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BeShalach-Shabbat Shira

B'Shalach
Miriam’s Song by Laya Crust

This week’s Torah reading, Beshalach, is called Shabbat Shira- the Shabbat of Song. We read three songs-  Miriam’s song after crossing the Red Sea, Moshe’s “Song of the Sea,” and Devorah’s song of victory. Women sing and play music in both the Torah and haftarah readings, and they are also significant figures in these biblical stories.

Before focusing on our heroines, Miriam, Devorah, and Yael, I will mention some elements from this week’s parashah. The Israelites have fled Egypt, but Pharaoh and his army are in quick pursuit. God splits the Red Sea so the Israelites can cross to the other side. We read about the manna that appears to feed the hungry people. God introduces the notion of “Shabbat” by sending two portions of manna on the sixth day so that everyone can refrain from collecting food on the seventh day, Moses sweetens the water in this parashah and we read about the battle with the Amalekites.

Miriam is called a prophet in this parashah. She and her brothers, Moses and Aaron, lead b’nei Yisrael to freedom. God has confidence in the abilities and wisdom of women and chose Miriam to be the female role model for the nation. She exemplified strength and leadership. After crossing the Red Sea, Miriam led the women, celebrating with song and dance.

h shabbat shira

Devorah the Prophet by Laya Crust

 Devorah was a judge and prophet who led the Israelites for 40 years. She sat under a palm tree to meet with her people. The haftarah tells of a battle waged by the Canaanites against the Israelites. The Jewish commander, Barak, asks Devorah to lead the battle with him. She warns Barak that a woman will be credited with the victory if she goes, but he still insists on her help.

Yael Killing Sisera Maciejowski Bible, ca 1240

Yael, the other significant woman in the haftarah, is not a Jew but a Kenite. After the battle, Sisera, a general, flees from the Jews, seeking refuge with Yael. She gives him warm milk to drink, covers him with a blanket, then drives a tent peg through his temple, killing him. The haftarah is unusual in that it features two women- Devorah and Yael- as heroic characters.

Devorah writes a song of praise, mentioning herself as a mother of Israel, Barak as a leader, and Yael as a heroine. The end of the song is powerful. Devorah describes Sisera’s mother waiting at the window for her triumphant son to return home from battle. Devorah sings, “…The mother of Sisera…moaned…’Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why are the hoofbeats of his steeds so tardy? …Have they not found spoils and treasure? Have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera many kinds of plunder…?”. Devorah describes the scene- a mother waiting for her son- all the while knowing Sisera has been murdered. The mother’s pride that her son has successfully killed, looted, and abducted the Israelites is disquieting.

The women in the parashah and haftarah show strength and leadership. God chose Miriam to be one of the three leaders of the children of Israel as they trekked towards freedom. God appointed Devorah and later Hulda as prophets and made Yael a hero.

Women may not be mentioned in our writings as often as men, but women were essential leaders and educators then, as women are today. Let’s work in strength and harmony, and sing in harmony too!

Have a joyous and tuneful Shabbat,

Laya

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Bo, The Stand-off

Bo sig

Haftarah:  Jeremiah 46: 13-28

This week’s haftarah is from the Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived most of his life in Israel, witnessing both sieges of Jerusalem (597 and 586). In this haftarah, after the fall of the First Temple, he warned the Children of Israel not to ally themselves with Egypt. He prophesied that Egypt would fall to the Babylonians.

In the illustration Egypt {Pharaoh) is being confronted by Jeremiah (Moses). The images Jeremiah uses in his warnings about Egypt are painted in the background. The heifer, gadflies, serpent, locusts, and trees that will be cut down have been painted to look like an Egyptian wall painting. The images the prophet used echo the plagues visited upon the Egyptians in parsahat Bo.

The Egyptians had already experienced 7 plagues. Some were unpleasantly uncomfortable (being overrun with frogs) and some were devastating (pestilence killing the cattle and hail destroying crops). In this week’s parashah, Moshe warned Pharaoh that if he didn’t free the children of Israel there would be even more dire consequences. Three more plagues were to be visited upon the Egyptians. Pharaoh lost patience with Moses. After the plagues of locusts and darkness, he wanted the threats to stop. Bombastically, he proclaimed, “Depart from me, take heed of yourself. Make sure never to see my face again. For on the day you see my face you will die.”  (Exodus 10:28) Moses answered, “You have spoken well. I will not see your face again.” Pharaoh’s threat was answered. He did not ever see Moses’ face again.

