Tag Archives: God

Shabbat Shira – it’s music

Halleluhu 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 (“La Marseillaise”and “HaTikvah”). All our secrets can be unearthed (“Killing Me Softly”) and raw emotion can be exposed (Stravinsky’s compositions).

Music 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. That was when I found out that there is a close relationship between science and music.

Miriam’s Song 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 handheld 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.

Devorah the Prophetess by Laya Crust
(inspired by a painting from a 17th C. Judeo-Persian book)

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 won a battle against Sisera’s Army. A woman named Yael completed the defeat by killing Sisera. Devorah then sang a song of praise about the triumph and Yael’s conquest.

 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. The painting at the top of the page shows biblical instruments mentioned in “psoukei d’zimra”, prayers we say in the morning.

On this Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song, pay attention to the songs and music composed by Moses, Miriam, and the prophetess-judge Devorah. Enjoy the art, the sounds, and the music around you and have a Shabbat Shalom.

Laya

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Reunited

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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Picnic in Dothan

VaYeishev SigIllustration by Laya Crust

The last number of weeks we have been reading about Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel. Jacob was the proud father of 12 sons and one daughter, and moved his family from Padan Aram back to Canaan. In this week’s Torah reading we find out more about the dynmics in Jacob’s family.

Jacob left his father-in-law’s home a wealthy man with huge herds of cattle and flocks of goats. The sons were shepherds. Joseph was favoured by Jacob, and was given a beautiful coat. While his brothers were out iin the hot fields for days at a time Joseph stayed at home with their father. There was a lot of jealousy for more than one reason.

At one point in this week’s Torah portion Joseph was sent out to the fields to look for his brothers and report back to Yaakov (Jacob). They had gone to Shechem with their flocks, and then traveled further.  Joseph went to Shechem but couldn’t find them. A man- we suspect that he was an angel- redirected Joseph to Dothan. The brothers saw him approaching. To paraphrase Maurice Sendak, they “made mischief of one kind and another”.  They threw Joseph into a pit and gave him to Midianite traders who then sold him to Ishmaelite traders.

I’ve often wondered about the brothers out in the fields, sleeping and eating there. What did they have for lunch? What were they eating as Joseph approached? Many Israeli cookbooks feature eggplant recipes, and I thought- could the brothers have enjoyed something like roasted eggplant?

Roasted Eggplant with Silan and Tomatoes

P1120421

Ingredients:

1 medium eggplant                                                        1 – 2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 Tbsp. raw tehina                                                          1- 2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. yogurt                                                                   sprigs of fresh parsley, cilantro or hyssop leaves

1 tomato halved, cored, and diced                            1 crushed clove of garlic

1Tbsp. silan or dark honey                                           sea salt and crushed pepper to taste

Bake the eggplant. You can roast it over a bonfire, a gas flame or, as I have here, an electric element. It gives a wonderful smokey flavour.
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Slice in half and drizzle with tehina, yogurt, silan (or honey), olive oil and lemon juice. 
P1120437Season with salt, pepper, and garlic. Garnish with parsley, cilantro or hyssop.

The roasted eggplant is delicious with warmed or toasted pita and a good glass of beer.  (P.S. To be honest, the brothers wouldn’t have been eating eggplant or tomato. Eggplants are indigenous to India and tomatoes to South America. But, they are popular in Israel now! )

Enjoy, and Shabbat Shalom.

Laya

This illustration for the parsha VaYeishev is based on a beautiful panel from the Sarajevo Haggadah. The haggadah was created in 1350 Spain, and has beautiful paintings illustrating the Bible from the story of Creation to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. This particular image shows the brothers selling Joseph to Ishmaelite traders. Joseph is portrayed as a young boy begging his brothers not to sell him.

I have created pictures for each haftarah and parsha of the year and am currently working on a book, showcasing each painting. Stay tuned for updates! Please always feel free to comment. Pass the posting to your friends. If you like my blog sign up and “Follow” me. You will receive the current blog by e-mail.

