Tag Archives: Haftarah

Yom Kippur and the Fast

art by Laya Crust

As we approach Yom Kippur- for many of us the most serious day of the year- we prepare for a day of fasting, prayer, and meditation. I expect that the significance of Yom Kippur differs for many of us. Is it a cleansing of the mind or the soul? Is it a day to take stock? Even if we can define what we think it is, can we achieve what we have defined?

The haftarah is from the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah’s message isn’t focused on the self. Rather it is focused on social justice. He says, “The fast you perform today will not make your voice heard on high.” (58:4) …”Loosen the bindings of evil, … shatter every yoke of slavery. Break your bread for the starving and bring the dispossessed home. When you see a person naked, clothe him; do not ignore your kin. And then your light will break out like the sunrise…”(58: 6,7)

This central message is that in and of itself the fast of Yom Kippur does not get God’s attention. Filling the world with justice and positive actions is the true goal of healing oneself and one’s relationship with the Creator. We can pray, we can fast, we can cry over our failings. If we don’t work to improve our actions and act in ways to improve the world round us, the tears and lack of food and water on the Day of Atonement are meaningless.

art by Laya Crust

Isaiah continues, saying, “…if you give of your soul to the starving, and answer the hunger of your souls oppressed- then your light will shine out in darkness, and your night will shine like noontide.”

There are many ways- large and small- to help those around us. Every small positive action betters the world around us and betters our selves.

Have a meaningful Yom Kippur, and let’s make the world better and brighter.

Shana Tova- May you be blessed and inscribed for a good and healthy year.

Laya

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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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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:

http://www.jpost.com/National-News/2000-year-old-golden-bell-discovered-in-Jerusalem

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,

Laya

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Shemini

art by Laya Crust

Haftarah: Samuel II :  6:1- 7:17

The Torah reading of Shemini and the accompanying Haftarah both describe two tragic events. In the parsha two of Aaron’s sons- Nadav and Avihu- die because they have offered sacred sacrifices at the wrong time. In the haftarah one of King David’s attendants, Uzzah, is afraid the Ark of the Covenant will fall. He reaches out to steady it and dies as a result of this action.  In both cases the men who died were trying to serve God but were punished because they were serving God but not within the proscribed boundaries. These incidents are examples of crossing boundaries with extreme results.

Within the haftarah we read how King David leads the ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem with great exuberant dancing and leaping. His wife Michal looks out of her window disparaging him for his less than regal behaviour. I based the painting at the top of this page on illustrations from a 19th Century book written and illustrated in Meshed, Persia. The book is a love story of Yusuf and Zulaikha  (Joseph and Potiphar’s wife) as recounted in the Koran. The Sufi poet Jami (1414- 1492) wrote a passionate love poem about them which became very popular with the public. The painting below is from a Yusuf and Zulaikha book created in  Meshed, Persia in 1853.

illustration from Jamil’s Yusuf and Zalaikha, collection of The Jewish Theological Seminary, New York

 The text is written in Persian transliterated into Hebrew letters. The text was presumably written by a Jew but it is unknown whether or not the illustrations were painted by Jews. The patterning is lovely with the interlocking swirls inspired by leaves and vines. The clothing is interesting, very different from the styles we see in Western manuscripts art of the same period.

Meshed and Isfahan were two communities in Persia that had strong artistic Jewish communities.  They produced illustrated Judeo-Persian books such as  Yusuf and Zalaikha featured above;  Ardashir-nameh -a book about Esther and Ahashveroshand  Musa-nameh which is the story of Moses.

Ardashir -Nameh, collection of the Jewish Theological Seminary,  New York

The Jews had a long history in Persia, dating back to 700 BCE.  The Jews continued to live there although their conditions varied depending on the forces in power. For instance from 1656 – 1663 there were forced conversions. The Jews, called “anusim” (forced converts), practised their Judaism in secret.

In 1839, almost 200 years later,  Muslim riots burst into the Jewish quarter of Meshed and forcibly converted the entire  community to Islam. Again the anusim lived outwardly as Muslims but continued to practice Judaism in secret. It wasn’t until after WWII Jews began to practise their faith openly.  
Jewish manuscripts and ketuboth from Isfahan, Meshed, and other Persian communities are interesting and unique.  It was fascinating to come across these beautiful illustrations and I had the wonderful experience of looking at the original books in the JTS library. They are colourful and evocative. It’s beautiful to see Jewish art done in Eastern style.
 I hope you enjoyed this little taste of Persian Jewish culture. 
Laya

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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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Lech Lecha 5777

Image result for remembrance day poppy

Remembrance Day and the remembrance poppy

Parsha- Lech Lecha (Genesis 12- 17)

Haftarah: Isaiah  40:27 – 41: 16

This year the parsha of Lech Lecha coincides with Remembrance Day/Armistice Day (11 November) in  Canada and the United Kingdom and with Toronto’s Holocaust Education Week. Toronto’s Holocaust Education Week is scheduled to correspond to the anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as the “Night of Broken Glass” (November 9-10, 1938). Kristallnacht was seen as the beginning of the Holocaust.

There are over 100 educational programs during Holocaust Education Week. This year I attended a number of lectures and movies. They related the stories of some of the heroes who sheltered, protected and fought to save  Jews and other peoples being liquidated by the Nazi regime. It was humbling and emotional to watch the stories of teens who put their lives at risk because they were horrified by Nazi actions and philosophies. People of all ages risked death to help others.

The partisans, the spies, the messengers thought not of themselves. They knew the Jews were caged in and marked for death. Those heroes were determined to fight the evil around them and save as many people as possible.

pesach-rishon-sig Jewish partisans from Vilna,      art by Laya Crust

It is fitting that “Avraham avinu” (Abraham our father) is featured in our Torah reading this week.

