Tag Archives: Jewish learning

Yom Kippur – In Search of Self

Jonah by Laya Crust

Book of Jonah ; Prophet-either 8th C. BCE or 4th C. BCE

Yom Kippur is a day many of us face with feelings of awe, fear, and discomfort. We go to synagogue surrounded by other people, people who are fasting and praying, but that doesn’t necessarily make us feel more confident. The reason is that Yom Kippur, of all days in the year, is a day that we are alone facing ourselves and facing Gd.

We read the Book of Jonah in its entirety on Yom Kippur in the afternoon. From storms at sea to getting swallowed by a “whale” to a gourd that blossoms in one night, there are many unusual events. The best known event is depicted in the lyrical painting above. We see two sailors in a merchant ship. They have thrown Jonah over the side of the boat and he’s being swallowed by a giant fish. It is based on an illustration from the Kennicott Bible, Spain, 1476, painted by Joseph ibn Hayyim.

The narrative concerns the prophet Jonah disregarding God’s orders to warn the sinning people of Nineveh of Gd’s forthcoming punishment. In contrast to the prophet disobeying Gd, the non-Jews of Nineveh heed Him. Jonah is angry that they were forgiven, angry enough to challenge Gd to kill him.

Jonah says, “I know that you are a compassionate and gracious Gd, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment. Please, Lord, take my life for I would rather die than live.”  Gd listens to Jonah’s anger and answers him.

There are a few lessons taught in this haftarah. One is self-realization. We have to face ourselves and our weaknesses in order to correct ourselves and correct our mistakes. Another is facing responsibility and not running from it. And another lesson is the right of all people to live just lives- whether they are like us or choose a different lifestyle or belief system.

Yom Kippur by Laya Crust

And there is the lesson of forgiveness. Gd created humankind and is waiting to see the goodness and uprightness of humanity.

Jonah was upset when “his” gourd withered up. The gourd was a metaphor for God’s relationship with humanity. If Jonah was sad at the loss of “his” gourd- which he didn’t create, how much more would God be bereaved by the destruction of an entire community? The lesson can also teach empathy and forgiveness. Jonah had to realize that the people of Nineveh had as much right to repent and live as he, Jonah had.

On Yom Kippur we have 25 hours in which we pray, reflect and think. We have the time to consider our relationships and our behaviours. Yom Kippur is a gift for self contemplation, for forgiveness, and acceptance. We have to face our weaknesses and decide on how to fix those weaknesses, and then we can forgive ourselves..

This is a great opportunity to speak to our children or friends and reflect on how, if we are a little more forgiving, patient, and understanding, we can make the world a better place.

Have a meaningful day in synagogue and G’mar Chatima Tova- may the coming year be one of health,  peace, and blessings.

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A Wise and Willing Heart

Va Yikahel sigart by Laya Crust

Va Yakhel- Exodus 35 – 38:20

Kings I  7: 40 – 50

 This week’s Torah reading describes the creation of holy objects for the mishkan. It describes the materials- the gold, silver, brass, precious stones, and materials for spinning fabric. The haftarah describes the crafted vessels for King Solomon’s Temple. Both the parsha and the haftarah describe making beautiful objects for the mishkan and for the Temple in Jerusalem.

 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). Gd continued, “and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee…”

Torah crown by Zahava Lambert, Toronto

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)

parochet 2parochet designed by Laya Crust, created by Mical Pearlman, fibre artist :   Mizrachi Bayit, Toronto

Phrases like “wise hearted”  and “willing of heart” appear 15 times in this parsha. True beauty, whether it is physical like the objects in the mishkan, verbal like profound poetry and writing, or emotional as with those who help others through challenging times, are rooted in wise hearts and wisdom.

And in Gd’s own wisdom the parsha specifically recognizes men and women equally as being wise hearted and willing hearted.

So you artists, artisans, wood workers, poets, musicians, playwrights, weavers, silversmiths, engineers, designers etc. etc.- when you work with integrity and inspiration remember that it is God’s gift to you. This is your contribution to the spiritual beauty of the world.

Have Shabbat Shalom- one full of beauty and joy and of course – creative thinking.

