Oaths and Promises


Shabbat Shuva  by Laya Crust

This past Saturday we observed “Shabbat Shuva”, and now we are about to observe “Yom Kippur”, the day of Atonement. Yom Kippur begins with the beautiful prayer “Kol Nidrei”, a prayer recited in unison by the congregation. Kol Nidrei means “All my Vows” and we are asking God to pardon us for vows we have made to Him but that we haven’t fulfilled.

Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah. , all occur in Tishrei which is the seventh month of the Jewish calendar.  The number seven often appears in our texts and in our observances. Our new year, Rosh HaShana is celebrated on the first day of the seventh month, the first month being Nisan.

Rosh HaShana occurs after the Seven Weeks of Consolation following Tisha B’Av. In the haftarot during the Seven Weeks of Consolation there are repeated reference to God as a groom and the Nation of Israel as a bride. Following a wedding there are seven days of “sheva brachot” (seven blessings) at which we make seven special blessings over the bride and groom.

And where else do we find 7…

Related imageSukkot and Pesach in Israel are celebrated for seven days.

Between Pesach and Shavuot there are 7 weeks. We count the “Omer ” for 49 days- 7 weeks of 7 days.

Every seven years the land in Israel must lay fallow, the shmitta year.

Our gold menorah, the menorah rededicated on Hannukah, and the menorah wreathed with olive leaves used as the emblem symbol of Israel, has seven branches.

And of course, as we will read in a few weeks, the world was created in six days and on the seventh God rested. Our week is based on that model, a model of seven days. Interestingly the entire world seems to have taken the seven day week as a framework for their rhythm of life.

We can play all kinds of gematria with words and letters. For instance, this year is 5779. If you add the 5 and the 9, the first and last numbers of the year , you get 14. Divide 14 in 2 (because you added two numbers together) you get 7. Now we have 3 sevens in the counting of our year.

After we read the story of creation we will read the story of Noah and the destruction of the world. God made a promise never to destroy the world again. The symbol of the promise is the rainbow that we see after a rainfall. And the rainbow, interestingly, is identified as 7 colours.  Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and purple.

At the beginning of this I mentioned Kol Nidrei, when we speak to God about our vows, promises and oaths we have made. Neder is the word for vow.  Another is sheva, like Be’er Sheva- the well where Abraham made an oath with Avimelech. And sheva is also the Hebrew word for seven. If sheva means oath and means seven, maybe that’s why we have so many time patterns of seven in our observance. Seven is creation and it is retrospection. This seventh month we are attempting to forge a stronger and better bond with haShem through action and thought. that bond will be an oath between us and ourselves to be better and do better.

May we all have a Yom Kippur that is meaningful, and full of good and strengthening thought, prayer and retrospection. May we all reflect well, and have a g’mar tov.

Laya

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Days of Awe

A few weeks ago my husband Les and I had the great fortune of going to Chamonix, France. We did a number of hikes with a group of wonderful people, and spent a beautiful Shabbat there.

The mountains and the view were stunning. Everywhere I looked I saw beauty. As often as possible I took out my sketchbook to draw. I wanted to capture the awe that these mountains inspire.

view from Aiguille du Midi  by Laya Crust

We happened to be in Chamonix between Tisha B’Av (the day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem) and Rosh haShana. Those weeks between the two observances are called “The Weeks of Consolation”. The haftarah readings at synagogue are meant to comfort us and remind us of God’s love for the children of Israel.

 Aiguille du Midi, France  by Laya Crust

One of the readings has a quotation from the Book of Isaiah which resonated with me as I was in the mountains. “For the mountains be moved and the hills be shaken,  my love from you will never depart.” (Isaiah 54:10). It reminds me of the love song “Love is Here to Stay” by George Gershwin. It was the last musical piece he composed before his death in 1937. His brother and creative partner Ira wrote the lyrics  as a tribute to George.  The two brothers often wrote music that had elements of Jewish melody and liturgy in them, and it may be that the lines from Isaiah were an inspiration to Ira and to George.

As we go forward in these Days of Awe it is easy to feel overwhelmed by our goals, our hopes, our fears, and our attempts to improve ourselves. Through our self reflection we can be supported by the sentiments in the “Weeks of Consolation”.  God wants righteousness, honesty, integrity and kindness from His people. And God will wait as a bridegroom waits for his bride.

May your year be filled with health, love, peace, joy, and growth.

B’vracha, Laya

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V’Etchanan- Consolation and Renewal


My summer office

In the summer I’m fortunate to be able to sit outside and do my writing and editing in the backyard. The morning as I looked around at my garden I thought about how lucky I am to have the good weather and sunshine. Then I thought about how lucky I am to have a garden. The more I thought, the harder it became- I thought about the fires in Greece and North America where gardens disappear in a moment. And the fires in Southern Israel set by terrorists who send incendiary balloons into yards, playgrounds, and fields. And I thought about the people in war torn Syria (among other countries) whose homes and lives have been bombed to pieces.

