Tag Archives: Elijah

New Year Thoughts

art by Laya Crust, inspired by Ben Shahn

Rosh HaShana is a day of deep prayer and meditation- as well as an opportunity to connect with family and friends. Put another way, the time of prayer allows us to connect with ourselves and then connect with others. The Shabbat between  Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuva- a Sabbath of return.

The Haftarah for Shabbat Shuva begins, “Return o Israel unto the Lord your God…”  Within the haftarah we are told to blow the shofar, and gather together.

I’ve been thinking about the act of personal prayer and our place in society and the world. Much of the New Year and Day of Atonement is spent  in personal prayer. What do we get out of personal prayer? What are the benefits?

On the first day of Rosh HaShana we read the story of Hanna, a childless woman who goes to the Temple and prays silently, moving her lips, but making no sound.

art by Laya Crust

Hanna was the first person in Jewish text who prayed silently. She expressed her thoughts to God, conversing with God and stating her needs and desires. Hanna must have been a person who knew herself well. She did something unconventional and clarified her personal path to allow herself to go forward.

We live during a time that is full of natural disasters, spiritual disasters, leadership disasters and international tragedy. It’s possible that the world has ever been thus, but with the existence of internet, twitter, skype, cell phones, and immediate news we are aware of the international calamities immediately. The fascism and racism exposed in Charlottesville and the genocide in Myanmar are but two of the horrific “human rights abuses” (understatement if there ever was one)currently taking place in the world. The global peace watchdog- the UN is a disaster. The forest fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, mudslides and droughts are all natural disasters that have destroyed lives and communities around the world- all disasters we have witnessed in the last couple of months.  It is very difficult for some of us to know what to do, how to respond to these world crises both man made and natural.

It makes me think of another narrative in the bible.

Elijah was a prophet who was being hunted down by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Although God told him to face his accusers Elijah decided to hide in a cave on Mount Horev in order to avoid his dangerous and overwhelming realities. God finally tells Elijah to step out of the cave. First a huge, violent wind comes by, breaking the mountains and rocks. Then after the wind there was an earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire. God was not in any of those forces. After the fire there was a still, small voice, and God was in that voice. At that point Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle , stood in the entrance of the cave , and “behold, there came a voice to him.” (Kings I 19: 13) The voice was the voice of God.

This story encompasses my thoughts about prayer and personal prayer.

Each of us is a compilation of experiences. Within our psyche we carry the lessons we have learned from parents, grandparents, teachers, wise individuals, illnesses and events we have experienced. We carry ethical truths based on what we have learned. Those ethical truths are God’s voice. It is the still small voice that speaks to us and can help us unravel difficulties that we face in a day or in our lives.

It is a thought I will take with me. As I enter synagogue to pray or meditate, like Hanna I will focus on my own prayers rather than pose for others. As the shofar is blown I will hear that pure, unusual call and know it is calling all Jews from every corner  of the world. When I am distressed by the earthquakes and fires and hurricanes I will listen to the still small voice and work out how I am able to best help and contribute to making the world a better place.

May you have a meaningful Rosh HaShana, May your year be one of health, peace, tranquility, and goodness throughout the world.

Shana Tova,  Laya

 

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Shabbat HaGadol


Shabbat hagadol sig

Over the last couple of months I have been perusing my haggadah collection and books about haggadot. It is fascinating to note the changes in illustration influenced by culture, politics, and artistic trends.

In medieval times a short section was added to the haggadah after the meal was finished. It begins with the Hebrew words “Shafoch Hamatcha”- a phrase  calling on Gd to pour His wrath on those people who do not know Him.  At a traditional seder the people attending stand up while the door is opened so Elijah (Eliahu) can enter and take a sip from his special cup of wine in the centre of the table. We children all used to watch the cup of wine very carefully to see how much disappeared- did Eliahu really come? As my father explained he could only drink a tiny, tiny bit because he had to visit EVERY Jewish house in the world that was hosting a seder.

But I digress. This text was added in the 11th Century after  the Crusades began.In early haggadot the first word of the phrase was decorated but it wasn’t until a couple of centuries later a special illustration was added.

In Prague, 1526 someone decided to illustrate it. A figure of the messiah is shown riding a donkey- a reference to salvation. This woodcut was quite small. it was just a small insert into a much larger page.   20150326_185202[1]

The woodcut was copied and reprinted into a number of different haggadah editions. In 1560 an artist in Mantua decided to  embellish the image. Not only do we have  whole landscape with Eliahu accompanying the Messiah, the whole layout is changed. The two figures and the landscape cover almost half the page. The title word is also very large and ornate. Just above the building (is that Jerusalem?) we see a tiny soldier in full uniform. He may be representing the enemy that does not acknowledge Gd.

This page is from the Washington haggadah, created in Northern Italy in 1478. Yoel ben Shimon was a prolific artist and scribe who created at least 8 haggadot in Italy and Germany.  His painting is delightful. It’s such a surprise to see the Messiah galloping through a town with a family riding behind him, holding on for dear life. They all seem to be wearing period dress with the father/ husband in a cloak and hood. The wife is wearing a lovely gown and hat and carrying a cup of wine As they pass a house a gentleman is in the doorway holding out a cup of wine- maybe for Eliahu. 20150326_214948[1]

The illustration on the right  is from a 15th century German haggadah. It is a sweet rendering. The man leading the horse may be Eliahu. The rider is wearing a crown, a regal red robe and he is the person blowing the shofar.The ribbons coming from the figures all have biblical verses referring to redemption and the coming of the Messiah.

