Tag Archives: days of Awe

Yom Kippur – In Search of Self

Jonah by Laya Crust

Book of Jonah ; Prophet-either 8th C. BCE or 4th C. BCE

Yom Kippur is a day many of us face with feelings of awe, fear, and discomfort. We go to synagogue surrounded by other people, people who are fasting and praying, but that doesn’t necessarily make us feel more confident. The reason is that Yom Kippur, of all days in the year, is a day that we are alone facing ourselves and facing Gd.

We read the Book of Jonah in its entirety on Yom Kippur in the afternoon. From storms at sea to getting swallowed by a “whale” to a gourd that blossoms in one night, there are many unusual events. The best known event is depicted in the lyrical painting above. We see two sailors in a merchant ship. They have thrown Jonah over the side of the boat and he’s being swallowed by a giant fish. It is based on an illustration from the Kennicott Bible, Spain, 1476, painted by Joseph ibn Hayyim.

The narrative concerns the prophet Jonah disregarding God’s orders to warn the sinning people of Nineveh of Gd’s forthcoming punishment. In contrast to the prophet disobeying Gd, the non-Jews of Nineveh heed Him. Jonah is angry that they were forgiven, angry enough to challenge Gd to kill him.

Jonah says, “I know that you are a compassionate and gracious Gd, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment. Please, Lord, take my life for I would rather die than live.”  Gd listens to Jonah’s anger and answers him.

There are a few lessons taught in this haftarah. One is self-realization. We have to face ourselves and our weaknesses in order to correct ourselves and correct our mistakes. Another is facing responsibility and not running from it. And another lesson is the right of all people to live just lives- whether they are like us or choose a different lifestyle or belief system.

Yom Kippur by Laya Crust

And there is the lesson of forgiveness. Gd created humankind and is waiting to see the goodness and uprightness of humanity.

Jonah was upset when “his” gourd withered up. The gourd was a metaphor for God’s relationship with humanity. If Jonah was sad at the loss of “his” gourd- which he didn’t create, how much more would God be bereaved by the destruction of an entire community? The lesson can also teach empathy and forgiveness. Jonah had to realize that the people of Nineveh had as much right to repent and live as he, Jonah had.

On Yom Kippur we have 25 hours in which we pray, reflect and think. We have the time to consider our relationships and our behaviours. Yom Kippur is a gift for self contemplation, for forgiveness, and acceptance. We have to face our weaknesses and decide on how to fix those weaknesses, and then we can forgive ourselves..

This is a great opportunity to speak to our children or friends and reflect on how, if we are a little more forgiving, patient, and understanding, we can make the world a better place.

Have a meaningful day in synagogue and G’mar Chatima Tova- may the coming year be one of health,  peace, and blessings.

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VaYeilech- Shabbat Shuva

VaYeilech- Shabbat Shuva by Laya Crust

Shabbat Shuva is the Shabbat between Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur. On Rosh haShana we were in synagogue thinking about our past year and obstacles we faced. Many of us wondered about the coming year and what it would bring. Many of the prayers remind us of the fragility of our lives and the inevitability of death. Who will die? What is in store for us, our friends, and for our families?

The Torah reading begins with Moses’ words, “I am 120 years old today. I can no longer go out and come in, for Gd told me, ‘You shall not cross this Jordan’. HaShem your Gd, He will cross before you…” Moses, the greatest prophet and leader, had to face death. But he reminded the Israelites that Gd is the eternal leader of the Jewish people.

The haftarah reading is a combination of texts from three prophets. Hosea, Micah, and Joel. The three prophets, each in their own way, ask us to endeavour to improve ourselves.

I based my painting at the top of the page on a piece by the American artist Ben Shahn. It is based on his painting called Ram’s Horn and Menorah. It illustrates Joel’s words, “Blow a shofar in Zion, consecrate a fast, call an assembly; gather the people, ready the congregation…” The words describe our communities getting ready for the Days of Awe, and Shahn in his unique way used colour and movement to convey the awe, fear and unity of these important days of reflection.

His life was dedicated to human rights and social action, and he expressed that through his prolific artworks. His paintings, graphic art, photographs and essays are devoted to the “human condition”.  The strength of human beings to survive difficulty and stand tall in the face of adversity and unfairness runs through his works. His paintings are gritty, honest, and thought-provoking.

Image result for ben shahn poster
Image result for ben shahn paintings

Shahn’s work communicates the struggle of the human spirit to succeed, not just to survive. He reminds us that we don’t live in a bubble. We must care for ourselves and those around us. Those are among the meditations of Rosh HaShana.

We are reborn each day. Each day we have the opportunity to make new choices and make them good choices. Each day we can forgive ourselves for what we didn’t do yesterday, or what we wish we had done differently. We can begin anew and strive to have a fulfilling day.

May this year be a year of health, growth, improvement and goodness. Enjoy your Shabbat and have a meaningful Yom Kippur. To you and your family from me and my family,


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Days of Awe

A few weeks ago my husband Les and I had the great fortune of going to Chamonix, France. We did a number of hikes with a group of wonderful people, and spent a beautiful Shabbat there.

