Tag Archives: bible story

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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Laws – Mishaptim

The Ten Commandments by Arava and Eleanore Lightstone

Mishpatim, which means “Laws” is a parsha that seems out of place. The previous five Torah readings have been full of drama and excitement. The giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, with lightning and thunder was last week’s Torah reading. Following that we expect something more colourful than lists of laws that discuss slavery, murder, and theft.

Rashi points out the the parsha begins with the words “ואלה המשפטים” – “and these are the laws.” The word “and” indicates that the text is a continuation of the previous passages. Rashi is telling us that the laws presented in this parsha are here because they are elaborations of the Ten Commandments from Yitro. We will see that most of the commandments are expanded upon.

God introduced Himself and His position in the first three commandments. Each of the remaining Commandments are clarified and elaborated upon in one degree or another in parshat “Mishpatim”. We read a variety of punishments related to various acts of murder- premeditated and accidental. There are references to honouring one’s parents, enlargement of the observance of Shabbat, details about types of robbery, and attention to the treatment of slaves.

Freeing the Slave by Laya Crust

The concept that parshat Mishpatim is a continuation of parshat Yitro is further supported by the way the two readings are bracketed visually and textually. Before the Ten Laws are announced to the Israelites there was thunder and lightning around Mount Sinai. “And the people perceived the thunder and lightning and the voice of the horn and the mountain smoking.” (Exodus 20: 15)

A Pavement of Sapphire Stone by Laya Crust

After the elaboration of the Commandments, Moses and the elders were invited to “come up.” It says, “and they saw the God of Israel and under His feet there was a likeness of a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very sky for purity.” (Exodus 24:10) This is a breathtaking image. Moses, a few chosen leaders and 70 elders were invited to the heights to witness God. The pavement of sapphire stone. The variety of translucent blues ranging in the skies above. The colours of peace, spirituality, calm, and the hues of the vastness of the firmament. Such a vision those chosen few were invited to witness!

That vision was just before the bracketing occurrence of pyrotechnics. “When Moses ascended the mountain the cloud covered the mountain…the presence of the Lord appeared …as a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” (Exodus 24: 15, 17) Here we read the visual bookends of lightning, thunder and cloud, dramatically encompassing the Laws that we , the Jews, are commanded to follow.

The narrative is also bracketed by the Israelites stating in slightly different ways ” כל אשר דבר ה׳ נעשה ונשמע” “All the God says we will do and we will hear”. (Exodus 24:7, as well as similar phrases in 19:8 and 24:3)

I hope this has been interesting to you. I had not connected the unity of these two Torah readings until I listened to a talk by Rabbi Alex Israel of Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. I hope, too that you enjoy the visuals and affirmations given to us through these parshiot.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

P.S. Parsha food idea via Eleanore Lightstone of Jerusalem..- A gingerbread Mount Siani with cranberries for the fire and ice cream for the clouds. What a great dessert!

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The Last Meal in Egypt

Moses and Pharaoh by Laya Crust

This week’s parsha, “Bo”, recounts the last three plagues God inflicted on the Egyptians. It also describes the last meal in Egypt. The story of the Ten Plagues and the escape of the Israelites from Egypt was the beginning of a new epoch for the Israelites. This exodus would be the event that forged a new nation.

I was struck by the God’s explicit instructions. He told the Israelites what to wear, how to paint the doorposts with blood, not to go outside the family compound, and to be ready to leave in haste. I tried to picture the situation. How would the Israelites feel, being told to brazenly roast a lamb- an animal deified by their oppressors, gather a huge group together in order to eat the Egyptian deified food, and eat it while dressed to flee? It sounds daunting.

The Israelites were told “…take a lamb to a family, a lamb to a household. But if the household is too small for a lamb, let him share with a neighbour who lives nearby, in proportion to the number of persons:” (Exodus 12: 3,4). This instruction made sure not to waste any food, but to share in both the preparation and the food. Every single family – men, women and children- would make their own offering. To use it all they would have to share. It was to be a special and memorable meal officiated not by a priest or leader but by the entire family.

