Tag Archives: bible art

Sarah and the Divine

VaYeira Sig
art by Laya Crust

Vayeira- Genesis 18 – 22 Haftarah- Kings II, ch. 4: 1-37

This week’s parsha is a series of at least five incredible narratives, each worthy of detailed study. Today I will focus on Sarah, the woman chosen to be the mother of the Jewish nation.

When Gd told Avraham to leave his homeland and that he would become the father of a great people, he left Ur Kasdim, taking his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot with him. Sarai was 75 years old when she and her husband left their home for an unknown destination. She was described as beautiful- so beautiful that King Avimelech took her to his harem. We may wonder how a woman of 75 can be that appealing, but some have an ageless beauty that is enhanced by grace and wisdom.

etching by Laya Crust

Gd chose Sarai to be the mother of His nation. Her name was changed from Sarai to Sarah at the same time Avram’s name was changed to Avraham. Twice Gd protected her from the leaders of alien nations- first from the pharaoh of Egypt and later from Abimelech, the king of Gerar. After Sarah suggested that her handmaiden bear a son to Avraham Gd made it clear to Avraham that Sarah was to be the matriarch of the nation and that no other woman would fulfill that role.

In this parsha, the Lord told Avraham that he and the men in his group would need to be circumcised. Then Gd had told Avraham that he and Sarah would have a child together. It seemed so ridiculous Avraham fell on his face and laughed. Gd declared that the baby would be called Isaac, after the Hebrew word “to laugh”.

The circumcision was, and is, the sign of the covenant between Gd and the Jewish people. Sarah did not become pregnant until after Abraham was circumcised. As a dear friend pointed out, the covenant between Jews and Gd had to be initiated before the line of the Jewish people was created.

Abraham and Sarah by Marc Chagall

Like Avraham, Sarah laughed when she heard she was to bear a child at the age of 90. When Sarah laughed “within herself” Gd asked Avraham why she had laughed. The question was actually two questions. Did Avraham not tell his wife and partner that she was to become pregnant and have a child? Is that why she was incredulous and laughed? The second question was – why did Avraham and Sarah still not believe that Gd can make unusual and unexpected things happen? The Torah and commentaries seem to criticize Sarah for laughing when she heard the news, but the rebuke wasn’t just to Sarah. It was to Abraham as well. That whole incident can be seen as a larger conversation Gd had with Sarah, the future matriarch.

There are many criticism of Sarah and her attitude towards Hagar. We can’t judge. Life and community were very different in biblical times. Recognizing her infertility Sarah offered her handmaid Hagar to her husband, hoping that way he would become a father. Recognizing Hagar’s behaviour Sarah handled the situation as she thought she had to. When the three angels appeared at their tent in the desert Avraham and Sarah worked as a team to create a feast for them. It appears that Sarah ran her community with wisdom and level-headedness.

May we learn from Sarah’s strengths and have wisdom in dealing with our challenges.

Have a Shabbat Shalom, Laya

The illustration at the top of the page is from the haftarah of VaYeira. It shows the prophet Elisha with the Shunammite woman who had a room built for him for when he visited Shunem. This woman, like Sarah, was childless for many years. Her son, like Isaac, almost died. Unlike Sarah, she was able to watch her son grow to adulthood.

The print is from my collection of 82 paintings of the haftarot. The collection is currently on display at Beth Tedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. The address is 1500 Bathurst Street. The exhibit is free and open to the public 7 days a week, 9 a.m. through 9 p.m. I am currently working on a book focusing on the haftarah paintings and their meanings.

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VaYikra

Vayikra sig

Vayikra

Isaiah 43:21 -44:23

Isaiah (prophet)  c. 740 – 681 BCE

This week we read the first parsha in the Book VaYikra- the Book of Leviticus. VaYikra means “and He called”. It commences a series of instructions God gives the Israelites concerning sacrifices. The theme of Leviticus is one of holiness, and holiness is described in different forms throughout the book.      (note: “Leviticus” is a Latin word meaning “from the Levites”)

Isaiah lived and prophesied in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. At the beginning of his life both kingdoms were successful and prosperous. During his lifetime the Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed.  The Southern Kingdom of Judah barely survived a takeover by Assyria.

