Tag Archives: history

Sarah and the Divine

VaYeira Sig
art by Laya Crust

Vayeira- Genesis 18 – 22 Haftarah- Kings II, ch. 4: 1-37

This week’s parsha is a series of at least five incredible narratives, each worthy of detailed study. Today I will focus on Sarah, the woman chosen to be the mother of the Jewish nation.

When Gd told Avraham to leave his homeland and that he would become the father of a great people, he left Ur Kasdim, taking his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot with him. Sarai was 75 years old when she and her husband left their home for an unknown destination. She was described as beautiful- so beautiful that King Avimelech took her to his harem. We may wonder how a woman of 75 can be that appealing, but some have an ageless beauty that is enhanced by grace and wisdom.

etching by Laya Crust

Gd chose Sarai to be the mother of His nation. Her name was changed from Sarai to Sarah at the same time Avram’s name was changed to Avraham. Twice Gd protected her from the leaders of alien nations- first from the pharaoh of Egypt and later from Abimelech, the king of Gerar. After Sarah suggested that her handmaiden bear a son to Avraham Gd made it clear to Avraham that Sarah was to be the matriarch of the nation and that no other woman would fulfill that role.

In this parsha, the Lord told Avraham that he and the men in his group would need to be circumcised. Then Gd had told Avraham that he and Sarah would have a child together. It seemed so ridiculous Avraham fell on his face and laughed. Gd declared that the baby would be called Isaac, after the Hebrew word “to laugh”.

The circumcision was, and is, the sign of the covenant between Gd and the Jewish people. Sarah did not become pregnant until after Abraham was circumcised. As a dear friend pointed out, the covenant between Jews and Gd had to be initiated before the line of the Jewish people was created.

Abraham and Sarah by Marc Chagall

Like Avraham, Sarah laughed when she heard she was to bear a child at the age of 90. When Sarah laughed “within herself” Gd asked Avraham why she had laughed. The question was actually two questions. Did Avraham not tell his wife and partner that she was to become pregnant and have a child? Is that why she was incredulous and laughed? The second question was – why did Avraham and Sarah still not believe that Gd can make unusual and unexpected things happen? The Torah and commentaries seem to criticize Sarah for laughing when she heard the news, but the rebuke wasn’t just to Sarah. It was to Abraham as well. That whole incident can be seen as a larger conversation Gd had with Sarah, the future matriarch.

There are many criticism of Sarah and her attitude towards Hagar. We can’t judge. Life and community were very different in biblical times. Recognizing her infertility Sarah offered her handmaid Hagar to her husband, hoping that way he would become a father. Recognizing Hagar’s behaviour Sarah handled the situation as she thought she had to. When the three angels appeared at their tent in the desert Avraham and Sarah worked as a team to create a feast for them. It appears that Sarah ran her community with wisdom and level-headedness.

May we learn from Sarah’s strengths and have wisdom in dealing with our challenges.

Have a Shabbat Shalom, Laya

The illustration at the top of the page is from the haftarah of VaYeira. It shows the prophet Elisha with the Shunammite woman who had a room built for him for when he visited Shunem. This woman, like Sarah, was childless for many years. Her son, like Isaac, almost died. Unlike Sarah, she was able to watch her son grow to adulthood.

The print is from my collection of 82 paintings of the haftarot. The collection is currently on display at Beth Tedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. The address is 1500 Bathurst Street. The exhibit is free and open to the public 7 days a week, 9 a.m. through 9 p.m. I am currently working on a book focusing on the haftarah paintings and their meanings.

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Mattot- Masei

Jeremiah’s Despair Laya Crust

It is the height of summer and we are observing a period of mourning leading up to Tisha B’Av, the day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples. There are three “Haftarahs of Rebuke” which are read in the three weeks preceding Tisha B’Av, all words from the prophet Jeremiah. On this week’s Shabbat we read two parshas: Mattot and Masei.

Jeremiah was a prophet whose life spanned the reign of 5 kings. It was a tumultuous time in Jewish history, a time of idolatry and war. Jeremiah warned B’nei Yisrael that they were going to be punished for their idol worship, . At the end of his life, in 586 BCE, Judah was destroyed and Jerusalem was sacked by Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah, who was reviled for his messages, escaped to Egypt but the majority of Jews were exiled to Babylon. The illustration I created for Mattot is an homage to Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”. I have drawn Jeremiah looking out of his window watching his beloved city’s destruction.