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Conflict and Strength – VaYishlach


P1140396
art by Laya Crust

Va Yeishev: Bereshit (Genesis) 32:4 – 36

Haftarah:  The Book of Ovadiah

This week’s Torah reading takes us on Yaakov’s (Jacob’s) journey through the country of Edom towards Bethlehem and Efrat. He was a successful man. He had huge flocks, 2 wives, 2 concubines, 11 sons and a daughter, yet he was nervous. He knew he had to travel through his brother’s landholdings but did not want to face his twin because of  their unresolved history. Would Esau be angry at Yaakov? Did Esau still want to kill his brother?

The narrative begins with Yaakov sending messengers to his brother, announcing his approach. The report came back that Esau was coming to meet Yaakov, accompanied by 400 men.  Yaakov, frightened and anxious, sent his messengers ahead with many expensive gifts. He sent his family to the far side of the Jabok River for safety and he himself slept on the closer side of the river, possibly to be on the alert for any attack.

A man came and wrestled with him through the night. Finally at dawn the stranger told Yaakov to let him go. Yaakov demanded that the man give him a blessing and the blessing came in the guise of a new name- Yisrael, “because you have striven with beings Divine and human” (כּי שׂרית עם אלהים ועם אנשׁים).

Image result for jacob and the angel golden haggadah
Golden Haggadah, c. 1320

Who was the man Yaakov fought with? An angel sent by Gd? An adversarial angel representing Esau? Or was it an inner battle that Yaakov was struggling within himself? At the end of the battle Yaakov had a new name and an injury that stayed with him the rest of his life.

Yaakov’s name has many meanings. It can mean follow, heel, or deceive. When he was born Yaakov followed his brother into the world, holding on to Esau’s heel. As they grew up he deceived his brother and his father, and in turn was deceived by his father-in-law.

He left Canaan to avoid confrontation with Esau and to seek a wife. Many years later he left Lavan’s estate in the night, also hoping to avoid confrontation. He may have been a successful man in terms of his career but he was afraid to face the consequences of his actions.

Yaakov couldn’t avoid wrestling with the angel and he refused to give up or give in to the aggressor. He was given a name that represented his strength and position.

Image result for jacob and the angel
by Gustave Dore, 1855

The night of struggle heralded a new beginning. He faced himself and the enemy across from him. That incident strengthened him in his role as leader of a nation. He could carry on and deal with whatever life put in front of him. The struggle with the immortal being took place between sending a message to Esau and actually facing him. Maybe the fight itself influenced Yaakov’s interaction with Esau.

These days we are facing anti-Semitic attacks- verbal and physical, hurtful and deadly, overt and covert, on a frightening level. We are witnessing anti-Semitism from the British elections to UN resolutions, to terrorist attacks in kosher grocery stores and in synagogues, and unconscionable displays of hatred against Israel and Jews on campuses. Like Yaakov we have to face our fears rather than run away from them. Strength as a people and a nation is the only way to combat the hatred.

Like Yaakov let’s struggle with the adversaries and stand firm for what is right. May we see peace soon,

Sabbat Shalom,

Laya

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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,

Laya

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Va Yak’hel

Inspired 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 had been requested. The magnificence is described close on the heels of the sin of fashioning the golden calf. 

Wasn’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? The Israelites 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 this seeming contradiction is in the wording.

Phrases like “wise hearted”  and “willing of heart” appear 15 times in this parsha. Only individuals who were wise hearted and generous 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 elevation of spirit.

Beauty feeds the soul and God understood- and understands this. This parsha acknowledges the need the Israelites had for something beautiful and tangible to help them find comfort and help the on their journey.

Image result for 1299, Perpignan manuscript illumination

1299, Perpignan

Bezalel was chosen to be head architect and designer. He was filled with the spirit of God, with creativity, with understanding and with the knowledge of all kinds of craft. His aide, Oholiab, was also filled with wisdom of heart. Men and women were all invited to contribute and participate in the building of the mishkan and all the objects within it as long as they were generous of heart.

The value God places on creativity is the theme of my illustrationThe vessels are the brass pieces used in the mishkan. The painting is based on a  beautiful and timeless illumination from 1299, Perpignan, Aragon.  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) The sparkling watercolour wash behind the quotations represents imagination and spirituality.

So, artists, artisans, wood workers, poets, musicians, playwrights, weavers, silversmiths,  authors, painters, dancers, photographers and potters, 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. Hoping for peace and equality in the world,

Laya

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