Tag Archives: joseph

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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VaYechi- And He Lived

King David and Saul by Laya Crust

VaYechi is the last Torah reading in the Book of Beresheit (the Book of Genesis). It is just that- the story of the beginning, or genesis, of the world and of a people. The parsha begins with a word that in biblical Hebrew means “and he lived”, and in modern Hebrew means “and he will live”. It is appropriate because this word refers to Jacob who died in this parsha but created the family legacy which would continue, living as the Jewish nation.

Our forefathers and foremothers did not have perfect family lives. There was jealousy, jostling for power and attention, and lifelong resentments. We read about favouritism. There was very little tenderness exhibited in the harsh lives they led. However, tenderness does appear in this parsha.

When Jacob was 137 years old he had been living in Egypt with Joseph and his other 11 sons for 17 years. He knew he was about to die and called Joseph and Joseph’s sons to his bedside. “…he kissed them and embraced them. And Yisrael said to Joseph,’ I had not thought to see your face: and lo, God has also shown me your children.’ ” (Genesis ch 47 v..11) Yaakov was expressing the longing he had felt for decades, never believing he would see his son Joseph again. Neither Abraham nor Isaac had ever spoken to their children with such honesty and warmth.

We go on to read the first ethical will ever recorded. Jacob spoke to each of his sons, and to his two favourite grandsons. He foresaw how they were going to navigate the world. The prescience could have been see by the sons either as warnings or as guidelines for how to lead their lives in the best way possible. As well as speaking about the children’s’ attributes Jacob also made it clear that when he died he was to be buried in Canaan in the same place his wife Leah, his parents Isaac and Rebecca, and his grandparents Abraham and Sarah had been buried.

This scene and this request- he actually insisted that it be an oath- were the greatest lessons of all. By gathering the sons together in one room and speaking to each of them one by one Jacob was cementing the family unit. It wasn’t a speech to all the servants and to those Egyptians who respected him, it was a speech only to his sons. This showed them how he valued them as a family unit with common roots, and that they would retain their nationhood and integrity if they stayed together.

The insistence that he be buried in Canaan was an indication that Canaan, not Egypt, was his and their homeland. That being said, Joseph was the only one of the twelve sons who made an oath that he too would be buried in Canaan.

As always there are many lessons in the parsha. Communication in family, showing love to our children, expressing our deepest wishes, seeing each child as an individual, the power of the ethical will, unity, and being in the right place are all lessons from this reading.

We live in a frightening world with too much hatred and too much violence. If we stand together as a unified nation, if we live with the integrity laid out in halachah (Jewish precepts and law), and if we know who we re as Jews and where we belong, maybe we can help heal our nation and heal the world more effectively. As we go forward we might also be able to learn from Yaakov Avinu (our father Jacob’s) ethical will to us, his descendants.

With blessings for goodness and peace, Shabbat Shalom.

Laya

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Reunited

Joseph by Laya Crust

           

Parsha: VaYigash                                   Haftarah:   Ezekiel 37: 15-28

For the last number of weeks we have been reading about our ancestors,  Jacob’s children. More specifically, we have read about Joseph’s trajectory from favoured son at home, to being a slave, and then to becoming viceroy of all Egypt. By the time he was thirty years old Joseph ruled Egypt. He ran the finances and oversaw all of Egypt’s policies.

In this week’s Torah reading Joseph’s brothers still did not know that the leader they were speaking to was their brother. This parsha begins just after Benjamin had been “framed”. Joseph’s personal silver chalice had been “planted” in Benjamin’s belongings, and the Israelite brothers had been told that Benjamin would become enslaved to Pharaoh’s court as payment for the infraction. Joseph was playing a game with his brothers. 

English: Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brot...Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brother, c. 1896-1902
 by James Jacques Joseph Tissot    (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 
Judah, the same brother who decades earlier had suggested that Joseph be sold rather than be killed, stepped forward and begged for understanding. He poured out his heart, recounting the family history to the great Egyptian before him. Judah hoped that by telling this leader of his father’s frailty the leader may accept Judah as a slave rather than take his youngest brother.