Pharaoh had been given opportunities to let the Israelites leave. His pride would not allow Moses to threaten him or speak of a Gd more powerful than he. Pharaoh threatened Moses with death. He would never see Moses again, but he paid a horrific price. His eldest son- and the eldest of all Egyptian families would die. Pharaoh’s decree not to see Moshe’s face again had negative implications and terrible results.

Rabbi Ari Kahn, a rabbi in Israel, points out that children are the focus of the Exodus narrative. Our all-powerful Gd could have freed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery with little pain and fuss. For instance, the plague of darkness immobilized the Egyptians for three days while the Israelites had light. Moses could have led Gd’s people out of Egypt and across the Red Sea without their oppressors even knowing what was happening. Why the elaborate choreography of the plagues?

The cries of pain began with overwork and Pharaoh’s decree to kill newborn Jewish babies. Midwives and mothers risked their own lives to save the babies. The lives of children are precious to Jews. In this parashah Gd tells Moses that our children may forget the story of Egypt, slavery, and deliverance. The seder itself will be the reminder. That reminder will ensure our children’s education and the continuity of our people.

We are told to remember the stranger because we were strangers. We are reminded to remember our past and learn from it. We live in challenging times and hopefully if we remember to be kind to those around us we will get through this period without too many bruises.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

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Va’Eira, Brotherhood

Confronting Egypt by Laya Crust

This week’s Torah portion presents the first wave of plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. At the beginning of the Torah reading, Gd talks to Moses tracing His relationship back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Gd points out to Moshe that He is more open to Moshe than He had been to his forefathers. This link between Moshe and Gd allows Moshe to fully act as an agent of redemption and miracles.

There are parallels and contrasts between the Book of Genesis and the Book of Exodus. The most glaring contrast is the role of family in the two books. There are many stories of brothers and their relationships with each other. Sibling relationships in the Book of Genesis are fractious, but in the Book of Exodus (Shemot), there is family unity.

Cain murders his brother Abel. Isaac is kept away from his half-brother, Ishmael. Jacob and Esau have a relationship founded on deceit.

Family Dynamics by Laya Crust

The other story we all know is the jealousy of Jacob’s 10 sons toward his favourite child, Joseph.

A Grievous Sin by Laya crust

At first, they plan to kill Joseph but then soften their stance and merely sell him into slavery. Of course, slavery was probably a death sentence.

That is the family dynamic in the history of the fledgling Jewish nation. Abraham was selected to lead a new people who would follow Gd’s laws and ethics. The story we read in Va’Era, this week’s parashah, is about Abraham’s descendants enslaved in Egypt, but with a change in that family dynamic.

We are introduced to Moshe, a man who risks everything to save his brethren. He is not jealous or arrogant and welcomes his brother Aaron as an equal. Aaron, three years older than Moshe, takes the lesser role, allowing his younger brother to lead the way. The two men accept Gd’s direction. Their partnership allows them to stand before the ruler of Egypt and free their brethren. Miriam is Moshe and Aaron’s sister. She is the sister who risked everything to save her baby brother Moshe from certain death. Later Miriam joins her brothers and becomes a leader of the people in her own right.

It is a beautiful contrast to the painful relationships in the Book of Genesis. It is a lesson that if we act as caring partners, and work in cooperation for the good of the community/ city/ country/ world, we can make monumental changes for freedom and equality.

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

The illustrations you have seen in this post are part of the upcoming book “ILLUMINATIONS”. Stay tuned for the 2022 publication!

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Shemot- Those Who Are Nameless

Hopeless Desperation by Laya Crust

“Shemot”, meaning “Names”, is the title of the second book of the Five Books of Moses.  The book begins with the names of the patriarch Jacob and his sons, and tells how Jacob went down to Egypt with an entourage of 70 people. It says, “And the children of Jacob were fruitful and increased abundantly and multiplied and grew very very mighty, and the land was filled with them.” (Shemot/ Exodus 1:7)

The Israelites became slaves to the Egyptians. Neither slaves, taskmasters, nor nobility are named in the narrative. The first names we read are those of two heroic midwives, Shifra and Pua, who had the courage to ignore the edict to drown every Israelite boy at birth.  The next name we read is that of Moses- not when he was born but after he was rescued by Pharaoh’s (nameless) daughter, then taken by his own (nameless) sister to be nursed and raised for three years by Moses’ own (nameless) mother.

