June 1, 2016 · 2:24 pm
Tamarisk tree in the desert by Laya Crust
Parsha: Bechukotai: Leviticus 26:3 – 27: 34
Haftarah: Jeremiah: 16:19 – 17:14
Bechukotai is the last reading in the Book of Leviticus, a book devoted to teaching b’nei Yisrael how to conduct their lives. God sets out clear and detailed guidelines referring to acceptable morals and behaviour. There are directives on everything from marriage, to diet, to respecting the land. After all the rules have been laid we are told what will happen if we don’t follow the laws.
God says that if we follow His laws and observe His commandments “I will grant you rains in their season, so the earth shall yield its produce…I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone…” (26: 4, 26:6). It sounds so idyllic! The earth will be bountiful, noone will bother God’s people, and they will live in peace, harmony and comfort. But wait a minute…God continues with a warning…
“But if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments, if you reject My laws and spurn My rules…I will wreak misery upon you…” (26: 14, 16) God’s warnings don’t stop there . They become harsher and harsher until HaShem says,”I will spurn you. I will lay your cities in ruin and make your sanctuaries desolate… And you I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheath the sword against you.” (26: 13, 33)
The text is frightening. It is followed by God then telling His people that He will never forget them and will remember His covenant with them. God knows that b’nei Yisrael will return and will once again become strong and bountiful. The desolation is followed by hope.
art by Laya Crust
We see the same idea in the haftarah. Jeremiah begins by telling B’nei Yisrael that their sins are written on their hearts and they will be punished. He says those who depend only on men will be like a tree that grows on parched land in the wilderness. But one who trusts in God will be like a tree planted by the waters which spreads its roots by the river. The tree will flourish even during a drought.
The message of desolation turning to hope exemplifies the Jewish people. Throughout our history Jews have been faced with the most horrifying situations imaginable. Pogroms, the Inquisition, concentration camps and death camps did not destroy the Jewish will to live in the best way under the circumstances. No matter where Jews have been they have set up schools, benevolent societies, and soup kitchens. Even in the most appalling conditions Jews made music for each other. They clandestinely learned Torah and taught it to their children. There is a well known joke that Satan is giving a tour of the depths of hell. When he gets to the seventh level of hell he and his “guest” walk into a verdant garden. “Damned Israelis [aka Jews],” he mutters.”They’ve been irrigating again!”
We have hope and we retain our hope. God knows that human beings have a leaning towards laziness. People don’t like following rules. The rules and mitzvot make the world a better and just place. When we misstep God will wait for us, and we will get back on track.
May we all be like a tree planted by the waters. not afraid of the heat and spreading out our roots to be strong and give sustenance to those who need it.
Have a foliage full, and fruitful week, and a Shabbat shaded by those you love.
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Tagged as art, art history, bible, Bible stories, biblical art, Bnei Yisrael, dvar Torah, education, God, haftatrah, hope, Israel, Jeremiah, Jews, Judaism, laws, Leviticus, punishment, rewrd, tamarisk, torah, Torah study, Vayikra
November 5, 2015 · 3:55 pm
This year is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. For the past 35 years Toronto has hosted “Holocaust Education Week”- a week of lectures, performances, and discussions. Some of the presentations are given by survivors of the Holocaust- Jews who survived unimaginable misery- persecution, labour camps, death marches, death camps, and witnessed the murders/ executions of friends family and neighbours.
This year’s theme is “Liberation: Aftermath & Rebirth”. The title is promising, after all rebirth is something positive. However the pain and trauma continues even when there is rebirth.
The presentations have been extraordinary. (for the list of programmes go to http://holocaustcentre.com/HEW) On Wednesday night, November 4, I attended a panel discussion entitled, “Holocaust Legacies: Born in Bergen -Belsen”. The four panelists, all of whom are Jewish, were born either in Bergen Belsen before the liberation or in the Bergen Belsen DP Camp (Displaced Persons Camp) after the liberation. They immigrated to Canada as small children. At the presentation they shared their experiences of being raised by parents traumatized by the Holocaust.
photograph of young children at the Bergen Belsen DP camp, from the JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee archives. http://archives.jdc.org/history-of-jdc/?s=archivestopnav
Their parents didn’t have families to support them emotionally. They had to process their trauma by themselves without guidance or mentors. It wasn’t until the very public Eichmann trial in 1961 (http://remember.org/eichmann/intro ) that the extent of the Nazi atrocities became public knowledge. Until the trial survivors usually kept their stories to themselves. Often the stories were too atrocious to be believed or the survivors couldn’t bear to tell their stories. Although the blanket of silence was lifted by the trial in 1961, a majority of survivors continued to keep their pain and scars secret, causing emotional hardship for themselves and their children.
