Tag Archives: art

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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VaYeilech- Shabbat Shuva

VaYeilech- Shabbat Shuva by Laya Crust

Shabbat Shuva is the Shabbat between Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur. On Rosh haShana we were in synagogue thinking about our past year and obstacles we faced. Many of us wondered about the coming year and what it would bring. Many of the prayers remind us of the fragility of our lives and the inevitability of death. Who will die? What is in store for us, our friends, and for our families?

The Torah reading begins with Moses’ words, “I am 120 years old today. I can no longer go out and come in, for Gd told me, ‘You shall not cross this Jordan’. HaShem your Gd, He will cross before you…” Moses, the greatest prophet and leader, had to face death. But he reminded the Israelites that Gd is the eternal leader of the Jewish people.

The haftarah reading is a combination of texts from three prophets. Hosea, Micah, and Joel. The three prophets, each in their own way, ask us to endeavour to improve ourselves.

I based my painting at the top of the page on a piece by the American artist Ben Shahn. It is based on his painting called Ram’s Horn and Menorah. It illustrates Joel’s words, “Blow a shofar in Zion, consecrate a fast, call an assembly; gather the people, ready the congregation…” The words describe our communities getting ready for the Days of Awe, and Shahn in his unique way used colour and movement to convey the awe, fear and unity of these important days of reflection.

His life was dedicated to human rights and social action, and he expressed that through his prolific artworks. His paintings, graphic art, photographs and essays are devoted to the “human condition”.  The strength of human beings to survive difficulty and stand tall in the face of adversity and unfairness runs through his works. His paintings are gritty, honest, and thought-provoking.

Image result for ben shahn poster
Image result for ben shahn paintings

Shahn’s work communicates the struggle of the human spirit to succeed, not just to survive. He reminds us that we don’t live in a bubble. We must care for ourselves and those around us. Those are among the meditations of Rosh HaShana.

We are reborn each day. Each day we have the opportunity to make new choices and make them good choices. Each day we can forgive ourselves for what we didn’t do yesterday, or what we wish we had done differently. We can begin anew and strive to have a fulfilling day.

May this year be a year of health, growth, improvement and goodness. Enjoy your Shabbat and have a meaningful Yom Kippur. To you and your family from me and my family,

Laya

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Korach- Rebelling against the Establishment

Samuel and Saul by Laya Crust

Parasha: Korach Haftarah: I Samuel 11:14- 12:22

In the Torah reading Korach, a priest, gathered 250 followers and challenged Moshe’s authority. Korach thought it was presumptuous of Moshe and Aaron to retain the leadership of the Israelites. He said, “You take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them…” (Numbers 16:3). The accusation was particularly galling since Korach and his followers were already distinguished as men of note with special roles.

Later in the parasha there was another rebellion concerning Aaron’s role as High Priest. Gd proscribed a test where each tribe inscribed a wooden staff with its name then put the rod into the Tent of Meeting. The rod of the true leader would sprout leaves overnight. The next morning Moshe brought out the twelve rods. Not only had Aaron’s rod sprouted leaves but it had flowering buds and almonds on the staff.

The haftarah echoes the rebellions against the established leadership. The prophet Samuel was the prophet and leader of the Jews around the year 1000 BCE. The Israelites saw that other nations were ruled by a king, and they wanted to be like other nations. Samuel saw this as a betrayal of Gd and Gd’s rule. Moshe and Samuel each attempt to convince the Israelites not to overturn the leadership. Moshe says, ” I have not taken a single donkey of theirs, nor have I wronged even one of them.” (Numbers 16:15) Samuel says, “Whose ox have I taken or whose ass have I taken? Whom have I defrauded or whom have I robbed? From whom have I taken a bribe to turn the other way?” (I Samuel 12:4)

The parasha is resolved with Moshe and Aaron each retaining their positions and the rebels being punished. In contrast, Samuel loses his position as leader. He anoints Saul as king and becomes Saul’s advisor.

