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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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“For he will be like a tree planted by the waters”

Behukotai“A Tree Planted by the waters” by Laya Crust

Bechukotai is the last reading in the Book of Leviticus, a book devoted to teaching b’nei Yisrael how to conduct their lives. God sets out clear and detailed guidelines referring to acceptable morals and behaviour. There are directives on everything from marriage, to diet, to respecting the land. After all the rules have been laid we are told what will happen if we don’t follow the laws.

God says that if we follow His laws and observe His commandments “I will grant you rains in their season, so the earth shall yield its produce…I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone…” (26: 4, 26:6). It sounds so idyllic! The earth will be bountiful, noone will bother God’s people, and they will live in peace, harmony and comfort. But wait a minute…God continues with a warning…

“But if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments, if you reject My laws and spurn My rules…I will wreak misery upon you…” (26: 14, 16) God’s warnings don’t stop there . They  become harsher and harsher. The text is frightening but finally the severity is mitigated. It is followed by God then telling His people that He will never forget them and will remember His covenant with them. God knows that the Israelites will return and will once again become strong and bountiful. The desolation is followed by hope.

P1150004Tamarisk tree in the desert by Laya Crust

The haftarah follows the same theme. Jeremiah begins by telling the Israelites that their sins are written on their hearts and they will be punished.  But he also says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose trust the Lord is. For he will be like a tree planted by the waters, and spreads out its roots by the river, and he will not see when the heat comes. Its foliage will be lush and will not be anxious in the year of drought. And it will not cease from yielding fruit.” He says those who depend only on men will be like a tree that grows on parched land in the wilderness. But one who trusts in God will be like a tree planted by the waters which spreads its roots by the river.  The tree will flourish even during a drought.

The message of desolation turning to hope exemplifies the Jewish people. It also delivers a  personal and comforting message.

We as individuals have choices throughout our lives. We can follow a path of good, of mediocrity or of evil. We can take our strengths and gifts and use them to improve our surroundings, we can ignore those gifts, or we can use them selfishly. There are people we meet throughout our lives who use their talents and make visible improvements to the world around them. One such man was Dr. Eli Cohen z”l.

Dr. Cohen was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1938 where his family had lived since about 500 BCE. In 1951, when it became dangerous for the Jews living in Iraq, his family emigrated to Israel. They had to relinquish their Iraqi citizenship, and all their assets were either frozen or taken by the state. He never forgot his country, the house where they lived, or the open hospitality of his mother. When he was 18 he joined the Israeli Defense Forces as a paratrooper commando. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Hebrew University then left Israel to further pursue his education in Manitoba, Canada. Ultimately Eli earned four degrees, in genetics and then statistics.  One of the technologies he developed is a medical instrument that monitors whole blood coagulation mainly during surgery (TEG). The TEG is used in hospitaals internationally and has saved thousands and thousands of lives and improved surgical outcomes.

Eli and his wife Carole developed the company Haemoscope together. Together they raised three phenomenal children, mentored countless students and employees, and created a caring workplace. They invested in and cared about their employees and never lost sight of the people whose lives would be saved through the technology.

As it says in Jeremiah 17:8,  “For he will be like a tree planted by the waters, and spreads out its roots by the river, …And it will not cease from yielding fruit.”  Dr. Eli Cohen z”l has left a legacy of beauty, generosity, vision and kindness. He improved the world through his family and research, and they will continue to improve the world for generations.

With thanks to Carole Cohen and Dr. Eli Cohen z”l, may we all strive to be like a tree planted by the waters. not afraid of the heat and spreading out our roots to be strong and give sustenance to those who need it.

May you have a foliage full, and fruitful week, and a Shabbat shaded by those you love.

Laya

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This Year in Jerusalem

Herzl’s Dream by Laya Crust

For thousands of years Jews have had a dream- to be back in Jerusalem, the capital of our homeland Israel. We settled israel thousands of years ago with Joshua leading us into battle, and the Jews ruled that land until the Romans destroyed our country and exiled the majority of the Jewish citizens. There was always a Jewish presence in Jerusalem and Israel, and a longing for return from Jews around the world.

