Shoftim- A land of justice, a land for Jews

Justice, Justice, You Shall Pursue art by Laya Crust

This week I was fortunate to attend a shiur, a lecture, by Rabbi Ari Kahn on the parsha of the week. Rabbi Kahn pointed out that sefer d’varim is a very Zionist book, and this parsha also carries that message. The laws discussed have to do with the way leaders in the land of Israel should behave and laws pertaining to the carriage of justice.

The parsha begins by mentioning that the Israelites will have to appoint judges and policemen. Interesting – not only judges (which we might expect after Jethro helped Moses organize a series of courts back in the Book of Exodus) but also policemen. Rabbi Kahn pointed out that this directive followed the descriptions of holiday celebrations. In these celebrations there would have been wine, food, and singing, and entire communities would be celebrating together. It was reasonable to expect that the revelry might get a little out of hand, so policemen would help to keep things under control.

The point is that Moses and Gd were preparing the children of Israel to have their own land. They were reminding the nation of the responsibilities and freedoms that would be open to them. No more slavery. Social programs to feed the poor, the orphan and the widow would have to be established. The land would have to be respected and cared for. There would be legal and personal disputes so judges and courts with their own safeguards ensuring justice would have to be set up. Referring back to the situation at Mount Sinai when the Israelites were too afraid to hear Gd’s voice and accept His words, Gd and Moses reminded them that they would ask for a king to lead them, and they would get a king to lead them. The text of “Shoftim” outlines pitfalls that would face kings and judges.

The parsha was preparing the Jews for their own land. They had their own land under Joshua. Leadership continued through other prophets and judges and many kings. The kings quickly became corrupt and we ultimately lost our country. The good news is that we have it back again after almost 2,000 years of persecution and exile.

There is an election coming up in Israel in less than two weeks. Rather than wring our hands at the difficulties and corruption taking place in this incredible jewel of a Jewish land, we must look at the positive and build on it.

The front runners in the upcoming election are Zionists. They want a strong, safe, peaceful, vibrant Jewish country. We are not suffering an inquisition, anarchy, yellow stars or judenhats. We live in a democracy beside Arabs, religious and non- religious Jews, and people of other religions who are also allowed freedoms and voices. We must treasure this land and work to make it better.

So- be happy. Be positive. Vote for the best person and then work to make the country strong, fair, and caring. And have a Shabbat Shalom. Laya

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Re’eh- Foundations of Sapphires

Foundations of Sapphires by Laya Crust

This week’s Torah reading begins with the words, “…I am placing before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing [will come] if you obey the commandments of the Lord your Gd, which I am prescribing to you today.” (Deut. 11:16) The reading continues with a number of the laws that the Jews are obliged to observe.

We are lucky to have our land of Israel, and retain it as a Jewish land. However it isn’t “luck”. We have the land, after thousands of years of exile, due to a confluence of circumstances. Bravery, political maneuvering, world opinion, blood and sweat, tenaciousness, religious confidence, and a concentration of faith and observance by Jews within the Holy Land worked together to bring the land to reality.

There is consistent Jewish learning in this beautiful country. The festivals are observed throughout the country as outlined in the Torah and codified by the Rabbis. There is Torah learning in all schools- sometimes in the guise of secular studies of “Eretz Yisrael”, and sometimes through learning Gemarrah. The variety of Jews in levels of observance and cultural backgrounds is vast. The love of land, progress and the gifts of bounty in Israel is huge.

Last night I met with a wonderful young woman who made aliyah a few years ago. She pointed out in a refreshing way how many of the people in the very religious circles can be compared to those meditate all day and see the world from a very high level. A level that the common person cannot understand or even imagine. She talked about how some of these people are keeping a spiritual level constant in Israel without recognition or appreciation, and their vision contributes to the balance of this spiritual land.

Bougainvillea and lush greenery in Israeli pathway.

In the haftarah Gd said, “I will lay red gems as your building stones and make your foundations of sapphires. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of precious stones, the whole encircling wall of gems.” (Isaiah 54:11, 12) It was a sentence of comfort which we can witness in our time.

