Tag Archives: Jewish

B’ Ha’alotecha- “Not by Might nor by Power”

BehaalotchaTemple Menorah by Laya Crust

At the beginning of this week’s Torah reading, the menorah is described and Aaron is commanded to light it. In the haftarah reading, Zechariah describes the golden menorah. Zechariah was a prophet in Jerusalem around the year 520 BCE.  The Jews had been exiled to Babylon but under King Cyrus were allowed to return to Jerusalem. Zechariah and the prophet Haggai encouraged the people to stop being so despondent and start rebuilding their destroyed temple.

Zechariah by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

This haftarah is replete with angels- angels talking to Joshua and angels talking to and waking Zechariah.  Zechariah tells the angel that he has had a vision of a golden menorah flanked by two olive trees. A bowl above the menorah has seven pipes funneling olive oil to the menorah.  When the angel realizes that Zechariah doesn’t understand the symbolism of the vision he explains that the trees represent the leadership of Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel the governor in building the Second Temple. The angel says, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” meaning that the reestablishment of the Jewish people will come through faith, not war.

This parsha and haftarah are timely readings. We are living during a frightening pandemic, international violent unrest some of it instigated by the treatment of blacks in America, and negativity towards Israel and her desired steps for greater sovereignty over her ancestral land. The readings teach that we must take the initiative and move forward to make progress in our lives. On one hand, just complaining or protesting will not improve a situation. On the other, sitting back and expecting Gd to make the changes is not the right way either.

The Jews in the desert complained about their diet (“But the multitude among them began to have strong cravings. Then even the children of Israel once again began to cry, and they said, ‘Who will feed us meat?'” Numbers 10:4).  They should have looked to see how they themselves could satisfy their hungers and cravings. The Jews returning to Jerusalem were despondent. When they returned from exile they were pushed by Zechariah and Haggai to take action and rebuild their Temple to Gd. In that way, they could reclaim their lives and their history.

We have to recognize our responsibility to participate in our future, but we also have to recognize that if we move forward with faith and integrity Gd will help us. Ignoring the respect and mitzvot entrusted to us will cause us to be defeated. “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)

Cervera, Spain, c. 1300

My illustration at the top was based on this beautiful manuscript painting from Spain, with the menorah painted in gold leaf. The menorah was a central fixture in the Temple and was lit by the Kohanim. The wicks of the menorah were arranged to shed light in one flame. That light can be seen as the light we bring to the world.

On that thought, may you have an illuminated week and weekend, full of flaming conversation and bright ideas. Let’s keep on working to make the community and the world better!

Have a good Shabbat, Laya

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Naso- Sanctity, Equality, and Justice

Samson by Laya Crust

My thoughts this week have been circling around all the painful news coming out of Minneapolis and Hong Kong. And of course the overwhelming health issues faced by the entire world. I tried to see what we might learn from this week’s Torah and haftarah portions.

This week’s haftarah is the story of an angel telling a woman and her husband that they will become parents. The wife is to raise her child as a Nazir- a holy individual who cannot cut his hair or partake of food or drink from grapes. The two farmers listen to the messenger’s instructions. The woman herself follows the rules of a Nazir, and they raise their son as directed. The fact that the baby will be a Nazir is the connection to this week’s parashah.

The parashah discusses the certain rules surrounding the purity of the Israelite camp while traveling through the desert:

  • Men and women are to be housed outside of the camp if they are suffering from tza’arat.
  • Men and women are allowed to take the oath of the Nazir, elevating them to a higher level of purity.
  • If a jealous husband accuses his wife of adultery without any evidence of impropriety, she is not to be punished by him. Instead, a specific ritual trial is held. [The trial may have been put in place to protect the women from jealous husbands.]
Gamaliel , leader of the Menashites by Laya Crust

As well as protecting the sanctity of the camp we see a measure of equality established. The leader of each of the twelve tribes brought forth a specified series of offerings to the Tabernacle. All leaders brought the same offerings, and each was assigned a different day to perform the ceremony. In that way, each tribe was given the same honour and recognition as the other tribes.

Aaron’s priestly blessing is introduced in this parashah. “May the Lord bless you and keep you: May the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you: May the Lord lift up His countenance to you and give you peace…” (Numbers 6:24-26)

Aaron gave this blessing to all the Israelites. It was a prayer to give children of Israel a sense of love and security. The nation was given rules in the form of the Ten Commandments to create a society of equality, fairness, integrity, and respect. Cohanim bless their congregations with this prayer to this day. Parents say this blessing over their children on Friday nights.

