Tag Archives: Book of Isaiah

B’ Ha’alotecha

Behaalotchaart by Laya Crust

Numbers: ch 8- ch 12 Zechariah:  ch 2:14 – 4:7 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 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 and Zerubbabel 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.

Cervera, Spain, c. 1300

My illustration at the top was based on this beautiful manuscript painting from Spain, with the menorah panted 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.

Interestingly, is is the menorah that is the symbol of Judaism and the emblem of the State of Israel.

On that thought , may you have an illuminated week and weekend, full of flaming conversation and bright ideas.


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Shabbat Shira – it’s music

Miriam's Song

Miriam’s Song 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 (Le Marseillaise). All our secrets can be unearthed (Killing Me Softly) and raw emotion can exposed (Stravinsky).

It 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. And then I found out the close relationship between science and music. I’ve been working on a new composition (visual, not musical) for an engineer (physics, not train). Because he is, from what I can tell, equally music and science oriented I wanted to merge the two fields in my painting.  My intention is to merge the spectrum of tone, the measure of the notes and the background ordering of the staff. Here is a draft of my ideas:

20150127_183737art 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 hand held 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.

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 win a battle against Sisera’s Army. A woman named Yael completes the defeat by killing Sisera. Devorah then sings a song of praise about the triumph and Yael’s conquest. halleluhu0052

 The painting here shows biblical instruments mentioned in prayers we say in the morning.

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.

So enjoy the art, the sounds, and the music around you.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

I would love it if you would share your thoughts or stories about music. Even if it’s lyrics to ballads by cowboys, the loneliest lyrics in the world.

Artist in Residence,  The Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Textiles, Toronto

website  layacrust.com


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Shemot sig art by Laya Crust

Isaiah  27:6 – 28:13 and 29: 22,23

Isaiah (prophet)- c. 740 – 681 BCE

The haftarah for Shemot is from the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah lived during the fall of the kingdom of Judah to the Assyrians. At this point Judah was the only Jewish independent sovereignty. The others had all fallen due to immorality, drunkenness and failure in faith.  Isaiah predicts that Judah will also be defeated.  It is a trerribly low point for the Jews.

This is similar to the situation of B’nei Yisrael in the parsha. Jacob’s descendants had gone to Egypt under the protection of the Pharaoh . They lived and flourished in Goshen, separate from the Egyptians. According to the parsha  after Joseph dies the Pharaoh says, “Behold, the children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us…”  and that was the beginning of the end of comfortable living for b’nei Yisrael. When the new Pharaoh Egyptians noticed them- their numbers, their individuality and their strength he became concerned- maybe even paranoid. To counter the success and numbers of the Hebrews  Pharaoh began the process of their enslavement. By the time Moses was born the Hebrews were almost at their lowest point. They had lost their independence and they were commanded to drown any baby boy who was born to them.


                                   Barcelona Haggadah         Golden Haggadah

The children of Israel were at their most desperate point in their history until that time.  Unbelievably their situation worsened following Moses and Aaron’s appeal to Pharaoh.

The greatest similarity between the the haftarah and the parsha is the depths to which b’nei Yisrael had fallen. Unfortunately Jews have faced those unbearable conditions and situations numerous times.  I wanted to show the hopelessness and pain of B’nei Yisrael in my illustration for the parsha and haftarah of Shemot, and tie it to a broader history. The Shoah was the darkest time for Jews in recent history.  As in Egypt the Jews quickly moved from positions of honour and equality to  those of poverty and enslavement. In the parsha the murder of baby boys was mandated. Of course in the Shoah the mandate was taken further than that.

In my investigations of imagery  I found a series of woodcuts by Miklos Adler, a Jew from Lithuania who had been transported to Auschwitz and then to Vienna. He was liberated from Theresienstadt. The woodcut I chose shows Jewish slaves labouring under the whip of an S.S. soldier, with a Jewish corpse disregarded at the feet of the Nazi. Miklos Adler did a series of 16 woodcuts. 7 of them were printed in “A Survivor’s Haggadah”  which was edited and compiled by Yosef Dov Sheinson for Pesach, 1946.