Theodore Herzl and Chaim Weizmann were two men who, through different political routes, put the wheels in motion to finally facilitate the establishment of Israel in 1948. Tonight we begin celebrating the 70th anniversary of that longed for event.

Today ( April 18, 2018) we observe  Yom haZikaron and tonight we will celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut. They are modern observances, introduced to us with the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.

Future Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced the founding of the State of Israel on  the 5th of Iyar, which corresponded to May 14, 1948.


A
s soon as the fledgling country was established its neighbours declared war, hoping to annihilate it. Over six thousand young men and women died, defending their rights to a Jewish State.  Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) is observed the day before Israel Independence Day to honour and remember those who lost their lives defending the barely formed country.

Israel is a complicated country. Like every other country there are political problems, economic problems, challenges with absorbing refugees and opposing opinions between the right wing and the left wing. But- it is a vital country sending medical aid around the world, bringing water technology to drought ridden areas, making major advances in medical technology and developments in electronic technology.

The land of Israel is thousands of years old, and the country of Israel is now 70 years old.

May it get stronger, and more united, more beautiful and better every day.

Happy 70th  Birthday, Israel, and many many more!  Love, Laya!

(Below, links about Yom HaZikaron)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yom_Hazikaron

http://www.aish.com/h/imd/

 

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Shemini- Flames of God

shemini“Shemini” by Laya Crust

Parshat Shemini is an unexpected combination of two very different narratives. The first half of the parsha focuses on the sacrifices Aaron and the priests offered to God to make atonement for themselves and the children of Israel. Aaron and his sons had spent weeks spiritually purifying themselves for these important offerings. The second half of the reading describes which animals are kosher and which animals are not. Why would these two very different subjects be combined in the same weekly reading?

The priests (Aaron and his four sons) had been warned to follow their preparations exactly, or they would die. After seven days of isolation and purification Moses called Aaron and told him it was time to offer the sacrifices.  In a dramatic scene “the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And there came a fire out from before the Lord…which when the people saw they they shouted and fell on their faces.” (Lev. 9: 23, 24)  God’s fire consumed the sacrificial remains and the flames ascended to the heavens.  In the excitement of the moment Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu offered their own fire to God. In anger God sent down flames that killed the two men. It was a shocking incident, especially after the powerful acceptance by God towards Aaron and Moses.

Aaron and his two remaining sons were told to continue their duties, and be an example to the children of Israel. Aaron was told, “לְהבדיל בּין הקדשׁ ובין החֹל ובין הטמה ובין הטהור” –to distinguish between holy and common, between impure and pure. Those were the tenets he was to teach the children of Israel.

Following these extraordinary events the Israelites were told about kosher and non-kosher animals. It seems strange that after an awesome display of sacrifice, flames from heaven, and the death of two priests, the people were given a list of animals. The two narratives are very different- one is a drama the other is a list of guidelines. They are united by a phrase at the end of each of the 2 sections. After the nation was told what it could and could not eat, it was told: “לְהבדיל בין הטמה ובין הטהור”  to distinguish between the impure and the pure. The words are very similar to those spoken to Aaron. But why is it so important?

Differentiating, “לְהבדיל”, creates separation and awareness. That is a theme not only in this Torah reading but in all of Judaism. The list of acceptable and unacceptable animals make us conscious of our dietary choices and separates us from the eating habits of the nations around us. The dire punishment of Nadav and Avihu separated them as priests from their brothers and father who followed God’s directions. The Sabbath separates one day from the rest of the week and we behave differently on that day. Dietary rules, rules about Shabbat and instructions for different festivals separate us from the nations around us, and create limits for us.

The painting of flames above shows the accepted fire from Aaron, Elazar and Itamar reaching up to the heavens. The outer flames are duller in colour. They become blue in tone and disappear before they reach the heavens. The outer flames represent the fire offered by Nadav and Avihu, who had not learned the difficult lessons of discipline, purity and discernment.

