Tag Archives: Aaron

A Perfect 10

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10 is the number that is often used to describe perfection. We use that scale whether we are talking about judging a gymnastics competition, getting 10 out of 10 on a spelling test, or rating an event (“On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate this shopping experience/ hotel stay/ trip to Florida?”) Can we talk about 10 as a perfect number when we are talking about the Torah reading Va’Eira? That’s the reading where the 10 plagues begin to be rained down on the Egyptians.

We all have heard of the 10 plagues. When God commanded Moses to go to Egypt and liberate the enslaved children of Israel, He didn’t set Moses up with an army. Instead, He described how ten plagues would be visited upon the Egyptian people. The horror of one plague after another would build up until the Pharaoh couldn’t stand it any more.  Finally, God told Moses, the Pharaoh would let the Israelites go – to their own land and to freedom.

Va’Eira by Laya Crust

The number 10 is a significant number in Judaism and in western culture. In the story of creation the phrase “And God said” is repeated 10 times.  Within the seven days of creation, 10 categories of being were created. There were 10 generations between Adam and Noah- the generation that was destroyed by the flood. Abraham was given 10 tests. God required 10 righteous people in Sodom and Gomorra in order to avert divine punishment. Most important of all, God gave us the 10 commandments.

The “yud” is the first letter in God’s Hebrew name, י-ה-ו-ה.  Each letter in the Hebrew language has a numerical value. The letter “ י ” has the value of  10.  The letter yud gets its name from the Hebrew word יד  “Yad” which means hand.

Image result for history of letter yud

In the earliest writing a yud looked like an arm with a hand at the end of it. And of course, we have 10 fingers on our two hands. (or 10 digits, if you want to be more accurate). Those 10 digits are the basis of our counting and mathematical structures. The metric system is completely based on values of 10. The “yud”, 10, is therefore the foundation to both our language and commerce systems.

As mentioned before, God when created the world, the phrase, “And God said” was used 10 times.  When the God spoke to Moses He used the term “outstretched arm”. We read about “the hand of God “and the “finger of God”. Moses and Aaron stretched out their hands before a plague appeared. The image of hands with their 10 fingers occurs over and over again.

Going back to the plagues, it appears that God specifically visited 10 plagues on Egyptian society. The use of 10 to achieve good when surrounded by evil underlines the power of God in the details and in the large picture .

Rosh Hodesh by Laya Crust

God established a people through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob which was to be a “light among the nations”. God gave us the 10 commandments as our guidebook for good and moral behaviour – the opposite of slavery and cruel dictatorship. The beautiful world that God created was (and still is) to be enjoyed by humankind, and was (and still is) to nurture humanity.

God used the plagues to undo the ancient Egyptian civilization. Visiting 10 plagues on tyrannical Egypt carried the pointed message that ethics and justice can, and will, undo evil.

Creation and the 10 commandments are the good that infuses the world. The symbol of that righteousness and beauty encompassed in 10 is symbolized by the letter “yud” which appears in every letter of the Hebrew alphabet and therefore every expression of creation, law,  justice and beauty.

Have a Shabbat Shalom, and may at least 10 good events come your way!




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art by Laya Crust

Haftarah: Samuel II :  6:1- 7:17

The Torah reading of Shemini and the accompanying Haftarah both describe two tragic events. In the parsha two of Aaron’s sons- Nadav and Avihu- die because they have offered sacred sacrifices at the wrong time. In the haftarah one of King David’s attendants, Uzzah, is afraid the Ark of the Covenant will fall. He reaches out to steady it and dies as a result of this action.  In both cases the men who died were trying to serve God but were punished because they were serving God but not within the proscribed boundaries. These incidents are examples of crossing boundaries with extreme results.