We read of Moses’ entanglement with an Egyptian taskmaster and three Israelite slaves, yet the next person who is named is Re’uel (Jethro), the Midianite priest who kindly took Moses in.

There is a pattern here. The people who were named were those who stood up against the norm of apathy and acceptance. The midwives risked their own lives because they didn’t want to kill innocent baby boys. The adopted boy Moses grew up to rail against the injustice he witnessed. Jethro the priest took in a needy stranger from a rival country.

photograph by Malcolm Peterson, 2003

Names are important. When Moses met God at the burning bush surprisingly Moses asked for God’s name. Moses knew that the Israelite slaves needed a name for God in order to believe. He demanded a name from a powerful, unknown, force. God complied and furnished Moses with a name – “אהיה אשר אהיה“, “I Will Ever Be What I Will Be”.Names are a key to identity and self-determination.  The Israelite slaves were nameless. Black slaves were stripped of their birth names and given new monikers. Victims of the Nazi regime were numbered in order to add one more level to their dehumanization.  Victims of famine and genocide; and victims of large natural disasters like tsunamis, mudslides, and earthquakes, are unnamed. Missing Indigenous women needed their names shared in order to be noticed, and for their disappearances to be investigated.

When we see a face or hear a name we are more capable of empathizing with a person or an unfolding tragedy.  That is why, when a memorial is set up for fallen soldiers or victims of the Shoah (Holocaust), the invisible individuals can then be remembered, and why the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem is called Yad V’Shem (“A Monument and a Name”).

Ai Weiwei's Snake Ceiling, a serpentine form made from children's backpacks, is currently on display at the Hirshhorn Museum's "According to What?" exhibit. It commemorates the thousands of students who died in poorly constructed schools during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
A Snake made out of children’s backpacks, Ai Wei Wei,
Hirshhorn Museum, 2008/ photograph by Cathy Carver

Ai Wei Wei, the Chinese dissident artist, took another approach in one of his installations.  In 2008, thousands of school children were killed by an earthquake in Sichuan, China, in shoddily constructed government schools. Wei Wei has produced a list of all the victims of the earthquake on his blog. He also created a number of art pieces made from thousands of children’s backpacks to memorialize their lives.

The thousands of victims have been given identities.

Referring to the narrative from the bible, it may seem that calling this story “Shemot” or “Names” is ironic, but on second thought it is a lesson. The people who were named were doers and helpers. They were people who stepped beyond normal expectations to change a condition and make it better.

When we see people in need it may help us to find out their names. That may make it easier for us to see them as individuals and allow us to reach out more quickly.

Claiming a name

May this be a Shabbat of welcoming and hope, of reaching out to help the other- the nameless and those in need. And through our actions may we bring peace and healing to the world.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

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Vayechi- Family Continuity

Va'yechi Sig
King David and Solomon by Laya Crust

Both the haftarah and the parashah are narratives of handing over the reigns of power. Jacob, in the parashah, is on his deathbed. He describes each of his sons and predicts how they will lead their lives. King David, in the haftarah, tells Solomon to vanquish their enemies, be strong, and follow Gd’s laws. Yaakov and David recognize that their death means a new beginning for their sons.

 We have a beautiful prayer we say each morning, “My Gd, the soul You placed within me is pure. You created it. You fashioned it. You breathed it into me. You safeguard it within me, and eventually, you will take it from me and restore it to me in time to come. As long as the soul is within me, I gratefully thank you, my Gd and Gd of my forefathers, Master of all works, Lord of all souls…”

Morning Prayer by Laya Crust

Each day we have the opportunity to see our life as a new beginning. We can make a change for the better, face a challenge, or make a fresh start.