The path the Israelites followed from Egypt to Canaan is described in great detail in the first 49 verses of the parsha Masei. It was a long and arduous journey for the Israelites and they strayed from Gd’s lessons throughout.

The Perilous Desert Journey Laya Crust

In the haftarah of Masei the prophet Jeremiah reminded B’nei Yisrael how Gd led His people “out of the land of Egypt, through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and pits, through a land of drought and of the shadow of death…. And into a land of fruitful fields…” (ch.2: 6,7). 

There is negativity and sadness in the haftarah. Jeremiah reminded B’nei Israel of the difficult trek through the desert and how Gd protected and took them to the Promised Land. Then Jeremiah describes B’nei Yisrael’s sins. At the very end of the haftarah Jeremiah mitigates the message slightly by telling the people that if they return to Gd “in sincerity, justice and righteousness nations will bless themselves by you and praise themselves by you.”

The word “איך”- How? is used twice in the haftarah asking how Israel can have changed so much, turning to sinning and base behaviour. This reminds us of the word “איכה”- the Hebrew word for “Lamentations”. On the Ninth of Av we will read the book of “Lamentations”.

Messages from the haftarah still resonate today. We are blessed to be in the “Land of Milk and Honey”, creating, cultivating, and helping nations in need. During these three weeks Jews all over the world will read Jeremiah’s words and hopefully try to improve themselves and society around them. Have a good week, and let’s look forward to a time of jubilation and more positive growth.

The artwork featured in this and most of my blogs is part of a collection of art created to illustrate the haftarahs read throughout the year. Currently the collection is on exhibit at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. It is a great exhibit of my work and will be on display to the end of December, 2019. And, to let you know, I am currently working on a book of the art pieces and accompanying commentary. Exciting!!!! Have a Shabbat Shalom, Laya

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Marriages and Weddings

Jacob’s Dream  by Laya Crust

This week’s parsha, VaYeitze, tells the story of Jacob’s time in Padan Aram from start to finish. He left his family in Be’er Sheva to escape his bother’s wrath and seek a wife among his mother’s family. When he decided to return home he had two wives, two concubines, twelve sons and one daughter plus cattle and wealth.

When Jacob arrived in Padan Aram he saw his cousin Rachel at a well and fell in love with her. He promised to work for seven years for her hand in marriage. He was tricked by his Uncle Lavan and the morning after the wedding he discovered he had married Leah, the older sister. So Jacob worked an additional seven years in order to marry his beloved Rachel.

In this story we see the foundation of certain elements of the traditional Jewish marriage ceremony. Before the wedding ceremony under the chuppah we have the “Bedecken” when the groom sees the bride’s face before lowering her veil. This is to ensure the groom marries his chosen bride, and avoids the trick played on Jacob. As in ancient times there is an exchange of goods between the two families. The bride brings a dowry and the groom gives something of value to the bride’s family. In Isaac’s case his proxy, Eliezer, gave precious silver and gold and “raiment” to Rebecca’s family. In Jacob’s case he didn’t have valuables so he pledged to work for seven years for each of his brides.

Florentine Ketubah by Laya Crust

Over 2,000 years ago Jews began to use a written marriage contract. The ketubah, meaning “writ” in Hebrew, records the date and place of the wedding, the names of the bride and groom, and the financial obligations of each family. This legal document was the first legal document in history designed to ensure financial stability for a married woman.

Throughout time couples started to get decorated ketubahs. Now it is very popular for a couple to commission an original, hand written and painted ketubah, or to buy a poster-type ketubah on line.

I’ve been making ketubahs for decades and have designed and painted over 600 of them! The ketubah in still written in the ancient language of Aramaic and still mentions dowry and the husband’s responsibilities towards his wife and her well being.  Some traditions use actual dollar values and some ceremonially use ancient currencies.

 

Joy by Laya Crust ——- Tova and Cliel’s Stairway to Heaven by Laya Crust

Leah and Rachel, Jacob’s wives, didn’t have a ketubah. They were fortunate to be married to a man who took care of them and their children, honoured his obligations to his father-in-law, and was able to feed and shelter his large family. It’s true- there were jealousies and difficulties, but Jacob did take care of his own.