At the time of this haftarah the Jews are in exile. They are worn down, defeated, and turn from God to worship idols. Isaiah calls to them telling them that God notices they have abandoned the altars and sacrifices and they have stopped worshiping Him. Instead they are offering sacrifices to man made gods. God tells the Israelites He will not abandon them.  He says, “Even as I pour water on thirsty soil and rain upon dry ground, So I will pour My spirit on your offspring”.

In my haftarah painting at the top of the page I show a willow tree by a river. There are sheep grazing in the fields , sacrifices burning in the background, but abandoned altars overgrown with grass in the foreground. In the text God says, “And they shall sprout like grass, Like willows by watercourses…”

I wanted to show that the Jews have forgotten God. Even so, God is waiting for the Jews to resume their observance of God. They have lush fields, herds of sheep and flowing rivers, yet they have turned away. God waits until they return and will bless their children.

Interestingly many scholars think the Book of Isaiah was written in more than one section. Dating back to the 12th Century Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra was convinced that chapters 40 – 66 were written by one or more prophets who lived in exile in Babylon, after the destruction of the the Southern Kingdom. That would have been about 150 years after Isaiah died.  This second section is often called “Deutero Isaiah” or “Second Isaiah”.

This haftarah is a very beautiful, poetic composition. I hope you’ll read it and enjoy!  Shabbat Shalom.

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Shabbat Zachor

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Samuel 1    ch. 15:1 – 34

Samuel- prophet.  He anointed the nation of Israel’s first two kings- Saul and David.

Additional reading: D’varim/ Deuteronomy 25: 17-16

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Zachor- the Shabbat of Remembrance. In preparation for Purim, which falls next week, we have an additional Torah reading about the evil King Amalek. He is identified as the ancestor of Haman, the villain in the Purim story.  Amalek  instructed his army to attack the  Children of Israel, specifically the defenseless and the weak as they walked through the desert after leaving Egypt.

This Shabbat’s haftarah recounts a poignant story about King Saul and his dealings with Amalek. The prophet Samuel tells Saul that he is to remember what Amalek did to B’nei Yisrael  (the children of Israel). Saul is to go and destroy ALL the Amalekites, the young and the old, and all their possessions. King Saul gathers his warriors and they go to do what has been commanded of them.

Saul and his warriors flatten the towns, and kill the inhabitants and their cattle- but he spares Agag the Amalekite king and keeps the choicest animals to offer as sacrifices to God. When God sees what has happened He instructs Samuel to reprove Saul and take away the kingship from him.

The text is beautifully written. With short, strong phrases the human mistakes Saul makes are recounted and the heavy directive to Samuel is described. Saul, a man with a good heart, carries out most of what God told him to do. But as Samuel reminds him, “Though you are little in your own sight were you not made head of the tribes of Israel? And the Lord anointed you King?…” The spirit of God is taken away from Saul and Samuel turns his back on the broken king. As Samuel walks away Saul falls to the ground and grabs Samuel’s cloak. The cloak rips in his hand, and Samuel tells Saul, “The Lord has ripped the kingdom of Israel from you this day and given it to a neighbour of yours that is better than you…”

It is a heartbreaking story of a fallen King. The most tragic element is that Saul had never wanted to be king. He wanted to live a simple life but monarchy was thrust upon him. He wasn’t a natural leader, he was a follower. In this situation he followed the desires of his nation rather than the commandment of God.

The evil of Amalek is presented in the additional reading and in the haftarah. The readings are  precursors to the story of Purim, the Jews rising against Haman- a descendant of Amalek. As we read we are reminded that in every generation there rises an enemy, and we have to have faith in God and listen to God’s teachings.

Read the story. It’s  another exciting and emotional incident in our canon. And remember it’s OUR story. Shabbat Shalom.

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