Jacob was 137 years old. He had lived in Egypt with Joseph and his other 11 sons for 17 years. Jacob was about to die and called for Joseph, Ephraim, and Menashe (Joseph’s sons). “…he kissed them and embraced them. And Yisrael said to Joseph,’ I had not thought to see your face: and lo, God has also shown me your children.’ ” (Genesis ch 47 v..11). Jacob expressed the pain he had felt for decades, never believing he would see his son Joseph again. Neither Abraham nor Isaac had ever spoken to their children with such honesty and warmth.

We go on to read the first ethical will to be recorded. Jacob spoke to each of his sons and to his two favourite grandsons. He foresaw how they were going to navigate the world. While speaking to his children, Jacob insisted that he be buried in Canaan, indicating that Canaan, not Egypt, was their homeland.

Jacob cemented the family unit with his words. It wasn’t a public speech, and it was a speech only for his sons. He valued them as a unified family, and they would retain their nationhood and integrity if they stayed together.

In this week’s texts Yaakov and David, reflecting on their own lives, gave their sons guidance for the future. Their sons could listen to the exhortations and ignore them or take them on a more profound level. The deeper level would be for the sons to listen to their father’s words and ask themselves- “What can I change in myself to heed this wisdom and at the same time become a better person using the wisdom?”

When we read the morning prayer thanking Gd we remind ourselves that we have a fresh soul each day. Let’s remind ourselves to do things we love that make us feel good and are beneficial to others. We can use the newness of each day to move towards a great ideal.

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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Reunited- VaYigash

The brothers selling Joseph to passing traders from the parasha VaYigash

For the last number of weeks we have been reading about our ancestors, Jacob’s children. More specifically, we have read about Joseph’s trajectory from favoured son at home, to being a slave, and then to becoming viceroy of all Egypt. By the time he was thirty years old Joseph ruled Egypt. He ran the finances and oversaw all of Egypt’s policies.

In this week’s Torah reading Joseph’s brothers still did not know that the leader they were speaking to was their brother. This parsha begins just after Benjamin had been “framed”. Joseph’s personal silver chalice had been “planted” in Benjamin’s belongings, and the Israelite brothers had been told that Benjamin would become enslaved to Pharaoh’s court as payment for the infraction. Joseph was playing a game with his brothers.

English: Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brot...Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brother, c. 1896-1902
 by James Jacques Joseph Tissot    (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 
 
Judah, The same brother who decades earlier had suggested Joseph be sold rather than be killed, begged for understanding. He pouredout his heart to the great Egyptian before him. Judah hoped that by telling this regent of his father’s heartbreak and frailty the leader might accept Judah as a slave rather than take his youngest brother. 
 

Joseph could carry on the charade no longer. He cleared all the Egyptian attendants from the room. The text says, “And no man stood with him while Yosef made himself known to his brothers. And his voice cried out with weeping, and Egypt heard…” When I read those phrases I imagine a stately, handsome regent who is always in control. He is a man who has faced one challenge after another but has always kept his wits about him, analyzed, strategized, and succeeded.  He has played with his brothers, waiting for just the right time to reveal his identity.  I think he was “undone”, hearing Judah’s humility and love for Yaakov, the father Joseph hasn’t seen and possibly thought he never would see again. The narrative sets the scene in a compelling way. Joseph is so overcome that he loses his controlled facade. Alone with his brothers he lets out such a cry of anguish that the entire land of Mizrayim (Egypt) hears… What powerful text. Joseph forgave his brothers. He feasted with them, gave them gifts of clothing and food, and convinced them to return to Egypt and live in comfort.

Although the story had begun many years earlier with fraternal jealousy, the brothers reunited and rebuilt their family. This was contrary to the patterns we had seen before. Cain killed his brother Abel. Isaac grew up without his brother Ishmael.  Jacob and Esau never truly reconciled. In this story we see Joseph and Judah build the unified family which would become a nation.

VaYigashReunited  by Laya Crust

The haftarah features the prophet Ezekiel. He lived from around 622 BCE – 570 BCE and was among the 8,000 Jews exiled to Babylonia. God told Ezekiel to take two beautiful branches, carve phrases on them and display them. One branch represented the nation of Judah and the other represented Joseph’s lineage, the nation of Ephraim. Ezekiel wrote phrases about the two Jewish nations onto the branches and held the two branches together. The action was to indicate that just as the branches could be rejoined, the Israelites could be reunited and grow together as one unified nation.