Within the haftarah we read how King David leads the ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem with great exuberant dancing and leaping. His wife Michal looks out of her window disparaging him for his less than regal behaviour. I based the painting at the top of this page on illustrations from a 19th Century book written and illustrated in Meshed, Persia. The book is a love story of Yusuf and Zulaikha  (Joseph and Potiphar’s wife) as recounted in the Koran. The Sufi poet Jami (1414- 1492) wrote a passionate love poem about them which became very popular with the public. The painting below is from a Yusuf and Zulaikha book created in  Meshed, Persia in 1853.

illustration from Jamil’s Yusuf and Zalaikha, collection of The Jewish Theological Seminary, New York

 The text is written in Persian transliterated into Hebrew letters. The text was presumably written by a Jew but it is unknown whether or not the illustrations were painted by Jews. The patterning is lovely with the interlocking swirls inspired by leaves and vines. The clothing is interesting, very different from the styles we see in Western manuscripts art of the same period.

Meshed and Isfahan were two communities in Persia that had strong artistic Jewish communities.  They produced illustrated Judeo-Persian books such as  Yusuf and Zalaikha featured above;  Ardashir-nameh -a book about Esther and Ahashveroshand  Musa-nameh which is the story of Moses.

Ardashir -Nameh, collection of the Jewish Theological Seminary,  New York

The Jews had a long history in Persia, dating back to 700 BCE.  The Jews continued to live there although their conditions varied depending on the forces in power. For instance from 1656 – 1663 there were forced conversions. The Jews, called “anusim” (forced converts), practised their Judaism in secret.

In 1839, almost 200 years later,  Muslim riots burst into the Jewish quarter of Meshed and forcibly converted the entire  community to Islam. Again the anusim lived outwardly as Muslims but continued to practice Judaism in secret. It wasn’t until after WWII Jews began to practise their faith openly.  
Jewish manuscripts and ketuboth from Isfahan, Meshed, and other Persian communities are interesting and unique.  It was fascinating to come across these beautiful illustrations and I had the wonderful experience of looking at the original books in the JTS library. They are colourful and evocative. It’s beautiful to see Jewish art done in Eastern style.
 I hope you enjoyed this little taste of Persian Jewish culture. 

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VaYeilech- And He Went

ShabbatShuva sigart by Laya Crust

Our haftarah is a combination of readings from Hosea, Micah and Joel, known as Shabbat Shuva. The reading begins, “שובה ישׂראל Return, Israel, to the Lord your Gd…”

This haftarah is always read on the Shabbat before Yom Kippur. As in the painting above, people from all the corners of the world gather to hear the shofar and pray.The

The Torah reading is “VaYeilech”, in which Moshe continues his farewell to the children of Israel. The nation is in the desert, ready to enter the Promised Land. Moshe is standing before them and wishing them strength and courage as tey continue into Canaan.


art by Laya Crust

Moshe spent much of his life leading this nation out of slavery and to  freedom. He started with their parents and grandparents in Egypt and continued with this generation and their children in the desert. Chosen by Gd he led them through wars, drought, and internal revolts. He began the journey with his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam but they both died. At this juncture Moshe was the lone leader ready to appoint a successor. It seems that as life shifted Moshe’s emotions shifted too. In VaYeilech he sounded more like a father than he ever had before.

He began by saying, I am 120 years old today. I can no longer go out and come in. The Lord told me, “You will not cross the Jordan.”  Moshe continued by telling the nation that Gd would continue to guide and protect them. Three times in this parsha we read the words “חזק ואמץ“,  “be strong and have courage”. Moshe was aware they depended on him and that however much he himself wanted to finish the journey with b’nei Yisrael he couldn’t.

With these words he gave the nation guidance for the future- words to carry in their hearts, recognition of their potential, and strength to continue.

Moshe knew his journey had ended. He had led an incredible life, devoting himself to Gd and His people. He knew that he had not been perfect but his entire life was dedicated to carrying out what he knew his purpose was and doing it in the best way possible.

In these days between Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur that is part of what we should think about. This is a time to consider what our mission in life is and to carry it out in truth and an open heart.

Have a meaningful fast.

