Tag Archives: ILLUMINATIONS

Terumah: Giving

Building a Temple by Laya Crust

This week’s blog is in memory of my mother, Dorothy Crust. Devorah bat Mordechai haCohen v’Rachel Leah was a woman imbued with beauty, wisdom, intelligence, and love of Judaism. This week’s parashah deals with building a home for God and introduces the concept of giving with an open heart. My mother z”l gave with an open heart and strengthened the community around her. Her memory is a blessing.

This week’s parashah is called “Terumah”, which means an offering, denoting something set apart as a donation. God says, “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me contributions; you shall accept contributions for Me from every person whose heart so moves him” (Exodus 25:2). The wording is precise, “אשר ידבנו ולבּו”. “Those with a willing heart” are invited to contribute to the building of this important sanctuary. The building materials are to be given with generosity and joy rather than coercion or compulsion (like taxes and levies.)

Up until now, the Children of Israel have been entirely dependent. They were slaves in Egypt, and they did nothing for themselves in the desert. They were given manna, water, and led each step of the way. Finally, the Children of Israel are invited to do something for themselves and God. They step up to contribute energy, creativity, and materials to create a community hub.

In a functioning society, people are responsible for themselves and others. They must come forward to help things run smoothly. People give when they feel they have enough for themselves and enough to share. Whether helping with small tasks or major undertakings the contributor is empowered to share. When giving or sharing, you are forging a link with the person receiving. The recipient, in turn, is strengthened and can give to others.

When God asks B’nei Yisrael to build the Mishkan, He invites them to become partners with Him. God says, “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם׃ (Exodus 25:8). The words “shikhanti” (I will dwell), “Mishkan,” and “shekhinah” (Divine Presence) all come from the same root word, which is found in the Hebrew words for neighbour, neighbourhood, and dwell. God wants to be a constant presence among the people and knows that human beings need visual reminders and beauty to awaken a joyful soul. “Neighbour” is in the word for God’s holy dwelling, and “neighbour” describes God’s Presence.

The bottom line of God’s message is, “Be involved. Don’t be a spectator.”

In this parashah we see the emergence of a group that is growing into a cohesive community. They will combine their materials and skills to make a mishkan, a sanctuary. God does not live in a building, but rather in the hearts of the builders. As He said, “Let them make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8).

Have a Shabbat Shalom, Laya

P.S. The painting at the top is based on a ketubah from 1853 Istanbul, Turkey. It shows boats floating on the Bosphorous River. If you want to enlarge the image at the top of the ketubah below, you can click on them.

istanbul ketubah02

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Va’Eira, Brotherhood

Confronting Egypt by Laya Crust

This week’s Torah portion presents the first wave of plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. At the beginning of the Torah reading, Gd talks to Moses tracing His relationship back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Gd points out to Moshe that He is more open to Moshe than He had been to his forefathers. This link between Moshe and Gd allows Moshe to fully act as an agent of redemption and miracles.

There are parallels and contrasts between the Book of Genesis and the Book of Exodus. The most glaring contrast is the role of family in the two books. There are many stories of brothers and their relationships with each other. Sibling relationships in the Book of Genesis are fractious, but in the Book of Exodus (Shemot), there is family unity.

Cain murders his brother Abel. Isaac is kept away from his half-brother, Ishmael. Jacob and Esau have a relationship founded on deceit.

Family Dynamics by Laya Crust

The other story we all know is the jealousy of Jacob’s 10 sons toward his favourite child, Joseph.

A Grievous Sin by Laya crust

At first, they plan to kill Joseph but then soften their stance and merely sell him into slavery. Of course, slavery was probably a death sentence.

That is the family dynamic in the history of the fledgling Jewish nation. Abraham was selected to lead a new people who would follow Gd’s laws and ethics. The story we read in Va’Era, this week’s parashah, is about Abraham’s descendants enslaved in Egypt, but with a change in that family dynamic.

We are introduced to Moshe, a man who risks everything to save his brethren. He is not jealous or arrogant and welcomes his brother Aaron as an equal. Aaron, three years older than Moshe, takes the lesser role, allowing his younger brother to lead the way. The two men accept Gd’s direction. Their partnership allows them to stand before the ruler of Egypt and free their brethren. Miriam is Moshe and Aaron’s sister. She is the sister who risked everything to save her baby brother Moshe from certain death. Later Miriam joins her brothers and becomes a leader of the people in her own right.

