk upstairs to the bridal chamber. I will never forget that first night. It was memorable because I thought that this was everything that they had spoken of, all the pleasure that was allowed me. And I was surprised, since I had expected something different. I was also shy of Josh at that time, and he of me. You see, we did not really know what to expect, and so we had to figure it out as we went along, and were not sure if we did rightly or wrongly. What I do remember is that my infatuation with him led me to feel desire, and so I was happy that first night.

We attended the sheva brachos and I presided, resplendent, in my new suits and other carefully chosen outfits, receiving compliments upon my hat, my shoes, the diamond bracelet that I had been given. So long as I was surrounded by others, I was confident; I knew that all was well. But once I was alone with Josh I felt more confused, nervous, even. Because what I began to realize was that there was not a basis for our attachment for one another, that I had married him simply because that was expected of me- that if I liked someone enough and found their company pleasant, I should marry them. But of course I did not allow myself to realize this. After all, I was Aurora, the spinner of dreams, the mistress of fantasies. I lived in my fantasy, and I was very good at fooling myself.

I did everything as I ought. I entertained him, I went places with him, I cooked for him and helped prepare the Shabbat meals. We were happy together, except that I began to realize that the things that were most important to me, those which I loved extremely, I could not talk about. They were not the same things that made his blood quicken, that made him feel. I had not realized how much I would miss a man of learning. I had thought that the fact that Josh was good, that he was intelligent, that he was spiritual about his religion and Judaism and related to it honestly, would be enough. But it was not enough. There were things I wanted to ask, things I wanted to know, things I wanted to discuss, but I was shy of bringing them up before him lest it seem as though I knew more than him. It was not that I thought he was a jealous man, or would be angry with me for so knowing. It was that I was afraid to disgrace him- or perhaps, it was that I was afraid to disgrace him in my eyes.

I had cherished a fantasy of a husband who was wiser than me, who knew more than me, whom I did not need to support but who was sufficient to himself- who did not need me, but wanted me. I had wanted someone who was my equal, but I had fallen for someone who had passed himself off as being so, but in truth was not. I realized that I had to think through my every action lest I hurt him or embarrass him, and while I did not begrudge him this, it made me less myself. I was not natural around him, not in the way that I had been before. The lighthearted and meaningful conversation we had made- the barriers we had broken- that was there, and it was pleasant, but this was not what I had dreamed of; this was not the true, deep and meaningful relationship I craved and cherished. I desired someone who would choose me, but who did not need me to lift him up, to save him, to take away the pain of the hurts he had suffered because he did not have the ability to do it himself. I desired an equal.

How was it possible that I had been so blinded? We were six months into our marriage and I could not understand what it was that I had done. I was no fool, and I had not married foolishly. We had discussed our thoughts, our preferences, our desires; we had been very candid with each other. How could it be that I had mistaken my infatuation for love? I felt very low then, as though I was the author of this deception, the one who had cruelly chosen him only to now feel trapped by this marriage, which began to be a marriage of pretense more than reality. Josh did not know me, because I was afraid to let him know me. I realized more frequently that things which I cherished, he judged, and that which I loved, he resented. It was not that he was bad to me. On the contrary, he was very good to me. And that made it all the worse. Because here he was, innocent of any plot, and yet, I did not love him and I was not myself with him.

But I tried very hard to be. I slept with him, and in that there was still passion and sensuality conceived by my mind. Desire begins with the mind, not the body, with the ability to think and to fantasize and to act upon what one desires and what one wants. And as I was beautiful, and intelligent besides, I was satisfied in that way. I conceived a child. We had been married almost a year. I was certain that with the birth of this child, with her to fill my life and to live with me, I would be happy and content, and whatever confused feelings lay within me would be totally devoted to my love of her.

I gave birth to the child, and Josh was ecstatic. The stirrings of love rekindled in my heart when I saw the joy with which he looked upon her, the way in which he cradled her in his arms. I felt myself cruel to judge this man who had only shown me kindness, and I endeavored to be better- a better mother, a better wife. I knew that I was an unnatural person not to love this man who had only shown me kindness. My friends praised me and assumed that everything in my marriage was progressing beautifully. Little did they know of the rebellion that lay dormant in my heart.