Image result for tower of david

The sapphire stone was used in the quote from Isaiah. According to the “crystalvaults” definition the sapphire is “a stone of wisdom and royalty, of prophecy and Divine favor. It is forever associated with sacred things and considered the gem of gems. ”

We have this beautiful land of Israel. I hope and pray that we will comport ourselves in an upright way according to the laws Gd gave us so that we can continue to enjoy its bounty. And may we enjoy it without bombs and violence but with peace and tranquility with acceptance from all the nations.

Shabbat Shalom from the Holy Land, Laya

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Eikev

David and Goliath by Lay”

You might say to yourself, :These nations are more numerous than we are. How will we be able to drive them out?” (Deut. 7:17)

“Gd your Lord is bringing you to a good land- a land with flowing streams and underground springs …a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates- a land of olives and honey-dates . A land where youwill not lack anything. (Deut. 8:7)

The above quotations are in this week’s parsha, “Eikev”. Moses told the children of Israel about the beauty and plenty they would be given in Canaan. They were warned they would be frightened and feel they were surrounded by strong giants. Moses reminded them that if they followed Gd’s laws they would be protected. And they should not get haughty because they lived in a fertile, productive land. They had to remember that the land was beautiful and fruitful only through the grace of Gd.

I am in Israel right now, visiting my children.

I look down the streets and see fruit trees, flowers, and beautiful buildings. There are stores and parks, restaurants and fountains.

Israel is tiny among the nations.

Image result for israel on middle east map
Israel on the map by “Israelseen”

We are small, but as Moses told us, we would be prosperous in our promised land.

The illustration for this parsha and haftarah is based on a unique and witty picture from the Russian Museum of Ethnography. It is from the late 19th C, and shows David fighting Goliath. Goliath and the Philistines are depicted as Czarist soldiers and David is a Russian Jew. His cohorts are Hassidim complete with payot and hats. The picture is entertaining and unexpected- with David as a Russian craftsman and Goliath as a Russian general. It gives the same message as does the haftarah. Although the Jews were being persecuted in Czarist Russia – as they had been in Judea and Babylon – God had not forgotten them. Like David, they would not be vanquished by their enemies. (Illustration. P.161, The Illustrated History of the Jewish People edited by Nicholas de Lange) .

Currently, and since it’s rebirth in 1948, Israel fights successfully, against the destructive actions of giant and wealthy countries around it.

I will enjoy a Shabbat Shalom here, and wish you the same wherever you live.

If you are in Toronto- remember to visit my haftarah exhibit at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in their main hallway, and upstairs atrium. It’s open 7 days a week.

Best, Laya

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V’Etchanan- A love letter

Moses on Pisgah by Laya Crust

Last week we were in a state of mourning, remembering the many calamities that have fallen upon the jewish people, and in particular the destructions of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. The haftarahs we read were “Haftarahs of Rebuke” with readings from Jeremiah and Isaiah.

This week is parshat V’Etchanan, the first Torah reading after Tisha B’Av. It is a very special text, a letter of love from Gd to His people.

In this reading we hear the Ten Commandments for the second time (the first being in the Book of Exodus). We also read the Shema- the prayer we say three times every day. At the end of the reading are these beautiful words, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your Gd. The Lord your Gd has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession.  The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.  But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your ancestors…” (D’varim 7: 6-8)…

These texts are all gifts to us as a people. They reinforce dignity, respect for others and for the land, and the concept that we are not anarchists. We are responsible to a higher force Who insists on respect towards nature, humanity and all creation.

The World’s Measure by Laya Crust

The haftarah is from the book of Isaiah. In this haftarah, Isaiah’s words rang with optimism and made many allusions to nature. Isaiah spoke of God’s greatness and how He renews the world. He assured the Jews that God would return them to Israel. The text mentions the peaks and the valleys of nature which parallel the heights and the depths of life, experience, and history. This haftarah is called “Shabbat Nachamu” meaning the “Sabbath of Consolation”. It is read on the Sabbath following the fast of Tisha B’Av.