The Israelites wanted a king so they would be like all the other nations.  The change wasn’t being sought for positive, constructive purposes. Rather the change was being pursued so that the Israelites would be like the other nations.  Similarly, Korach’s goal was not the improvement of his people. His goal was self-promotion and personal power.

The issues of self-interest and personal power are issues that plague us to this day. To create a healthy society and a healthy world we need leaders who are leading for the betterment of society, not for self-promotion. At the grassroots level, we need to strive to make the world a better place by supporting wise leaders and with our own fair and caring actions. Hopefully, through these actions we will see peace,  justice, and equality in the world sooner rather than later.

A word about the illustration for this haftarah: The painting is inspired by a woodcut from a book by Isaac ben Solomon ibn Abi Sahulah. Born in Castile in 1244, he was a scholar and Hebrew poet. He noticed that Jews were reading foreign novels like “The Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor”, fables from India, and books from other cultures. Isaac wanted Jews to read about Jewish subjects so he wrote his own book of poems and parables called “Meshal ha-Kadmoni” (The Ancient Proverb). It was so popular it was reprinted six times in Hebrew and nine times in Yiddish! My painting shows Samuel speaking to Saul, based on a German reprint from 1450. 

Let’s all hope for good directions in this crazy world of crazy leadership that just seems to get crazier. Shabbat Shalom, Laya

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Shelach Lecha- Correcting the Past

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Rahav and the Spies    art by Laya Crust

Parsha- Shelach Lecha (Numbers 13:1- 15- 41); Haftarah- Joshua 2: 1- 24

The parsha of Shelach Lecha tells the story of twelve leaders who were appointed to spy on the land of Canaan. When they returned to the Israelites’ camp they carried fantastic fruit and tales of fantastically dangerous enemies.

The haftarah for Shelach Lecha took place 40 years after the above mentioned story.  Joshua, Moshe’s successor sent two spies (as opposed to the twelve men) into Jericho to assess the situation. The two men went straight to an inn at the edge of the city walls owned by a woman named Rahav.  It was a brilliant move.  The spies would be able to talk to citizens and travelers at the inn to ascertain the mood of the community.

It is common for women to be unidentified in Tanach text. If you remember the story of Samson’s birth, Samson’s mother was never identified. Manoah his father, on the other hand, was named 16 times. Maybe Rahav, the innkeeper, was named because she was a heroine. She put herself at risk to help the two spies escape even though she knew that their purpose was to usher an attack on Jericho. The information she shared with them was key to their confidence in conquering the land. She said, “We have heard how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Mitzrayim, and what you did to the two Kings of the Emori…as soon as we heard these things our hearts melted, neither did there remain any more courage in any man because of you…”

Let’s look back at the parsha. After the twelve men returned from their mission with messages of doom and gloom the people began to rebel against God. God responded in anger, threatening to destroy them all. Moshe stopped God’s rage by telling Him, “if you kill all these people as one person then the nations that have heard your fame will say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he promised them and so He has killed them in the wilderness.” We may have thought this was Moshe speaking in hyperbole but Rahav’s words (“We have heard how the Lord”, etc….)  proved that Moshe had been correct. God’s reputation and His protection of the Israelites were recognized by the neighbouring nations.

In the parsha, we read Moshe’s tribute to God’s glory: – “haShem erech epayim v’rav chesed noseh avon vaPesha  v’nakeh”. ” The Lord is slow to anger, great in love, forgiving iniquity and transgression.”  This was mirrored by Rahav’s statement that “…the Lord your God. He is God in Heaven above and on the earth beneath…” Those words were a declaration of faith of God’s greatness.

We see by these parallels that the haftarah is a mirror to the events in parshat Shelach Lecha. It may also be a “tikkun” or mending of those events. The slave mentality had to be erased from the nation before it could take the initiative to have faith in God’s promise and fight the inhabitants of Canaan. When that slave mentality was erased Joshua could investigate the land wisely. The unnamed spies could gather the pertinent information without their egos getting in the way. Rahav could show the spies their route- or “rehov”- while acknowledging the breadth- “rahav”- of God’s greatness, and help b’nei Yisrael in its battle.

