Tag Archives: bible

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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Jeremiah’s Story

A Contract of Sale by Laya Crust

This week we read two parshas- Behar and B’Hukkotai. Each parsha has a haftarah from the Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived in Judea, prophesying from 626 BCE until the fall of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem in 587 BCE. He lived in difficult times which spanned the reigns of five kings and ended his life in Egypt.

Jeremiah - Wikipedia
Jeremiah by Michaelangelo, Sistine Chapel painting

The haftarah for Behar took place during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem. When Jeremiah advised King Zedekiah to surrender to the Babylonians the king threw him into prison. While Jeremiah was in prison Gd told him that Jeremiah’s cousin would come and ask him to buy their family’s parcel of land. Although the country was under siege Jeremiah was to buy the property.

As foretold, his cousin Hanamel asked Jeremiah to buy his land. Jeremiah went to great efforts to make the transaction legal and formalized by witnesses. He weighed out the silver, wrote two bills of sale – one sealed and one unsealed, and carried out the sale in the prison courtyard. The documents were then stored in an earthenware jar for safekeeping. The sale was a symbol that the siege of Jerusalem would end and land would become valuable once more.

Jeremiah said, “For so said Gd, Master of Legions, Gd of Israel, ‘Houses, fields, and vineyards will yet be bought in this land.'” (Jeremiah 32:13)

A Tree by the Water by Laya Crust

Jeremiah constantly reminded the Jews to follow Gd’s laws and ethics. Buying a parcel of land when the country was under siege was an inspiring and selfless act, but he was still disliked by the population because of his constant warnings and negative messages. In the next haftarah, B’Hukkotai, Jeremiah told the nation that a person who is good will flourish. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose trust the Lord is. He will be like a tree planted by the waters… Its foliage will be lush and will not be anxious in the year of drought. And it will not cease from yielding fruit.”   (Jeremiah 17: 7,8)   

Jeremiah’s message ring true today. The world is in terrible disarray. There is a pandemic, economic crises, war, and natural disasters. Yet there is good being done, acts of kindness, and progress throughout the world (as well as the disasters). Let’s keep that in mind and do our little bit to improve the world around us.

Shabbat Shalom,

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.


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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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Halfway through the Torah

Flames of Division by Laya Crust

A couple of weeks ago we read parshat Shemini on Shabbat. It is an unexpected combination of two very different narratives, and the break between the two narratives occurs pretty much in the middle of the reading. Similarly, the parsha itself appears right in the centre of the Torah cycle. Coincidently we are experiencing an unprecedented break in the functioning of the world. I want to explore this dividing of text and experience.

In the first half of parsha Shemini we read about the sacrifices that Moses and Aaron offered to Gd. In the second half of the parsha we read about which animals are kosher (acceptable for Jews to eat) and which are treif (not acceptable for Jews to eat).

Aaron and his sons had spent weeks purifying and spiritually readying themselves to perform these important offerings. The sacrifices were accepted. Dramatically, Gd’s fire consumed the sacrificial remains and His flames ascended to the heavens.  In a moment of religious fervour Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu offered their own (unholy) fire to Gd. In anger, Gd sent down flames that killed the two men. It was a shocking and tragic incident.

Following this distressing event, the Israelites were told which animals were kosher and which were non-kosher. The two narratives are very different- one is a drama the other is a list of guidelines. Yet they are united by a phrase at the end of each of the 2 sections.

After Nadav and Avihu died Aaron and his sons were tasked with being able לְהבדיל בּין הקדשׁ ובין החֹל ובין הטמה ובין הטהור -to distinguish between holy and common, between impure and pure.

Later, when Israelites were told what they could eat and what they could not eat, we read: לְהבדיל בין הטמה ובין הטהור. They were “to separate between the impure and the pure”.

The phrases of separation are obviously very important, and fire is used in Torah as a means of separation. HaShem formed a pillar of fire to light the way of the nation of Israel, and to separate and protect them from their enemies as they traveled through the desert. We, ourselves, use Aish (fire) to separate Shabbat from the rest of the week. We light candles before Shabbat begins and at Havdalah when Shabbat ends. So, to restate, Aish or fire is used as a device to divide and separate.

Fire is mysterious, beautiful, and threatening. If flames come too close they are dangerous- destroying and killing what is in their path. It is a contrary force, and ambiguous one. We need fire for light, for warmth, and in historical times humans needed fire to protect them from wild beasts at night. And yet this protective force can suddenly, without warning, rage out of control.

Differentiating, “לְהבדיל”, creates awareness. That is a theme in this Torah reading. The list of acceptable and unacceptable animals makes us conscious of our dietary choices. The dire punishment of Nadav and Avihu remind us of the sacredness of HaShem’s commands and words. Boundaries create awareness. Without boundaries all things are equal. With limits, there is greater focus and the focus makes everything more precious.

The world is experiencing a time of separation. Due to the danger of COVID-19 we are forced to separate from others in order to keep ourselves and others safe. The separation allows us time to reflect on what is necessary and what is unnecessary. Let’s use this time wisely and make our lives and the world better.

Be safe, be well, be healthy and be kind.

Laya Crust

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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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Picnic in Dothan

VaYeishev SigIllustration by Laya Crust

The last number of weeks we have been reading about Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel. Jacob was the proud father of 12 sons and one daughter, and moved his family from Padan Aram back to Canaan. In this week’s Torah reading we find out more about the dynmics in Jacob’s family.

