Tag Archives: charity

A Giving Heart

Tzedakah by Laya Crust

This Shabbat is the Shabbat preceding the first day of Adar II and is called “Shabbat Shekalim.” A section from Ki Tissa is added to the regular Torah reading. The reading describes how the Israelites were required to contribute. “….This is what everyone who is entered in the records shall pay: a half-shekel by the sanctuary weight—twenty gerahs to the shekel—a half-shekel as an offering to ‘יה… You shall take the expiation money from the Israelites and assign it to the service of the Tent of Meeting; it shall serve the Israelites as a reminder before ‘ה as expiation for your persons…” (Exodus 30:11-16) We also read a special haftarah.

King Jehoash reigned in Jerusalem from 896-736 BCE. The haftarah describes how he directs the priests to collect donations for repairs to the Temple. The priest Jehoiada crafts a “tzedaka” box by boring a hole into a wooden chest. The Jews can put their “shekels” into the boxes when they go to pray. This event from almost 3,000 years ago is the template for charity boxes used throughout history.

The illustration shows a collection of tzedaka boxes from around the world. From left to right – a “pushke” (charity box) from the synagogue of Rogazen, Germany, rescued in 1938; a  silver alms box from Austria, 1843; a Magen David Adom box; a Keren Kayemet box; a stone charity box with Ladino inscription from Valencia, Spain,1319; a Jewish National Fund box, circa 1950; a Rav Meir Ba’al haNes box from Israel in the 1960’s; a  Hevra Kadisha ceramic jug, Moravia, 1776; a sterling silver charity box, Austria, 1900.

The parashah and the haftarah both deal with giving and creating. If we give with an open heart the gift and the result are beautiful. If we build with beautiful intentions the structure or craft will also be beautiful.

This week’s reading is Vayakhel and describes the workmanship for the Mishkan. The two quotations in the painting below are from the parashah:  “Take from among you an offering of the Lord, whoever is of a willing heart let them bring it…” (35:5)     “And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing of heart.” (35:22) The sparkling watercolour wash behind the quotations represents imagination and spirituality.

Va Yikahel sig
Inspired Workmanship by Laya Crust

In the previous Torah reading, “Ki Tissa,” we read about the sin of “the golden calf”. Just to remind you, Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God and bring them down to the Israelites below. When Moses didn’t arrive at the expected time the nation grew worried and anxious, fearing that something bad had happened. They demanded a god, an idol,  to pray to. Breaking off their jewellery they fashioned a golden calf. The nation was punished by God. The golden calf was destroyed, and three thousand men were killed.

In this week’s Torah reading, Moshe invited all the people, whoever was generous of heart, ” נדיב לבו,” to bring forward gold, silver, brass, dyed linen and goats’ hair, wood, oil, spices, and precious gems. All these materials would be used to craft holy objects for the Mishkan. The items to be crafted were listed and described, and the people came forward with all that was requested. The magnificence is described close on the heels of the sin of fashioning the golden calf. 

Phrases like “wise-hearted”  and “willing of heart” appear 15 times in this parashah. Only wise-hearted and generous individuals could see past the expense and glitter of the materials through to the purpose of prayer and service to God. Those who are wise and generous can understand and facilitate the elevation of spirit.

The painting is based on a  beautiful and timeless illumination from 1299, Perpignan, Aragon. 

Image result for 1299, Perpignan manuscript illumination

The illustrations I made that you see here are part of the collection of Haftarah Scroll paintings in the Haftarah Scroll of Beth David, a synagogue in Toronto. We are currently working on a book that will include all the illustrations, and it will be coming soon!

Have Shabbat Shalom- one full of beauty and joy and giving.


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It’s the Three Weeks – of War

Hesped 0036


Isaiah I: 1- 27

Isaiah (prophet)- c.740 – 685 BCE

This painting was created in response to the senseless killing of innocent Israeli soldiers on leave a few years ago. Called “Hesped” (Eulogy) it is King David’s eulogy over King Saul and Jonathan. Two psalms are written in the top corners. The writing was done in  23K gold leaf to represent the pain of loss, like fire on fire. Click on the painting to enlarge it.

This haftarah always precedes the fast of Tisha B’Av  (the 9th of Av). It is a desolate haftarah where Isaiah recounts how God laments that His children – B’nei Yisrael – have rebelled against Him. They are corrupt, their prayers are empty and their sacrifices are meaningless.

The haftarah is bleak, expressing Gd’s disappointment in His people and longing for them to improve. Gd and Isaiah are begging the children of Israel to improve their behaviour. Gd asks Israel to “Learn to do well; Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1: 17)

Right now we are nearing the end of the “Three Weeks” which is a period of mourning and reflection that occurs between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av.   It is a time of solemnity and is used to reflect on our behaviour. Can we perform a good deed and help another person? Can we cut back on- or even stop- our gossiping? What can we do to improve ourselves and the world around us?

It is a strange coincidence- or is it- that this year Israel is engaged in Operation Protective Edge. It is a defensive battle against the terrorist organization Hamas during these three weeks of mourning. Precious lives have been lost, but the battle must go on until the secret tunnels from Gaza to Israel are eradicated, the enemy weapons caches are destroyed, and the citizens of Israel can sleep at night without suffering continued rocket attacks from Gaza.

Photo Photo  (Photos from Ohel Arl Community, organized by Rachel Jacoby, Erica Jacoby, Nicole Azulay)

The people in Israel and Israel’s supporters are trying to do just what Gd called for. We are looking for ways to help. We are thinking of the young soldiers on the fronts lines who are protecting Israelis and trying to spare innocent civilians in Gaza.  We are thinking of Israeli families traumatized by death and destruction of their homes and communities. We are thinking of the extra burden on the health system and front line care workers.

Beautifully, love and  energy and resources have been mobilized to send support, prayers, and good deeds to help win the war- not only by might but by faith and “mitzvoth”.

If you want to help you can donate to one of many organizations that are on the ground assisting those affected by the conflict. Magen David Adom, Leket, Yad Sarah, UJA, Soroka Hospital, Beit HaLochem Canada, One Family, are just a few. If you don’t want to send money, send prayers. It’s all good.

We hope to win the war with as little bloodshed as possible so we can live in our land in peace. May it be soon. Amen

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