I love making ketubahs- discovering a couple’s dreams and preferences. If you want to see more examples of my ketubahs, maybe even order one or commission your own, take a look at my website: www.layacrust.com. 

Make sure to read this week’s Torah portion and enjoy. It’s the beginning of a world altering family saga! Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

 

 

 

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Bill Glied z”l

Image result for bill gliedBill Glied z”l,  1930 -2018

We are reading the first stories in the Book of Genesis, ספר בראשית.  After creating the world and creating humankind with the gift of free will, God saw that free will wasn’t a trait that always would be used for good purposes. Rather than using their choices for beauty and good, some of humanity showed themselves to be envious, greedy, violent,  and, well murderous. God found a man, Abraham, who had integrity and searched for truth. Together Abraham and his wife Sarah were chosen to begin a new nation, God’s chosen people the Jews.

In the Torah readings of “Lech Lecha” and VaYeira” we read some of the challenges that God put before Abraham. One of those tests was “Akeidat Yitzchak” the binding and threatened sacrifice of Abraham and Sarah’s precious son Isaac. There were personal repercussions, but Abraham retained his faith in God and his descendants are the Jewish people of today.

Bill Glied wrote the following poem which he read when he led groups to the concentration camp of Majdanek:

Bill Glied z”l was a wonderful man of faith. He was born  in 1930 in the town of Subotica, Serbia. In April of 1944 Hungarian gendarmes rounded up more than 400,000 Jews. Bill Glied and his family were among those Jews and were transported in cattle cars to Aushcwitz. His mother and 8 year old sister were killed immediately. He and his father were sent to a camp in Bavaria where they worked for 12 hours a day to build an underground airplane factory. Bill survived the camps and the war but tragically his father died of typhoid fever eight days before U.S. troops liberated the camp in 1945.

Bill was not a bitter man and devoted a great deal of time to teaching youth about the Holocaust, and making sure that the tragedy will not be forgotten.

He wrote a beautiful poem, “I AM A JEW” as a wake-up call and an inspiration to others.”I AM A JEW” is a lesson, a guideline, for what we, as Jews, are. It describes the best that we can strive for. It outlines the traits we should cultivate and can achieve.

I was honoured to be asked to write out the poem,  With the family’s permission I am reprinting it and showing the illustrated poem.

Bill Glied came to Canada in 1947,  and married Marika Nyiri in 1959. They had three daughters, Sherry, Tammy, and Michelle, eight grandchildren, and a great grandchild. His family carries on Bill’s love of the world and let’s all ensure that his name will be remembered as a blessing.

Have a Shabbat Shalom,   Laya

bill glied_20181025_0001 (3)

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Days of Awe 5777

ShabbatShuva sigart by laya Crust

Haftarah:   Hosea 14:2-10,   Micah 7:18-20,   Joel 2:15-27

This year I was at my wonderful little shul where we have the most beautiful tefillot (prayers) imaginable. Every year we are treated to the niggunim  (tunes) and heartfelt prayers that come from the souls of two wonderful brothers. Aaron and Jeremy have been leading us in prayers and shofar blowing for many years.

I based my painting at the top of the page on a piece by the American Artist Ben Shahn. His life was dedicated to human rights and social action, and he expressed that through his prolific art works. 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. I love the music and the movement he brings to his compositions.

Image result for ben shahn paintingsImage result for ben shahn poster

Shahn’s work communicates the struggle of the human spirit to succeed, not just to survive. He paints individuals and groups overcoming the destruction of their homes and their belongings…but continuing in spite of it. He represents those who are trodden upon but rise up in spite of it. 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.

I take it back to the painting at the beginning of this post. The sound of the shofar is the sound of remembrance. It is the sound of Gd’s “still, small voice” that resides inside us. It is the sound of faith and of fighting for what is right. We all- regardless of race or colour- can hear the still, small voice, and carry it with us.

 Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are “The Days of Awe”.  They are a gift that we as Jews were given in order  to reflect on our values and our goals.

Enjoy this time and have a wonderful Shabbat.

with blessings for a good year of peace, joy and health,

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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Temple Visions

Titzavehart by Laya Crust

Tetzaveh

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.

Laya

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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