Jacob left his father-in-law’s home a wealthy man with huge herds of cattle and flocks of goats. The sons were shepherds. Joseph was favoured by Jacob, and was given a beautiful coat. While his brothers were out iin the hot fields for days at a time Joseph stayed at home with their father. There was a lot of jealousy for more than one reason.

At one point in this week’s Torah portion Joseph was sent out to the fields to look for his brothers and report back to Yaakov (Jacob). They had gone to Shechem with their flocks, and then traveled further.  Joseph went to Shechem but couldn’t find them. A man- we suspect that he was an angel- redirected Joseph to Dothan. The brothers saw him approaching. To paraphrase Maurice Sendak, they “made mischief of one kind and another”.  They threw Joseph into a pit and gave him to Midianite traders who then sold him to Ishmaelite traders.

I’ve often wondered about the brothers out in the fields, sleeping and eating there. What did they have for lunch? What were they eating as Joseph approached? Many Israeli cookbooks feature eggplant recipes, and I thought- could the brothers have enjoyed something like roasted eggplant?

Roasted Eggplant with Silan and Tomatoes

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Ingredients:

1 medium eggplant                                                        1 – 2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 Tbsp. raw tehina                                                          1- 2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. yogurt                                                                   sprigs of fresh parsley, cilantro or hyssop leaves

1 tomato halved, cored, and diced                            1 crushed clove of garlic

1Tbsp. silan or dark honey                                           sea salt and crushed pepper to taste

Bake the eggplant. You can roast it over a bonfire, a gas flame or, as I have here, an electric element. It gives a wonderful smokey flavour.
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Slice in half and drizzle with tehina, yogurt, silan (or honey), olive oil and lemon juice. 
P1120437Season with salt, pepper, and garlic. Garnish with parsley, cilantro or hyssop.

The roasted eggplant is delicious with warmed or toasted pita and a good glass of beer.  (P.S. To be honest, the brothers wouldn’t have been eating eggplant or tomato. Eggplants are indigenous to India and tomatoes to South America. But, they are popular in Israel now! )

Enjoy, and Shabbat Shalom.

Laya

This illustration for the parsha VaYeishev is based on a beautiful panel from the Sarajevo Haggadah. The haggadah was created in 1350 Spain, and has beautiful paintings illustrating the Bible from the story of Creation to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. This particular image shows the brothers selling Joseph to Ishmaelite traders. Joseph is portrayed as a young boy begging his brothers not to sell him.

I have created pictures for each haftarah and parsha of the year and am currently working on a book, showcasing each painting. Stay tuned for updates! 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 the current blog by e-mail.

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Conflict and Strength – VaYishlach


P1140396
art by Laya Crust

Va Yeishev: Bereshit (Genesis) 32:4 – 36

Haftarah:  The Book of Ovadiah

This week’s Torah reading takes us on Yaakov’s (Jacob’s) journey through the country of Edom towards Bethlehem and Efrat. He was a successful man. He had huge flocks, 2 wives, 2 concubines, 11 sons and a daughter, yet he was nervous. He knew he had to travel through his brother’s landholdings but did not want to face his twin because of  their unresolved history. Would Esau be angry at Yaakov? Did Esau still want to kill his brother?

The narrative begins with Yaakov sending messengers to his brother, announcing his approach. The report came back that Esau was coming to meet Yaakov, accompanied by 400 men.  Yaakov, frightened and anxious, sent his messengers ahead with many expensive gifts. He sent his family to the far side of the Jabok River for safety and he himself slept on the closer side of the river, possibly to be on the alert for any attack.

A man came and wrestled with him through the night. Finally at dawn the stranger told Yaakov to let him go. Yaakov demanded that the man give him a blessing and the blessing came in the guise of a new name- Yisrael, “because you have striven with beings Divine and human” (כּי שׂרית עם אלהים ועם אנשׁים).

Image result for jacob and the angel golden haggadah
Golden Haggadah, c. 1320

Who was the man Yaakov fought with? An angel sent by Gd? An adversarial angel representing Esau? Or was it an inner battle that Yaakov was struggling within himself? At the end of the battle Yaakov had a new name and an injury that stayed with him the rest of his life.

Yaakov’s name has many meanings. It can mean follow, heel, or deceive. When he was born Yaakov followed his brother into the world, holding on to Esau’s heel. As they grew up he deceived his brother and his father, and in turn was deceived by his father-in-law.

He left Canaan to avoid confrontation with Esau and to seek a wife. Many years later he left Lavan’s estate in the night, also hoping to avoid confrontation. He may have been a successful man in terms of his career but he was afraid to face the consequences of his actions.

Yaakov couldn’t avoid wrestling with the angel and he refused to give up or give in to the aggressor. He was given a name that represented his strength and position.

Image result for jacob and the angel
by Gustave Dore, 1855

The night of struggle heralded a new beginning. He faced himself and the enemy across from him. That incident strengthened him in his role as leader of a nation. He could carry on and deal with whatever life put in front of him. The struggle with the immortal being took place between sending a message to Esau and actually facing him. Maybe the fight itself influenced Yaakov’s interaction with Esau.

These days we are facing anti-Semitic attacks- verbal and physical, hurtful and deadly, overt and covert, on a frightening level. We are witnessing anti-Semitism from the British elections to UN resolutions, to terrorist attacks in kosher grocery stores and in synagogues, and unconscionable displays of hatred against Israel and Jews on campuses. Like Yaakov we have to face our fears rather than run away from them. Strength as a people and a nation is the only way to combat the hatred.

Like Yaakov let’s struggle with the adversaries and stand firm for what is right. May we see peace soon,

Sabbat Shalom,

Laya

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