Joseph could carry on the charade no longer. He cleared all the Egyptian attendants from the room. The text says, “And no man stood with him while Yosef made himself known to his brothers. And his voice cried out with weeping, and Egypt heard…” Joseph forgave his brothers. He feasted with them, gave them gifts of clothing and food, and convinced them to return to Egypt and live in comfort. He told them how to get land so they could raise cattle.

Although the story had begun many years earlier with fraternal jealousy, the brothers reunited and rebuilt their family. This was contrary to the patterns we had seen before. Cain killed his brother Abel. Isaac grew up without his brother Ishmael.  Jacob and Esau never truly reconciled. In this story we see Joseph and Judah build the unified family which would become a nation.

VaYigashReunited  by Laya Crust

The haftarah features the prophet Ezekiel. He lived from around 622 BCE – 570 BCE and was among the 8,000 Jews exiled to Babylonia. God told Ezekiel to take two beautiful branches, carve phrases on them and display them. One branch represented the nation of Judah and the other represented Joseph’s lineage, the nation of Ephraim. Ezekiel wrote phrases about the two Jewish nations onto the branches and held the two branches together. The action was to indicate that just as the branches could be rejoined, the Israelites could be reunited and grow together as one unified nation. 

beit horon passagephoto by Yoni Lightstone, tour guide

Ezekiel also told them that God would gather them from among all the nations and bring them back  to their own land. The text reads, “Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, whither they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them to their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel.” (v.  21, 22)

Both readings are about unity. In every era and in every generation there are disagreements between different sectors of Jews. We are stronger as a united people. I hope we can learn to discuss, consider, and be united for the benefit of all.

The painting “Reunited”, showing Ezekiel writing on a branch,  is one of the images in my forthcoming book, “ILLUMINATIONS: The Art of Haftarah”. Stay tuned for more information!

Shabbat Shalom,  Laya

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Picnic in Dothan

VaYeishev SigIllustration by Laya Crust

The last number of weeks we have been reading about Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel. Jacob was the proud father of 12 sons and one daughter, and moved his family from Padan Aram back to Canaan. In this week’s Torah reading we find out more about the dynmics in Jacob’s family.

Jacob left his father-in-law’s home a wealthy man with huge herds of cattle and flocks of goats. The sons were shepherds. Joseph was favoured by Jacob, and was given a beautiful coat. While his brothers were out iin the hot fields for days at a time Joseph stayed at home with their father. There was a lot of jealousy for more than one reason.

At one point in this week’s Torah portion Joseph was sent out to the fields to look for his brothers and report back to Yaakov (Jacob). They had gone to Shechem with their flocks, and then traveled further.  Joseph went to Shechem but couldn’t find them. A man- we suspect that he was an angel- redirected Joseph to Dothan. The brothers saw him approaching. To paraphrase Maurice Sendak, they “made mischief of one kind and another”.  They threw Joseph into a pit and gave him to Midianite traders who then sold him to Ishmaelite traders.

I’ve often wondered about the brothers out in the fields, sleeping and eating there. What did they have for lunch? What were they eating as Joseph approached? Many Israeli cookbooks feature eggplant recipes, and I thought- could the brothers have enjoyed something like roasted eggplant?

Roasted Eggplant with Silan and Tomatoes

P1120421

Ingredients:

1 medium eggplant                                                        1 – 2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 Tbsp. raw tehina                                                          1- 2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. yogurt                                                                   sprigs of fresh parsley, cilantro or hyssop leaves

1 tomato halved, cored, and diced                            1 crushed clove of garlic

1Tbsp. silan or dark honey                                           sea salt and crushed pepper to taste

Bake the eggplant. You can roast it over a bonfire, a gas flame or, as I have here, an electric element. It gives a wonderful smokey flavour.
P1120427

Slice in half and drizzle with tehina, yogurt, silan (or honey), olive oil and lemon juice. 
P1120437Season with salt, pepper, and garlic. Garnish with parsley, cilantro or hyssop.