There is such darkness and horror conveyed in the images in that Haggadah that I felt it connected the three time periods together- B’nei Yisrael in Egypt, the Jews under the Assyrians, and the Shoah.

Today, January 8, 2015, is the day after a terrible massacre of political cartoonists in France. The perpetrators of the assassinations are men who hate democracy. They blame democracy for the ills of the world. In the 1930’s and 40’s the Jews were blamed for Germany’s economic problems. In Egypt Pharaoh was ready to enslave and blame B’nei Yisrael for whatever he feared at the time. Blame is easy and can become toxic and evil very quickly. It’s easy to blame someone else or “society” for a difficulty we face or for an offence an “underdog” has committed. Each of us should try to safeguard against empty blame and try to solve the difficulties we face. That way we can be stronger as a nation and as a world.

Vive la liberte. May democracy and respect prevail.

Shabbat Shalom,


Artist in residence for The Pomegranate Guild  of Judaic Textiles  https://pomegranateguild.wordpress.com/

Visit my website  http://layacrust.com/


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Lech Lecha

Lech Lecha sig

Isaiah  ch. 40:27 – 41:16

Isaiah (prophet) – c. 740 – 681 BCE

The picture we see here is a beautiful desertscape at night.

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 (called Avram in this section of the Torah) that Gd will bless him. Abraham’s descendants will be as numerous as the dust on the ground and the stars in the skies. 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.

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 tells his people that Gd will not abandon them. Previously (Isaiah ch. 39, v 12) Isaiah described Gd saying, “…[Gd] …meted out heaven with a span and and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure…” In this haftarah Gd reminds the Jews that, “…you, Yisrael are My servant Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham My friend. You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth and called you from the farthest corners…”ch. 40 v 8,9.

Avram was chosen to begin a new nation, the nation that would one day be known as Jews. Even back then Gd told Avram that his descendants would be slaves in a strange land, referring to their enslavement in Egypt. Avram was warned that life would be tough for them.  The hardships have continued throughout history. In this haftarah Isaiah gave encouragement to his exiled brethren in Babylon, telling them that Gd will 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.



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No'ach Sig

Isaiah 54- 55:5

Isaiah (prophet)   c. 740 – 681 BCE

Just last week we were at synagogue singing the prayers for rain- “Tefillat haGeshem”. Israel wants the rain for the trees and plants that will blossom in (our)  winter and spring. And wouldn’t you know it, here in Toronto the heavens opened that afternoon and again at night and it poured. I heard that it rained in Israel too.

Rain, like everything else, has to come at the right time in the right amount. We know that sometimes there are floods in one part of the world while there are famine and forest fires due to drought in another.

In this parsha we read about the sinning that  occurred in the world. Gd was upset by  humanity’s excessive evil and  caused a flood to wipe out most of humanity and most of the animal world. After 40 days and 40 nights the rain abated and the world as it was known ended. Noah and his family had to start anew. Gd decided never to destroy humanity again. The sign of this resolution and covenant was- and continues to be- a rainbow.

Last week when I went for a walk in the afternoon rain I saw a beautiful sight. There was a rainbow set in the east sky against steel grey clouds. The unexpected contrast was gorgeous.

The rainbow is a magical thing. It is perfect semicircle in the sky made up of every conceivable colour. Gd has created an image of perfection to remind Himself that although Gd can achieve perfection we mortals can’t. As such we can’t be expected to behave perfectly. Our duty is to try to do the best we can.

In this season, this new year of 5775, those of us lucky enough to live in a country with true autumn can enjoy the colours of the rainbow around us.P1120285

The High Holy Days, also called the “Days of Awe” are behind us. The first readings of the Torah are about new beginnings, explorations and lessons. We prayed for rain but we want the right amount- not enough rain to flood the land and destroy life. It’s a prayer for good things in moderation and a reminder for us to appreciate the goodness and beauty that is around us in the world.