The two stories read together bring another dimension to consider when we read our history. According to Midrash, Rahav converted to Judaism and married Joshua. One Midrash states that Jeremiah and 7 other prophets descended from her. Just as with Tamar and Ruth, Rahav’s faith and righteousness created a legacy for the future of the Jewish people.

I hope you enjoyed this perspective on the lessons from this week’s parsha and haftarah.

May we see peace in the Israel and the rest of the world. May shalom encompass us all.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

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B’ Ha’alotecha- “Not by Might nor by Power”

BehaalotchaTemple Menorah by Laya Crust

At the beginning of this week’s Torah reading, the menorah is described and Aaron is commanded to light it. In the haftarah reading, Zechariah describes the golden menorah. Zechariah was a prophet in Jerusalem around the year 520 BCE.  The Jews had been exiled to Babylon but under King Cyrus were allowed to return to Jerusalem. Zechariah and the prophet Haggai encouraged the people to stop being so despondent and start rebuilding their destroyed temple.

Zechariah by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

This haftarah is replete with angels- angels talking to Joshua and angels talking to and waking Zechariah.  Zechariah tells the angel that he has had a vision of a golden menorah flanked by two olive trees. A bowl above the menorah has seven pipes funneling olive oil to the menorah.  When the angel realizes that Zechariah doesn’t understand the symbolism of the vision he explains that the trees represent the leadership of Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel the governor in building the Second Temple. The angel says, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” meaning that the reestablishment of the Jewish people will come through faith, not war.

This parsha and haftarah are timely readings. We are living during a frightening pandemic, international violent unrest some of it instigated by the treatment of blacks in America, and negativity towards Israel and her desired steps for greater sovereignty over her ancestral land. The readings teach that we must take the initiative and move forward to make progress in our lives. On one hand, just complaining or protesting will not improve a situation. On the other, sitting back and expecting Gd to make the changes is not the right way either.

The Jews in the desert complained about their diet (“But the multitude among them began to have strong cravings. Then even the children of Israel once again began to cry, and they said, ‘Who will feed us meat?'” Numbers 10:4).  They should have looked to see how they themselves could satisfy their hungers and cravings. The Jews returning to Jerusalem were despondent. When they returned from exile they were pushed by Zechariah and Haggai to take action and rebuild their Temple to Gd. In that way, they could reclaim their lives and their history.

We have to recognize our responsibility to participate in our future, but we also have to recognize that if we move forward with faith and integrity Gd will help us. Ignoring the respect and mitzvot entrusted to us will cause us to be defeated. “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)

Cervera, Spain, c. 1300

My illustration at the top was based on this beautiful manuscript painting from Spain, with the menorah painted in gold leaf. The menorah was a central fixture in the Temple and was lit by the Kohanim. The wicks of the menorah were arranged to shed light in one flame. That light can be seen as the light we bring to the world.

On that thought, may you have an illuminated week and weekend, full of flaming conversation and bright ideas. Let’s keep on working to make the community and the world better!

Have a good Shabbat, Laya

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Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

This week we observed Yom haZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut- [Israeli] Remembrance Day and [Israel] Independence Day.  These two days are modern observances, introduced to us with the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.

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


A
s soon as the fledgeling country Israel 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.

When I looked at this week’s Torah portions I was struck by their names.

Acharei Mot by Laya Crust
Kedoshim sig
Kedoshim by Laya Crust

The names of these two neighbouring parshiot perfectly describe our two holidays.  אחרי מות “Acharei Mot” means “After the Death”, and קדושים “Kedoshim” means “Holinesses” – or “You Shall be Holy”. The titles given to the Torah readings remind us the sequence of events: the people who have died since 1948 defending Israel’s right to exist, and our responsibility to cultivate Israel, celebrate and experience Israel, and ultimately to live in Israel, our country.