I nursed my child, loved her, told her fantastical stories of creatures and fairies in far-away lands. I let her listen to music, taught her Torah, creating fascinating tales of our forefathers and inundating her pretty sweet head with these stories. I cooked and cleaned and was a homemaker, because I would not abandon my child to the care of a nanny or babysitter. But that was all right, as I was able to write columns from home, and in that way managed to bring in a part-time salary. Josh, of course, was studying; he was continuing in chemistry. He worked during the day and studied at night, and all should have been well.

But all was not well. For my feelings for Josh did not exist, even when I guiltily pushed myself to feel them. I acted kindly toward him- I would bring him little presents, surprise him, make his favorite foods, remind him of the times we had had together while we were still dating- but he was tired, and busy, and did not often respond as I might have wished. I was not so cruel as to judge him for these lapses. I thought they were only to be expected. But what did frustrate me is that I could not find in him the source of support that I needed, while I was a pillar of strength for him, he could not be that for me. Instead, I found myself constantly and consistently forgiving him the little wrongs he did me, the slights with words, and telling myself he did not mean it. When I was very low, I found ways to occupy or distract myself, so as not to take out my anger on him- for I told myself he did not deserve it.

Yet we continued as couples do, and the child grew. We were seen together; we attended dinners and functions together, Chanukah parties and the like. People seemed to enjoy my wit, but I was brooding, and I was unhappy, and the telltale signs of strain began to show on me. My friends counseled me that a vacation was what I needed. But a vacation from what? A vacation from my household, which was- or so it ought to have been- perfectly happy? A vacation from myself, more accurately ,but that was unfair, and impossible. How could I escape from myself? And what kind of woman was I, that I could not respond to my husband as I ought?

Over this time, Josh began to change. Money was tight, and we were worried. He began to accuse me of financial excesses, when I had innocently spent what I did not know we did not have. I cut back on my spending, which had never been very prevalent anyway, but he was still angry with me. We began to fight. But all couples fight, don’t they? Yet we would fight about everything. We would fight about the school that our child would attend, where I did not like the education or the things they were teaching her, which I felt spoiled her soul and took her away from the Judaism I cherished. The Judaism she was learning was a cold, dead thing, and it burdened and oppressed her. I cried to see her in her little uniform when she went to school, that uniform she was made to wear to keep her covered to fulfill the tenets of tznius. I did not like my daughter so confined, and so unfree. But Josh saw nothing in my worries, and told me I was being meddlesome and foolish. He was busy, and soon, I was busy, too. By now I had gotten myself a full-time job, where I was respected and much enjoyed. People seemed happy in my company, and would always exclaim over my unusual name- Aurora. The dawn is a concept that attracts many, and makes them happy. It seemed that simply through my presence I was able to bring a little of the dawn to these people, and this in turn made me glad.

My Lisa took after me. She was a dreamer, thoughtful, inquiring. Invariably, she got in trouble at school for asking too many questions. I had grown fearful of Josh. It was not that he was cruel to me, or struck me, but he was worried, and stress overtook him to the point that it was unpleasant to be in our house. The tension was thick, unless we had other people over to act as a buffer between us. When those people were there, we entertained and thought ourselves happy. It is not that we were vicious in their presence, and took joy in dropping little hints and barbs that the other could detect. No, it was that we were truly able to be at ease with other people, and so we determined to practice hachnasas orchim whenever possible, to invite others to eat with us, stay with us, to take up the space in our household, that space caused by the distance between us.

I longed for him to simply come to me and confide in me, to talk to me and trust me. I wanted to confide in him and knew that privilege was denied me. He needed me to be strong for him, to hear him out and offer sound advice- for at times we still reconciled and were tender toward each other- I was not allowed to fall apart. I had no refuge; there was no one to whom I could turn. I was a mother and an accomplished database programmer; I was also a writer, but these were not the things that mattered to him. What mattered was that I be there when he needed me, tender and sweet, and be unseen when he did not desire me.