**When you “click” on the illustration it will enlarge.

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Shabbat Shira – it’s music

Miriam's Song

Miriam’s Song by Laya Crust

Parshat b’Shalach

Haftarah: Judges 4: 4 – 5: 31

Music is magical. We can’t see it, touch it, smell it or taste it. We can hear it and magically it can transform our mood and take us to other places in our imagination. We all know about love songs (a billion), break-up songs (2 billion), songs of tribute (Starry Night  about Vincent Van Gogh) and patriotic songs (Le Marseillaise). All our secrets can be unearthed (Killing Me Softly) and raw emotion can exposed (Stravinsky).

It is a beautiful union of art, science, math and imagination. I remember a friend of mine- a physicist- being amazed and unbelieving when I told him I loved music. “How is that possible? ” he asked. “You’re an artsy.” I was really surprised by that comment because I had always thought that music was art and emotion. And then I found out the close relationship between science and music. I’ve been working on a new composition (visual, not musical) for an engineer (physics, not train). Because he is, from what I can tell, equally music and science oriented I wanted to merge the two fields in my painting.  My intention is to merge the spectrum of tone, the measure of the notes and the background ordering of the staff. Here is a draft of my ideas:

20150127_183737art by Laya Crust

Music is an integral part of  joyous Judaism. In the Torah portion B’shalach we read “The Song of the Sea”.  It is Moses’ song of praise to God that was sung after the Israelites safely crossed the Red (or Reed) Sea, and were saved from the angry Egyptian army. The women, led by the prophet Miriam, sang and danced and made music on their tof, a hand held drum. There is a beautiful painting of the women led by Miriam playing their drums in The Golden Haggadah, and another lovely rendition in The Sarajevo Haggadah.

This Bible reading describing the escape into the desert, across the sea, and the ultimate Song of the Sea is paired with an adventure story in the Book of Judges. Led by the prophet Devorah the Israelites win a battle against Sisera’s Army. A woman named Yael completes the defeat by killing Sisera. Devorah then sings a song of praise about the triumph and Yael’s conquest. halleluhu0052

 The painting here shows biblical instruments mentioned in prayers we say in the morning.

When we are happy, when we are sad, when we want to remember or forget, when we want to meditate or pray, be left alone or celebrate with others we often turn to music. Because it is a comforting, joyous and spiritual medium the most beautiful parts of prayer are often paired with music.

So enjoy the art, the sounds, and the music around you.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

I would love it if you would share your thoughts or stories about music. Even if it’s lyrics to ballads by cowboys, the loneliest lyrics in the world.

 
Artist in Residence,  The Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Textiles, Toronto

website  layacrust.com

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Bechukotai

BehukotaiSig
Jeremiah  16:19 – 17:14

Jeremiah- prophet, ca 640 – 568 BCE

Jeremiah lived in the ancient land of Judah at a very difficult time for the Jews. He began to prophecy when he was 18 during the reign of King Josiah.  A scroll was found in the Temple and King Josiah re-established Jewish law- much to the displeasure of the idol worshiping law-ignoring Israelites.

Jeremiah begins this haftarah by telling B’nei Yisrael that their sins are written on their hearts and they will be punished. He continues by saying that 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.  He goes on to say that the tree will be calm in the year of drought. The terminology is beautiful, giving the tree emotion and human feeling.

The prophet Jeremiah was not respected. He was a tragic figure. He spent his life lonely- unmarried, unpopular, and derided. He so wanted to help the Jewish people that he dictated his prophecies to his scribe Baruch and had them read to the current king, King Jehoiakim. The scrolls were burned so Jeremiah had them written and presented again.

Jeremiah was an idealist.  He spent his entire life trying to reawaken faith in the hearts of the Jews.  He preached peace and encouraged compliance  to a population that wanted war and revolt. He was imprisoned for his outspoken support of observance to God, and ultimately had to flee to Egypt after Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Israel.  Jeremiah died in exile, in Egypt.

Maybe Jeremiah is like that tree of uprightness that he spoke aboout in this week’s haftarah. He led a difficult and sad life but his words lived on. His thoughts were strong like a tree, nourished by the waters of truth.  His ideas continued to grow and nurture even in times of drought. And we still read Jeremiah’s words and learn from them.

