Tag Archives: Ezekiel


Joseph by Laya Crust


Parsha: VaYigash                                   Haftarah:   Ezekiel 37: 15-28

For the last number of weeks we have been reading about our ancestors,  Jacob’s children. More specifically, we have read about Joseph’s trajectory from favoured son at home, to being a slave, and then to becoming viceroy of all Egypt. By the time he was thirty years old Joseph ruled Egypt. He ran the finances and oversaw all of Egypt’s policies.

In this week’s Torah reading Joseph’s brothers still did not know that the leader they were speaking to was their brother. This parsha begins just after Benjamin had been “framed”. Joseph’s personal silver chalice had been “planted” in Benjamin’s belongings, and the Israelite brothers had been told that Benjamin would become enslaved to Pharaoh’s court as payment for the infraction. Joseph was playing a game with his brothers. 

English: Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brot...Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brother, c. 1896-1902
 by James Jacques Joseph Tissot    (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Judah, the same brother who decades earlier had suggested that Joseph be sold rather than be killed, stepped forward and begged for understanding. He poured out his heart, recounting the family history to the great Egyptian before him. Judah hoped that by telling this leader of his father’s frailty the leader may accept Judah as a slave rather than take his youngest brother.

Joseph could carry on the charade no longer. He cleared all the Egyptian attendants from the room. The text says, “And no man stood with him while Yosef made himself known to his brothers. And his voice cried out with weeping, and Egypt heard…” Joseph forgave his brothers. He feasted with them, gave them gifts of clothing and food, and convinced them to return to Egypt and live in comfort. He told them how to get land so they could raise cattle.

Although the story had begun many years earlier with fraternal jealousy, the brothers reunited and rebuilt their family. This was contrary to the patterns we had seen before. Cain killed his brother Abel. Isaac grew up without his brother Ishmael.  Jacob and Esau never truly reconciled. In this story we see Joseph and Judah build the unified family which would become a nation.

VaYigashReunited  by Laya Crust

The haftarah features the prophet Ezekiel. He lived from around 622 BCE – 570 BCE and was among the 8,000 Jews exiled to Babylonia. God told Ezekiel to take two beautiful branches, carve phrases on them and display them. One branch represented the nation of Judah and the other represented Joseph’s lineage, the nation of Ephraim. Ezekiel wrote phrases about the two Jewish nations onto the branches and held the two branches together. The action was to indicate that just as the branches could be rejoined, the Israelites could be reunited and grow together as one unified nation. 

beit horon passagephoto by Yoni Lightstone, tour guide

Ezekiel also told them that God would gather them from among all the nations and bring them back  to their own land. The text reads, “Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, whither they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them to their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel.” (v.  21, 22)

Both readings are about unity. In every era and in every generation there are disagreements between different sectors of Jews. We are stronger as a united people. I hope we can learn to discuss, consider, and be united for the benefit of all.

The painting “Reunited”, showing Ezekiel writing on a branch,  is one of the images in my forthcoming book, “ILLUMINATIONS: The Art of Haftarah”. Stay tuned for more information!

Shabbat Shalom,  Laya

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Pomegranates and Bells

Emor sigart by Laya Crust

Torah reading: Emor    (Exodus: 23:1 – 24: 23)

Haftarah: Ezekiel 44: 15-31

The painting for this reading shows the Kohen Gadol in his robes, two ancient artifacts from Temple times, and text from the haftarah describing the clothing of the kohanim. The full description of the priestly clothing can be found in the Book of Exodus,  ch. 28: 2- 38. The detailed description is prefaced with the remark, “And you shall speak to the wise-hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to sanctify him…”  (I always love the way HaShem has imbued artists and crafts people with wisdom and wise-heartedness.)

The ivory pomegranate is famous.


Made of hippopotamus bone, it appeared in the antiquities market s in 1977, and was bought by the Israel Museum in 1988 for $55,000. It has an ancient inscription on it reading, “(Belonging) to the House of “Yahweh”, Holy to the Priests.”  There has been some controversy as to whether the ivory pomegranate is a fake or not, but the most recent opinion seems to advocate its authenticity. If you want to read an interesting article about it go to:  http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/scholars-study/is-the-ivory-pomegranate-a-forgery-or-authentic/

The gold bell I included in the painting was found in Jerusalem, July 2011,  while I was designing this haftarah illustration.