I used the woodcut from Mantua, 1560 as the model for my Shabbat HaGadol painting. The haftarah reading is from Malachi 3:4 – 24. Verse 23 is read twice. It says, “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” The reference to Elijah and the approach of Pesach made this a great “match”.

By the way- the Worms, Germany Haggadah of 1521, changed the reading somewhat. They substituted the original phrase with:

“Pour out Your love on the nations who have known You,
and on the kingdoms that call upon Your name.
For they have shown loving-kindness to the seed of Jacob,

This year take a look at the illustrations in your haggadah. They can be a lot of fun.

Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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Shabbat HaGadol

 

Shabbat hagadol sig

Malachi 3:4 – 24

Prophet- Malachi is the last of the prophets. He is thought to have lived around 500 – 480 BCE after the construction of the Second Temple.

The Shabbat right before Pesach is called Shabbat HaGadol- The Great Sabbath. One interpretation is that “Moshiach”- the Messiah- will come on Passover, so this is the  Great Shabbat, the one before that great redemption.

Another idea is that the days leading up to the Exodus from Egypt were days of unusual and overwhelming preparation for the Israelites. Those preparations  not only affected sacrifices and food but defined faith and self identification. That concept holds true today. Those who choose to prepare for Pesach and change their diet and behaviours for an entire week are declaring their faith in the God of Israel and defining themselves as Jews.

The haftarah begins by recognizing the transgressions of the Jews. God, through Malachi, lists the sins committed by the Jews- theft, lying, cheating, adultery and more.  The Jews ask about certain accusations and God answers them. Throughout there is a path of forgiveness with the simile that as a man spares his son the Jews will be spared.

Verse 23 is read twice. It is the second last verse of this reading. “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” That verse is read again at the very end of the portion. That phrase was the catalyst for the image I painted for this haftarah.

After the dinner we read the phrase “Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations that do not know you…” We open our door to allow Eliyahu (Elijah) into our home to drink some wine. In some haggadot there is a picture of Eliyahu riding a donkey and blowing a shofar- announcing the Messiah. There are some lovely woodcuts and paintings in haggadot from the 15th – 17th centuries.

 This woodcut is from a haggadah published in Prague, 1526.

I chose the image below for my illustration of Shabbat HaGadol. It is from Mantua, 1560.

Tayqu.jpg Other notable haggadah illustrations of Eliahou are from Germany, c. 1425 ; the Washington Haggadah from Italy, 1478; and one from Venice 1609.

The end of the haftarah is lovely. Malachi says, “…he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the childen, and the heart of the children to their fathers:”  It’s a beautiful idea. It makes me think of the 4 children in the haggadah. Whatever else is happening in their relationships,  at the Pesach seder they come back home to sit and discuss and debate with their family- those they love.

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Tazria

Tazria sig

II Kings 4:42 – 5: 19

Elisha – (prophet) c.  720 BCE

The haftarah for “Tazria” tells two great stories about the prophet Elisha.

In the first story (Kings II 4: 42, 43) a man brings Elisha fruit, barley and corn. Elisha tells him to feed the community with the food but the man protests that there is too little. Elisha responds that there will be enough, and  miraculously there is enough to feed the all the people.

The second story is more involved. A commander of the Aramean army had “tza’arat” (leprosy). When he returned from war he brought back a young Jewish maiden to be his wife’s slave. The girl told her mistress that Naaman should go to Elisha to be cured of the leprosy.

Elisha told him to go to the Jordan River, wash 7 times, and then he would be cured. Naaman was angry and  insulted because the advice was so simple. He expected spells or special medicines- just to go to a small river in Israel was an affront. His servants told him to stop being so proud. Naaman was cured after following Elisha’s instructions. He then proclaimed, “Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel”.

The story points out a number of interesting things. It reminds us of the continuing wars and famine in the times of the prophets. We read how Jewish men, women, and children were taken for slaves. It gives a young Jewish girl a key role in a story of the prophet. The narrative also shows how non-Jews believed in the abilities of Jewish prophets and the Jewish God. It also indicates the desire for Elisha to help and cure anyone who came to him.

I decided to paint the two stories one beside the other. It looks like two frames from a comic book strip but actually the format is far older than the comic book world. You can see this same layout in manuscripts dating back to the 13 th century.

Elisha lived in Samaria (Shomron) and succeeded Elijah, a solitary and forceful leader.  Before Elijah was taken to the heavens in a whirlwind he asked Elisha what Elisha would like to have. Elisha asked to inherit a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit.

Indeed, in his life, Elisha performed 16 miracles and brought two people back to life, whereas Elijah performed 8 miracles and brought one person back to life. Elisha lived and prophesied in difficult times. There was drought, famine, attacks from surrounding armies; and corruption and warring in the Israelite monarchy. Elisha wasn’t as forceful a personality as his teacher. Rather he was known for his desire to help others in need.

Enjoy your week, enjoy the stories (Kings II,  4:42 to 5: 19).

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