The roasted eggplant is delicious with warmed or toasted pita and a good glass of beer.  (P.S. To be honest, the brothers wouldn’t have been eating eggplant or tomato. Eggplants are indigenous to India and tomatoes to South America. But, they are popular in Israel now! )

Enjoy, and Shabbat Shalom.

Laya

This illustration for the parsha VaYeishev is based on a beautiful panel from the Sarajevo Haggadah. The haggadah was created in 1350 Spain, and has beautiful paintings illustrating the Bible from the story of Creation to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. This particular image shows the brothers selling Joseph to Ishmaelite traders. Joseph is portrayed as a young boy begging his brothers not to sell him.

I have created pictures for each haftarah and parsha of the year and am currently working on a book, showcasing each painting. Stay tuned for updates! 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 the current blog by e-mail.

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Yosef and Yehuda

Joseph’s Dream by Laya Crust

This week’s parsha- “VaYeishev” (and he dwelled) is the beginning of a long, long narrative devoted to the life and adventures of Joseph, Jacob’s favourite son. In unusual detail 4 weeks of Torah readings, 13 chapters of text, are dedicated to Joseph’s trajectory from being a shepherd’s son to becoming second in command to the ruler of a large and powerful nation. In this parsha we do get another story as well, the story of Yehuda and Tamar. What I will do today is compare the paths of these two brothers.

Jacob’s Gift to Joseph by Laya Crust

Our parsha begins stating that Isaac loved Joseph more than all his other children, and made him a striped, or multi -coloured, coat. Joseph’s brothers were jealous and aggravated by him, especially after he shared his dreams of grandeur with his brothers. Not only had he been given a regal coat by his father, but shared the dream in which his entire family bowed down to him. The brothers were so angry they decided to kill him. Yehuda was the one sibling who spoke up and convinced them not to murder Joseph, rather they should sell him to passing traders.


  by Laya Crust

As the stories play out we witness certain events in the lives of Yehuda and Yosef.  Yosef was the favoured son, given a regal gift by his doting father. He had dreams of grandeur then was abruptly thrown into a pit and sold into slavery. In Egypt he was bought by Potiphar, rose to a position of responsibility within Potiphar’s home, then was thrown into jail because of Potiphar’s jealous and conniving wife. In prison he once again rose to a position of influence where he interpreted two dreams. Ultimately he was taken out of jail to again interpret two dreams for the Pharaoh. Through his correct interpretation of the dreams he became Grand Vizier over of all of Egypt. He became a leader, and a man of power.

Yehuda had a very different path. He iwa the fourth son of Isaac and Leah and barely mentioned until the incident where he saved Yosef from death. There is an unexpected story in the midst of this parsha featuring Yehuda and Tamar, his daughter-in-law.  Yehuda “went down from his brothers” and married an unnamed Canaanite woman. They had three sons. The oldest, Er,  married a woman named Tamar. Er was punished by God and died, so Yehuda had his next son, Onan, marry Tamar. Onan also sinned and was punished by God and died. Yehuda thought the deaths were Tamar’s fault. Instead of taking care of her he sent her away ostensibly until his third son, Shuah, could marry her. When years passed and Tamar realized she would forever be forgotten she took matters into her own hands. She dressed as a lady of the night.  Yehuda, not knowing her identity, slept with her. It’s an interesting story. Ultimately Tamar was to be punished for being a harlot. When Tamar proved to Yehuda that her situation had been untenable due to his  wrongful actions Yehuda took responsibility.  Tamar gave birth to twins. Her son Perez was the first of the Davidic line. Later in the Yosef narrative Yehuda took a lead role in Egypt and attempted to alleviate and solve difficult issues.

These different paths of Yehuda and Yosef are thought provoking. Yosef was the favoured and talented son. He consistently became a leader wherever he lived. Each time he was toppled from his position he would rise again, becoming an advisor, an interpreter, and a leader. It would have been logical for him to be seen as the next leader of the Jewish people. Why did that role fall to Yehuda?