The tiny bell was found in an ancient drainage channel under Robinson’s Arch, right by the Western Wall. In the description of the priest’s robes it says, “And upon the skirts of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the skirts thereof; and bells of gold between them round about.” (Exodus 28: 34,36). So – this tiny bell was probably sewn onto the hem of the priest’s robe, alternating with tiny pomegranates. If you want to read more about the find you can go to:


Concerning the haftarah, Ezekiel was among the 8,000 Jews exiled to Babylonia. He criticized the behaviour of the Jewish people, and also described the duties of the kohanim. In this way he bolstered the confidence of the exiled children of Israel, convincing them that they would return to Israel.

The haftarah was a promise from God. He said, “they shall enter My sanctuary and they shall come near to My table…” It reminded the Jews that they were not forgotten, and they would one day return to Jerusalem and to the Temple.

If you click on the illustration it will enlarge. Please share this blog post with your friends and family on Facebook, your students at school, or your buddies at synagogue. We love to hear from you if you have a comment. And if you want to get my post each week you can click on “Follow” on the right hand side of the post.

All the best,



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Acharei Mot

art by Laya Crust

Haftarah- Ezekiel 22: 11 – 19

The Torah reading this week deals with strict rules for religious and moral behaviour. One of the abhorrent practices mentioned is performing child sacrifice to the god Molech. Different aspects of blood are discussed- blood that the cohanim sprinkle during the sacrifice ceremony, blood that is shed during forbidden sacrificial rites, and the prohibition of eating blood. “You will not eat the blood of any flesh for the life of all flesh is its blood.” (Leviticus 17:14)  It is a fierce section of the Torah.

The haftarah is equally fierce. The prophet Ezekiel starts off condemning the children of Israel. Ezekiel communicates that God spoke to him and said, “…will you judge the bloody city? Then cause her to know all her abhorrent deeds…You stand guilty in the blood you have shed…” (Ezekiel 22: 2, 4)

The illustration is based on a painting  called “Allegory 2” by the great American social realist Ben Shahn.  Shahn was eight years old when his family immigrated from Lithuania to the United States. He apprenticed as a lithographer and studied biology and art. He was a social realist , very concerned with human rights, discrimination, poverty and social justice. Throughout his career he did  number of works integrating Jewish text and liturgy. Among other projects he illustrated a haggadah, wrote out and illustrated the Book of Ecclesiastes, and wrote “The Alphabet of Creation”.

“Allegory 2” shows a man huddled in fear, trying to escape God’s accusing hand. Painted in 1953, during the McCarthy era, the American “Establishment” was petrified of Communism. High profile individuals, many of them artists, actors, writers, film makers, and Jews were professionally destroyed after being accused of having communist affiliations. Shahn did not agree with this flagrant abuse of power which branded creativity and human rights as evil communism. Some think that Shahn’s use of red in this painting was his criticism of America coming down against the “Red Commies”. In this illustration God is berating those in power (like McCarthy and his cronies) for abusing power.

The haftarah “Acharei Mot” is frightening in its list of punishments and it is rarely read. Usually the week this reading appears it is paired with another section which is chanted instead.

It is spring- a time of blossoms, new growth, beauty and beginnings. Let’s take advantage and do good things in the world around us!

B’vracha, Laya


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Temple Visions

Titzavehart by Laya Crust


Haftarah: Ezekiel 43: 10 – 27

Ezekiel, the son of a Cohen, was among the 8,000 Jews to be exiled to Babylon in 597 BCE.

In the Book of Ezekiel, Chapter 40, Ezekiel writes that he is carried by Gd to the land of Israel. He is set on top of a very high mountain where he sees something like the structure of a city. A man, seemingly made of brass, proceeds to give Ezekiel a very thorough tour of the future Temple.  The descriptions of the restored Temple of Jerusalem continue for over 3 chapters. There are detailed descriptions of each element to be measured and positioned.

The haftarah begins with the words, “Thou, son of man, describe the house to the house of Israel that they may be ashamed of their iniquities…And if they are ashamed of all that they have done make known to them the form of the house…”

The Jews were miserable. It was the 25th year of the exile to Babylon. Gd wanted to give them hope but made it clear that the Temple  would only be restored if the Jews were repentant and corrected their behaviours and observances.

