Tag Archives: Exodus

Va Yakhel and Pekudei

Va Yakhel – Pekudei

Exodus (Shemot): Chapters 35 – 40

The Torah readings of Va Yakhel – Pekudei are often described as the most boring parshas of the year, as an obsessive investigation of detail, and as parshas that are difficult to regard as giving important lessons. Why would these particular parshas be considered so boring? Aren’t there sections of the Torah that are lists of names, lists of battles or lists of the order of sacrifices? When I read the parshas and paid close attention I came to my own conclusion. These two readings from the bible are about art, craft, and aesthetics. We live in a society that seems to value economics and technology. Therefore the unadventurous reader doesn’t appreciate the insight and spirituality that goes into creating holy objects.

Va Yakhel explains that Gd chose Bezalel to be chief architect and designer, “and filled  him with the spirit of Gd, in wisdom, and in understanding and in all manner of workmanship, to contrive works of art…” (Exodus 30: 3). This quotation shows that those trusted with creating the holy space should have spiritual depth and understanding beyond the average individual. The parsha describes the collection of all the materials that would be needed to create the Tabernacle, the “Tent of Meeting” that would hold the two tablets Moses brought down from Mount Sinai.

We see that everyone was invited to participate in building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. The only proviso was that they had to be “wise” or “willing hearted”. Phrases like “wise hearted” and “willing of heart” appear 15 times in this parsha. The construction of this holy place was incredibly democratic.

Gd understood ( and still understands) the importance of beauty in life. In the midst of the wide expanse of desert and rugged mountains He gave detailed instructions to create a place of beauty where people could focus prayer and thought. Just a beautiful place wasn’t enough. True beauty has a foundation of wisdom and goodness. To that end Bezalel and his assistant Aholiav were imbued with wisdom and understanding. Furthermore  people from B’nei Yisrael- a group of rag tag people traversing a desert- would be contributing. Gd said, “In the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom that they may make all that I have commanded thee.” (31:6)

As we go forward in life let’s remember to be wise hearted and introduce integrity and beauty in order to elevate our lives and the lives around us.

Have a good week,

Laya

The illustrations I painted are based on manuscript paintings from 1299, Perpignan, Aragon. There were a number of beautiful manuscript pages done in the 14th and 15th centuries featuring the Temple’s holy objects.

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Shawarma to go

The Washington Haggadah,  1478,   by Yoel ben Simeon

When the Israelites were about to leave Egypt, God told them to take a lamb. He directed Moses that …”They shall eat it roasted over the fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs…” (Exodus 12:8)…God continued the instructions. “This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly;” (Exodus 12:11)

It occurred to me that as well as telling the story of the exodus from Egypt through the haggadah, we could commemorate the exodus in another way. Through our menu.

This year I have decided to make a shawarma style main course. It will be delicious, easy, fun, and maybe even instigate a different kind of discussion.

Chicken Shawarma

Ingredients (serves 8-10)

1  1/2 kilos  (3. 3 lbs)  deboned chicken breast or chicken thighs

3 onions, sliced

2 Tbsp olive oil

salt, pepper to taste

Marinade

1 Tbsp. chicken soup mix

3/4 c. olive oil

2 Tbsp curry powder

1 Tbsp. garam masala (or a mixture of cinnamon, cumin, coriander and pepper)

Method:

Slice the chicken into strips.

Make the marinade and pour over the chicken , letting it rest for at least 2 hours. It’s great if you can let it marinate longer- even overnight.

Fry the onions in a large frying pan. Add the marinated chicken and fry until the chicken is cooked through.

And that’s it! Super easy!

We’ll have a table full of hot sauce, “charif”, olives, pickles, coleslaw, and chopped cabbage to add to our “not-laffa” and shawarma.

Our vegetarians will get to tuck into marinated, sauteed portobello mushrooms, onions, and eggplant.

Have a good time at your seder, and if you try the shawarma recipe, let me know!