So as you go through the week notice the beauty around you whether it is beauty in changing colours, in the people around you or in the grace of day to day living.

Have a good week and a Shabbat Shalom,













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Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur Shacharit


Isaiah 57:14 – 58:14

Isaiah (prophet)- c. 740 – 681 BCE

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. I painted challah (to represent feeding the poor and oppressed) observing Shabbat, and “raising your voice like a ram’s horn”. (ch 58: 1) 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.

Yom Kippur is a difficult day for many of us. Not only do we have to fast  (some of us start weaning ourselves off caffeine a week early) but we go to synagogue and face ourselves. Thinking about our weaknesses is difficult, and deciding to improve realities is even more difficult.

This is a very dynamic reading. Right at the beginning Gd says, “Build up a highway! Clear a road! Remove all obstacles from the road of my people!” In energetic language the Jews are told that Gd notices them and how they are faring. HaShem sees illness and will heal them.

The message is one of an attentive Gd who knows and recognizes the challenges all people face. Fasting is mentioned a number of times. The text describes what many people do- they take advantage of their employees and those in a lower position.   It continues, “…No, this is the fast I desire: to unlock the fetters of wickedness…to let the oppressed go free…” (ch 58: 6) We are reminded that fasting must be done with the right intention.

Many of us go to synagogue on Yom Kippur filled with trepidation. It is a day when we feel our mortality and we fear for the future. It is often a comfort to be in synagogue surrounded by others who are also praying for self-improvement and/or a better year.

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. On the positive side there are millions and millions of wonderful innovators, optimists, do-gooders, and creative givers who make the world a better place. We should all 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 5775!



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Netzavim – VaYelech

NitzavimIsaiah 61:10 – 63:9

Isaiah (prophet)- c. 740 – 681 BCE

This year both parshas Netzavim and VaYelech are read on the Shabbat before Rosh HaShana. Being the week before Rosh HaShana in some circles it is called Shabbat Selichot.

In parshat Netzavim HaShem tells Moshe that he is about to die and will “lie with his fathers”. HaShem tells Moshe that subsequently the people will stray and pray to false gods, forsake their covenant, and do evil. Gd says that He will take them out of Canaan until they start to obey the commandments. It’s pretty tough talk.

The haftarah is an interesting accompaniment to the parsha. As in other haftaroth that we have read recently God is presented as a bridegroom and the nation of Israel as a bride. There are two lines in this haftarah that are often sung at weddings- (excuse the transliteration) “um sis chatan al kallah, yasis alayich elokayich “. “And as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride so will your Gd rejoice over you.” ch 62 v 5…

The imagery of the haftarah isn’t restricted to that of a bride and bridegroom. Another theme is the reestablishment of a splendid Jerusalem where  Jews will live in safety and abundance.

This picture shows  Jerusalem with the Temple in the centre, based on a representation of Jerusalem from a ketubah from Padua, Italy, 1732 . (Many of the classical ketuboth from Italy had a painting of Jerusalem at the top or the bottom.)  The Jerusalem here is joyful and colourful. I remembered the phrase where the Jews are described as a “royal diadem”- a crown.  Jerusalem is  like a crown among cities and b’nei Yisrael like a crown among the nations.  The painting here is bright and colourful like the gems in a crown. In the text Isaiah tells the people that God has set watchmen upon the Jerusalem’s walls, and that watchmen may even be angels.

This is the last parsha and haftarah before Rosh HaShana. As we enter this time we remember Gd’s promises to us and the covenant we entered with Gd. The parsha and haftarah balance each other- the parsha warns us of our sins and punishments, while the haftarah reminds us of Gd’s support.


So, think of Israel and Jerusalem as a jewel in the crown as you read the haftarah this week. Enjoy buying honey and apples- or whatever byou decide to do – in preparation for the coming festivl.

Have a Shabbat Shalom, Laya




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