Right now, in February 2016, the debate about who can pray at the Kotel (the Western Wall) and how they can pray has ignited again.

Under Jordanian rule Jews were forbidden to pray at the Western Wall from 1948 until 1967. When Israeli forces liberated Jerusalem in 1967 Jews were once again free to go to the Kotel. In the last few years there have been debates and protests about the type of prayer allowed at the Kotel. Men and women together? Apart? Women reading Torah? Permissible? How? Where? When? Why?

The temple Mount is the holiest place of Judaism. The Kotel is the only remaining wall of the Temple’s encompassing structure. This remnant of the Temple should be a place of acceptance and harmony. It should be a place where all Jews can speak to Gd in their own way, unfettered by divisive, alienating rules.

I hope that each of us will be able to look straight up to the heavens and talk to Gd instead of expending our energies looking sideways at what others are doing. Maybe then peace, and the Third Temple, will appear.

I based my drawing at the top of this post on a rendering of Solomon’s Temple from an illumination in an early 12th C. German manuscript. The manuscript is currently in Vienna, Austria in the National Library. The floor plan shows the position of the ritual objects in the Temple.

May you have a Shabbat Shalom- one of peace, understanding and warmth.


Rabbi Cardozo wrote an interesting piece on the subject of prayer at the Western Wall.  http://www.cardozoacademy.info/thoughts-to-ponder/shut-down-the-kotel/



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VaYigash 5776

joeyart by Laya Crust

Haftarah: Ezekiel      37 15-28

Ezekiel (prophet) – c.622 BCE – 570 BCE.

The colourful story of Joseph and his brothers reaches its climax in this week’s parsha, VaYigash.  The brothers and their father, Jacob, had survived the famine in the land of Canaan but could not survive much longer. For the second time the brothers  traveled to Egypt to get food.  They went with troubled hearts. They had been warned not to come unless they brought their youngest brother, Benjamin. Their fears of something bad happening to Benjamin were realized when Benjamin was “framed” by Joseph’s attendants.

The beauty/ pathos of the story unfolds from here.  Judah stepped forward (VaYigash) and begged for understanding. He poured out his heart, recounting the family history to this great Egyptian before him. Judah hoped that by telling this leader of his father’s frailty the leader may accept Judah as a slave rather than take his youngest brother.

Joseph could carry on the charade no longer. He cleared all the Egyptian attendants from the room. It says, ” And no man stood with him while Yosef made himself known to his brothers. And his voice cried out with weeping, and Egypt heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard.”

Joseph forgave his brothers and the family was reunited. Yaakov/ Israel saw his beloved son and his mourning was alleviated. The brothers and their families traveled to Egypt and settled in Goshen where they lived comfortable lives. This message of reconciliation is echoed in the haftarah.

VaYigashart by Laya Crust

The haftarah’s message is unity as expressed on two branches.  One branch represented the nation of Judah and the other represented  Joseph’s lineage. Ezekiel wrote the following phrases onto the branches: “For Judah and for the children of Israel his companions” on one, and “For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and of all the house of Israel his companions” on the other. The background of my painting is made up of significant phrase from Ezekiel’s speech. You can click on the image to enlarge it.

Ezekiel then held the two branches up in front of a gathering of the exiled Jews. He showed that the two groups could be reunited and grow together as one unified nation.

It is interesting how many ways Jews can be looked at in order to create divisions- countries of origin  (Moroccan? German? Swiss? Canadian?) or  Sepharadi vs Ashkenazi or orthodox/ conservative/ reform/ resconstructionist/ humanist or  black kippah vs crocheted kippah vs kippah on an angle or politically right vs politically left.

Just as in the story of Vayigash and in Ezekiel’s pronouncement, we are all B’nei Yisrael- Jews. We can be united and in that way be true to ourselves and stronger as a nation. The haftarah says, “Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the nations…and bring them to their own land.” (v.21). We see it happening today. Jews from all over the world are coming to Israel. But- you don’t have to be Jewish! Come to Israel! Visit! It’s beautiful there.

May we be one people working for peace and improvement of the world.

Enjoy this holiday time,



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Shavuot and Visions

First Day of Shavo'otart by Laya Crust

Ezekiel ch 1, 3:12

The prophet Ezekiel was unique (to say the least) with incredible visions and amazing conversations with Gd.

