Posts Tagged ‘midrash’

You must be hungry. Won’t you have a little something? Welcoming Guests/Hachnasat Orchim

According to tradition,  it was Abraham Aveinu, Our Father Abraham, who started the mitzvah of Welcoming Guests/Hachnasat Orchim when he arose from the spot where he was resting following his circumcision and greeted Adonai and two angels offering to “fetch a morsel of bread” that they might refresh themselves (Genesis 18: 1-5).  With that simple statement, he sets in motion the production of a feast that any Jewish mother would be proud of.  He orders Sarah to prepare a mountain of bread and cakes, while  he slaughters a choice calf and  prepares curds and milk – in other words, he makes enough food for an army.  Digging deeper, however, a lovely piece of midrash reveals:

“All the days in which Sarah lived, the doors of the entrance [to her tent] were open to the wind (ruah)….  And all the days in which Sarah lived, there was a blessing sent through the dough [with which she baked]…. All the days in which Sarah lived, there was a light burning from one Shabbat evening to the next Shabbat evening….” (Genesis Rabbah 80:16 on Genesis 24:67).

So it seems that Adonai and the angels may not have been the first visitors to the tent of Abraham and Sarah, certainly they were not the last.  The midrash continues that when Isaac took Rebekkah as his wife, these same mystical rituals continued.

Welcoming Guests/Hachnasat Orchim is a wonderful mitzvah that allows us to meet new people and share our traditions with others. This time of year, with Hanukkah beginning on the evening of December 20, provides a perfect opportunity to practice this mitzvah with family, friends and neighbors.

The following books are wonderful examples of this delightful mitzvah:

Bubba and Beau Meet the Relatives. Written by Kathi Appelt. Illustrated by Arthur Howard, ©2004. Harcourt, Inc.  Ages 3-6.  In five short, simple chapters, Bubbaville becomes abuzz with the imminent arrival of the relatives. The house must be rearranged. All the best dishes must be cooked. There is no escape, even when Bubba and Beau try to hide in their favorite mud hole. What are a baby and her buddy dog supposed to do?

The Snow Blew Inn. Written by Dian Curtis Regan. Illustrated by Doug Cushman, ©2011. Holiday House. Ages 3-6. Emma has made plans to have a sleep over with her cousin, Abby. But a snow storm arrives before Abby, bringing with it stranded travelers who need a place to stay for the night. Every space in the tiny inn is taken – even Emma’s bedroom! Will there be room for Abby and her mother if they arrive?

The Paper Crane. Written and Illustrated By Molly Bang, ©1985. William Morrow & Company. Ages 5-8.  A hectic, award winning restaurant sat on a busy road, until one day a new highway was built that bypassed the restaurant. No one came anymore, and the restaurant was empty most of the time.  One day an old man stopped in for food. The restaurant owner, delighted to see a customer at last, fed him generously, even though the stranger had no money. In payment, the old man folded a paper napkin into the shape of a crane. With this simple gift, the restaurant’s future changed.

A Song for Lena. Written by Hilary Horder Hippely.  Illustrated by Leslie Baker, ©1996. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Ages 5-8.  Lena’s Grandma makes delicious apple strudel. While she makes it, she hums a beautiful song to remind her of her childhood. As Lena helps her make the strudel, Grandma tells her the story of a traveler, of hospitality and of a special unexpected gift.

The Stranger. Written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. Houghton Mifflin Company, © 1986 Ages 7-10.  In late summer, early fall, Farmer Bailey accidently hits a man with his truck. The man is unable to speak and does not know who he is. He stays with the family for a few weeks until he suddenly remembers who he is.

Skellig. By David Almond. Laurel Leaf Books, © 1998. Ages 9-12. When Michael moves into a new house in a new neighborhood he hopes that life for him and his family will change for the better, his ailing baby sister will get well and he will do better in school. Nothing like that happens, until he finds a strange person/creature/thing in his dilapidated garage.

The Arrival. Written and illustrated by Shaun Tan. Arthur A. Levine Books, © 2006. Ages 11-15. In this graphic novel, a man must leave his wife and young daughter to emigrate to a new country, find a job and start a new life before sending for them..

I try to keep the “walls of my tent” open as much as possible.  Whether serving my family of four or a house full of guests, I take joy in each moment. Each individual has a story to tell, an experience to share and all together my life has been made richer by each encounter. As you read these books, discuss them with your children using the “Speak Volumes” guide, the questions and activities will provide you with many opportunities to welcome guests during this special holiday-filled month.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2010 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were provided by publishers as review copies and my local public library .
I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my web site and purchase it from Amazon,

I may receive a very small commission on your purchase.

You will incur no additional cost, however.

I appreciate your support.

Book Review | Tower of Babel
by A.S. Gadot

Score: 3

Illustrated by Cecilia Rebora © 2010, Kar-Ben Publishing. A cute and clever retelling of the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. The people of Shinar all speak the same language and get along fine, until they get bored doing the same thing day in and day out. When a child suggests they build a [...]