Both readings are about unity. In every era and in every generation there are disagreements between different sectors of Jews. The competition for leadership, the separation of the nations – began as early as the story of Cain and Abel. We have seen the story played out over and over again. We allow ourselves to be divided by traditions, dress, levels of observance, and politics. We are stronger as a united people.

We live in frightening times which are harder to navigate if we are divided. We witness and experience the Covid-19 epidemic, international terrorism, increasd anti-Semitism, tyrannical dictatorships waging war on its citizens and neighbours, slavery, rising opiad deaths, and bizarre weather related disasters. On the other hand we live in a time with potential for incredible good. Using medical innovation, social network, communication and the sharing of resources, we can create and heal the world.

 Just as Joseph and his brothers could forge a better future together, we can do the same. Joseph saved Egypt and its neighbours from starvation through sharing wisdom and strategy- we have the potential to do the same.

With prayers for peace and understanding,

Shabbat Shalom,    Laya

The painting “Reunited”, showing Ezekiel writing on a branch,  is one of the images in my forthcoming book, “ILLUMINATIONS: The Art of Haftarah”. Stay tuned for more information!

Shabbat Shalom,  Laya

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Dreams and the Dreamer

Joseph was the ultimate dreamer in the bible. As we know it got him into trouble with his brothers, yet saved him and an entire country when he was in Egypt. In Parashat Miketz we read how Joseph interprets dreams for Pharaoh, changing the course of economic and agricultural history, as well as changing the course of history for the children of Israel.

Joseph came by his ability to remember and read his dreams honestly. His father Jacob was guided both by his dreams and by angels. (The angel connection did not figure as highly in Joseph’s life.)

Jacob and the Ladder by Laya Crust

Dreams are important in many cultures. There are dream journals, dream symbols, and the idea that each element of a dream symbolizes something specific. One commonly held theory is that each person in a dream represents one characteristic of the dreamer. The truth is that successful people, those who achieve greatness, are dreamers. They have an idea, a focus, and they follow it. They hold tightly to the goal they wish to achieve and imagine or strategize how to reach their objective.

Not By Might by Laya Crust

We are celebrating Hanukkah this week. The Jewish leaders who fought and overcame the Greeks were focused dreamers who achieved what they had to achieve in order to survive. Herzl had a dream as did other Jews throughout the millennia. The dream was to return to Israel and make the land flourish, allow it to become a homeland for all Jews once again

Before Jews resettled the land in the early 1900’s the country was a barren, dusty, desert. The Jewish pioneers came and irrigated, cleared, drained swampland, and created what is now a flourishing agriculturally rich and technologically amazing jewel.

We have dreams. Dreams can lead to beautiful results. We can pay attention to our dreams- analyze what they may mean, and how we can do something better or differently. Dreams may help us reach a goal that we thought was impossible but really isn’t. We can make our lives- and the world- a happier place.

Have a Happy Hanukkah. May it be full of light, joy, peace, and happy dreams.

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

I painted many of the pictures you see in this post as part of a collection of pieces for a sefer haHaftarot- a haftarah scroll. You have seen many of these images over the years if you have been following my blog. I’m excited to announce that a collection of these paintings and their explanations will be published in a book called “ILLUMINATIONS, An Exploration of Haftarah through Art and History”. I will share more information about the book in the coming weeks.

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VaYeishev

I painted the picture you see here as part of a collection of pieces for a sefer haHaftarah- a haftarah scroll. You have seen many of these images over the years if you have been following my blog. I’m excited to announce that a collection of these paintings and their explanations will be published in a book called “ILLUMINATIONS, An Exploration of Haftarah through Art and History”. I will share more information about the book in the coming weeks.

VaYeishev, A Grievous Sin by Laya Crust

The last number of weeks the Torah readings have been about the families of our forefathers and mothers. Abraham and Sarah’s grandson, Jacob, was the father of 12 sons and one daughter. This week’s Torah reading exposes the dynamics between Jacob’s children.

This illustration is based on a painting in the Sarajevo Haggadah from 1350 Spain.  I’m going to take you on a time traveler’s tour using this image from Sarajevo Haggadah from 1350 Spain. I’ll touch on the haftarah, the Torah reading, Roman persecution of the Jews, and the culture revealed in the Sarajevo Haggadah.