Chag kasher v’sameach,

Laya


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Up and Down at Har Sinai

Humanityart by Laya Crust

Ki Tissa-   Exodus (Shemot) 30:11 – 34:35

In this parsha we read about extremes of faith. Moses received the last of Gd’s directives while on Mount Sinai. He came down the mountain to the sound and spectacle of the Israelites praying to a golden calf, an idol.  In disgust and anger Moses destroyed the precious tablets Gd Himself had written. Soon after there was an interaction between Gd and Moses where Moses is almost taken to the heavens in terms of spiritual closeness. The parsha ends with another presentation of the Ten Commandments.

This is a profound narrative. The previous two Torah portions recounted Gd’s directions for building a beautiful “mishkan” (portable sanctuary). The furnishings were to be made of gold and precious wood. Bezalel, the architect, was chosen for the job and given spiritual insight in order to build an amazing sanctuary. The clothing of the Kohanim- the priests- was described in great detail. Obviously Gd was well aware that the Israelite refugees craved  extraordinary beauty to help achieve a level of awe and observance.

But there was a problem. Moses went up Mount Sinai alone and disappeared behind a column of fire and cloud. He disappeared for 40 days and 40 nights. It’s true- the people had been warned that Moses would be away for over a month. But like most people, b’nei Yisrael found it hard to believe that their aged leader survived the dramatic conflagration. So Moses came down to witness singing and dancing around the Golden Calf.

Ki Tissa sig

When Moses disappeared the people decided to create their own beautiful focus of prayer. Gd’s punishment was brutal. Three thousand men were killed for the sin.

Moses was not able to recover from this incident easily. He had devoted his heart and soul to saving b’nei Yisrael from slavery and leading them through  the desert. The demands on him were huge- leading them physically, judging them, and negotiating with Gd on their behalf. He acted as arbitrator time and again between them and Gd when they transgressed certain orders. So Moses, as righteous as he was, asked for more from Gd. He asked to see Gd.

Gd put Moses into the cleft of a rock. According to the text (Ex. 33: 22)  Gd protected Moses from seeing His face with His hand but allowed Moses to see His back. Moses was a transformed man. The experience took him to the greatest spiritual heights. Thereafter rays of light shone from his face.

This section of Torah is fascinating. It leaves us with a number of thoughts to ponder- the burden Moshe carried and the fact that he waited so long to ask Gd for greater closeness and identification. The text presents the heights of receiving the word of Gd on a mountaintop contrasted so quickly by the weakness of His people. This story underlines the fractious yet extraordinary relationship we have with Gd.

The relationship we have with Gd is quite incredible. My husband Les Lightstone mentioned an interesting point. Gd didn’t show Moshe His “face”. He showed Moshe His back. In the same way we cannot see what our future will hold or what Gd may do. We can only see what has happened, look “back ” on it, and learn from our past.

Have a Shabbat Shalom. May it be one of peace, and end of violence, and an appreciation of beauty.

Laya

 

 

 

 

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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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Va Yak’hel

Va Yikahel sig

Kings I  7: 40 – 50

King Solomon- c. 979 BCE – 927 BCE. He was known for his wisdom, wealth and poetry.

This week’s Torah reading describes the creation of holy objects for the mishkan. It describes the materials- the gold, silver, brass, precious stones, and materials for spinning fabric. The haftarah describes the crafted vessels for King Solomon’s Temple. The magnificence is described close on the heels of the sin of fashioning the golden calf. 

Isn’t it contradictory- to punish the people for creating a golden calf but then command them to make expensive objects to be used in religious observance? They loved ornamentation and beauty. They gave their gold and precious jewelry to Aaron to make an idol to replace the absent Moshe. The answer to the contradiction is in the wording.

Phrases like “wise hearted”  and “willing of heart” appear 15 times in this parsha.  

That is the difference between the mishkan and the Temple; and the golden calf which is an idol. Only individuals who were wise hearted and generous could see past the expense and glitter of the materials through to the purpose of the prayer and service to God.  Those who are wise and generous can understand and facilitate elevation of spirit.