Slowly, his total dependence upon me began to repulse me. He was weak, and I despised his weakness. It was not fair of me, but it was true nonetheless. What use was he to me, when he could not help me, could not offer me the same comfort which I gave him freely? And yet. What was there to do? There was nothing to be done. We had already committed ourselves to one another; the only thing to do was to continue in this way.

Until one day we were at a wedding at the Marina del Ray, for some younger friends of ours who were now to be married, and as I was exiting the ladies’ room and walking through the corridor back to the main ballroom, I happened to stumble, the heel of my shoe catching on my dress. I fell, but someone caught me, and as I stood up my eyes met his- Michael. It was Michael, and I had not seen him in years, but it felt so natural to be in his arms, so right, that with a sigh of relief my eyes met his, and all the feelings that I thought I had buried so long ago flared up again. I pressed closer against him and felt his eyes meet mine, and then, realizing that we were in public, I stepped away from him.

“Are you all right?” he asked, and his tone was smooth and careful, as though he were merely asking about the fall.

“Yes, quite,” I answered, and flashed a smile at him. We exited the hallway, but in the opposite direction, and stood outside on the pier, where we looked out over the water.

“Aurora,” he said, and it seemed to me that he breathed the name, as though it were laden with memories for him, as it was for me. “I have missed you.”

“Yes, I too,” I answered, and suddenly tears sprang to my eyes and I turned, my face half-shadowed because of the sunlight. But I could feel his eyes on me and so I turned, unselfconsciously, and he saw the tears, though he did not comment. But simply in the way he looked at me I could feel that he would do anything so that I would not cry, and that there was within him a great longing to help, and to take me from myself.

“What is the matter, Aurora?” he asked quietly, so that the other people mingling outside would not hear, and I shook my head slightly to indicate this was not a matter to discuss in public. “It is just that I am glad to see you again,” I answered, and my smile came naturally, but did not dispel the tears caught within my eyes.

“Where have you been?” I asked him, and he told me he had been away, traveling in Europe for a time in business, but had come back to the States now. Indeed, he did not live so far away from me.

“Are you—married?” I inquired, for as he must have been in his thirties, it seemed likely.

“No,” he said simply, and I read an answer in his eyes, an answer which simultaneously thrilled and frightened me, because it suggested that what I now felt was reciprocated. I understood now why my feelings of infatuation had not lasted for Josh; it was because there was something much deeper and stronger, a bond that had been there first and that could not be taken away from me- and that was with Michael, who had always been the one to save me and to help me. Michael and I had always been equals, in our devotion to God and our dedication to our Judaism. In many things we were like-minded; there were a few on which we differed significantly, and these differences were such that I determined, of course, that I could not marry him. I had not admitted to myself that I loved him still, that at the moment, all I wanted to do was trace the pads of my fingers up his chin, around his jaw, down his neck, to run my perfectly manicured fingernails over his lips, to taste his tongue. But I saw the answering look of desire in his eyes, and also the realization that it was inappropriate, and more than that, forbidden. We were Jews and we knew the law well; adultery was the most contemptible thing for it made a mockery of the sacred institution of marriage in which I was bound. For three things, one must die- and one of them is committing adultery with a married woman.

I knew these things as well, and I never thought that I would come to committing adultery with Michael. That was not in my mind, not at all; rather, I was certain that I had at last found someone who could be there for me when I needed it, who could be the pillar of support that Josh was not. And indeed, that is what happened- that is how we began. I would write him letters, or emails; we would speak, sometimes on the phone- invariably when Josh was not around- and then, discreetly, we began to meet- in public, and sometimes for a dinner amongst others.

Yet I refrained from introducing him to my husband. I felt that my husband would sense what I myself knew- that it was this man I loved, and not him. I had not been unfaithful to Josh physically, but I had in my heart, and I knew it, though as of yet, I would not admit that, either.