I have been thinking about the terrible murder of George Floyd. Some people have reacted violently by destroying property, looting stores, and injuring others.

What can we learn from this week’s readings? We must treat others with respect and equality, no matter what their station in life. We can only surmount the difficulties through cooperation, wisdom, and respect. If we carry Aaron’s prayer in our hearts we may feel less alone. If we act with integrity, respect, and love we will be able to pass it on to those around us and help to heal this fractured world.

With hopes for love and respect, have a Shabbat Shalom. Laya

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Yom Yerushalayim- and food

Jerusalem

Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day, will be celebrated this week on Thursday night, May 21, and Friday, May 22, 2020. Jerusalem was established as the capital of Israel by King David almost 3,000 years ago, and the Jerusalem Antiquities Authority has just discovered more ancient ruins near the Western Wall.

My question is: What food should we eat to celebrate Jerusalem Day? I reached out for expert advice and received a few suggestions. The top winners were Jerusalem Mixed Grill (מעורב ירושלמי) and Jerusalem bagels.

Jerusalem Mixed Grill photo by Bridges for Peace

You can find great kiosks selling Jerusalem mixed grill around the city, but particularly near Mahane Yehuda. The smell of the greasy, spicy mixtures wafts through the streets, and here is a video about the originator of this fine fare.

Another contender, the Jerusalem Bagel, is found all over the city. During the Six Day War in 1967 Jerusalem was reunited by the Israelis. Tourism blossomed in the city and these bagels, sold by vendors became super popular. They are long and oval, and the bagel itself is softer and lighter than the usual bagels. They are covered with sesame seeds and served with zatar, an Israeli spice mixture, which is given in a little packet made of newsprint.

The bagel recipe is a closely guarded secret, but adding extra oil to a regular bread recipe will make the dough lighter.

Here are two recipes, one for zatar, and one for a homemade Jerusalem Grill.

Zatar: (from Janna Gur’s cookbook)

2 Tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted in a pan

1/2 cup dried hyssop

1 Tablespoon sumac

1/2 teaspoon salt

Grind the hyssop in a spice mill or blender until it is powder. If you don’t have hyssop you can use dried rosemary or thyme. Add all the other ingredients and you are ready to go!

Jerusalem Grill

about 1 1/2 lbs. chicken innards- liver, heart, spleens, plus some chicken breast or thigh.

For a vegetarian version chop up firm tofu & portobello mushrooms, and you can add blanched cauliflower

4 sliced onions

4 cloves garlic, chopped

olive oil

1 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. pepper

1 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. cardamom

1 tsp. salt

Cut the chicken into small pieces. Put into a bowl with the onions and the garlic. Pour on some olive oil and the spices, and leave to marinate in the fridge for 3 -24 hours.

Heat up a large frying pan and add some olive oil. Pour in the meat mixture. Fry until the meat is done. Serve in a pita with tehina, hummus, pickles, and olives. Enjoy!

Have a wonderful Jerusalem Day. I hope you found my Jerusalem food blog interesting and that you might even try something new!

Have a happy Shabbat Shalom and stay safe. -Laya

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Halfway through the Torah

Flames of Division by Laya Crust

A couple of weeks ago we read parshat Shemini on Shabbat. It is an unexpected combination of two very different narratives, and the break between the two narratives occurs pretty much in the middle of the reading. Similarly, the parsha itself appears right in the centre of the Torah cycle. Coincidently we are experiencing an unprecedented break in the functioning of the world. I want to explore this dividing of text and experience.

In the first half of parsha Shemini we read about the sacrifices that Moses and Aaron offered to Gd. In the second half of the parsha we read about which animals are kosher (acceptable for Jews to eat) and which are treif (not acceptable for Jews to eat).

Aaron and his sons had spent weeks purifying and spiritually readying themselves to perform these important offerings. The sacrifices were accepted. Dramatically, Gd’s fire consumed the sacrificial remains and His flames ascended to the heavens.  In a moment of religious fervour Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu offered their own (unholy) fire to Gd. In anger, Gd sent down flames that killed the two men. It was a shocking and tragic incident.

Following this distressing event, the Israelites were told which animals were kosher and which were non-kosher. The two narratives are very different- one is a drama the other is a list of guidelines. Yet they are united by a phrase at the end of each of the 2 sections.

After Nadav and Avihu died Aaron and his sons were tasked with being able לְהבדיל בּין הקדשׁ ובין החֹל ובין הטמה ובין הטהור -to distinguish between holy and common, between impure and pure.