In this parsha my two sides are recognized- the entity of artist and the entity of womanhood.  Women are often disregarded in our writings, but here  men and women are recognized equally as being wise hearted and willing hearted.

The value God places on creativity was the theme of my illustrationThe vessels are based on one of the beautiful and timeless illuminations from 1299, Perpignan, Aragon.  The watercolour wash represents imagination and spirituality. The two quotations are from the parsha:  “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)

So you artists, artisans, wood workers, poets, musicians, playwrights, weavers, silversmiths, etc. etc.- when you work with integrity and inspiration remember that it is God’s gift to you. This is your contribution to the spiritual beauty of the world.

Have Shabbat Shalom- one full of beauty and joy and of course – creative thinking.

**When you “click” on the illustration it will enlarge.

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Shabbat Shira- BeShalach

Miriam's Song

Miriam’s Song

Judges 4:4 – 5:31

Devorah (Judge and Prophet)  c.1200 BCE – 1124 BCE

This parsha relates the story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt and their crossing of the Red Sea. The image at the top of this page shows Miriam leading the Israelite women in song and celebration. They are playing  historical musical instruments with the Red Sea in the background. The piece is inspired by a miniature from “The Golden Haggadah” of 14th C. Barcelona, Spain.

The hafatarah tells of a battle waged by the Canaanites against the Israelites. The Jewish leader, Barak, goes to Devorah asking her to lead the battle with him. She accompanies him, warning Barak that if  she goes  a woman will be credited with the victory.

Devorah was a judge and prophet who led the Israelites  for 40 years. She would sit under a palm tree to meet with her people. Yael, the other major woman in the haftarah was not a Jew, but a Kenite. After the battle Sisera, a general fleeing from the Jews,  sought refuge with Yael. She gave him warm milk to drink, covered him with a blanket, then drove a tent peg through his temple, killing him. The hafatarah is unusual in that it features two women- Devorah and Yael- as the heroic characters. 

Devorah sings a song of praise mentioning herself as a mother of Israel, Barak as a leader, and Yael as a heroine. The end of the song is very evocative. Devorah describes how Sisera’s mother waits at the window for her triumphant son to return home from battle.  Devorah’s composition is haunting, “…The mother of Sisera…moaned…’Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why are the  hoofbeats of his steeds so tardy?…Have they not found booty?Have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera a booty of diverse colours,’…”. Devorah describes the scene- a mother waiting for her son- but we know he has been murdered. The description of the mother’s  expectations- that he has been successful in killing, looting and abducting the Israelites- is disquieting.

This week’s Torah reading is given the name Shabbat Shira- the Shabbat of Song. We read three songs-  Moshe’s  “Song of the Sea”,  Miriam’s song after crossing the Red Sea, and Devorah’s song of victory. Women figure prominently.  Not only do they sing and play music in these Torah and haftarah readings, they begin and end the stories. It is Miriam, her mother, and Pharaoh’s daughter who save and raise Moshe so he can grow up to lead his people to freedom.   Miriam, called a prophet in this parsha, accompanies Moshe across the Sea and completes the crossing with a celebration of song and dance.

Devorah is introduced at the beginning of the haftarah as a judge and prophet. She is instrumental in the battle against the Canaanites, and Yael defeats Sisera. At the end of the haftarah Devorah’s song commemorates the battle and honours Yael.

The stories of these biblical women all show strength and leadership. I found it very interesting that there seemed to be more paintings of Yael driving a spike through Sisera’s head than I found of Devorah or Miriam leading the women in song. One site I found with some great images of the scene from manuscript art is: https://www.blogger.com/. In the image below we see Yael greeting Sisera, driving a spike through his temple, then announcing the act to Barak.

  Maciejowski Bible, ca 1240

There was also an extraordinary photograph by Oscar Wolfman, a Toronto dancer and photographer. This  interpretation of Yael and Sisera is provocative and original.

 

I am interested to hear your views on this week’s Torah and Haftarah readings, and the welcome focus on the role of women.

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