On the second day of the holiday of Shavuot we read a section where the prophet Ezekiel describes a fantastic vision. “And I looked, and behold, a storm wind came out of the north, a great and a fire flaring up, and a brightness was about it. And out of the midst of it, as it were, the colour of electrum, out of the midst of the fire.”

Wow! What a vision! After that Ezekiel describes  four living creatures, each of whom have four heads. One is a man, one a lion, one an ox, and the fourth an eagle. These beings not only have faces, legs, hooves and wings, they propel themselves on elaborate wheels within wheels.

The holiday of Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Ezekiel’s vision parallels  the scene on Mount Sinai.

P1110570art by Laya Crust

It was a cataclysmic event with flames encircling the mountain, and lightning and thunder in the air. The description of  “Revelation” doesn’t include a four headed being, but that description encompasses different types of strength and humanity.  This text gives a different perspective to the wonder and amazement the people at the mountain must have experienced that day.

The text is so fabulous that it has also been immortalized in song.  The link below is a real treat- a rendition of “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel” by the Charioteers. They sang together from 1930 – 1957. I’ve also added a link to the same tune sung by Woodie Guthrie.

Mix – The Charioteers – Ezekiel Saw The Wheel by YouTube

Mix – Ezekiel saw The Wheel – Woody Guthrie

The book of Ezekiel is a really exciting one. Give yourself a treat and read it this weekend. And enjoy your Shavuot.

Laya Crust

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VaEira sigArt by Laya Crust

Ezekiel  28:25 – 29:21

Ezekiel was a prophet who was exiled to Babylon around 597 BCE. It was Ezekiel who had the Vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones and who put two branches together to indicate that the two kingdoms of Judah and Joseph (the Northern Kingdom of Israel) would be united. His leadership and message of personal responsibility helped keep the Jews unified while in exile.

In this haftarah Ezekiel, living in Chaldea, warned the Jews not to ally themselves with Egypt against Babylon. Under Nebuchadnezzar’s rule it seemed that the Jews were allowed their own houses and lands and their own internal government. Ezekiel wanted to ensure that the Jews didn’t forget God and their traditions. But he did not want them to ally themselves with the Egyptians- because the Egyptians would be slaughtered.

The haftarah painting above parallels the parsha. In the parsha Moses brought down plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Blood, frogs, lice, flies, cattle disease and hail all “attacked” the Egyptians.  In the haftarah Ezekiel likened Pharaoh to a “tanin” (alligator? dragon?). God said He would pull the “tanin” out of the Nile with hooks. The land of Egypt would become desolate as would the Nile. Rather than Egypt conquer Babylon, Babylon would decimate Egypt.

The haftarah and parsha are each about enslavement and the Jewish people not being in their own land. Jacob and his family went down to Egypt looking for a better life and ended up enslaved. The Jews in Israel were exiled to Babylon where they made as good a life as possible yet longed for  return to Jerusalem.

I just came back from New York where I saw industry and  construction all around me.



photographs by Laya Crust

The symmetry of the structures and the patterns they create can be hypnotic. Everything seems busy- even the scaffolding. For centuries people have been leaving other countries and continents for New York. Sometimes people go because they want an easier life, a more affluent life, or an adventure. Others are fleeing persecution, discrimination or poverty. Just as in our Torah and haftarah reading, it’s easy to slide into a new environment and begin leaving our religion and beliefs behind. Fortunately there are always special individuals who remind us of our roots and ideals.20150112_195911[1]

This is an Aaron HaKodesh door designed for a family that lives in Manhattan. The Aaron HaKodesh was built to hold an ancient  Torah scroll given by his grandfather to the father when he became BarMitzvah. I designed this door to express the fdamily’s joy of Judaism. The way they express their joy is through a warmth and openess to others, Jewish observance, love of Israel and kindness to those around them. These actions ensure Judaism continues- one of this week’s Torah themes. Our readings this week are about conviction, continuity in the face of difficulty, and  faith in God and His promise to never abandon us.

You can enlarge the images by clicking on them. Have a Shabbat Shalom, and enjoy this week’s exciting adventures in the Torah!


Artisit in Residence for https://pomegranateguild.wordpress.com/

Visit my website at http://layacrust.com/

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