In a film clip shown at the lecture one “Bergen Belsen baby” related how people don’t understand the depth of horror of the Shoah (Holocaust). People say, “There have been other genocides and mass murders- Hiroshima, Rwanda, Cambodia, and more…” Pondering the difference between those genocides and the Shoah are clear. The Shoah was the only genocide that was carefully planned to be the international destruction of an entire religion. It was the only genocide that degraded people to the level of a commodity to be killed and resold- reusing the clothing of victims, using hair as cushion stuffing, bones as soap, skin as lampshades, human beings as science experiments. Unbelievable, yet that was the depth of the depravity.
HEW is an amazing and important programme. We are given the opportunity to hear stories and witness history. We see before us heroism, strength, courage, optimism and growth.
With the cruelty being enacted in the world around us we can learn from the victories of those who survived. The lesson is: be strong. Do good things. Don’t stand idly by. And I think we also have to endeavour to look at the world and see the beauty around us every day.
And this is one of the best times of the year to enjoy the beauty around us.
Have a Shabbat Shalom and remember to appreciate your family, friends, freedom and the beauty of nature.
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Tagged as autumn, belsen babies, bergen belsen, bible, colour, death, dvar Torah, family, genocide, holocaust, holocaust education week, hope, JDC, rebirth, Shabbat, shoah, survivors, trauma, victim, world war II, WW2
October 14, 2015 · 5:48 pm
art by Laya Crust
Parshat Noah October 2015, 5776
This is a very difficult time in many parts of the world, but the horrors in Israel touch me very closely. I am an ardent Zionist and a Jew. I have children and grandchildren who live in Israel, including in Jerusalem. I have many friends and relatives there. I just came back from that miraculous country but while I was there 4 people were viciously murdered by Palestinian terrorists. Since then more murders have occurred. My first thoughts in the morning and my last thoughts at night are of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin z”l (may they be remembered as a blessing) who were murdered only because they were Jewish and lived in Israel. That’s the only reason! I think of their 4 children who will grow up without their wonderful parents. And I can’t understand it.
Last week in synagogue we read the story of the creation of the world and humanity. We also read about the first murder. Cain, jealous of Abel, killed him. God said, “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground….the ground which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand… “
“The voice of your brother’s blood…” Such powerful words.
After God gave mankind free choice murder occurred, even at the very beginning. It’s impossible to understand.
There is an interesting animated movie going on in the Middle East. Syria, Iraq, Islamic State,Afghanistan, Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen are like balls of flame, burning in war and hatred. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and Iraq are brimming with unrest and dictatorship. And in the middle of it all Israel, a jewel of green land and democracy, stands on its own against the surrounding chaos, refusing to get sucked in.
Yet, there are these terrible, tragic losses of life.
This week we read the story of Noah in the Bible. Sick of humanity’s cruelty God destroyed the world by flooding it. The rainbow we see after a rainfall is the symbol of God’s oath that the world will never be entirely destroyed again.
Many of us sit in our chairs praying for peace in Israel and the rest of the world. We can’t understand God’s allowing the violence to continue or the terrorism raging in Israel’s streets or the loss of the young, exceptional parents of 6 children. We can only do what Israelis are doing in Israel- live good lives, do acts of kindness, and don’t allow hatred to rule our minds and actions.
With prayers for peace, health and beauty,
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Tagged as Abel, art, art history, Bereishit, bible, Bible stories, biblical art, blood, Bnei Yisrael, Cain, Cain and Abel, creative judaism, dvar Torah, faith, genesis, Henkin, hope, Israel, Israelite, Jewish Art, Jewish education, Jews, Judaism, Lord, murder, Naama and Eitam Henkin, Noah, rainbow, terrorism, torah art, Torah story