The haftarah is from the Book of Amos. The prophet Amos was a herdsman and farmer. He taught that if the members of society are not good to each other the society crumbles. The Kingdom of Judaea was experiencing a period of affluence. The rich were selfish and unrighteous, and there was a large economic gap between the rich and the poor.

Amos begins this haftarah by saying “… they sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes…And a man and his father go unto the same maid to profane My holy name”.  Both phrases reflect the parashah. “The man and his father going to the same maid ” reminds us how Yehuda was unfair to Tamar, his daughter-in-law. The first phrase “they sell the righteous for silver…” describes the brothers selling Joseph to Ishmaelite traders for 20 shekels of silver.

The Sarajevo Haggadah has a wonderful rendering of the scene. We see the brothers exchanging money with Ishmaelite traders. The brothers are depicted as  Spanish merchants with fair skin and light hair wearing typical clothing of the period. Look at the traders- they are black, with dark skin, curly black hair, and black features.  Joseph stands with the foreign traders. He’s portrayed as a little boy, his hands held together begging his brothers to take him back. And we see the camels carrying the merchants’ goods.

 This image tells us that the Spanish Jews were trading with black merchants traveling from North Africa. It tells us about the clothing of the time and the art produced for the Jewish community. We also learn that today we use the same haggadah that Jews used in medieval Spain, and that Pesach was so important that someone commissioned a handwritten, illustrated book to be used at their seder.

This scene reflects the first phrases of the haftarah and takes us to how the story of Joseph’s sale was viciously used in history.  On Yom Kippur, we read about ten righteous Rabbis who were martyred by the Romans under the emperor Hadrian about 120 CE. The Roman judges quoted a law which stated, “Whoever kidnaps a man and sells him, or if the man is found in his possession, must be put to death”. They used Amos, Devarim 24:7,  and the story of Joseph as an excuse to torture the ten Rabbis.

The story of Joseph took place about 3,500 years ago. Amos’s words in the haftarah, the sin of “selling your brother” are from around 2,800 years ago, That quote reminds us of the Roman tyrants 1900 years ago. And then we move to the beautiful Sarajevo Haggadah from 660 years ago, replete with Jewish cultural history from that time. Amos’s message comes through- do not sell your brother. If you don’t treat your family and society with respect and understanding tragedy will unfold. This is the line through history.

One of the goals in creating my haftarah art pieces is to communicate the theme of the haftarah, relate it to the parashah, integrate Jewish history, and forge a connection between the viewer and our Jewish past. In that way we can remember that the Tanach is alive. Although time continues to pass we can still learn from our history and that in truth we are living the history.

So, I hope you are enjoying my posts. Please always feel free to comment. Pass the posting to your friends. If you like my blog sign up and “Follow” me. You will receive an update by e-mail.

Shabbat Shalom, with prayers for peace, understanding. Respectful communication is a path to healing.

Laya Crust

 

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Lech Lecha

Dear Reader,

I painted the pictures you see here as part of a collection of pieces for a sefer haHaftarah- a haftarah scroll. You have seen many of these images over the years if you have been following my blog. I’m excited to announce that a collection of these paintings and their explanations will be published in a book called “ILLUMINATIONS, An Exploration of Haftarah through Art and History”. I will share more information about the book in the coming weeks.

“Count the Stars”

If you’ve ever been camped in the desert or in the countryside at night without artificial light, you will have seen a  sky studded with stars. The heavens are so full of stars it seems amazing the sky can hold them all.

The parasha of Lech Lecha introduces us to Abraham, the man Gd chose to begin a new nation. Gd tells Abraham that He will bless him. Abraham’s descendants will be as numerous as the dust on the ground and the stars in the skies. Gd said, “Look now toward the heavens and count the stars if you are able to count them. And He said, “and so your descendants shall be…” (Genesis 15:5) Looking up at that night sky Avram couldn’t have begun to imagine how many stars there were. There were too many to count, too many to even guess at.

God told Abraham to leave his birthplace and travel to where God would direct him. Just as Abraham was called by God and promised a new homeland, the haftarah relates that God will gather all Jews from the corners of the earth and take them to their homeland – to the land of Israel.