According to one recipe an entire roasted lamb can feed up to 45 people. So how could so many people gather to roast and eat an entire lamb? They couldn’t leave the house to eat outside. Anyone who stepped through the doorway that had been marked with blood would be subject to the punishment of death visited upon the Egyptians.

In many communities there might have been six or eight connected houses built around a courtyard. Each house was inhabited a relative with his family. Families met to eat and cook in the central courtyard. The patriarch’s house would have an entrance to the town thoroughfare. This could explain how a group of 30 – 45 people could gather together in an enclosed space to eat an entire lamb.

The Israelites were told, “This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded,your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand: and you shall eat it in haste, “בְּחִפָּזוֹן”. ( Exodus 12:11) The word “חִפָּזוֹן” is used only three times in Torah. The second time “חִפָּזוֹן” is used is in Deuteronomy 12:3. Moshe was describing the Passover observance of the future, which would mirror the meal from the night of the exodus.

He said ,”You shall slaughter the Passover sacrifice, from the flock and the herd…you shall eat unleavened bread, bread of distress – for you departed from the land of Egypt hurriedly (בְּחִפָּזוֹן)- so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live”. To make the memory even sharper and more accurate Moshe added, “none of the flesh of what you slaughter on the evening of the first day shall be left until morning.” (Deuteronomy 16:4)

What a scene. Bustling and fevered preparation beginning at midnight, followed by a huge group of people eating roasted lamb in the common courtyard behind the doors to the streets. Dressed in sandals, holding their staffs as they ate meat and herbs, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. And this was under the noses of their slave masters and the Pharaoh. This is a view of that night, a scene of excitement and trepidation.

Maybe that’s something that should be brought to our seder tables at Pesach. Maybe we should try to communicate to our children and even to ourselves what astounding preparation and activity was going on behind closed doors.

As mentioned above the preparation was outlined “so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live”. And that is what the Pesach seder does. It brings together families and friends, unites communities and Jews all around the world. So these are my thoughts this week. Thoughts about preparation, uncertainty, the organization of the home and sharing of space for meals, and how בְּחִפָּזוֹן is a rarely used word (in Torah) that was used for a specific type of panic and haste.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

Here are some food ideas for your Shabbat Bo table. 3 plagues: locusts, darkness, and death

Locusts

Darkness

Death of the first born-
broken hearts

You can make your own roasted meat (lamb if you want) by marinating it in olive oil and curry powder with onions, then frying or barbecuing it. If you want, eat it wearing sandals, and holding a staff! Bon Appetit.

Image result for israeli shawarma

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Marriages and Weddings

Jacob’s Dream  by Laya Crust

This week’s parsha, VaYeitze, tells the story of Jacob’s time in Padan Aram from start to finish. He left his family in Be’er Sheva to escape his bother’s wrath and seek a wife among his mother’s family. When he decided to return home he had two wives, two concubines, twelve sons and one daughter plus cattle and wealth.

When Jacob arrived in Padan Aram he saw his cousin Rachel at a well and fell in love with her. He promised to work for seven years for her hand in marriage. He was tricked by his Uncle Lavan and the morning after the wedding he discovered he had married Leah, the older sister. So Jacob worked an additional seven years in order to marry his beloved Rachel.

In this story we see the foundation of certain elements of the traditional Jewish marriage ceremony. Before the wedding ceremony under the chuppah we have the “Bedecken” when the groom sees the bride’s face before lowering her veil. This is to ensure the groom marries his chosen bride, and avoids the trick played on Jacob. As in ancient times there is an exchange of goods between the two families. The bride brings a dowry and the groom gives something of value to the bride’s family. In Isaac’s case his proxy, Eliezer, gave precious silver and gold and “raiment” to Rebecca’s family. In Jacob’s case he didn’t have valuables so he pledged to work for seven years for each of his brides.

Florentine Ketubah by Laya Crust

Over 2,000 years ago Jews began to use a written marriage contract. The ketubah, meaning “writ” in Hebrew, records the date and place of the wedding, the names of the bride and groom, and the financial obligations of each family. This legal document was the first legal document in history designed to ensure financial stability for a married woman.