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Book Review | Noah’s Bark
by Stephen Krensky

Score: 2

Illustrated by Rogé © 2010, Carolrhoda Books. During the time Noah was building the ark, the animals could use any sound they liked whenever they liked. “Snakes quacked…Beavers crowed…elephants hissed.” At other times, the elephants would quack, the beavers hiss and the snakes would baah. This was a bit distracting to Noah as he tried [...]

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Courage/Ometz Lev – The Strength of Heart to Show the Way

Right after Purim is over, I begin to think about Passover. It is an “event” in our home. I often tell people that when I converted to Judaism, I took all my “Christmas energy” and threw it into Passover. We write our own haggadah, are visited by some rather creative plagues and make sure our guests have a really good time.

While I read the Exodus story in preparation for the holiday, what always pops out is the courage of many of the Biblical characters. Of course, Moses, with his speech impediment (Ex. 4:10), repeatedly facing down Pharoah saying “let my people go!” (Ex. 5:1) is hard to miss. But it is the lesser known heroes that stand out in my mind, starting with the midwives who defied Pharoah by allowing the Hebrew women to give birth to their babies rather than killing them (Ex. 1:17). Then, Pharoah’s daughter who rescued Moses from the Nile to raise him as her own son (Ex. 2:6). Finally, Nachshon, the son of Amminadab, who was the first to put his foot into the waters of the Reed Sea so that those waters would part and the Israelites could walk across and be free (Ex. 14:22). When I read about these individuals, and most of what we know about them comes from midrash, I think to myself, “How did they learn to be so courageous? Where did they get their strength of heart? What kind of stories did their parents tell them?”

This month’s books all demonstrate the value of Courage/Ometz Lev. They would be the stories I would (and did) read to my children in the hope of instilling in them the ability to find their courage at the right moment.

Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim: A Passover Story. By Deborah Bodin Cohen. Illustrations by Jago. © 2009, Kar-Ben Publishing. Ages 4-8. A 2009 AJL Sydney Taylor Honor Book. Nachshon, a young Israelite slave, was very brave. As a child, he smuggled water into the quarries and spied on Pharaoh and his guards. He was afraid of one thing, however – swimming. Even as he grew up and worked with the other slaves, he was still afraid to swim. Then he meets Moses who tells him, “Real freedom means facing your fears and overcoming them.” When Pharaoh relents and frees the Israelites, they find themselves trapped at the shores of the Sea of Reeds. Nachshon knows what he must do. Does he have the courage? Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim, would be perfect at your Passover Seder. (BTW, if you are a PJ Library subscriber you may be receiving this book this month.)

Brave Bear. Written and illustrated by Kathy Mallat. © 1999, Walker and Company. Ages 3-7. A little bird falls from a tree. Little Bear wants to help, but to do so means he has to climb up the very tall tree, out on a very long branch to the little bird’s nest. He thinks he can. With some help, he does. Using very simple text, a minimal use of words, but extraordinary and beautiful illustrations, Ms. Mallat conveys Little Bear’s determination, fear, courage and ultimate triumph. One of my all-time favorite books.

Mirette on the High Wire.  Written and Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. © 1992, G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Winner of the 1993 Caldecott Medal. In late 19th century Paris, the widow Gateau’s boarding house is where actors traveling in from all over the world find the best accommodations. Mirette, Madame Gateau’s daughter, worked at her mother’s side to ensure that all their guests were happy and content. When Mr. Bellini, a retired tight-rope walker visits, Mirette is intrigued. Watching him walk across a rope in the courtyard every day, she begs him to teach her how it’s done. When he refuses, Mirette teaches herself. Impressed, Mr. Bellini takes her on as a student. Soon the entire boarding house learns that their guest is “The Great Bellini,” whose tightrope feats are world famous. Unfortunately, he has become afraid and refuses to continue his work. Realizing that he must face his fear or disappoint Mirette, he arranges another performance. However, when the time comes to step out on the wire, he freezes. It is up to Mirette to teach her teacher the meaning of courage. Can she do it? This story will leave you with goosebumps. The illustrations evoke Toulouse-Lautrec’s art with their pastel colored backgrounds and their brightly colored highlights.

Rainbow Fish to the Rescue. Written and illustrated by Marcus Pfister. ©1995, North-South Books. In this sequel to The Rainbow Fish, all Rainbow Fish’s scales have been shared with his friends. A new fish wanting to join the game of “flash-tag,” learns that a flashing scale is required. Since there are no more flashing scales to be found, the other fish ignore him. When a shark attacks the group of fish, they run for cover. Unfortunately, the new fish is left alone. Rainbow Fish bravely goes out in order to save the new fish. His friends follow him to distract the shark while Rainbow Fish brings their new friend into the safety of the cave. As always with the Rainbow Fish books, the holographic scales on the fish will be very attractive to young readers, while the simple story and its message will be very evident.