Later, when Israelites were told what they could eat and what they could not eat, we read: לְהבדיל בין הטמה ובין הטהור. They were “to separate between the impure and the pure”.

The phrases of separation are obviously very important, and fire is used in Torah as a means of separation. HaShem formed a pillar of fire to light the way of the nation of Israel, and to separate and protect them from their enemies as they traveled through the desert. We, ourselves, use Aish (fire) to separate Shabbat from the rest of the week. We light candles before Shabbat begins and at Havdalah when Shabbat ends. So, to restate, Aish or fire is used as a device to divide and separate.

Fire is mysterious, beautiful, and threatening. If flames come too close they are dangerous- destroying and killing what is in their path. It is a contrary force, and ambiguous one. We need fire for light, for warmth, and in historical times humans needed fire to protect them from wild beasts at night. And yet this protective force can suddenly, without warning, rage out of control.

Differentiating, “לְהבדיל”, creates awareness. That is a theme in this Torah reading. The list of acceptable and unacceptable animals makes us conscious of our dietary choices. The dire punishment of Nadav and Avihu remind us of the sacredness of HaShem’s commands and words. Boundaries create awareness. Without boundaries all things are equal. With limits, there is greater focus and the focus makes everything more precious.

The world is experiencing a time of separation. Due to the danger of COVID-19 we are forced to separate from others in order to keep ourselves and others safe. The separation allows us time to reflect on what is necessary and what is unnecessary. Let’s use this time wisely and make our lives and the world better.

Be safe, be well, be healthy and be kind.

Laya Crust

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Shabbat Shira – it’s music

Halleluhu 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 (“La Marseillaise”and “HaTikvah”). All our secrets can be unearthed (“Killing Me Softly”) and raw emotion can be exposed (Stravinsky’s compositions).

Music 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. That was when I found out that there is a close relationship between science and music.

Miriam’s Song 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 handheld 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.

Devorah the Prophetess by Laya Crust
(inspired by a painting from a 17th C. Judeo-Persian book)

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 won a battle against Sisera’s Army. A woman named Yael completed the defeat by killing Sisera. Devorah then sang a song of praise about the triumph and Yael’s conquest.

 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. The painting at the top of the page shows biblical instruments mentioned in “psoukei d’zimra”, prayers we say in the morning.

On this Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song, pay attention to the songs and music composed by Moses, Miriam, and the prophetess-judge Devorah. Enjoy the art, the sounds, and the music around you and have a Shabbat Shalom.

Laya

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Shemot- Those Who Are Nameless

Hopeless Desperation by Laya Crust

“Shemot”, meaning “Names”, is the title of the second book of the Five Books of Moses.  The book begins with the names of the patriarch Jacob and his sons, and tells how Jacob went down to Egypt with an entourage of 70 people. It says, “And the children of Jacob were fruitful and increased abundantly and multiplied and grew very very mighty, and the land was filled with them.” (Shemot/ Exodus 1:7)

The Israelites became slaves to the Egyptians. Neither slaves, taskmasters, nor nobility were named in the narrative. The first names we read are those of two heroic midwives, Shifra and Pua, who had the courage to ignore the edict to drown every Israelite boy at birth.  The next name we read is that of Moses- not when he was born but after he was rescued by Pharaoh’s (nameless) daughter, then taken by his own (nameless) sister to be nursed and raised for three years by Moses’ own (nameless) mother.

We read of Moses’ entanglement with an Egyptian taskmaster and three Israelite slaves, yet the next person who is named is Re’uel (Jethro), the Midianite priest who kindly took Moses in.

There is a pattern here. The people who were named were those who stood up against the norm of apathy and acceptance. The midwives risked their own lives because they didn’t want to kill innocent baby boys. The adopted boy Moses grew up to rail against the injustice he witnessed. Jethro the priest took in a needy stranger from a rival country.

photograph by Malcolm Peterson, 2003

But names are important. When Moses met God at the burning bush surprisingly Moses asked for God’s name. Moses knew that the Israelite slaves needed a name for God in order to believe. He demanded a name from a powerful, unknown, force. God complied and furnished Moses with a name – “אהיה אשר אהיה“, “I Will Ever Be What I Will Be”.

Names are a key to identity and self-determination.  The Israelite slaves were nameless. Black slaves were stripped of their birth names and given new monikers. Victims of the Nazi regime were numbered in order to add one more level to their dehumanization.  Victims of famine and genocide; and victims of large natural disasters like tsunamis, mudslides, and earthquakes, are unnamed. Missing Indigenous women needed their names shared in order to be noticed, and for their disappearances to be investigated.