It is a beautiful contrast to the painful relationships in the Book of Genesis. It is a lesson that if we act as caring partners, and work in cooperation for the good of the community/ city/ country/ world, we can make monumental changes for freedom and equality.

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

The illustrations you have seen in this post are part of the upcoming book “ILLUMINATIONS”. Stay tuned for the 2022 publication!

If you would like to get weekly reminders of these blog posts just click on the “Follow” notice in the top right hand corner.

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VaYeishev

I painted the picture you see here as part of a collection of pieces for a sefer haHaftarah- a haftarah scroll. You have seen many of these images over the years if you have been following my blog. I’m excited to announce that a collection of these paintings and their explanations will be published in a book called “ILLUMINATIONS, An Exploration of Haftarah through Art and History”. I will share more information about the book in the coming weeks.

VaYeishev, A Grievous Sin by Laya Crust

The last number of weeks the Torah readings have been about the families of our forefathers and mothers. Abraham and Sarah’s grandson, Jacob, was the father of 12 sons and one daughter. This week’s Torah reading exposes the dynamics between Jacob’s children.

This illustration is based on a painting in the Sarajevo Haggadah from 1350 Spain.  I’m going to take you on a time traveler’s tour using this image from Sarajevo Haggadah from 1350 Spain. I’ll touch on the haftarah, the Torah reading, Roman persecution of the Jews, and the culture revealed in the Sarajevo Haggadah.

The haftarah is from the Book of Amos. The prophet Amos was a herdsman and farmer. He taught that if the members of society are not good to each other the society crumbles. The Kingdom of Judaea was experiencing a period of affluence. The rich were selfish and unrighteous, and there was a large economic gap between the rich and the poor.

Amos begins this haftarah by saying “… they sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes…And a man and his father go unto the same maid to profane My holy name”.  Both phrases reflect the parashah. “The man and his father going to the same maid ” reminds us how Yehuda was unfair to Tamar, his daughter-in-law. The first phrase “they sell the righteous for silver…” describes the brothers selling Joseph to Ishmaelite traders for 20 shekels of silver.

The Sarajevo Haggadah has a wonderful rendering of the scene. We see the brothers exchanging money with Ishmaelite traders. The brothers are depicted as  Spanish merchants with fair skin and light hair wearing typical clothing of the period. Look at the traders- they are black, with dark skin, curly black hair, and black features.  Joseph stands with the foreign traders. He’s portrayed as a little boy, his hands held together begging his brothers to take him back. And we see the camels carrying the merchants’ goods.

 This image tells us that the Spanish Jews were trading with black merchants traveling from North Africa. It tells us about the clothing of the time and the art produced for the Jewish community. We also learn that today we use the same haggadah that Jews used in medieval Spain, and that Pesach was so important that someone commissioned a handwritten, illustrated book to be used at their seder.

This scene reflects the first phrases of the haftarah and takes us to how the story of Joseph’s sale was viciously used in history.  On Yom Kippur, we read about ten righteous Rabbis who were martyred by the Romans under the emperor Hadrian about 120 CE. The Roman judges quoted a law which stated, “Whoever kidnaps a man and sells him, or if the man is found in his possession, must be put to death”. They used Amos, Devarim 24:7,  and the story of Joseph as an excuse to torture the ten Rabbis.

The story of Joseph took place about 3,500 years ago. Amos’s words in the haftarah, the sin of “selling your brother” are from around 2,800 years ago, That quote reminds us of the Roman tyrants 1900 years ago. And then we move to the beautiful Sarajevo Haggadah from 660 years ago, replete with Jewish cultural history from that time. Amos’s message comes through- do not sell your brother. If you don’t treat your family and society with respect and understanding tragedy will unfold. This is the line through history.

One of the goals in creating my haftarah art pieces is to communicate the theme of the haftarah, relate it to the parashah, integrate Jewish history, and forge a connection between the viewer and our Jewish past. In that way we can remember that the Tanach is alive. Although time continues to pass we can still learn from our history and that in truth we are living the history.

So, I hope you are enjoying my posts. 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 an update by e-mail.

Shabbat Shalom, with prayers for peace, understanding. Respectful communication is a path to healing.

Laya Crust

 

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Va’Eira, Brotherhood

Confronting Egypt by Laya Crust

This week’s Torah portion presents the first wave of plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. At the beginning of the Torah reading, Gd talks to Moses tracing His relationship back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Gd points out to Moshe that He is more open to Moshe than He had been to his forefathers. This link between Moshe and Gd allows Moshe to fully act as an agent of redemption and miracles.