The painting reflects Isaiah’s words, [Gd]“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and measured out heaven with a span, and meted the dust of the earth with a measure, and weighed the mountains with a scale and the hills with a balance”    (Isaiah 40:12)   

I hope you also see these texts as messages of love, of Gd’s promises to us, and His patience. May we see the fruition of the promises- peace in Israel- the land promised to us, and respect of all people to others.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

The artwork featured in this and most of my blogs is part of a collection of art created to illustrate the haftarahs read throughout the year. Currently the collection is on exhibit at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. It is a great exhibit of my work and will be on display to the end of December, 2019. And, to let you know, I am currently working on a book of the art pieces and accompanying commentary. Exciting!!!! Best, Laya

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Tisha B’Av, Kamtza and Bar Kamtza

Despair by Laya Crust

We are coming to the end of the “Three Weeks of Mourning”, the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av. Tisha B’Av is the Hebrew date of the ninth day of the month of Av. It is a day of Jewish mourning, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem. The first destruction was at the hands of the Babylonians and the second at the hands of the Romans. It meant the loss of our centre of worship, the loss of our home, and the expulsion from our homeland.

Kamtza bar Kamtza 1 by Laya Crust

There is a story of  two men with similar names, Kamtza and bar Kamtza. The men lived in Jerusalem during the time of the Second Temple, under Roman domination. There was a misunderstanding and one of the men was insulted and shamed in front of other people. The repercussions just got worse and worse. Pride and lack of consideration tangled the possibility of a graceful conclusion.

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Kamtza Bar Kamtza 2 by Laya Crust

The story is often studied in conjunction with Tisha B’Av. It is used as an exemplar of how שנאת חינם , baseless hatred and intense social divisiveness, can cause the downfall of a society. If you want to read the story go to http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/404863/jewish/Kamtza-and-Bar-Kamtza.htm

We are seeing extremes in blame and hyperbole in the streets, in the media, and coming from angry world leaders every day.

Conflict destroys communities. People want their opinions to be heard, but often don’t want to listen to a different point of view. People talk over each other. The conversation becomes garbled, unintelligible and angry. Sometimes the conflicting ideas actually mirror each other. We need to listen to others in order to get on the same “line”.

Kamtza- bar Kamtza 3 by Laya crust

We must figure out how we can talk respectfully to those around us. Sometimes we hear things we don’t understand, that don’t make sense to us. The other opinion may sound like babble but sincere discussion and striving for compromise make peace possible.

Kamtza bar Kamtza 4 by Laya Crust

We don’t have to be in lockstep with anyone. We should never accept a stance that is destructive or cruel. But I have to believe that sincere communication can bring if not exactly what a nation or person wants, it can at least bring what a nation or person can handle in a peaceful and constructive way.

I hope open communication will become more widespread among families, communities, countries and regions. Empathy and mutual respect will save the world.

Have a good Shabbat and a meaningful Tisha B’Av,

Laya

The image “Despair” is part of the exhibit “ILLUMINATIONS” currently on display at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. The exhibit includes 88 haftarah images created by Laya Crust, as well as a number of other art pieces. The display is open to the public.

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Mattot- Masei

Jeremiah’s Despair Laya Crust

It is the height of summer and we are observing a period of mourning leading up to Tisha B’Av, the day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples. There are three “Haftarahs of Rebuke” which are read in the three weeks preceding Tisha B’Av, all words from the prophet Jeremiah. On this week’s Shabbat we read two parshas: Mattot and Masei.

Jeremiah was a prophet whose life spanned the reign of 5 kings. It was a tumultuous time in Jewish history, a time of idolatry and war. Jeremiah warned B’nei Yisrael that they were going to be punished for their idol worship, . At the end of his life, in 586 BCE, Judah was destroyed and Jerusalem was sacked by Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah, who was reviled for his messages, escaped to Egypt but the majority of Jews were exiled to Babylon. The illustration I created for Mattot is an homage to Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”. I have drawn Jeremiah looking out of his window watching his beloved city’s destruction.

The path the Israelites followed from Egypt to Canaan is described in great detail in the first 49 verses of the parsha Masei. It was a long and arduous journey for the Israelites and they strayed from Gd’s lessons throughout.

The Perilous Desert Journey Laya Crust

In the haftarah of Masei the prophet Jeremiah reminded B’nei Yisrael how Gd led His people “out of the land of Egypt, through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and pits, through a land of drought and of the shadow of death…. And into a land of fruitful fields…” (ch.2: 6,7). 