I wish you, your family and friends a year of health, happiness and peace,




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Miriam, Moses and Aaron

P1130369The Waters of Meriba-  art by Laya Crust

Miriam, Moses and Aaron

Parshat Hukkat,  Numbers 19 – 21: 1

As I was reading this week’s parsha I thought about the extraordinary link between  three siblings- Miriam, Moshe and Aaron. Miriam, the oldest of the three, watched over baby Moses, trying to help keep him as safe as possible under impossible circumstances. Moshe (Moses) spent his earliest years with his mother and sister until he was returned to Pharaoh’s daughter where he grew up in wealth and entitlement.

The Torah/ Bible narrative focuses on Moshe the great leader of the Israelites. When he argued with Gd at the site of the burning bush Gd sent Aaron, Moshe’s older brother, to be his support and mouthpiece. From that time on the two brothers traveled together.

Miriam didn’t appear again until the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea. She is called a prophetess and was accepted as a leader with her brothers. According to Midrash Miriam’s presence brought water throughout the desert journey. She died in parshat Hukkat and the water disappeared.

P1130373Moshe, Miriam and Aaron having tea in the desert after a long day


This parsha shows the unity and relationship of the three siblings in a touching way. They led the nation together in almost constant agreement. (Naturally there were some blips here and there.) I imagine that they encouraged each other and were there for moral support.

When Miriam suddenly died and was buried the Israelites complained about being thirsty. Gd  commanded Miriam’s two grieving brothers to speak to a rock and make water flow. Instead, Moshe hit the rock, calling the people “rebels”. He used the Hebrew word מרים  (morim)- which is the same spelling as their late sister’s name. It seems they were so distraught they couldn’t follow Gd’s instructions properly.

Gd punished the two brothers for their disobedience. Aaron would die immediately and Moshe would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land. When the sister who saved Moshe died it was the true end of a strong, unified leadership, with her brothers having the end of their lives foretold.

Throughout Bereishit we read about sibling relationships. None of them were as unified or supportive as this one. It is interesting that they embarked on such a difficult journey together. They led together and in a way they died together. It was the end of their leadership but the beginning of a legacy and an example of inspired, cooperative leadership.

I hope this added a new way of looking at Miriam and Aaron’s deaths, and the beauty of family ties.

Shabbat Shalom,




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Va Yak’hel

Va Yikahel sig

Kings I  7: 40 – 50

King Solomon- c. 979 BCE – 927 BCE. He was known for his wisdom, wealth and poetry.

This week’s Torah reading describes the creation of holy objects for the mishkan. It describes the materials- the gold, silver, brass, precious stones, and materials for spinning fabric. The haftarah describes the crafted vessels for King Solomon’s Temple. The magnificence is described close on the heels of the sin of fashioning the golden calf. 

Isn’t it contradictory- to punish the people for creating a golden calf but then command them to make expensive objects to be used in religious observance? They loved ornamentation and beauty. They gave their gold and precious jewelry to Aaron to make an idol to replace the absent Moshe. The answer to the contradiction is in the wording.

Phrases like “wise hearted”  and “willing of heart” appear 15 times in this parsha.  

That is the difference between the mishkan and the Temple; and the golden calf which is an idol. Only individuals who were wise hearted and generous could see past the expense and glitter of the materials through to the purpose of the prayer and service to God.  Those who are wise and generous can understand and facilitate elevation of spirit.

In this parsha my two sides are recognized- the entity of artist and the entity of womanhood.  Women are often disregarded in our writings, but here  men and women are recognized equally as being wise hearted and willing hearted.

The value God places on creativity was the theme of my illustrationThe vessels are based on one of the beautiful and timeless illuminations from 1299, Perpignan, Aragon.  The watercolour wash represents imagination and spirituality. The two quotations are from the parsha:  “Take from among you an offering of the Lord, whoever is of a willing heart let them bring it…” (35:5)     “And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing of heart.” (35:22)

So you artists, artisans, wood workers, poets, musicians, playwrights, weavers, silversmiths, etc. etc.- when you work with integrity and inspiration remember that it is God’s gift to you. This is your contribution to the spiritual beauty of the world.

Have Shabbat Shalom- one full of beauty and joy and of course – creative thinking.

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