There are parallels and contrasts between the Book of Genesis and the Book of Exodus. The most glaring contrast is the role of family in the two books. There are many stories of brothers and their relationships with each other. Sibling relationships in the Book of Genesis are fractious, but in the Book of Exodus (Shemot), there is family unity.

Cain murders his brother Abel. Isaac is kept away from his half-brother, Ishmael. Jacob and Esau have a relationship founded on deceit.

Family Dynamics by Laya Crust

The other story we all know is the jealousy of Jacob’s 10 sons toward his favourite child, Joseph.

A Grievous Sin by Laya crust

At first, they plan to kill Joseph but then soften their stance and merely sell him into slavery. Of course, slavery was probably a death sentence.

That is the family dynamic in the history of the fledgling Jewish nation. Abraham was selected to lead a new people who would follow Gd’s laws and ethics. The story we read in Va’Era, this week’s parashah, is about Abraham’s descendants enslaved in Egypt, but with a change in that family dynamic.

We are introduced to Moshe, a man who risks everything to save his brethren. He is not jealous or arrogant and welcomes his brother Aaron as an equal. Aaron, three years older than Moshe, takes the lesser role, allowing his younger brother to lead the way. The two men accept Gd’s direction. Their partnership allows them to stand before the ruler of Egypt and free their brethren. Miriam is Moshe and Aaron’s sister. She is the sister who risked everything to save her baby brother Moshe from certain death. Later Miriam joins her brothers and becomes a leader of the people in her own right.

It is a beautiful contrast to the painful relationships in the Book of Genesis. It is a lesson that if we act as caring partners, and work in cooperation for the good of the community/ city/ country/ world, we can make monumental changes for freedom and equality.

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

The illustrations you have seen in this post are part of the upcoming book “ILLUMINATIONS”. Stay tuned for the 2022 publication!

If you would like to get weekly reminders of these blog posts just click on the “Follow” notice in the top right hand corner.

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Tisha B’Av, Kamtza and Bar Kamtza

Despair by Laya Crust

We are coming to the end of the “Three Weeks of Mourning”, the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av. Tisha B’Av is the Hebrew date of the ninth day of the month of Av. It is a day of Jewish mourning, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem. The first destruction was at the hands of the Babylonians and the second at the hands of the Romans. It meant the loss of our centre of worship, the loss of our home, and the expulsion from our homeland.

Kamtza bar Kamtza 1 by Laya Crust

There is a story of  two men with similar names, Kamtza and bar Kamtza. The men lived in Jerusalem during the time of the Second Temple, under Roman domination. There was a misunderstanding and one of the men was insulted and shamed in front of other people. The repercussions just got worse and worse. Pride and lack of consideration tangled the possibility of a graceful conclusion.

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Kamtza Bar Kamtza 2 by Laya Crust

The story is often studied in conjunction with Tisha B’Av. It is used as an exemplar of how שנאת חינם , baseless hatred and intense social divisiveness, can cause the downfall of a society. If you want to read the story go to http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/404863/jewish/Kamtza-and-Bar-Kamtza.htm

We are seeing extremes in blame and hyperbole in the streets, in the media, and coming from angry world leaders every day.

Conflict destroys communities. People want their opinions to be heard, but often don’t want to listen to a different point of view. People talk over each other. The conversation becomes garbled, unintelligible and angry. Sometimes the conflicting ideas actually mirror each other. We need to listen to others in order to get on the same “line”.

Kamtza- bar Kamtza 3 by Laya crust

We must figure out how we can talk respectfully to those around us. Sometimes we hear things we don’t understand, that don’t make sense to us. The other opinion may sound like babble but sincere discussion and striving for compromise make peace possible.

Kamtza bar Kamtza 4 by Laya Crust

We don’t have to be in lockstep with anyone. We should never accept a stance that is destructive or cruel. But I have to believe that sincere communication can bring if not exactly what a nation or person wants, it can at least bring what a nation or person can handle in a peaceful and constructive way.

I hope open communication will become more widespread among families, communities, countries and regions. Empathy and mutual respect will save the world.

Have a good Shabbat and a meaningful Tisha B’Av,

Laya

The image “Despair” is part of the exhibit “ILLUMINATIONS” currently on display at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. The exhibit includes 88 haftarah images created by Laya Crust, as well as a number of other art pieces. The display is open to the public.

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