These thoughts came to me as we leave the sadness of Tisha B’Av and enter the Weeks of Consolation because the world is not healed.

This week we read the parsha and haftarah of V’Etchanan.

V’Etchanan- Maximum Impact by Laya Crust

This painting shows a flaming Mount Sinai heralding the giving of the 10 Commandments. The images around it illustrate different elements of our faith. The parsha carries with it some of the most important words of Torah which are the foundations of our faith.  In this parsha we are privileged to read, once again, the 10 commandments and we are also given the “Sh’ma Yisrael”. We are told about the Land of Milk and Honey. We even read the question presented by the first of the four sons at our Pesach seder (Deuteronomy ch. 6 v. 20). We read about Moshe speaking to the children of Israel as they are about to enter the land of Canaan. He warns the children of Israel not to forget God’s laws.

V’Etchanan- Measuring the Skies with a Span,   by Laya Crust

This haftarah is the first Haftarah of  Consolation. Isaiah said that God created the heaven and the earth. God “measured the water in the hollow of His hand and measured the skies with a span…”

We are reminded that God created the world- that no man could do it and no man could even measure it. The parsha reminds us of the laws, the ethics, and the miracles God has given us. Moshe also reminds us, the Jews and Israelites, that He will protect us and our land if we safeguard His gifts to us. Those gifts are the Ten Commandments and accompanying laws.

As I sit in my beautiful garden in peaceful Toronto I am aware of the tragedies in the world. I can only believe that God is protecting Israel and safeguarding it from its multiple enemies. By living ethically, by respecting others and respecting all lives, we help to safeguard Israel too.

So, here we are beginning the Seven Weeks of Consolation, reading the words of Isaiah. He is still trying to guide a wayward group. Hopefully we will be able to live in a peaceful land flowing with Milk and Honey. Hopefully the unity and mutual support will prevail.

All the best and Shabbat Shalom, Laya

 

 

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Tisha B’Av

Tisha BAv sigart by Laya Crust, inspired by Miklos Adler

We will be observing Tisha B’Av this Saturday night, July 21, 2018 through Sunday evening, July 22. It is the anniversary of the destruction of both the First Temple (586 BCE) and the Second Temple (70 CE) in Jerusalem. Although they occurred about 655 years apart they occurred on the same day in the Hebrew calendar. Many other Jewish tragedies are also remembered on Tisha b’Av-  the day has been called the “saddest day in Jewish history”. We read the Book of Eicha which was written by the prophet Jeremiah, and other calamities are commemorated by reading kinnot (poetry of sorrow).

Tisha B’Av is treated as a day of mourning. We fast from sunset to sunset- unlike most other Jewish fasts which last from sunrise to sunset. We don’t wear leather, listen to music, swim, and we sit on the ground. One tradition is to eat a hard boiled egg dipped in ashes before the fast begins. The “Book of Lamentations”, “Eicha” in Hebrew, is read by candle light sitting on the floor.
We also read Jeremiah 8:13 – 9:23, a series of some of Jeremiah’s gloomiest prophecies.  Invasion, siege, famine, starvation, doom, devastation, death, lament, cruelty are the themes of this haftarah. The dirge is unrelieved by words of comfort. These words reflect the emotion of Tisha b’Av.  The image chosen for Tisha b’Av is based on a woodcut by the Shoah artist Miklos Adler. Miklos Adler was a Hungarian Concentration camp survivor who depicted the autrocities of the Shoah. He was born in 1909 and died in 1965 in Israel.He painted,drew and did woodcuts. His woodcuts can be seen in a powerful haggadah called “The Survivor’s Haggadah”.The picture I drew is based on one of his haggadah woodcuts. It shows Jews waiting at a train station, looking at smoke in the form of faces rising out of crematoria chimney stacks.

I hope you have a meaningful fast and that we all endeavour to make Israel strong, and make the world a better place. Maybe we will see peace… we can work towards that. If you have comments or reflections on Tisha B’Av or the imagery please post your ideas.I would love to hear from you.

Best, Laya

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Ethics and Power

An explanation  of the artwork is at the bottom of the postI See an Almond Branch and a Cauldron by Laya Crust

The prophet Jeremiah was born in the small town of Anatot, outside of Jerusalem the same year King Josiah began to reign over the Southern Kingdom of Judea.  While Josiah was in power a scroll was found in the Temple containing laws that the Jews had forgotten. King Josiah began to introduce and enforce religious reforms based on the scroll. Jeremiah was about thirteen years old when this happened, and was appointed by God to be a prophet.