The mountains and the view were stunning. Everywhere I looked I saw beauty. As often as possible I took out my sketchbook to draw. I wanted to capture the awe that these mountains inspire.

view from Aiguille du Midi  by Laya Crust

We happened to be in Chamonix between Tisha B’Av (the day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem) and Rosh haShana. Those weeks between the two observances are called “The Weeks of Consolation”. The haftarah readings at synagogue are meant to comfort us and remind us of God’s love for the children of Israel.

 Aiguille du Midi, France  by Laya Crust

One of the readings has a quotation from the Book of Isaiah which resonated with me as I was in the mountains. “For the mountains be moved and the hills be shaken,  my love from you will never depart.” (Isaiah 54:10). It reminds me of the love song “Love is Here to Stay” by George Gershwin. It was the last musical piece he composed before his death in 1937. His brother and creative partner Ira wrote the lyrics  as a tribute to George.  The two brothers often wrote music that had elements of Jewish melody and liturgy in them, and it may be that the lines from Isaiah were an inspiration to Ira and to George.

As we go forward in these Days of Awe it is easy to feel overwhelmed by our goals, our hopes, our fears, and our attempts to improve ourselves. Through our self reflection we can be supported by the sentiments in the “Weeks of Consolation”.  God wants righteousness, honesty, integrity and kindness from His people. And God will wait as a bridegroom waits for his bride.

May your year be filled with health, love, peace, joy, and growth.

B’vracha, Laya


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Rosh HaShana

Rosh Hashana 2



                                                2ND DAY ROSH HASHANA

Book of Yermiayhu, Chapter 31

This week is a triple header- we have the two days of Rosh HaShana followed by Shabbbat Shuva.

 Each holiday we observe has its own special Torah and haftarah readings with a message that pertains to that holiday. This week I am going to discuss the second day of Rosh HaShana and leave you curious about the rest.

Today’s readings from the Torah and from the haftarah teach us tenets of faith, responsibility and repentance- and show us God’s steadfastness throughout difficult times.

Throughout the Torah we are told that if we obey the mitzvoth and follow God’s laws we will have land, crops, and many descendants. If we do not follow the laws our land will not prosper, the rains will not fall in the right seasons, and we will lose our sovereignty. In today’s reading we jump ahead to the time of Yermiyahu where the Jews experienced the aforementioned losses.

Today’s haftarah is from the Book of Yermiyahu.  Yermiyahu lived in Jerusalem about 2600 years ago, around the end of the 7th C. BCE. The Northern part of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians about 100 years earlier and the south was being threatened by the Babylonians. Yermiyahu is telling b’nei Yisrael that God will never abandon them. He tells the people that Rachel is weeping for them in Ramah- trying to intercede for them.

Yermiyahu describes God’s steadfastness. Rachel may weep and the nation may face enemies, but HaShem tells Rachel that she should stop weeping because her work – meaning the raising of her children- will be rewarded and will not be forgotten.

Rosh HaShana is the Day of Judgment. As such it is the most important time for reflection and repentance. The last three verses of the haftarah are the verses that determined this section of Yermiyahu as the reading for the second day of Rosh HaShana.

It says, “I can hear Ephraim (northern Israel) lamenting. “You have chastised me and I am chastised…now that I have turned back I am filled with remorse. I was ashamed and even humiliated because I bear the disgrace of my youth…”

The language is harsh.  We often forget the mitzvoth, the moral ways to do things, the guidelines that we as Jews- as the Or l’Goyim- are expected to uphold. These are the days which are for thinking and considering and soul searching.

Over the centuries with constant repeated attacks from the nations surrounding us we have survived. It is a miracle that we haven’t been wiped out but it is the fulfillment of the covenant God made with us. In verse 8 of the 20 verses here it says God will gather the remnants of Israel from the ends of the earth. And with them the blind and the lame, the woman with the child and the woman in labour. This phrase encapsulates the essence of the haftarah. It is the declaration of God’s promise- that He will remember His people, gather them in no matter where they are, and value each individual whether they be healthy, lame, blind, weak, slow, or ill.

It is easy to forget the destitute, the weak, and the disabled. And as we all know many cultures disregard the rights of women and children. As a group we Jews don’t do that. And God specifically commanded us to be cognizant of the widows, the orphans, the strangers, the poor…

The image I chose for this haftarah is based on a famous photograph from the Government Press Office in Jerusalem. It shows illegal immigrants landing in pre-war Palestine in 1939. Looking at this hodge podge of men one can imagine that they are coming from the ends of the earth coming back to Eretz Yisrael just as HaShem said they would be brought back.

The message of this haftarah is one of hope; of the surety that we are not forgotten and that God will make sure that we will survive. It is also a message that we have to see ourselves and our weaknesses. We should use these Days of Awe for reflection and prayer. We can use this time to strengthen our bonds with our spiritual selves, our community and with our God.

As it says in Yermiyahu v 11- their soul shall be like a watered garden and they shall not languish in sorrow any more.


Have a wonderful and sweet New Year full of joy, health and peace.


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