The readings this week are lists and lists of laws dictated by Gd. Many of the rules are followed by the words “I am the Lord” or “I am the Lord your Gd”. Nestled among guidelines concerning ownership, business practice, sacrifices, sexual behaviour, and harvesting are laws concerning relationships. We read the command, “…you shall love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord your Gd.” (Leviticus 18:19) This is a command- not a suggestion.

In these bizarre and frightening times, in the days where the world is swept by Covid-19 this statement is deeply profound. Surrounded by people who may be infected, who are isolated, who are depressed, who have lost their jobs, or worse, who have lost loved ones, these words and this law is important to integrate into our minds and our lives. Gd is telling we cannot take care only of ourselves. We must not ignore those suffering around us. Gd is making the demand that “…you shall love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord your Gd.”

There is evidence of that happening. Health care workers, food producers, phone “buddies”, and volunteers.are loving their neighbours as themselves. Researchers are forging ahead trying to find a cure and are sharing their findings. Following Gd’s demand, we will pull through. If we remember the words now and after the pandemic has passed the world will be a better place.

May your week be safe, healthy, giving, and generous. Shabbat Shalom, Laya

Happy 72nd Birthday, Israel, and many many more!  

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

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Dvir, Devorah and Hamantaschen

Yahrzeit photo by Laya Crust

This has been an emotional week. My husband and I recently returned from Portugal where we witnessed the results of the forced conversions and Inquisiton against our people in the 16th century. Hearing about the torture and death that Jews faced in the time of the Portuguese Inquisition was horrifying. Witnessing the lack of historical Jewish culture and architecture was sobering. The Coversos (secret Jews) of Portugal held on to their traditions as much as they could. Secretly, covertly, they retained the laws and traditions they could practise without being caught.

Purim was a very important time for the secret Jews. They identified with the antisemitism Jews faced in Shushan because of Haman and his influence. Just as Queen Esther fasted for three days the Conversos would also fast for three days and meet secretly to hear the story of Esther saving her people. Some people took shifts for the three day fast and sometimes one person fasted the entire time.

The Portuguese women were the caretakers of the religion. They remembered certain prayers and over time adapted them or created new prayers. They carried on whatever they remembered of the holidays and led Passover observances. Esther the queen saved the Jews, and the women of the Converso communities saved whatever vestiges of their former religion they could.

I began this post with the words “It’s been an emotional week”. While we were in Portugal a beautiful little baby boy was born into our family. His brit milah and naming were on Adar 6 (Monday, March 2), just before my mother’s yahrzeit. A few hours after Dvir Yisrael was named I lit a candle in memory of Devorah z”l.

Dorothy and Joe Crust’s wedding day, 1945

My mother (aka Bobba Dobby- Dobby from her Hebrew name) was an exceptional woman. She spoke three languages fluently, headed volunteer organizations, produced a television program, and hosted dignitaries. Dorothy’s love for Judaism and tradition was transmitted to everyone she met. She had a wonderful way with words and taught with humour and stories. That love of words is an aspect of Dvir’s name.

Dvir Yisrael

The word “Dvir” is found in last week’s haftarah of Terumah. Dvir refers to the Holy of Holies- the innermost and holiest sanctuary in the temple to which the Kohen would enter only on Yom Kippur. The root of the word דביר is דבר which means word/speak. The Holy of Holies is named such because it is the source of the Word of Gd in the tangible world.

I hope Dvir will have his great-Bobba Dobby’s sense of humour, wisdom, and love of family. I hope that he will grow to Torah, chuppah, good deeds, and in that way make the world a better place as did Bobba Dobby and Esther the Queen. And may the world never again witness horrors like the Inquisition which the Conversos had to experience.