Jeremiah was not accepted or liked by his fellow Jews. He witnessed the rise and fall of other Jewish rulers and the sacking of the Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE. He ended his life in exile in Egypt. Jeremiah’s words and trials are fitting for the Weeks of Rebuke before Tisha B’Av.

The Calling of Jeremiah by Marc ChagallImage result for jeremiah chagall

On the three Shabbatot preceding Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning for the Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, we read “Haftarot of Rebuke”. This is the first “Reading of Rebuke”, taken from Jeremiah ch 1-2:3.  Jeremiah, like Moses, was a reluctant prophet. He told God that he was young and couldn’t speak. God tried to give Jeremiah confidence, saying, “Be not afraid of them for I am with you to deliver you.” (1:8) That did not reassure Jeremiah, so God touched Jeremiah’s mouth saying He had put words into Jeremiah’s mouth. Moses, too, was afraid to speak and tried to reject God’s request. ( spoiler alert- it didn’t work.)

Both men had been chosen by God for a certain roles and had been chosen before they were aware. In this week’s haftarah God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you came out of the womb I sanctified you; I have appointed you a prophet unto the nations.” (1: 5)

Jeremiah and Moses were leaders who taught morality-  not politics and not war. They didn’t speak of who should be the next leader. Instead they communicated God’s wishes and preached ethical behaviour. Throughout our teachings we are told that it is not might that will win wars against our enemies. We are taught that it is faith in God and adherence to ethical and moral behaviour that will allow us to triumph over our adversaries.

Just as Jeremiah and Moses were chosen before they were born and given a role before they were born the same is true for each of us. We each have been blessed with specific talents, strengths, insights and abilities. It is up to each of us to recognize what is within ourselves and use those abilities to make the world a better place. We need to look at what we can do and use our tools to help make our society healthy, safe and accepting. It seems that respect and ethical behaviour are seen as weaknesses. Guns, bombs and threats are preferred methods of negotiation.The fights and wars we see around us today will never allow the people of the world to live in peace and security.

Let’s endeavour to make words, art, music, poetry and scientific improvement our preferred currency over hatred and insults.

Have a good Shabbat and let’s make the world happier!

Laya

The drawing for this haftarah was inspired by Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus. I have shown a despondent Jeremiah looking out of his barren room  at the sacking of the city. It looks like any modern city  but represents Jerusalem. In the corner of the room are an almond branch and a steaming cauldron representing the enemy coming from the north. This illustration and others will be featured in my forthcoming book.

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Death of a Leader from a Family of Leaders

 

Image result for gustave dore Pharaoh's daughter

A black-and-white drawing by Paul Gustave Doré of Moses and his brother, Aaron, standing in Pharaoh’s court next to a serpent.

Engravings by Gustave Dore: The Finding of Moses: Moses and Aaron Appear Before Pharaoh

Yocheved and Amram HaLevi must have been exceptional individuals and parents. Their youngest child, Moses, was born at the worst of times when Pharaoh ordered the death of all male Jewish babies. Yocheved hid her newborn son for three months and then entrusted her daughter, Miriam, with ensuring his safety. The three haLevi children, Moses, Aaron and Miriam all rose to become leaders and teachers in their own right.

Together, under God’s guidance, they led and nurtured an entire nation. The prophet Micah wrote, “For I brought you up out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery. And I sent Moshe, Aharon and Miriam before you.” (Micah 6:4). According to the prophet Micah the brothers and sister were sent together to fulfill the role of leading the Israelites.

When I read about Miriam’s death in the Torah reading “Hukkat” I noticed how little attention was given to this great woman’s passing. When I checked  to see how often the three leaders were mentioned in the Torah I discovered that Moses’ name was recorded about 480 times. Aaron’s name appears about 300 times and Miriam’s name appears 10 times. It’s not very surprising. Women are not generally given a high profile in Torah and bible narratives.

art by Laya Crust

Miriam is recognized as an important figure and is called a “prophet”. To understand the strong family connection between Yocheved and Amram’s three children we have to look at the hints given to us in text and then put the pieces together.

Miriam’s baby brother Moses was born at the worst of times when Pharaoh ordered the death of all male Jewish babies. Yocheved hid her newborn son for three months and then sent Miriam to watch what would happen. Miriam intervened when he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and brilliantly offered to take the baby to a Jewish wet nurse.  The wet nurse was Moses’ mother, Yocheved, and Moses stayed with her for three years until he was weaned. In those three years Moses was not only introduced to Jewish customs and sensibilities, he also interacted with his older brother and sister, Miriam and Aaron. That may explain why he showed no shock or surprise when decades later God told him that Aaron would be his mouthpiece to Pharaoh or why it seemed natural that Miriam was a leader at the Red Sea.