Share these thoughts on the Haftarah and Jeremiah on Facebook, and with your friend, family and students. Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

 

 

 

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VaYikra

Vayikra sig

Vayikra

Isaiah 43:21 -44:23

Isaiah (prophet)  c. 740 – 681 BCE

This week we read the first parsha in the Book VaYikra- the Book of Leviticus. VaYikra means “and He called”. It commences a series of instructions God gives the Israelites concerning sacrifices. The theme of Leviticus is one of holiness, and holiness is described in different forms throughout the book.      (note: “Leviticus” is a Latin word meaning “from the Levites”)

Isaiah lived and prophesied in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. At the beginning of his life both kingdoms were successful and prosperous. During his lifetime the Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed.  The Southern Kingdom of Judah barely survived a takeover by Assyria.

At the time of this haftarah the Jews are in exile. They are worn down, defeated, and turn from God to worship idols. Isaiah calls to them telling them that God notices they have abandoned the altars and sacrifices and they have stopped worshiping Him. Instead they are offering sacrifices to man made gods. God tells the Israelites He will not abandon them.  He says, “Even as I pour water on thirsty soil and rain upon dry ground, So I will pour My spirit on your offspring”.

In my haftarah painting at the top of the page I show a willow tree by a river. There are sheep grazing in the fields , sacrifices burning in the background, but abandoned altars overgrown with grass in the foreground. In the text God says, “And they shall sprout like grass, Like willows by watercourses…”

I wanted to show that the Jews have forgotten God. Even so, God is waiting for the Jews to resume their observance of God. They have lush fields, herds of sheep and flowing rivers, yet they have turned away. God waits until they return and will bless their children.

Interestingly many scholars think the Book of Isaiah was written in more than one section. Dating back to the 12th Century Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra was convinced that chapters 40 – 66 were written by one or more prophets who lived in exile in Babylon, after the destruction of the the Southern Kingdom. That would have been about 150 years after Isaiah died.  This second section is often called “Deutero Isaiah” or “Second Isaiah”.

This haftarah is a very beautiful, poetic composition. I hope you’ll read it and enjoy!  Shabbat Shalom.

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Shabbat Zachor

Shabbat Zachor sig

Samuel 1    ch. 15:1 – 34

Samuel- prophet.  He anointed the nation of Israel’s first two kings- Saul and David.

Additional reading: D’varim/ Deuteronomy 25: 17-16

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Zachor- the Shabbat of Remembrance. In preparation for Purim, which falls next week, we have an additional Torah reading about the evil King Amalek. He is identified as the ancestor of Haman, the villain in the Purim story.  Amalek  instructed his army to attack the  Children of Israel, specifically the defenseless and the weak as they walked through the desert after leaving Egypt.

This Shabbat’s haftarah recounts a poignant story about King Saul and his dealings with Amalek. The prophet Samuel tells Saul that he is to remember what Amalek did to B’nei Yisrael  (the children of Israel). Saul is to go and destroy ALL the Amalekites, the young and the old, and all their possessions. King Saul gathers his warriors and they go to do what has been commanded of them.

Saul and his warriors flatten the towns, and kill the inhabitants and their cattle- but he spares Agag the Amalekite king and keeps the choicest animals to offer as sacrifices to God. When God sees what has happened He instructs Samuel to reprove Saul and take away the kingship from him.

The text is beautifully written. With short, strong phrases the human mistakes Saul makes are recounted and the heavy directive to Samuel is described. Saul, a man with a good heart, carries out most of what God told him to do. But as Samuel reminds him, “Though you are little in your own sight were you not made head of the tribes of Israel? And the Lord anointed you King?…” The spirit of God is taken away from Saul and Samuel turns his back on the broken king. As Samuel walks away Saul falls to the ground and grabs Samuel’s cloak. The cloak rips in his hand, and Samuel tells Saul, “The Lord has ripped the kingdom of Israel from you this day and given it to a neighbour of yours that is better than you…”

It is a heartbreaking story of a fallen King. The most tragic element is that Saul had never wanted to be king. He wanted to live a simple life but monarchy was thrust upon him. He wasn’t a natural leader, he was a follower. In this situation he followed the desires of his nation rather than the commandment of God.

The evil of Amalek is presented in the additional reading and in the haftarah. The readings are  precursors to the story of Purim, the Jews rising against Haman- a descendant of Amalek. As we read we are reminded that in every generation there rises an enemy, and we have to have faith in God and listen to God’s teachings.

Read the story. It’s  another exciting and emotional incident in our canon. And remember it’s OUR story. Shabbat Shalom.

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