There is negativity and sadness in the haftarah. Jeremiah reminded B’nei Israel of the difficult trek through the desert and how Gd protected and took them to the Promised Land. Then Jeremiah describes B’nei Yisrael’s sins. At the very end of the haftarah Jeremiah mitigates the message slightly by telling the people that if they return to Gd “in sincerity, justice and righteousness nations will bless themselves by you and praise themselves by you.”

The word “איך”- How? is used twice in the haftarah asking how Israel can have changed so much, turning to sinning and base behaviour. This reminds us of the word “איכה”- the Hebrew word for “Lamentations”. On the Ninth of Av we will read the book of “Lamentations”.

Messages from the haftarah still resonate today. We are blessed to be in the “Land of Milk and Honey”, creating, cultivating, and helping nations in need. During these three weeks Jews all over the world will read Jeremiah’s words and hopefully try to improve themselves and society around them. Have a good week, and let’s look forward to a time of jubilation and more positive growth.

The artwork featured in this and most of my blogs is part of a collection of art created to illustrate the haftarahs read throughout the year. Currently the collection is on exhibit at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. It is a great exhibit of my work and will be on display to the end of December, 2019. And, to let you know, I am currently working on a book of the art pieces and accompanying commentary. Exciting!!!! Have a Shabbat Shalom, Laya

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Pinchas- Changes in Leadership

Pinchas- The Silent Voice art by Laya Crust

The Torah reading “Pinchas” deals with different types of leadership seen through Moses, Pinchas, Joshua, Zelophehad’s daughters and Elijah.

In this parsha Moshe was once again told that he would die before reaching the Promised Land. Knowing this Moshe asked Gd to appoint someone to take over his role as leader. Beautifully he said, “…so that Gd’s community will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” (Numbers 27:17). Gd told Moshe to appoint Joshua, son of Nun , to take over to take over the leadership.

This choice may have been unexpected. The Torah reading begins by focusing on Pinchas, a Levi and Aaron’s grandson. He was a passionate and zealous man who killed two idolators in front of the אוהל מועד, the holy Tent of Meeting. It was a shocking act but it averted Gd’s wrath. Gd rewarded Pinchas by giving him hereditary priesthood and also gave him “My covenant of peace”. Pinchas and his descendants were given the honour because of his zealousness for Gd. Why was Joshua chosen rather than this hero and man of action?

Joshua appears a number of times through the Torah. The first time he appears he was appointed to lead a group of refugees from Egypt in war against Amalek. He must have had leadership qualities and experience to have been chosen for the task of leading untrained men into battle. Later, when Moshe went up Mount Sinai, Joshua accompanied him and waited 40 days and 40 nights until his leader descended. In addition, when Moshe appointed 12 leaders to spy out the land of Canaan Joshua and Caleb were the two men who were enthusiastic about the the land and confident in b’nei Yisrael’s ability to conquer their enemies and settle there.

These qualities- as well as Joshua’s experience of traversing difficult land and situations, and witnessing Moshe’s leadership qualities made him an excellent choice as leader.

Image result for zelophehad's daughters by Gustave Dore

The narrative includes a story which shows insight to two other leadership qualities. As the division of land is being discussed five sisters, Mahla, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah from the tribe of Menashe came forward and asked for the portion of their father’s land. They told Moshe their father Zelophehad had died. There was no son to take the land. They asked for their father’s portion in order to preserve their father’s legacy and name.

Their confidence in coming forward and questioning what they felt was an unfair law shows insight and leadership. Moshe’s reaction as judge and arbitor also shows wisdom in leadership. He was unsure how to answer and turned to Gd. Gd answered that the women were correct and should receive their father’s portion.

V’Zot haBracha by Laya Crust

The haftarah also addresses a change in leadership. Elijah appoints Elisha to take over from him

We see different types of abilities, strengths, and skills in the players who take part in this week’s parsha and haftarah. It helps us to recognize how one set of abilities may be appropriate for a certain task or role. That same skill will create a leader in one situation but not another. We also see that a person who acts on his or her own is not necessarily fit for the larger role. The leaders should act in concert and with the support of others.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

Remember: Come to the exhibit of my haftarah series and other art works at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. It continues until October 24, 2019. The exhibit is open during synagogue hours, 7 days a week . For more information e-mail me at layacrust@gmail.com

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