When we see a face or hear a name we are more capable of empathizing with a person or an unfolding tragedy.  That is why, when a memorial is set up for fallen soldiers or victims of the Shoah (Holocaust), the invisible individuals can then be remembered, and why the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem is called Yad V’Shem (“A Monument and a Name”).

Ai Weiwei's Snake Ceiling, a serpentine form made from children's backpacks, is currently on display at the Hirshhorn Museum's "According to What?" exhibit. It commemorates the thousands of students who died in poorly constructed schools during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Snake made out of children’s backpacks, Ai Wei Wei, Hirshhorn Museum, 2008/ photograph by Cathy Carver

Ai Wei Wei, the Chinese dissident artist, took another approach in one of his installations.  In 2008, thousands of school children were killed by an earthquake in Sichuan, China, in shoddily constructed government schools. Wei Wei has produced a list of all the victims of the earthquake on his blog. He also created a number of art pieces made from thousands of children’s backpacks to memorialize their lives.

The thousands of victims have been given identities.

Referring to the narrative from the bible, it may seem that calling this story “Shemot” or “Names” is ironic, but on second thought it is a lesson. The people who were named were doers and helpers. They were people who stepped beyond normal expectations to change a condition and make it better.

When we see people in need it may help us to find out their names. That may make it easier for us to see them as individuals and allow us to reach out more quickly.

May this be a Shabbat of welcoming and hope, of reaching out to help the other- the nameless and those in need. And through our actions may we bring peace and healing to the world. Shabbat Shalom, Laya

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Conflict and Strength – VaYishlach


P1140396
art by Laya Crust

Va Yeishev: Bereshit (Genesis) 32:4 – 36

Haftarah:  The Book of Ovadiah

This week’s Torah reading takes us on Yaakov’s (Jacob’s) journey through the country of Edom towards Bethlehem and Efrat. He was a successful man. He had huge flocks, 2 wives, 2 concubines, 11 sons and a daughter, yet he was nervous. He knew he had to travel through his brother’s landholdings but did not want to face his twin because of  their unresolved history. Would Esau be angry at Yaakov? Did Esau still want to kill his brother?

The narrative begins with Yaakov sending messengers to his brother, announcing his approach. The report came back that Esau was coming to meet Yaakov, accompanied by 400 men.  Yaakov, frightened and anxious, sent his messengers ahead with many expensive gifts. He sent his family to the far side of the Jabok River for safety and he himself slept on the closer side of the river, possibly to be on the alert for any attack.

A man came and wrestled with him through the night. Finally at dawn the stranger told Yaakov to let him go. Yaakov demanded that the man give him a blessing and the blessing came in the guise of a new name- Yisrael, “because you have striven with beings Divine and human” (כּי שׂרית עם אלהים ועם אנשׁים).

Image result for jacob and the angel golden haggadah
Golden Haggadah, c. 1320

Who was the man Yaakov fought with? An angel sent by Gd? An adversarial angel representing Esau? Or was it an inner battle that Yaakov was struggling within himself? At the end of the battle Yaakov had a new name and an injury that stayed with him the rest of his life.

Yaakov’s name has many meanings. It can mean follow, heel, or deceive. When he was born Yaakov followed his brother into the world, holding on to Esau’s heel. As they grew up he deceived his brother and his father, and in turn was deceived by his father-in-law.

He left Canaan to avoid confrontation with Esau and to seek a wife. Many years later he left Lavan’s estate in the night, also hoping to avoid confrontation. He may have been a successful man in terms of his career but he was afraid to face the consequences of his actions.

Yaakov couldn’t avoid wrestling with the angel and he refused to give up or give in to the aggressor. He was given a name that represented his strength and position.

Image result for jacob and the angel
by Gustave Dore, 1855

The night of struggle heralded a new beginning. He faced himself and the enemy across from him. That incident strengthened him in his role as leader of a nation. He could carry on and deal with whatever life put in front of him. The struggle with the immortal being took place between sending a message to Esau and actually facing him. Maybe the fight itself influenced Yaakov’s interaction with Esau.

These days we are facing anti-Semitic attacks- verbal and physical, hurtful and deadly, overt and covert, on a frightening level. We are witnessing anti-Semitism from the British elections to UN resolutions, to terrorist attacks in kosher grocery stores and in synagogues, and unconscionable displays of hatred against Israel and Jews on campuses. Like Yaakov we have to face our fears rather than run away from them. Strength as a people and a nation is the only way to combat the hatred.