Miriam is often associated with water. Neither Moses nor anyone else were surprised when she led the women in song after crossing the Red Sea.

Miriam leading the Woman in Song- Golden Haggadah

In the Torah we read how Miriam and Aaron gossiped about Moses, criticizing his choice of wife. It was a natural thing for siblings to do – talk about their brother, his good points and his bad points. When Miriam was punished both brothers came to her defense. Moses begged that she be forgiven. God said He had punished her as any father would. Her affliction of tzaarat, and consequent seclusion in a tent sounds almost like a time out. Maybe this was God’s style of “time out”, knowing she needed some space to rest and reflect. One could well imagine that Miriam and Aaron were stressed. Miriam was the wise woman, and an example to the children of Israel, constantly expected to be empathetic and to guide the women. Her beloved people patiently waited for her to heal before they continued on their journey.

Image result for miriam the prophetessMiriam’s Well, Dura Europos wall panel

At Miriam’s death another link between the three leaders is revealed. Miriam’s death is mentioned in five words. There isn’t any mention of the people mourning her. Instead they become angry due to lack of water. God tells Moses and Aaron to speak to a rock, holding Moses’ staff. Moses and Aaron gathered everyone together before the rock. Moses said, “Hear now, you rebels; are we to bring you water from this rock?” He lifted the staff and hit the rock twice. God punished the brothers for not following his instructions by not allowing them to enter the promised land. That is to say they would die before the children of Israel entered Canaan. Indeed, Aaron dies twelve verses after the rock was hit, (Exodus 20: 23 -29).

When Moses spoke to the children of Israel he called them “the rebels” using the word הַמֹּרִיִם.  That word, מֹּרִיִם has the same letters as Miriam. I suspect that Moses and Aaron were so overcome with grief at the loss of their sister Moses unconsciously chose that word.

A leader and a sister of leaders, Miriam died and was buried in Kadesh. It is fitting that she died in a place named “Holiness” because throughout her life that is what she exemplified and taught.

Have a Shabbat Shalom, and let us pray for the craziness in the world to become peace in the world.

Laya

 

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Korach and a Change in Leadership


KorachKorach   art by Laya Crust

I Samuel 11:14- 12:22

Samuel (prophet and judge) 1070 – 970 B.C.E

This Torah reading tells how Korach, a Levi, led a group of people and confronted Moses. They wanted to know why Moses and Aaron were so special and they wanted a change in leadership. The accompanying haftarah is also about a call for change in leadership.

Samuel was prophet and judge and as things turned out he was to be the last of the judges of Israel. The Israelites asked for a King so that they would be like the neighbouring nations. In this haftarah Samuel reluctantly anointed Saul as the first King of Israel. He reminded the people of all that God had done for them, and how he himself had been an honest and caring prophet and leader. He told the children of Israel that if they did not listen to God and obey His commandments they would be punished.

The image I painted shows Samuel advising Saul.  My painting is based on a woodcut in a book from Southern Germany, 1450 called “Meshal ha-Kadmoni” (The Ancient Proverb) written by  Isaac ben Solomon ibn Abi Sahulah.  He was born in 1244 and lived in Guadalajara, in Castile. Isaac ben Solomon was worried about the influence of secular writings on his fellow Jews.  He noted that Jews were reading and being influenced by non-Jewish books. For example The Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor  and Kalila and Dimna- fables from India- were translated into Hebrew and read extensively by Jews in the Middle Ages. Below are two illustrations from an edition of Kalila and Dimna dated 1210 CE.

               

To counter the effects of these non-Jewish texts Isaac wrote his own book of  stories, poems, fables and parables. The book was illustrated with miniatures and wood cuts. The “Meshal ha-Kadmoni” was so popular it was reprinted six times in Hebrew and nine times in Yiddish! It was a popular book, but of course it didn’t stop Jews from reading and loving secular literature.

Samuel was concerned that the people were going to turn away from God; that they would subconsciously conclude that because they had anointed a King as leader of their country they could ignore God’s commandments. Samuel wanted to remind the people that their fate would always be in God’s power. It was the wheat harvest season. After Samuel was finished speaking he called to God, asking for thunder and rain When the thunderstorm came the show of force the frightened Israelites. They realized, “…we have added to all our sins to request a King for ourselves…” (Ch 12 v.19).  Although they admitted their error the statement did not prevent the Israelites from sinning against God as they continued their lives.

People are always looking for a change in power. When the leader is a good leader it is the forces of extremism or selfishness that want to change the status quo. When someone with poor vision or evil intentions is at the helm those with good leadership abilities must try to change the direction of politics. It is important element to have the wisdom to recognize good leadership and bad leadership, and to further the goodness.  Let’s all hope for good directions in this crazy world of crazy leadership that just seems to get crazier.

Have a good Shabbat,

Laya

 

 

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