When we look at Yehuda’s life we see that he made some challenging decisions. He disagreed with his brothers and convinced them to let Yosef live. He left his father’s home to marry a Canaanite woman. This seems to have been against the family culture. Remember, Isaac went to Padan Aram in order to avoid marrying a Canaanite. It is possible that he wanted to leave behind the fighting and jealousy rife within his family. By separating from them and marrying a Canaanite he could live a more straightforward life, one without bickering and rivalry. His integrity is obvious in how he honoured Tamar’s testimony and how he was the first of the brothers to step forward and try to negotiate with the Grand Vizier of Egypt. In contrast Yosef was a product of circumstance. He didn’t take strong initiative. His intelligence, talent, and of course God’s guidance helped him through each step of his interesting life.

We are called “Yehudim”- Jews- named after Yehuda, the fourth son.

King Solomon by Laya Crust

King David, our greatest king, and King Solomon who built the Temple in Jerusalem descended from Yehuda. And the Messiah is from that same line. Yehuda was the son who knew that to lead a life of observance and truth he had to separate himself from the pettiness and jealousy that weakened his birth family. He retained his identity and love of God while separating from the in fighting. He joined in the family events and family crises while preserving his integrity.

I hope we can all learn to do the same, to retain our identity and Jewish faith while separating ourselves from what is petty and negative. And like Yosef- may we be able to interpret our dreams for good and follow our dreams to create a better world.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

 

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Blessings

Image resultJacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph,  by Rembrandt, 1656

The Torah reading, Va’Yechi, describes the last days of Jacob’s life. He led a complicated life. He  balanced the challenges of marriage and supporting a large family with his God given role as the third patriarch of a new people. He used strategy and manipulation to reach his dreams and accomplish his goals.

The word Va’Yechi  means “and he lived”,  emphasizing that Jacob had really lived and learned, that he had not merely coasted along in life and survived. In a way his life began when he had to run away from his brother Esau. At the end of his life we see how experience taught him deep wisdom and the clarity to understand people.

Jacob was raised in a family where his father, Isaac, loved the older brother Esau, and Rebecca, the mother, favoured Jacob, the younger brother. Although the two boys were twins Esau (the elder by only minutes) was expected to be bequeathed the greater inheritance and family rights. The parents’ preferential treatment towards different children and Jacob’s desire for some of his brother’s rights led to mistrust and maybe even hatred. The family splintered because of it.

Jacob repeated the preference of the younger over the older throughout his life. He chose  to marry Rachel, the younger of two unmarried sisters, countering common practice. Jacob presented Joseph, his favoured son, not Reuben the first born, with a regal tunic.

Jacob and Joseph, by Laya Crust

The choices led to a fractious relationship with his brother Esau, a bitter life with competitive wives, and the disappearance and supposed death of his favourite son. The family challenges coupled with a famine must have mellowed Jacob and increased his empathy and understanding of others.

Jacob learned and stood by an important lesson. Do not judge people by birth order or by wealth. I suspect he learned his respect for wisdom and leadership over birth order and wealth from his parents. His mother left a manipulative brother to live a new life. His father was a second son who inherited the role to establish a new nation. Jacob, like his father, recognized that he, not his older brother, was to be the leader of the Jewish people. Although it may have been contrary to the norms he and his mother devised a plan to make sure the most appropriate son received the appropriate blessing.

Isaac Blesses Jacob,  by Laya Crust

Jacob  raised Joseph differently from his brothers, possibly recognizing that Joseph needed a different education to fulfill his potential. In a stark replay of history he blessed his grandsons, Menashe and Ephraim, in the “wrong” order- the younger before the older.

At the end of his life he spoke to each of his sons, and seeing each for who they were. He recognized various sons as strong leaders, successful politician, merchant, trader,  warrior, baker, and farmer. The text says,”…and this is that which their father spoke to them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them.” (Genesis 49: 28)

In the secular calendar we are beginning the year 2018-    20 “chai” or “life”. It is almost 2,000 years since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and now, once again, we live in our homeland of Israel. Let us hope that this year brings all of us the wisdom that Jacob showed – the wisdom to recognize each person for whomever he or she is, the wisdom to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of those around us, and the wisdom to recognize and value our children and friends for who they are.