Throughout time couples started to get decorated ketubahs. Now it is very popular for a couple to commission an original, hand written and painted ketubah, or to buy a poster-type ketubah on line.

I’ve been making ketubahs for decades and have designed and painted over 600 of them! The ketubah in still written in the ancient language of Aramaic and still mentions dowry and the husband’s responsibilities towards his wife and her well being.  Some traditions use actual dollar values and some ceremonially use ancient currencies.

 

Joy by Laya Crust ——- Tova and Cliel’s Stairway to Heaven by Laya Crust

Leah and Rachel, Jacob’s wives, didn’t have a ketubah. They were fortunate to be married to a man who took care of them and their children, honoured his obligations to his father-in-law, and was able to feed and shelter his large family. It’s true- there were jealousies and difficulties, but Jacob did take care of his own.

I love making ketubahs- discovering a couple’s dreams and preferences. If you want to see more examples of my ketubahs, maybe even order one or commission your own, take a look at my website: www.layacrust.com. 

Make sure to read this week’s Torah portion and enjoy. It’s the beginning of a world altering family saga! Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

 

 

 

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Naso

NassoJudges: 13:2 – 25

Samson- circa 12th C. BCE

Samson was an enigmatic personality. He was the 12th of 13 Judges living sometime in the 12th Century BCE. It was a time of great conflict and decline for the Israelites, a period that pre-dates the Kings who would be chosen to lead Israel.  When reading his story it’s important to remember that the term “Judge” denotes a leader, rather than an adjudicator.

Samson was a different from the other judges.  He was designated as a Nazir before he was born. His parents, Manoah and his wife, were farmers. One day  Manoah’s wife was alone in the fields.  An angel of God approached her and told her she would have a son. The angel instructed her to refrain from drinking wine and eating tamei (religiously unclean) food. These rules were to be followed by the baby who was to be born. In addition the child’s hair was never to be cut. These rules, the rules of the Nazir, are part of the parsha Naso- and that is feature that relates the Haftarah to the Torah portion.

When Samson was born the text says, “…and the spirit of the Lord began to move him… ”   The word used for “to move him” comes from the root word for “bell” or “ringing” suggesting the rapid, impetuous nature of Samson.

The story of Samson is a puzzling one in many ways. It describes a man who is like a super hero. He is fearless, extraordinarily strong, and impetuous. Why, one wonders, is he given the title of Judge and Leader?

Let’s go to the beginning of the story. It is introduced with the sentence, “And the children of Israel continued to do evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Pelishtim for 40 years.” It was a period of immorality and belligerence and b’nei Yisrael came under the rule of the antagonistic Pelishtim (Philistines).

For the Israelites to fight effectively against them they had to do it surreptitiously. Samson became an unrecognized undercover activist and rebel. Samson was able to “punish” the Philistine tyrants. Having seemingly deserted his own people and marrying Philistine women he was able to infiltrate their community, destroy property, kill fighters, and deflect all attention away from the Jews. In fact, he was wily enough to have blame deflected onto other Pelishtim. His strength, impetuousness and solitariness allowed him to became the leader who fought, unrecognized, for his people.

File:Lovis Corinth - Der geblendete Simson - Google Art Project.jpg

This a larger than life story that ends with the humiliation and then honouring of a tragic hero. The painting above is “The Blinded Samson”, 1921, by Lovis Corinth . The painting shows  Samson’s pain and degradation when he has ultimately been betrayed by Delilah.

This is another fantastic narrative in our writings. Go to the Book of Judges, chapters 13- 16, and read great adventure!

Please share this post with your friends on Facebook, and share your comments with us all. Have a Shabbat Shalom.

Professor Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr Zvi Lederman found this tiny coin, less than an inch in diameter, near the Sorek River by Tel Beit Shemesh. This coin, from about the 11th C. BCE  shows a man fighting a lion.  Some feel this may represent Samson and his fight with the lion.   To read about this interesting discovery go to http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2181404/Israeli-scholars-claim-uncovered-archaeological-evidence-Samson.html

 

 

 

 

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