Sheila Rae, the Brave. Written and illustrated by Kevin Henks. ©1987, Greenwillow Books. Sheila Rae is very brave. Braver than anyone. She steps on sidewalk cracks, giggles when the principal walks by and growls at stray dogs as she sings, “I am brave…I am fearless.” Sheila Rae is very brave. Until she decides to take a different route home from school. And things do not look the same, noises sound scary and she has creepy thoughts. Thank goodness her sister, Louise, is following her. In his inimitable style, Kevin Henkes brings us another loveable character and her sister to brighten our day, make us smile and teach us a thing or two about courage.

Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson.  By Sharon Robinson. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. ©2009, Scholastic Press. Most people know that Jackie Robinson was the African American baseball player who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. That achievement took enormous courage and was extremely public. This book, however, is about a feat of courage that took place in the privacy of his own home, in front of his children. It took place on a very cold winter’s day, when his children asked him to test the ice on their pond to see if it was safe for skating. He put on his boots and slowly walked out on the ice, tapping gently to make sure it would not crack. He declared it safe and the children rushed out on their skates to thank him. It wasn’t until many years later that they realized how courageous their father was, because Jackie Robinson could not swim. Beautiful, detailed illustrations bring this story to life.

I hope that you will find these books inspirational and meaningful as you plan your Passover experiences. Perhaps you will want to share them with your Seder guests or your hosting family.

On Monday evening, March 29, Jews all over the world, with family and friends, will be sitting down to retell the Passover story and the birth of the Jewish people. Whether you believe that every word you read in the Haggadah is true or that what you are reading are archetypal legends of the Jewish people, the fact remains that Passover is the most celebrated Jewish holiday in the Hebrew calendar. It took a lot of people (real or imagined,) with a lot of courage, to create a way to bring us together every year to remember, teach and celebrate these events.

I wish you a Passover season that is filled with blessings,

Happy reading!

Kathy B.

©2010 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were from my personal collection, my local library or provided by the publishers cited.
I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my web site and purchase it from Amazon,

I may receive a very small commission on your purchase.

You will incur no additional cost, however.

I appreciate your support.

Purim’s Coming – Where is Queen Esther?

Purim begins at sundown this coming Saturday evening, February 27.  I just finished posting some Purim books as featured reviews and am sad that there were no  Queen Esther books available to share with you. The newest ones have, in my opinion, some irregularities that make them unacceptable for Jewish audiences and my favorites from the past are currently out of print.

However, because  “out of print” no longer means “not available for purchase” these days, I wanted to talk about my favorite Queen Esther books that are still on my book shelf at home. You still might be able to find them online at, or any other internet used book website. Better still, check them out of your local or synagogue library.

Esther’s Story by Diane Wolkstein. Illustrated by Juan Wijngaard. ©1996, William Morrow & Company.  Ages 6-11.  Of all the Queen Esther books, this is my favorite. Written in the form of Esther’s diary, this is the Purim story as Esther saw it,  lived it and felt it.  It starts with Esther writing as a young orphaned girl, trusting in her Uncle Mordecai when he changes her name from Hadassah to Esther. Missing him when she is sent to the palace as a possible queen for King Ahasuerus. Maturing as she becomes queen and learns about palace intrigue and finally must put her own life on the line to save the lives of her people. The powerful and emotional text is accompanied by exquisitely detailed, rich gouache paintings.  The text is fairly true to the Megillah.

Queen Esther Saves Her People retold by Rita Golden Gelman. Illustrated by Frané Lessac. ©1998, Scholastic Press. This version of Queen Esther’s story pretty much sticks to the one told in the Megillah, with a few midrashic elements slipped in along the way just to make things interesting, for example, King Ahasuerus is portrayed as a drunk, gambling, moron in this adaptation.   The primitive-style gouache paintings are colorful, dramatic and use clever details to engage the reader with the story. The Purim Notebook in the back of the book provides an excellent overview of the holiday and its traditions.

Queen Esther, the Morning Star written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. ©2000, Simon & Schuster. Of the three Queen Esther stories I am presenting here, this one least sticks to the script. However, when Mordicai Gerstein is involved, who wants a script? This is a midrash about Queen Esther, and it is a good one. The story unfolds with all its up and downs, ins and outs, joys and sorrows. Perhaps an event here or there does not occur at exactly the same moment or in exactly the same way that it might have in the Megillah, oh well.   What is a dragon or two, an angel here or there where midrash is concerned? The point of the story is the same: Esther goes to the palace – Haman plots to kill the Jews – Mordecai informs Esther of the plot – Esther saves the Jews – Haman dies – everyone celebrates. The best part of this book is the illustrations. Again gouache paintings in Mordicai Gerstein’s unique style – colorful, dramatic, magical.

There you have it, three wonderful Queen Esther books for the Purim holiday.  Please go find one and check it out over the weekend, maybe you can make your Purim costume based on some of the illustrations.   Hag Sameach/Happy Holiday!

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

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