Tag Archives: Jewish stories

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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Pinchas- Changes in Leadership

Pinchas- The Silent Voice art by Laya Crust

The Torah reading “Pinchas” deals with different types of leadership seen through Moses, Pinchas, Joshua, Zelophehad’s daughters and Elijah.

In this parsha Moshe was once again told that he would die before reaching the Promised Land. Knowing this Moshe asked Gd to appoint someone to take over his role as leader. Beautifully he said, “…so that Gd’s community will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” (Numbers 27:17). Gd told Moshe to appoint Joshua, son of Nun , to take over to take over the leadership.

This choice may have been unexpected. The Torah reading begins by focusing on Pinchas, a Levi and Aaron’s grandson. He was a passionate and zealous man who killed two idolators in front of the אוהל מועד, the holy Tent of Meeting. It was a shocking act but it averted Gd’s wrath. Gd rewarded Pinchas by giving him hereditary priesthood and also gave him “My covenant of peace”. Pinchas and his descendants were given the honour because of his zealousness for Gd. Why was Joshua chosen rather than this hero and man of action?

Joshua appears a number of times through the Torah. The first time he appears he was appointed to lead a group of refugees from Egypt in war against Amalek. He must have had leadership qualities and experience to have been chosen for the task of leading untrained men into battle. Later, when Moshe went up Mount Sinai, Joshua accompanied him and waited 40 days and 40 nights until his leader descended. In addition, when Moshe appointed 12 leaders to spy out the land of Canaan Joshua and Caleb were the two men who were enthusiastic about the the land and confident in b’nei Yisrael’s ability to conquer their enemies and settle there.

These qualities- as well as Joshua’s experience of traversing difficult land and situations, and witnessing Moshe’s leadership qualities made him an excellent choice as leader.

Image result for zelophehad's daughters by Gustave Dore

The narrative includes a story which shows insight to two other leadership qualities. As the division of land is being discussed five sisters, Mahla, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah from the tribe of Menashe came forward and asked for the portion of their father’s land. They told Moshe their father Zelophehad had died. There was no son to take the land. They asked for their father’s portion in order to preserve their father’s legacy and name.

Their confidence in coming forward and questioning what they felt was an unfair law shows insight and leadership. Moshe’s reaction as judge and arbitor also shows wisdom in leadership. He was unsure how to answer and turned to Gd. Gd answered that the women were correct and should receive their father’s portion.

V’Zot haBracha by Laya Crust

The haftarah also addresses a change in leadership. Elijah appoints Elisha to take over from him

We see different types of abilities, strengths, and skills in the players who take part in this week’s parsha and haftarah. It helps us to recognize how one set of abilities may be appropriate for a certain task or role. That same skill will create a leader in one situation but not another. We also see that a person who acts on his or her own is not necessarily fit for the larger role. The leaders should act in concert and with the support of others.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

Remember: Come to the exhibit of my haftarah series and other art works at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. It continues until October 24, 2019. The exhibit is open during synagogue hours, 7 days a week . For more information e-mail me at layacrust@gmail.com

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Ethics and Power

An explanation  of the artwork is at the bottom of the postI See an Almond Branch and a Cauldron by Laya Crust

The prophet Jeremiah was born in the small town of Anatot, outside of Jerusalem the same year King Josiah began to reign over the Southern Kingdom of Judea.  While Josiah was in power a scroll was found in the Temple containing laws that the Jews had forgotten. King Josiah began to introduce and enforce religious reforms based on the scroll. Jeremiah was about thirteen years old when this happened, and was appointed by God to be a prophet.

Jeremiah was not accepted or liked by his fellow Jews. He witnessed the rise and fall of other Jewish rulers and the sacking of the Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE. He ended his life in exile in Egypt. Jeremiah’s words and trials are fitting for the Weeks of Rebuke before Tisha B’Av.

The Calling of Jeremiah by Marc ChagallImage result for jeremiah chagall

On the three Shabbatot preceding Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning for the Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, we read “Haftarot of Rebuke”. This is the first “Reading of Rebuke”, taken from Jeremiah ch 1-2:3.  Jeremiah, like Moses, was a reluctant prophet. He told God that he was young and couldn’t speak. God tried to give Jeremiah confidence, saying, “Be not afraid of them for I am with you to deliver you.” (1:8) That did not reassure Jeremiah, so God touched Jeremiah’s mouth saying He had put words into Jeremiah’s mouth. Moses, too, was afraid to speak and tried to reject God’s request. ( spoiler alert- it didn’t work.)

Both men had been chosen by God for a certain roles and had been chosen before they were aware. In this week’s haftarah God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you came out of the womb I sanctified you; I have appointed you a prophet unto the nations.” (1: 5)

Jeremiah and Moses were leaders who taught morality-  not politics and not war. They didn’t speak of who should be the next leader. Instead they communicated God’s wishes and preached ethical behaviour. Throughout our teachings we are told that it is not might that will win wars against our enemies. We are taught that it is faith in God and adherence to ethical and moral behaviour that will allow us to triumph over our adversaries.

Just as Jeremiah and Moses were chosen before they were born and given a role before they were born the same is true for each of us. We each have been blessed with specific talents, strengths, insights and abilities. It is up to each of us to recognize what is within ourselves and use those abilities to make the world a better place. We need to look at what we can do and use our tools to help make our society healthy, safe and accepting. It seems that respect and ethical behaviour are seen as weaknesses. Guns, bombs and threats are preferred methods of negotiation.The fights and wars we see around us today will never allow the people of the world to live in peace and security.