In this week’s Torah reading God used fire to separate the holy sacrifice from the profane sacrifice, and taught the nation to separate kosher animals from non kosher ones. On Saturday night we use fire in the “havdalah” ceremony (from the word לְהבדיל in the quotation) to separate the holiness of the Sabbath from the rest of the week.  So, enjoy the distinctiveness of Shabbat. We have this one day that gives us the quiet of nature and time amidst the bustle of regular weekdays and workdays.

The painting for this parsha was part of a project called “Women of the Book”. 54 women from around the world were invited to paint an interpretation of each of the parshiot, To see these extraordinary paintings go to http://womenofthebook.org/artwork/  .

You can click on the flames at the top to see the painting enlarged.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

 

 

 

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Pesach, Havdalah, and Rabbits

Havdalah, Barcelona Haggadah, 15th C. Spain

Pesach is coming. It will be here just a couple of days, beginning on Friday night, March 30, 2018 . Those of us who live outside of Israel are expected to have two seders, the second one starting after Shabbat on Saturday night, March 31. On Saturday nights we Jews perform a beautiful ceremony called Havdalah- a ceremony that involves fire, wine, spices, and song. It gets a little  complicated when we observe a special holiday on Saturday night that calls for the kiddush and the Havdalah ceremony too (like the second seder, this year).

What is the right order of the prayers? Do we do the holiday kiddush first or say the Havdalah prayers first? When do we light the fire?There is a specific blessing recited on holidays in general (the שהחינו –  the she’he’chianu”). When is that said?

  Rabbah bar Nachmani  (c. 270 – c. 330 C.E.) taught that the correct order of the prayers was yayin (wine), kiddush, ner, (candle), havdalah, zeman (she’he’chianu). To make the order easier to remember Rabbah coined the acronym יקנהז (YaKNeHaZ).

In many of the early haggadot we see the word יקנהז written either immediately before or after the kiddush or havdalah prayers.

P1140751

This is from the Bird’s Head Haggadah, 1290 Southern Germany. The small letters in the centre of the page say, “When the first [night] is on the evening after Shabbat [do] the blessings use the acronym YaKNeHaZ”.

So there we see it written, all the way back 7 1/4 centuries ago.

Somewhere along the route of history someone realized that YaKNeHaZ sounds a lot like the German “jag den has”( pronounced like “yag den has) which means “hunt the hare”. An illustrator got the idea to illustrate the term with a hare hunt.

RABBIT, RUN: An image from a Haggadah written by the scribe Meir Jaffe in southern Germany, circa 1490. Southern Germany, c.1490

This seems to have started a trend, and many haggadot could be seen with hare hunts. Eventually there was an additional layer of interpretation put onto the imagery. The hare was associated with the Jew being hunted down by a hunter and his dogs. Below is a woodcut from the Prague haggadah of 1526.  The hunter and dogs are trapping the hares in a net.

But, don’t despair. The allusion was taken a step farther. In the woodcuts from the Augsburg Haggadah of 1534 there are two scenes of Jag den has. The first shows the hare being hotly pursued by dogs and a hunter. The hare runs into the net and seemingly will  be caught.

But look at what the artist did next-  our “wiley wabbits” -or smart hares- managed to slip under the fence while the hounds and hunter were kept at bay.

Jewish illustrators and artists often used humour in their drawings. A great deal of wit can be found in border illustrations of our historic manuscripts and books. I love this little section from the Barcelona Haggadah, showing a rabbit or hare keeping a dog in order, accepting the kiddush wine  from a formally attired cat or pig.
 Barcelona Haggadah, 14th C.

Hares, rabbits, dogs, and other animals -even dragons- appear liberally in Jewish and Christian medieval manuscripts. If you want a nice romp through whimsy look up some medieval manuscripts and you’ll see some great imagery.

The next time you wonder how to do kiddush and havdalah on a holiday remember “YaKNeHaZ”, the hare hunt, and smile. Share this blog with your friends and family at your seder table!

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Have a great Pesach and Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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