We have read about the chaos and evil that prompted Gd to flood the world and start a new group of people through Noah. Unfortunately it didn’t seem that the new people who populated the earth were much better. In this week’s parsha we read that Abraham saved his nephew Lot from the men of Sodom who had captured him and his family.

Gd chose Abraham to become the leader of a new nation, a nation that would model morality to the rest of the world.  He was told that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. Those descendants, through his son Isaac, were to be the models of morality in the world. .

Lech Lecha sig

 art by Laya Crust

 There are a number of qualities that separated Abraham from the people around him and indicated that he had a humanitarian and caring personality. Abraham and his wife Sarah are seen as the exemplars of hosting and caring for strangers. This is based on the narrative we will read next week when they entertain three men who, it turns out, are angels sent by Gd.  Next week we also read the story of Abraham’s argument/ negotiation with Gd. Abraham was told that Sodom and Gemorrah were two cities so corrupt and evil that Gd was going to destroy everyone in them. Abraham was horrified. He argued with Gd, begging Him to reconsider. He negotiated with Gd to the point that Gd agreed that if He could find as few as ten righteous people within the city the entire population would be saved.

Until that incident the people profiled in the Torah had, at best, thought only of themselves and had, at the worst, murdered others. This was the first time we saw someone willing to risk his life to save a relative.We see someone having the boldness to challenge Gd’s will. In addition we see the generosity towards strangers and a yearning from Abraham and Sarah for family.

Those are qualities that the heroes profiled during  Holocaust Education Week shared with Abraham. We can learn  so much from holocaust survivors and from their stories. Their strength and experiences are not to be ignored or forgotten. Unfortunately, as we all know, atrocities against humanity and genocide continue to this day. It has to be fought on many fronts in a variety of ways. We have to make ourselves aware of what is happening in the world and fight evil, fight for freedom, each in our own way.

If you are interested in watching some of the movies and programs that were showcased this past week I would suggest you look at the HEW program: http://holocaustcentre.com/HEW

You can see the list of movies they showed.. Many are available on you tube, in libraries, or in Holocaust Education Centres.

May this be a week of peace and memory.

Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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A Blessing and a Curse

Ki Tavoart by Laya Crust

Ki Tavo: Dvarim (Deuteronomy)  Ch. 26 – 29 v. 8

Haftarah:  Isaiah   Chapter 60

The Torah reading of Ki Tavo (“when you enter”) begins with a description of first fruit offerings. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and entered the promised land they were commanded to offer first fruits and tithes.  However, this parsha is better known for the blessings and curses that are listed later on.

In Ki Tavo Moses tells the people they will cross the Jordan River into Canaan. Once there the twelve tribes would be divided between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. The tribes of Simon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin were to stand upon Mount Gerizim to “witness” or hear  the blessing.  The tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun,Dan and Naftali were to stand on Mount Ebal to “witness” or hear the curse. The tribe of Levi were to stand in the middle.  The Levites would turn towards Mount Gerizim and in a loud voice announce the blessing to which the tribes would answer “Amen”. And then they would turn to Mount Ebal and announce the 12 acts that would make someone cursed, and the tribes would answer “Amen” to each of the twelve curses.

Image result for mount ebal and mount Gerizim

It must have been an amazing sight- hundreds of thousands of people standing on two mountain tops, paying close attention to and answering a tribe of Levites!

In chapter 26 instructions are given for making the special altars. Stones were to be cut  without using  metal tools. They were to be plastered and have words of the law carved upon them. An altar was set up at Mount Ebal and used for sacrificing peace offerings.

Yoni Lightstone, an Israeli tour guide who was born in Canada, shared some fascinating information with me.

 In 1980 the archaeologist Dr. Adam Zertal  and his team discovered ancient  altars in the Jordan Valley. They had been used for animal sacrifices and were enclosed by stone walls. When seen from above the site looks like a footprint.

Image result for mount ebal footprint altar     Image result for mount ebal footprint altar

Dr. Zertal and his survey team carried on their excavations until 1989. The most famous of the “footprint” sites ( sometimes called sandalim and gilgalim)  is on Mount Ebal. Dr. Zertal uncovered the  large altar, which was built of unhewn stones. He became convinced that it was the altar described in parshat Ki Tavo and later built by Joshua’s men.

It’s amazing to see these remnants of our history and to be 21st Century witnesses for events recorded in the Torah and in נ״ך  (the “writings” of the bible).

Back to the parsha…at the beginning ch.28  we are told, “Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the field”…this is followed by 15 verses of beautiful blessings and the good fortune we will receive by following Gd’s laws and commandments. Let us focus on the blessings and may we continue to be an אור לגוים (a light unto the nations) as referenced in the painting at the top of the page.

And hopefully we won’t suffer the horrible consequences described in the subsequent 54 chapters due to non-compliance!

You can seeImage result for mount ebal and mount Gerizim some of the archaeological “footprint sites” in Yehuda and Shomron.  Unfortunately some are in danger of being destroyed because they are largely unprotected. However they can still be viewed.

If you want more information and photographs look up  “footprint sites, Israel”.  According to Wikipedia, “Israelis wishing to visit the site today must coordinate their activity with COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry unit which manages civilian affairs for Palestinians in the West Bank and liaises with Gaza, since Mount Ebal is located in what is now designated as Area B. In addition, Israeli citizens visiting the area are required to be escorted by IDF soldiers, to ensure their personal safety. The Shomron Regional Council, as of July 2016, was trying to promote the area as a tourist destination.[23]

If you need a tour guide while in Israel check out http://yonitours.com/

 

Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

 

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