Like Yaakov let’s struggle with the adversaries and stand firm for what is right. May we see peace soon,

Sabbat Shalom,

Laya

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Noah, a righteous man

The Promise by Laya Crust

The story of Noah is a favourite for children’s book illustrators. (I will include a list of some of my favourite Noah’s Ark books at the end of this blog.)

A dove and a raven have leading roles, and we can imagine all kinds of fantastic exotic and not so exotic animals tumbling out of the ark. Coming out in a disorderly fashion (they’ve been cooped up for a looooong time) they smell the fresh air and gaze at the beautiful rainbow in the sky. They accept and appreciate Gd’s promise that there will never again be a flood that will destroy the world. And long-suffering Noah who has worried about his family and cared for the animals is now free to plant vegetables and fruit groves.

We think of it as a joyful story but in truth, it is a very heavy one.

Noah lived in the tenth generation after the creation of the world. His father named him Noah נח, from the verb ינחם, comfort or console. During that time people behaved sinfully and with moral depravity. But Noah was, as mentioned, a righteous man, and at the beginning of this week’s parsha it says that Noah walked with Gd.

Cover of “Noah’s Ark” by Lisbeth Zwerger

Noah was told to gather two of each animal, a male and a female. He was told to build an ark. He was told to gather his wife, his sons, and his daughters-in-law, and to go into the ark with them. All the animals came to him. Then Noah, his family, and the animals went into the ark and made themselves somewhat comfy.

Image result for peter spier noah's ark
Noah and his wife in the ark by Peter Spier

There has been much discussion about whether or not Noah was truly a righteous man, or whether he was only righteous when compared to the others of his generation. Looking at the basic text we notice that Noah did not take initiative. Although he didn’t do immoral things he didn’t reach out to others in order to model his behaviour. He built the ark but didn’t ask questions. He was told to put animals into the ark but he himself didn’t gather them. Instead, they came to him. He may have walked with Gd, but he didn’t talk with Gd, as did his ancestor Adam or his descendant Abraham. The first time he spoke in the text is when he cursed his son Ham.

The story of Noah is a story of isolation. Noah was isolated from the society around him. He was a righteous man who walked a righteous path. His lifestyle was foreign to those around him. He seems to have been isolated fro his family as well. When he boarded the ark he walked on “with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives”. (Gen. 7:7) This is notable because he didn’t walk with his wife. He walked with his sons.

After the flood, when the waters had receded, Gd told Noah to “Get out of the ark with your wife, your sons, and their wives”. (Gen. 8:16) Gd specifically enjoined Noah to partner with his wife, his helpmate, his עזר כנגדו. But once again “Noah went out, together with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives”. (Gen. 8:18) The text continues stating that the animals “departed from the ark in family groups“. (Gen. 8:19) So it seems that Noah kept himself isolated emotionally from his wife and this was passed on to his sons. It doesn’t say they departed from the ark in family groups.

The Book of Genesis is a description of the beginning of our universe and our nation. Our religion is family and community-based. The stories in Genesis chart the growing pains of family and community. Noah may not have been a communicator or a man who cared about his family and his legacy. But he knew what was moral and what was not and ran his household in that way. That is what Gd saw in him as the progenitor of the new nation.

Noah’s standards of behaviour were passed down through the generations to Abraham, also a man who walked with Gd. In addition, Abraham cared about his wife, his sons, and the strangers who passed by his tent.

When we read the delightful Noah’s ark books to our children and grandchildren we leave out the dark parts. But Noah faced that darkness, lived through it, and was able to expose the light enough for Abraham to take on the next chapter of our legacy.

For good entertainment watch the following link for a great gospel Noah song sung by the Jubalaires. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CLFwW85O20 or this delightful one from Matti Caspi https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uxoQZi_oro

My favourite illustrators of children’s Noah books are: Lisbeth Zwerger, Peter Spier, Jane Ray, and Barbara Reid. The books are delightful.

Have a Shabbat Shalom. May we have peace, and just the right amount of rain.

Laya

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Re’eh- Foundations of Sapphires

Foundations of Sapphires by Laya Crust

This week’s Torah reading begins with the words, “…I am placing before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing [will come] if you obey the commandments of the Lord your Gd, which I am prescribing to you today.” (Deut. 11:16) The reading continues with a number of the laws that the Jews are obliged to observe.