Photo of Hamantaschen from My Jewish Learning

Bonus Prize: Bobba Dobby’s Hamantasch recipe:

3 eggs 1 cup water

1 1/2 cups sugar 2 tsp baking powder

pinch salt 4 -5 cups of flour

Combine the first four ingredients, Add the flour, stirring it in, until the dough is soft but not sticky. It should roll out well on your rolling surface. Divide the dough in quarters. Roll one of the batches on a floured surface to almost 1/4 ” thick. Cut it into circles about 31/2″ in diameter. Place a spoonful of filling in the centre of each circle, pinch the three corners towards the middle. You can brush with beaten egg. Bake on a lightly floured baking pan at 350o for 30 minutes until golden brown.

Bobba Dobby’s Date Filling

3 full cups of pitted dates – cut them up first

1/4 cup sugar 1 1/2 cups water

lemon juice to taste grated rind of one lemon

Cook this on a medium heat or in a double boiler until it is like a thick jam.

Thanks for letting me share my week with you. Let me know if you try the hamantaschen. I hope you like them! later this week I will be posting about Shabbat Zachor. Best, Laya

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Shabbat Shira – it’s music

Halleluhu by Laya Crust

Parshat B’Shalach                        Haftarah: Judges 4: 4 – 5: 31

Music is magical. We can’t see it, touch it, smell it or taste it. We can hear it and magically it can transform our mood and take us to other places in our imagination. We all know about love songs (a billion), break-up songs (2 billion), songs of tribute (“Starry Night” about Vincent Van Gogh) and patriotic songs (“La Marseillaise”and “HaTikvah”). All our secrets can be unearthed (“Killing Me Softly”) and raw emotion can be exposed (Stravinsky’s compositions).

Music is a beautiful union of art, science, math, and imagination. I remember a friend of mine- a physicist- being amazed and unbelieving when I told him I loved music. “How is that possible? ” he asked. “You’re an artsy.” I was really surprised by that comment because I had always thought that music was art and emotion. That was when I found out that there is a close relationship between science and music.

Miriam’s Song by Laya Crust

Music is an integral part of joyous Judaism. In the Torah portion B’Shalach we read “The Song of the Sea”.  It is Moses’ song of praise to God that was sung after the Israelites safely crossed the Red (or Reed) Sea, and were saved from the angry Egyptian army. The women, led by the prophet Miriam, sang and danced and made music on their “tof”, a handheld drum. There is a beautiful painting of the women led by Miriam playing their drums in The Golden Haggadah, and another lovely rendition in The Sarajevo Haggadah.

Devorah the Prophetess by Laya Crust
(inspired by a painting from a 17th C. Judeo-Persian book)

This Bible reading describing the escape into the desert, across the sea, and the ultimate Song of the Sea is paired with an adventure story in the Book of Judges. Led by the prophet Devorah the Israelites won a battle against Sisera’s Army. A woman named Yael completed the defeat by killing Sisera. Devorah then sang a song of praise about the triumph and Yael’s conquest.

 When we are happy, when we are sad, when we want to remember or forget, when we want to meditate or pray, be left alone or celebrate with others we often turn to music. Because it is a comforting, joyous and spiritual medium the most beautiful parts of prayer are often paired with music. The painting at the top of the page shows biblical instruments mentioned in “psoukei d’zimra”, prayers we say in the morning.

On this Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song, pay attention to the songs and music composed by Moses, Miriam, and the prophetess-judge Devorah. Enjoy the art, the sounds, and the music around you and have a Shabbat Shalom.

Laya

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Reunited

Joseph by Laya Crust

           

Parsha: VaYigash                                   Haftarah:   Ezekiel 37: 15-28

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 that Joseph be sold rather than be killed, stepped forward and begged for understanding. He poured out his heart, recounting the family history to the great Egyptian before him. Judah hoped that by telling this leader of his father’s frailty the leader may 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…” 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. He told them how to get land so they could raise cattle.

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. 

beit horon passagephoto by Yoni Lightstone, tour guide

Ezekiel also told them that God would gather them from among all the nations and bring them back  to their own land. The text reads, “Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, whither they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them to their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel.” (v.  21, 22)

Both readings are about unity. In every era and in every generation there are disagreements between different sectors of Jews. We are stronger as a united people. I hope we can learn to discuss, consider, and be united for the benefit of all.

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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