Until that night- there was a night when Michael called me and such wild pain rode in his voice that I fled, invented an excuse that I had to leave, and came to his apartment to find out what it was that had wracked him so. A friend, a beloved friend of his had committed suicide, a friend who had been David to his Jonathan, and he did not know what to do. And then- it was natural; it was right- how could I have refrained- I threw my arms around him and comforted him, stroking his hair, my fingers twining through his curls, his back, his arms, soothing him and calming him, to quiet the storm that raged within.

I did not sleep with him that night; I merely eased his grief. But we continued on like that and we could not help ourselves, or perhaps, if we could have, it was that we did not want to. I know that I did not want to. What I did felt right, sanctified and pure- I shared my body with the man whom I felt was my true soulmate, not to spite Josh or to hurt him, but because this afforded me a joy and happiness that I had utterly forgotten. I continued my duties as wife and mother at home, and continued in my kindness toward Josh, but I felt myself to be a hypocrite, and even despicable.

How could it be that I was an adulteress? I, who clung to the tenets of Judaism, who lived my whole life by them, and through them; how had I succumbed to this? It was impossible, and yet, there was no way for me to repent, because to repent was to say this was false, but it was not false. I knew that what God desired of me was something stronger still- for me to admit that this was not false, but rather pure, in that it was done for a pure reason, but nevertheless to refrain from it, because I was deceiving my husband and I was hurting my soul, which God had given me. But it was not so simple. I did not wish to leave Josh- you are wondering why it was I did not simply ask for a divorce- because I did not know if I could be wed to Michael. All the same questions that had once existed between us were yet there; I did not know if we could exist in each others’ company in the way that we wished to, or if we would not cause our own downfall there as well. Aside from this, I loved my children- by this time I had two, a boy and a girl- and wanted them to grow up well, in a family not divided.

In my heart I felt my dishonesty hurt and corrupt me, but at the same time, I felt somewhat justified, as Josh had learned to become more and more unkind. He was cruel in his neglect. He took no notice of me unless it was for something he needed- whether his food or his bed- and he thought this was perfectly all right. He would not offer the children the necessary attention unless I begged it of him; he would cuttingly state that he was tired and overworked and the only true provider in this family, anyway, and that he did not have time to deal with them just now. The tears I cried because of this! And I felt selfish, too, to take my joy with another when I had not succeeded in saving my children from the bondage of their respective schools, and they were being raised in a model of Judaism that I myself did not embody. They clung to me, my children, and my way of living and existing; they felt the coldness of what they were taught, the chill haunted them.

I was an adulteress, but I was too frightened to tell my husband- at first, I had not meant to deceive him, and now, I had deceived him for so long; what was I to do? And I was worried about what would happen-because I was sure it would be a divorce, and who would be given custody of the children? I needed the children, wanted them desperately, but I was not sure what he might do to punish me. And so I was silent, and thought somehow my two worlds would not collide.

They did collide. A rumor, then confirmed by Josh realizing that I was not in the place I had told him I would be, and finally showing up at Michael’s apartment one day- who gave him the address, I do not know- and finding me there- fully dressed, as it happened, as I was about to leave, after having had much talk and entertainment with him, with Michael, that is. The blood drained from my face, and Josh, who was cold, simply escorted me outside, into the car, and into the bedroom when we came home.

There, I expected rage. But it was not rage with which he confronted me, but cold fury, cold blind fury when he summed up my deceits and failings as a wife, a human being and a mother. I felt the guilt with which he suffocated me; I felt it tighten like a noose around my neck. I knew that I would be shamed if he chose to tell others of my unfaithfulness, and yet, had it truly been a choice? I had only longed to be faithful to myself, not to hurt him, yet even I could hear how false those words sounded. I was frightened, frightened of being alone and without him, for Josh had become my security, and I was used to him. What then was I to do? Was I to leave my marriage, or leave Michael- and could I even promise to do that- would it be possible? There are some things we cannot do.