We are lucky to have our land of Israel, and retain it as a Jewish land. However it isn’t “luck”. We have the land, after thousands of years of exile, due to a confluence of circumstances. Bravery, political maneuvering, world opinion, blood and sweat, tenaciousness, religious confidence, and a concentration of faith and observance by Jews within the Holy Land worked together to bring the land to reality.

There is consistent Jewish learning in this beautiful country. The festivals are observed throughout the country as outlined in the Torah and codified by the Rabbis. There is Torah learning in all schools- sometimes in the guise of secular studies of “Eretz Yisrael”, and sometimes through learning Gemarrah. The variety of Jews in levels of observance and cultural backgrounds is vast. The love of land, progress and the gifts of bounty in Israel is huge.

Last night I met with a wonderful young woman who made aliyah a few years ago. She pointed out in a refreshing way how many of the people in the very religious circles can be compared to those meditate all day and see the world from a very high level. A level that the common person cannot understand or even imagine. She talked about how some of these people are keeping a spiritual level constant in Israel without recognition or appreciation, and their vision contributes to the balance of this spiritual land.

Bougainvillea and lush greenery in Israeli pathway.

In the haftarah Gd said, “I will lay red gems as your building stones and make your foundations of sapphires. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of precious stones, the whole encircling wall of gems.” (Isaiah 54:11, 12) It was a sentence of comfort which we can witness in our time.

Image result for tower of david

The sapphire stone was used in the quote from Isaiah. According to the “crystalvaults” definition the sapphire is “a stone of wisdom and royalty, of prophecy and Divine favor. It is forever associated with sacred things and considered the gem of gems. ”

We have this beautiful land of Israel. I hope and pray that we will comport ourselves in an upright way according to the laws Gd gave us so that we can continue to enjoy its bounty. And may we enjoy it without bombs and violence but with peace and tranquility with acceptance from all the nations.

Shabbat Shalom from the Holy Land, Laya

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Mattot- Masei

Jeremiah’s Despair Laya Crust

It is the height of summer and we are observing a period of mourning leading up to Tisha B’Av, the day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples. There are three “Haftarahs of Rebuke” which are read in the three weeks preceding Tisha B’Av, all words from the prophet Jeremiah. On this week’s Shabbat we read two parshas: Mattot and Masei.

Jeremiah was a prophet whose life spanned the reign of 5 kings. It was a tumultuous time in Jewish history, a time of idolatry and war. Jeremiah warned B’nei Yisrael that they were going to be punished for their idol worship, . At the end of his life, in 586 BCE, Judah was destroyed and Jerusalem was sacked by Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah, who was reviled for his messages, escaped to Egypt but the majority of Jews were exiled to Babylon. The illustration I created for Mattot is an homage to Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”. I have drawn Jeremiah looking out of his window watching his beloved city’s destruction.

The path the Israelites followed from Egypt to Canaan is described in great detail in the first 49 verses of the parsha Masei. It was a long and arduous journey for the Israelites and they strayed from Gd’s lessons throughout.

The Perilous Desert Journey Laya Crust

In the haftarah of Masei the prophet Jeremiah reminded B’nei Yisrael how Gd led His people “out of the land of Egypt, through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and pits, through a land of drought and of the shadow of death…. And into a land of fruitful fields…” (ch.2: 6,7). 

There is negativity and sadness in the haftarah. Jeremiah reminded B’nei Israel of the difficult trek through the desert and how Gd protected and took them to the Promised Land. Then Jeremiah describes B’nei Yisrael’s sins. At the very end of the haftarah Jeremiah mitigates the message slightly by telling the people that if they return to Gd “in sincerity, justice and righteousness nations will bless themselves by you and praise themselves by you.”

The word “איך”- How? is used twice in the haftarah asking how Israel can have changed so much, turning to sinning and base behaviour. This reminds us of the word “איכה”- the Hebrew word for “Lamentations”. On the Ninth of Av we will read the book of “Lamentations”.

Messages from the haftarah still resonate today. We are blessed to be in the “Land of Milk and Honey”, creating, cultivating, and helping nations in need. During these three weeks Jews all over the world will read Jeremiah’s words and hopefully try to improve themselves and society around them. Have a good week, and let’s look forward to a time of jubilation and more positive growth.

The artwork featured in this and most of my blogs is part of a collection of art created to illustrate the haftarahs read throughout the year. Currently the collection is on exhibit at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. It is a great exhibit of my work and will be on display to the end of December, 2019. And, to let you know, I am currently working on a book of the art pieces and accompanying commentary. Exciting!!!! Have a Shabbat Shalom, Laya

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