Tag Archives: Isaiah

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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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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Devarim, 5776

Devarimart by Laya Crust

Devarim/ Deuteronomy

Haftarah- Isaiah I: 1- 27

Isaiah (prophet)- c.740 – 685 BCE

The parsha Devarim and its haftarah always precede the fast of Tisha B’Av  (the 9th of Av) when we read the Book of Lamentations or איכה .  Michael Mirsky- Torah reader and “leining” teacher extraordinaire-  explained to me why Devarim is always read before Tisha B’Av.  In the parsha Moses asks,”איכה אשא לבדי טרחכם ומשאכם וריבכם.” “How can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden, and the bickering!” (Devarim 1: 12). As you can see, Moses’ plea  begins with the word איכה – Eicha.

This desolate haftarah is the last of the “Three Haftarot of Rebuke”. Isaiah recounts how God laments that His children – B’nei Yisrael – have rebelled against Him. They are corrupt, their prayers are empty and their sacrifices are meaningless.

Isaiah tells the nation their sins can become white as snow and the land can become fruitful and full again.  God asks Israel to “Learn to do well; Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1: 17) This relates to parallels a phrase in the parsha where Moses reminds b’nei Yisrael, “You shall not be partial in judgement: hear the small and the great alike.” (Devarim 1:18) Both quotations remind the Israelites to act fairly and care for those who are in need, no matter what station they hold in life.

In searching for an image for this haftarah I wanted something that expressed God’s desire that His children act well and justly.  The care of Jewish refugees in the nascent Israel of 1949 came to mind.

As we know, Jewish immigration to Israel, their ancestral homeland, was severely restricted by the White Paper of 1939. Jewish survivors of the Shoah (Holocaust) had to enter mandate Palestine illegally and if they were caught were sent to D.P.camps. When Israel was declared a state in 1948 there were suddenly thousands of Jewish immigrants in the country needing food, clothing and shelter.          

Ma’abarot” (or temporary camps and cities) were set up to temporarily house survivors and refugees. In the early 1950’s they accommodated 130,000 expelled Iraqi Jews. By the end of 1951 there were over 220,000 people in about 125 different  areas.

The ma’abarot had problems and were not “perfect” solutions, but they were a genuine attempt to take care of the widows, the orphans and the needy when Israel was first established.

 The illustration at the top of this post was inspired by a photograph of a ma’abarah in 1952.

B’nei Ysrael was promised the land of Israel, and we have the good fortune to be able to live there today. The direction to judge all people with the same fairness and righteousness, and to take care of all of those in need still stands today. We should be proud of what Israel and Jews internationally have achieved in terms of social justice and care of the sick and needy- but let’s remember to improve the world by being better ourselves.

Have a meaningful fast on the Tisha B’Av fast day. (This year the fast will be on Sunday, the 10th of Av because we aren’t allowed to fast on Shabbat). And let’s keep on making the world a better place!

Best, Laya

P.S. There is a good website about the mabarot at http://jewishhistoryaustralia.net/podcasts/

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The New Moon

P1130574art by Laya Crust

This Shabbat coincides with Rosh Hodesh Elul- the first day of the month of Elul. We are lucky to be part of a tradition that celebrates so much. Each week we celebrate Shabbat- a day to rest and relax with friends and family. Throughout the year we have holidays- each with their own special prayers and traditions. And each month we celebrate the new month.

Rosh Hodesh is a time of renewal. It is graced by a tefillah (prayer) which reads like a poem, wishing for all good things. On the Shabbat before Rosh Hodesh we say the following:

Renew for us this coming month for good and blessing.

Grant us long life,

a life of peace,

a life of goodness,

a life of blessing

a life of sustenance,

a life of health,

a life marked by reverence for heaven and dread of sin,

a life without shame or disgrace,

a life of wealth and honour,

a life in which we have

love for Torah and reverence for heaven,

a life in which our heart desires are fulfilled for good.

The sentiments are beautiful. They provide positive thoughts to take with us through the month until we are renewed again.

The haftarah for this Shabbat is Isaiah, chapter 66. The chapter begins with the words, “”The heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool.” It made me think of the celestial bodies in the sky- the heavens inhabited by Gd and the earth way down below. The end  of the chapter mentions the new moon and every Sabbath- represented here by two new moons and four weeks of Shabbat candles between.

Summer is moving closer to autumn. The evenings are cooling down, the flowers are still bright and vivd. Enjoy this new month of ELUL. May it be a month of peace, blessing and health.

Have a good Shabbat,

Laya

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Shabbat HaGadol


Shabbat hagadol sig

Over the last couple of months I have been perusing my haggadah collection and books about haggadot. It is fascinating to note the changes in illustration influenced by culture, politics, and artistic trends.

In medieval times a short section was added to the haggadah after the meal was finished. It begins with the Hebrew words “Shafoch Hamatcha”- a phrase  calling on Gd to pour His wrath on those people who do not know Him.  At a traditional seder the people attending stand up while the door is opened so Elijah (Eliahu) can enter and take a sip from his special cup of wine in the centre of the table. We children all used to watch the cup of wine very carefully to see how much disappeared- did Eliahu really come? As my father explained he could only drink a tiny, tiny bit because he had to visit EVERY Jewish house in the world that was hosting a seder.

But I digress. This text was added in the 11th Century after  the Crusades began.In early haggadot the first word of the phrase was decorated but it wasn’t until a couple of centuries later a special illustration was added.