At first, defiantly, I told Josh that it was his fault that our marriage had deteriorated to this state- his anger, his fights, his cruelty in neglecting me, in not seeing what it was that I needed, longed for and craved. At this he looked at me with a look that was terrifying to behold, and raised his hand as though to strike me. But he did not strike me; he simply put it down at his side after looking at his fingers, opening and closing his fist as though in wonder, in confusion- could this be he, could this be him- driven to anger and distraction through a woman, a mere woman, his wife, Aurora?

He told his parents; he told my parents. My parents were shocked; they had raised me well and purely. Who could expect this behavior from me? What kind of person was I? And angrily, I stated that I was a person who had been forced into marriage too young, a person who had been shaken from the folds of my society, who had been raised to enter into marriage without being sure, without knowing, without feeling that certainty- I was someone who had been prodded into this because it was what I ought to do, what I had been taught I must do- to marry. I spilled my self-hatred and vitriol out on them, and then I wept, because I did not know what to do, or how to go about it.

I wanted to leave Josh but I wanted my children, and he made it a choice between him and them. He was magnanimously willing to forgive me- that is, to retain his comfortable status of having his woman do everything for him, from listening and looking beautiful to cooking, cleaning and mothering the children- so long as I never saw Michael again. On the other hand, if I chose to divorce- he knew that I would marry Michael soon after, and break the law which states that an adulteress is not permitted to the man she slept with- I would not see my children again. How he managed that, what lies he told, I did not know; I only knew that I could not defend myself and it was this choice that was presented me.

What was I to do? My entire soul was bound up with Michael; he understood and knew me thoroughly, including all my sins, and yet he loved me anyway. And his love was a long, lasting and abiding fact; it was a love that was unconditional, even when he and I both knew that we were wrong- and we did, here, we knew that we were wrong to commit adultery and yet we did it anyway, because we hadn’t the strength to stop ourselves from showing, through love expressed physically- what our souls already knew.

But my children, my children! To not see my children again, to relinquish them into the care of some other woman, to be brought up in a religion that would choke them and bind them, as it had initially bound me- until I had fought free of it in my quest to be my own mistress, and had understood precisely who I was- what choice was this? At first, painfully, I thought I could survive without them- I gave my husband the go-ahead for the divorce. But then, weeping, crawling, I came back to him and begged him, begged him to take me back because I loved them and wanted to stay with them.

He took pity on me and exercised compassion. He did not refuse to have me; he took me back into the house and things resumed their normal course. But my whole soul was consumed with longing for Michael, with the desire to know how Michael was doing, what thoughts interested him, what fascinated him, what compelled him to act. He was a rabbinical student- which may seem hypocritical to some, but you don’t understand that what we did was done purely, not out of lust for the body, but to rectify a mistake, a mistake I made long ago when I foolishly married a man whom I thought was right for me but who was not- a mistake of my youth that I cannot, now rectify.

I heard recently that Michael is engaged. I cannot lie and tell you that news did not come to me as a blow. I had hoped, somehow, selfishly and unfairly, that he could be mine forever, only mine, even if only in my heart. But now he is hers, whomever she may be, and what I must live on is a memory- a sinful memory, yes, I know- and one that I should banish and abolish, and one which I ought to forget. I ought to pray to God and beg his mercy; I ought to do teshuva; I ought to think how blessed I am to have a husband who forgave me this trespass. And yet, I do not lie if I told you that those moments of my life are the ones that help me live, those forbidden moments are the ones that give me strength, that my sin to me does not seem a sin, and what is far uglier is the life I now live, this life that is a lie, which torments and encroaches upon me and presses me, smaller and smaller, so that I am encaged, living within my gilded box. I feel something within me that becomes angrier and angrier and I fear what I may do- and to whom- and all I know is that I am not Aurora, the dreamer, the idealist, the one who represents the dawn, but someone far more savage and angry, primal even, and I am tormented by dreams. In my dreams I do not marry young; I do not marry to please my parents; I do not marry until I am sure. In my dreams, I dance with Michael- and yet I still pray before God. I am still a Jew. Does it shock you that I am yet a Jew? I am a Jew with every fiber of my being; it is only that I am an adulteress, as well…and I do not regret, not truly, for I still sin in my heart.