This week’s haftarah is from the Book of Isaiah. The Jews have been in Babylon, in exile, for decades. They are sure they will never be able to return home. It seems that King Cyrus is about to conquer Babylon and Isaiah is hopeful that Cyrus will allow the Jews to go back to Israel. Isaiah assures the Jews that Gd will not abandon them. Gd reminds the Jews that they are His chosen people. “The coastlands look on in fear, the ends of the earth tremble … But you, Israel my servant … whom I drew from the ends of the earth and called from its far corners …”(Isaiah 41:5, 8, 9)   

Compass Rose by Laya Crust

The references to coastlands and the ends of the earth evoke thoughts of maps and atlases. This painting shows a section of the famous Catalan Atlas which incorporates Majorca, Spain, and the compass rose which is found on every navigational map.

One of the most accomplished medieval mapmakers was Abraham Cresques who lived in Majorca, Spain. He was the mapmaker to the king. In 1375, Prince John of Aragon commissioned Cresques to make a set of nautical world charts as a gift for the future King Charles IV of France. Abraham and his son Jehuda created the Catalan Atlas, which is recognized as the most important atlas of the medieval period. The Catalan Atlas included the names of coastal towns, locations of houses of worship, and drawings of traders, rulers, and flags of the empires.

Although he had worked on maps which were commissioned by royalty, ironically, Jehuda was caught in the snare of the Spanish Inquisition. He was forcibly converted to Christianity during the anti-Jewish outbreaks of Spain in 1391, and took the name Jaume Riba. He continued to create maps and was called Magister Cartarum Navegundi – “Master of Navigational Maps”.

Abraham was chosen to begin a new nation, the nation that would one day be known as Jews. Even back then Gd told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a strange land, referring to their enslavement in Egypt. Abraham was warned that life would be tough for the Jewish people, his descendants.  The hardships have continued throughout history. In this haftarah Isaiah gave encouragement to his exiled brethren in Babylon, telling them that Gd would not abandon them.

Every time period is a time of challenge for the Jews. Right now we are still facing challenges and terrible anti-Semitic tides. We are reminded that Gd made a promise and will always keep that promise initialized with Avraham Avinu- Abraham our father.

Have a good week and a good Shabbat. May it be one of peace and health for klal Yisrael and the world.

Laya

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Yom Kippur- Your Light Will Shine

Yom Kippur Shacharit
Yom Kippur- Your Light Will Shine             by Laya Crust

On Yom Kippur morning  haftarah we read is from the Book of Isaiah. It is a dynamic reading. Right at the beginning we read, “Build up a highway! Clear a road! Remove all obstacles from the road of my people!” The painting above is part of my “haftarah series”, in a style inspired by Marc Chagall.  Images from the haftarah text appear in the picture. The blues evoke “A spring whose waters will not fail” (ch 58:12) and there is “light that bursts through the dawn”(ch 58: 8). Click on the image to enlarge it.

 Isaiah’s message isn’t focused on the self. Rather it is focused on social justice. The prophet tells says, “The fast you perform today will not make your voice heard on high.” (58:4) …”Loosen the bindings of evil, … shatter every yoke of slavery. Break your bread for the starving and bring the dispossessed home. When you see a person naked, clothe him; do not ignore your kin. And then your light will break out like the sunrise…”(58: 6,7)

Yom Kippur is a difficult day for many of us. We fast  (some of us start weaning ourselves off caffeine a week early) and participate in prayers of fear and longing. Many of us are attending ZOOM services which is challenging in its own way. The prayers help us to face ourselves. Thinking about our weaknesses is difficult, and deciding to improve realities is even more difficult. 

Acts of justice and positivity heal oneself and one’s relationship with the Creator. Tears and fasting can be an element of our prayer. Improving ourselves and the world round us is another outcome of prayer and hope for a healed world.

These are very troubling times all over the world. I won’t list all the challenges in front of us because it’s too depressing. Let’s focus on the millions of wonderful innovators, optimists, do-gooders, and creative givers who make the world a better place. Let’s support the positive changes and work towards greater mending in the world.

Have a “positive” fast. May your year be filled with peace, health, happiness and “parnassa” (financial security) for you and your family. Happy 5782!

-Laya

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