In Prague, 1526 someone decided to illustrate it. A figure of the messiah is shown riding a donkey- a reference to salvation. This woodcut was quite small. it was just a small insert into a much larger page.   20150326_185202[1]

The woodcut was copied and reprinted into a number of different haggadah editions. In 1560 an artist in Mantua decided to  embellish the image. Not only do we have  whole landscape with Eliahu accompanying the Messiah, the whole layout is changed. The two figures and the landscape cover almost half the page. The title word is also very large and ornate. Just above the building (is that Jerusalem?) we see a tiny soldier in full uniform. He may be representing the enemy that does not acknowledge Gd.

This page is from the Washington haggadah, created in Northern Italy in 1478. Yoel ben Shimon was a prolific artist and scribe who created at least 8 haggadot in Italy and Germany.  His painting is delightful. It’s such a surprise to see the Messiah galloping through a town with a family riding behind him, holding on for dear life. They all seem to be wearing period dress with the father/ husband in a cloak and hood. The wife is wearing a lovely gown and hat and carrying a cup of wine As they pass a house a gentleman is in the doorway holding out a cup of wine- maybe for Eliahu. 20150326_214948[1]

The illustration on the right  is from a 15th century German haggadah. It is a sweet rendering. The man leading the horse may be Eliahu. The rider is wearing a crown, a regal red robe and he is the person blowing the shofar.The ribbons coming from the figures all have biblical verses referring to redemption and the coming of the Messiah.

I used the woodcut from Mantua, 1560 as the model for my Shabbat HaGadol painting. The haftarah reading is from Malachi 3:4 – 24. Verse 23 is read twice. It says, “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” The reference to Elijah and the approach of Pesach made this a great “match”.

By the way- the Worms, Germany Haggadah of 1521, changed the reading somewhat. They substituted the original phrase with:

“Pour out Your love on the nations who have known You,
and on the kingdoms that call upon Your name.
For they have shown loving-kindness to the seed of Jacob,

This year take a look at the illustrations in your haggadah. They can be a lot of fun.

Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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Lech Lecha

Lech Lecha sig

Isaiah  ch. 40:27 – 41:16

Isaiah (prophet) – c. 740 – 681 BCE

The picture we see here is a beautiful desertscape at night.

If you’ve ever been camped in the desert or in the countryside at night without artificial light, you will have seen a  sky studded with stars. The heavens are so full of stars it seems amazing the sky can hold them all.

The parasha of Lech Lecha introduces us to Abraham, the man Gd chose to begin a new nation. Gd tells Abraham (called Avram in this section of the Torah) that Gd will bless him. Abraham’s descendants will be as numerous as the dust on the ground and the stars in the skies. Looking up at that night sky Avram couldn’t have begun to imagine how many stars there were. There were too many to count, too many to even guess at.

This week’s haftarah is from the Book of Isaiah. The Jews have been in Babylon, in exile, for decades. They are sure they will never be able to return home. It seems that King Cyrus is about to conquer Babylon and Isaiah is hopeful that Cyrus will allow the Jews to go back to Israel.

Isaiah tells his people that Gd will not abandon them. Previously (Isaiah ch. 39, v 12) Isaiah described Gd saying, “…[Gd] …meted out heaven with a span and and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure…” In this haftarah Gd reminds the Jews that, “…you, Yisrael are My servant Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham My friend. You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth and called you from the farthest corners…”ch. 40 v 8,9.

Avram was chosen to begin a new nation, the nation that would one day be known as Jews. Even back then Gd told Avram that his descendants would be slaves in a strange land, referring to their enslavement in Egypt. Avram was warned that life would be tough for them.  The hardships have continued throughout history. In this haftarah Isaiah gave encouragement to his exiled brethren in Babylon, telling them that Gd will not abandon them.

Every time period is a time of challenge for the Jews. Right now we are still facing challenges and terrible anti- Semitic tides. We are reminded that Gd made a promise and will always keep that promise initialized with Avraham Avinu- Abraham our father.

Have a good week and a good Shabbat. May it be one of peace and health for klal Yisrael and the world.

Laya

 

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Noah

No'ach Sig

Isaiah 54- 55:5

Isaiah (prophet)   c. 740 – 681 BCE

Just last week we were at synagogue singing the prayers for rain- “Tefillat haGeshem”. Israel wants the rain for the trees and plants that will blossom in (our)  winter and spring. And wouldn’t you know it, here in Toronto the heavens opened that afternoon and again at night and it poured. I heard that it rained in Israel too.

Rain, like everything else, has to come at the right time in the right amount. We know that sometimes there are floods in one part of the world while there are famine and forest fires due to drought in another.

In this parsha we read about the sinning that  occurred in the world. Gd was upset by  humanity’s excessive evil and  caused a flood to wipe out most of humanity and most of the animal world. After 40 days and 40 nights the rain abated and the world as it was known ended. Noah and his family had to start anew. Gd decided never to destroy humanity again. The sign of this resolution and covenant was- and continues to be- a rainbow.

Last week when I went for a walk in the afternoon rain I saw a beautiful sight. There was a rainbow set in the east sky against steel grey clouds. The unexpected contrast was gorgeous.

The rainbow is a magical thing. It is perfect semicircle in the sky made up of every conceivable colour. Gd has created an image of perfection to remind Himself that although Gd can achieve perfection we mortals can’t. As such we can’t be expected to behave perfectly. Our duty is to try to do the best we can.

In this season, this new year of 5775, those of us lucky enough to live in a country with true autumn can enjoy the colours of the rainbow around us.P1120285

The High Holy Days, also called the “Days of Awe” are behind us. The first readings of the Torah are about new beginnings, explorations and lessons. We prayed for rain but we want the right amount- not enough rain to flood the land and destroy life. It’s a prayer for good things in moderation and a reminder for us to appreciate the goodness and beauty that is around us in the world.

So as you go through the week notice the beauty around you whether it is beauty in changing colours, in the people around you or in the grace of day to day living.

Have a good week and a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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