Credits: The Duchess

Yah Ribon

Where can I download a copy of Shlomo Carlebach's "Ya Ribon Olam" - Master of the World? You can hear his tune used for "Lecha Dodi" on this website, if you are not sure which version I am talking about. It's #9 on the page.

Transient Permanence: To Invest In Life

    One Shabbat afternoon Rabbi Meir was learning in the study hall. His two sons died [at home]. [Beruriah] took them to the attic and spread a sheet over them. When Rabbi Meir came home after Shabbat he asked “Where are my two sons?” “They went,” she replied. He made havdalah, then ate and blessed after the food. She said “I have one question for you. If someone came and lent me something, and then comes to get the deposit back, should I return it or not?” “One has to return the deposit,” he said. She then showed him his two dead sons. He started to cry. She said to him “Did you not tell me that we must return a deposit? Thus God has given, God has taken away, may God’s name be blessed.”

    ~Yalkut Shimoni on Proverbs 31:10 (source)


    Yet there is another aspect to prayer: prayer is an act of giving away. Prayer means sacrifice, unrestricted offering of the whole self, the returning to God of body and soul, everything one possesses and cherishes. There is an altar in heaven upon which the archangel Michael offers the souls of the righteous. Thrice daily we petition God to accept our prayers, as well as the fires- the self-sacrifices of Israel- on that altar (v’eishei yisrael u’tefilasam b’ahavah tikabel b’ratzon.) Prayer is rooted in the idea that man belongs, not to himself, but that God claims man, and that His claim to man is not partial but total. God, the Almighty, sometimes wills man to place himself, like Isaac of old, on the altar, to light the fire and to be consumed as a burn offering. Does not the story of the Akeidah tell us about the great, awesome drama of man giving himself away to God. Of course Judaism is vehemently opposed to human sacrifice. The Bible speaks with indignation and disdain of child sacrifice; physical human sacrifice was declared abominable. Yet the idea that man belongs to God, without qualification, and that God, from time to time, makes a demand upon man to return what is God’s to God is an important principle in Judaism. God claimed Moses’ life: He demanded the return of body and soul without permitting him to cross the Jordan. Moses complied, and willingly died the “Death by Kiss.” God claimed Isaac and Abraham gave Isaac away. What does prayer mean in the light of all this? The restoration of God’s ownership rights, which are absolute, over everything He owns. The call:

    “Take thy son, thy only son, whom you love so much..and bring him as a burnt offering” is addressed to all men. In response to this call, man engages in prayer, as sacrificial performance.

    A new equation emerges: prayer equals sacrifice. Initially, prayer helps man discover himself, through understanding and affirmation of his need-awareness. Once the task of self-discovery is fulfilled, man is summoned to ascend the altar and return everything he has just acquired to God. Man who was told to create himself, objectify himself, and gain independence and freedom for himself, must return everything he considers his own to God.

    ~Redemption, Prayer, Talmud Torah, pages 71-72 by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
Why is it, that in order to live truly, we must expose ourselves to the greatest vulnerability?

To truly live, to taste of the flavor and color that composes life, means that one must develop the capacity to give. One must be able to give and give and gift, like a font of water that never stops flowing, to invest one's time and energy into everyone and everything that crosses one's path. And then, cruelly, the very object of our passions and endeavors is taken from us or crumbles before us. In this darkness, we struggle to find meaning. Why did God find it necessary to take an object or person into whom we had invested so much, to whom we had given our very soul?

This is when we begin to realize that in truth, nothing is ours. My body is not my own, nor is my soul. How much the more so are the material possessions that come into my keeping, or the people who cross my path, not mine to keep! And so, while it is deeply painful to lose a person or object into whom we have invested the fire of our intellect, the passion of our youth and the kindness born of desire, we must learn to think, not of the loss, but of the great gift that we were granted while that person was yet with us.