Let’s endeavour to make words, art, music, poetry and scientific improvement our preferred currency over hatred and insults.

Have a good Shabbat and let’s make the world happier!

Laya

The drawing for this haftarah was inspired by Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus. I have shown a despondent Jeremiah looking out of his barren room  at the sacking of the city. It looks like any modern city  but represents Jerusalem. In the corner of the room are an almond branch and a steaming cauldron representing the enemy coming from the north. This illustration and others will be featured in my forthcoming book.

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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.

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Passover- Intermediate Shabbat

Pesach Shabbat sig

Ezekiel 37 : 1-14

Ezekiel- A prophet among the Israelites exiled to Babylon. He prophesied there from about 592 – 572 BCE.

Did you ever hear the gospel song, “Them bones, them bones, them dry bones…”? That gospel song was written based on this Shabbat’s haftarah.

Ezekiel the prophet recounts that he was lifted up by God and placed in the middle of a valley full of bones. Ezekiel and the Lord have a conversation in which God tells Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones and then God will fill them with the breath of life. That is indeed what happens. Ezekiel prophesies and he hears noise and rattling. The bones come together and become covered with sinew and flesh. Then breath comes from the four winds and the bodies rise up and live . God tells these resuscitated people that  He will put His spirit in them and they will live in their own land. The bones represent “the house of Israel” and when they are ready God will bring them back to Israel.  He says, “And I will put my spirit in you, and you shall live.”

The painting at the top of the page (if you click on it , it will enlarge) is based on a fresco painting from the Dura Europas Synagogue. It shows Ezekiel at the Valley of the Dry Bones, in time lapse illustration (is time lapse a new or an ancient concept?) being carried by the hand of God. The Eastern looking Ezekiel with flowing curly hair is wearing embroidered crimson robes and deep green trousers. All the hands, faces, and bones shown in the painting really illustrate the scene presented to Ezekiel the prophet.

The painting is one of many found in Dura Europas, Syria. It was a small trading city in eastern Syria near the Euphrates River. The ancient synagogue was completed around 244 BCE, and its walls were covered by incredible frescoes or tempera paintings that illustrated stories from the Torah, the Prophets, and other books of the bible. The paintings were discovered during archaeological excavations in 1932. 58 paintings were found, and it is believed that originally about 100 Biblical scenes were painted on the walls.

Doura Europos synagogue courtyard.jpg  

The frescoes are wonderful.  It’s always fascinating to see the depictions of biblical figures wearing clothing and using objects specific to an ancient time we aren’t familiar with.

This particular story is appropriate for a Passover reading. In the story of the Exodus the children of Israel walk through the desert and God takes them to their own land- the Land of Israel. In Ezekiel chapter 37 God tells the people whom He has revived that He will take them to the Land of Israel.

It makes one think of other such parallel stories from throughout our difficult Jewish history.

Back to “Them bones, them bones, them dry bones… If you like old gospel songs and good harmony check out some of the renditions on youtube.

And have a Happy Pesach.

Remember to share this post with your friends, relatives and students!

And have a Happy Pesach.ers.

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Tazria

Tazria sig

II Kings 4:42 – 5: 19

Elisha – (prophet) c.  720 BCE

The haftarah for “Tazria” tells two great stories about the prophet Elisha.

In the first story (Kings II 4: 42, 43) a man brings Elisha fruit, barley and corn. Elisha tells him to feed the community with the food but the man protests that there is too little. Elisha responds that there will be enough, and  miraculously there is enough to feed the all the people.

The second story is more involved. A commander of the Aramean army had “tza’arat” (leprosy). When he returned from war he brought back a young Jewish maiden to be his wife’s slave. The girl told her mistress that Naaman should go to Elisha to be cured of the leprosy.

Elisha told him to go to the Jordan River, wash 7 times, and then he would be cured. Naaman was angry and  insulted because the advice was so simple. He expected spells or special medicines- just to go to a small river in Israel was an affront. His servants told him to stop being so proud. Naaman was cured after following Elisha’s instructions. He then proclaimed, “Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel”.

The story points out a number of interesting things. It reminds us of the continuing wars and famine in the times of the prophets. We read how Jewish men, women, and children were taken for slaves. It gives a young Jewish girl a key role in a story of the prophet. The narrative also shows how non-Jews believed in the abilities of Jewish prophets and the Jewish God. It also indicates the desire for Elisha to help and cure anyone who came to him.

I decided to paint the two stories one beside the other. It looks like two frames from a comic book strip but actually the format is far older than the comic book world. You can see this same layout in manuscripts dating back to the 13 th century.

Elisha lived in Samaria (Shomron) and succeeded Elijah, a solitary and forceful leader.  Before Elijah was taken to the heavens in a whirlwind he asked Elisha what Elisha would like to have. Elisha asked to inherit a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit.

Indeed, in his life, Elisha performed 16 miracles and brought two people back to life, whereas Elijah performed 8 miracles and brought one person back to life. Elisha lived and prophesied in difficult times. There was drought, famine, attacks from surrounding armies; and corruption and warring in the Israelite monarchy. Elisha wasn’t as forceful a personality as his teacher. Rather he was known for his desire to help others in need.

Enjoy your week, enjoy the stories (Kings II,  4:42 to 5: 19).

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