May this be a year of peace, honesty, and goodness. I hope everyone will have the wisdom of Jacob to see what is good, what is evil, and to fight the right battles.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

 

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Joseph- VaYigash

joeyJoseph and his Dreams by Laya Crust

This picture is a painting I made for my son named Joseph, named after his grandfather Joseph, and he celebrated his Bar Mitzvah reading parshat VaYigash, about Joseph.  I portrayed Joseph in his special coat gazing at the stars and dreaming of his future. In the border are symbols of the twelve tribes- symbols of his brothers as well as other images relating to the Bar Mitzvah boy.

The colourful story of Joseph and his brothers reaches its climax in this week’s parsha. The brothers and their father, Jacob, have survived the famine in the land of Canaan but cannot survive much longer. The heart-broken patriarch reluctantly sends the brothers to Egypt to get food. They had gone before and met the Pharaoh’s second in command- and had a strange experience there. But this time they go with troubled hearts because they were warned not to come unless they brought their youngest brother, Benjamin.

Joseph is playing a game with his brothers, and it’s difficult to understand exactly why he is making the demands he is making. This parsha begins just after Benjamin has been “framed”. Joseph’s personal silver chalice has been “planted” in Benjamin’s belongings, and the Israelite brothers have been told that Benjamin will become enslaved to Pharaoh’s court as payment for the infraction.

English: Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brot...

Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brother, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

The beauty/ pathos of the story unfolds from here.  Judah steps forward and begs for understanding. He pours out his heart, recounting the family history to this great Egyptian before him. Judah hopes that by telling this leader of his father’s frailty the leader may accept Judah as a slave rather than take his youngest brother.

Joseph can carry on the charade no longer. He clears all the Egyptian attendants from the room. The text says, “and he cried out, ‘Send every man to go from me.’  And no man stood with him while Yosef made himself known to his brothers. And his voice cried out with weeping, and Egypt heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard.”

The Recognition of Joseph by His Brothers, by Peter Cornelius, 1817

When I read those phrases I imagine a stately, handsome regent who is always in control. He is a man who has faced one challenge after another but has always kept his wits about him, analyzed, strategized, and succeeded.  He has played with his brothers, waiting for just the right time to reveal his identity.  I think he was “undone”, hearing Judah’s humility and love for Yaakov, the father Joseph hasn’t seen and possibly thought he never would see again. The narrative sets the scene in a compelling way. Joseph is so overcome that he loses his controlled facade. Alone with his brothers he lets out such a cry of anguish that the entire land of Mizrayim (Egypt) hears… What powerful text.

The story had begun many years earlier. Fraternal jealousy instigated a cruel joke at best or a malicious death wish at worst. That behaviour broke a family apart and had a ripple effect on the generations that followed.

The brothers and Jacob are reunited.  Judah will become one leader of the tribes and the other brothers will unite as a group called “Yisrael”. We know from the text in the Bible that just as they separated when Joesph was sold, the tribes of Israel will once again separate and form two kingdoms.

The conflict in the history of the Jews- the competition for leadership, the separation of the nations – is foreshadowed in the story of Abraham’s sons, Isaac’s sons, and now again in the story of Jacob’s sons. We have seen the story played out over and over again. We allow ourselves to be divided by traditions, dress, levels of observance, and politics.

In addition, we live in very frightening times which are harder to navigate if we are divided. We witness and experience international terrorism, tyrannical dictatorships waging war on its citizens and neighbours, slavery, rising opiad deaths, and bizarre weather related disasters. On the other hand we live in a time with potential for incredible good. Using medical innovation, social network, communication and the sharing of resources, we can create and heal the world.

Just as Joseph and his brothers could forge a better future together, we can do the same. Joseph saved Egypt and its neighbours from starvation through sharing wisdom and strategy- we have the potential to do the same.

With prayers for peace and understanding,

Shabbat Shalom,    Laya

 

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