I have a friend with whom I am very close, and it is very possible that I shall not see him for a very long time, as he is traveling elsewhere for a time. My friend has been a support to me and a pillar of strength; indeed, when I was lonely or lost, he was able to help me. In many ways I feel like a blind person who was given a taste of sight, and in his absence, shall go back to being blind. And at first I was very angry about this, and reasonably so, because it is very hard to give up something beautiful which one possesses. But after thinking it through, I realized the error was mine in thinking that I had possessed it at all. This person's presence in my life has been a gift, and the sight he offered me a taste of the elixir of life. Could I have done anything differently, or could he have, in refraining to partake of the joy and wonder of the friendship we formed? Would it have been better for the blind to remain blind?

At one point in time, this was the mentality of many. Mothers strove not to become close with their children, as they were afraid their children would fall prey to disease or plague, and if they loved them, they would sorrow and feel pain. But this deliberate alienation is not what God desires from us. God wants us to care. God wants us to be deeply involved in all aspects of His creation and His world. And thus, we live in a state of paradox. For on the one hand, everything which passes before us is transient, and is only here for a time- whether it be objects, land, material possessions or people. But we must treat all these things as though they had permanence. It is our job to invest ourselves in everything, to arise and conquer the land that has been given us, to exist as though all that is transient is actually permanent. But in the back of our minds, we must remember that all this belongs to God, even as we belong to God, and when He calls for it, we must give it back up to Him. At that point in time, we must acknowledge the transience of the object we had, until then, treated as permanent.

Isaac was Abraham's beloved son, the child of his old age, the promised one. And yet he was the sacrifice God demanded of Abraham, and he was the sacrifice Abraham would have offered. Sarah and Abraham had doubtless raised Isaac as though the child would be a permanent fixture in their lives and house, investing all their hopes, dreams, desires and aspirations into him. And yet, when God called, Abraham was willing to regard Isaac as what he truly was- a fleeting shadow, a breath of wind that took form simply through the will of God- and rejecting the permanence that he had formerly practiced, took his son and would have given him back to his owner.

In all things we must live with this paradox. We must care deeply, we must sing joyously, we must live intensely, throwing ourselves into all the opportunities this world affords us, with its many mitzvot. It is our job to treat this world as though it were a place of permanence, even though it is truly transient, and is illusion, the passageway to the true world. We are told that we must live through the mitzvot, live completely and utterly, caring, investing, daring to love, daring to desire, daring, in short, to live dangerously, and to run the risk of hurting when we lose something precious. But at the same time, if we keep in mind that everything is God's, that everything that is given to us is only a gift, that at some point we will be called upon to give this gift back, we are living in an unbelievable manner. Because we are withholding nothing, lavishing all our love and energy upon a being who is transient- who can be called back to God at any moment! And yet, the way we must live is to treat that being with the semblance of permanence, to care wholeheartedly about him, to open ourselves up to hurt and vulnerability. This is the sacrifice, and the paradoxical existence, that God demands of man.

And strangely, there is a kind of beauty in it- in being able to love so deeply, unabashedly and unashamedly, even though you are aware- though perhaps you dread it- that there will come a time when you must give back the gift you have received to God. You think you will die with the pain of it- for even though you know this possession is not yours, it feels like it is- and burning, consumed by pain, you will nevertheless offer it back to God. And you will begin the cycle again, investing just as wholeheartedly and deeply in the next person to cross your path, and again they will abandon you- or you will offer them back, as you have been bidden- but you must see in this a kind of pattern, or else you will go mad. Because you will suffer from having been broken so many times, and having so many "possessions" and people taken from you.

But if you realize that none of this is truly yours, but only a gift lent to you for a little while, ah! Then you understand what kindness God has shown in allowing this person to grace your life, even if it were only for a little while, and even if he must walk onward and beyond you- or you must let him go in order to do so. For we all exist in a state of transient permanence, and each one of us is called upon to sacrifice, at the proper time.