Tag Archives: joseph


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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Dreams and the Dreamer

Joseph’s dream by Laya Crust

Joseph was the ultimate dreamer in the bible. As we know it got him into trouble with his brothers, yet saved him and an entire country when he was in Egypt. In parshat Miketz we read how Joseph interprets dreams for Pharaoh, changing the course of economic and agricultural history, as well as changing the course of history for the children of Israel.

Joseph came by his ability to remember and read is dreams honestly. His father Jacob was guided both by his dreams and by angels. (The angel connection did not figure as highly in Joseph’s life.)

Jacob and the Ladder by Laya Crust

Dreams are important in many cultures. There are dream journals, dream symbols, and the idea that each element of a dream symbolizes something specific. One commonly held theory is that each person in a dream represents one characteristic of the dreamer. The truth is that successful people, those who achieve greatness, are dreamers. They have an idea, a focus, and they follow it. They hold tightly to the goal they wish to achieve, and imagine or strategize how to reach their objective.

We are celebrating Hanukkah this week. The Jewish leaders who fought and overcame the Greeks were focused dreamers who achieved what they had to achieve in order to survive. Herzl had a dream as did other Jews throughout the millennia. The dream was to return to Israel and make the land flourish, allow it to become a homeland for all Jews once again.Herzl by Laya Crust

Before Jews resettled the land in the early 1900’s the country was a barren, dusty, desert. The Jewish pioneers came and irrigated, cleared, drained swampland, and created what is now a flourishing agriculturally rich and technologically amazing jewel.

Spoiler alert– what follows is a short rant: I am pained by the world’s inability to recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland that it has always been. There has NEVER been a time in history when Jews have not been in Jerusalem. I am saddened and sickened by world reaction to the logical idea of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital,  hosting embassy buildings. Jerusalem has always been a focus of Jewish culture and religion, and has been part of modern Israel since the country was recognized in 1948. If the embassies are erected in west Jerusalem why should there be any doubt or argument?

We have dreams. Dreams can lead to beautiful results. We can pay attention to our dreams- analyze what they may mean, and how we can do something better or differently. The dreams may help us reach a goal that we thought was impossible but really isn’t. We can make our lives- and the world- a happier place.

Dream One and Dream Two,  by Laya Crust


Have a Happy Hanukkah. May it be full of light, of joy, of peace, and happy dreams.

Shabbat Shalom,




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art by Laya Crust

Haftarah: Samuel II :  6:1- 7:17

The Torah reading of Shemini and the accompanying Haftarah both describe two tragic events. In the parsha two of Aaron’s sons- Nadav and Avihu- die because they have offered sacred sacrifices at the wrong time. In the haftarah one of King David’s attendants, Uzzah, is afraid the Ark of the Covenant will fall. He reaches out to steady it and dies as a result of this action.  In both cases the men who died were trying to serve God but were punished because they were serving God but not within the proscribed boundaries. These incidents are examples of crossing boundaries with extreme results.

Within the haftarah we read how King David leads the ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem with great exuberant dancing and leaping. His wife Michal looks out of her window disparaging him for his less than regal behaviour. I based the painting at the top of this page on illustrations from a 19th Century book written and illustrated in Meshed, Persia. The book is a love story of Yusuf and Zulaikha  (Joseph and Potiphar’s wife) as recounted in the Koran. The Sufi poet Jami (1414- 1492) wrote a passionate love poem about them which became very popular with the public. The painting below is from a Yusuf and Zulaikha book created in  Meshed, Persia in 1853.

illustration from Jamil’s Yusuf and Zalaikha, collection of The Jewish Theological Seminary, New York

 The text is written in Persian transliterated into Hebrew letters. The text was presumably written by a Jew but it is unknown whether or not the illustrations were painted by Jews. The patterning is lovely with the interlocking swirls inspired by leaves and vines. The clothing is interesting, very different from the styles we see in Western manuscripts art of the same period.

Meshed and Isfahan were two communities in Persia that had strong artistic Jewish communities.  They produced illustrated Judeo-Persian books such as  Yusuf and Zalaikha featured above;  Ardashir-nameh -a book about Esther and Ahashveroshand  Musa-nameh which is the story of Moses.

Ardashir -Nameh, collection of the Jewish Theological Seminary,  New York

The Jews had a long history in Persia, dating back to 700 BCE.  The Jews continued to live there although their conditions varied depending on the forces in power. For instance from 1656 – 1663 there were forced conversions. The Jews, called “anusim” (forced converts), practised their Judaism in secret.

In 1839, almost 200 years later,  Muslim riots burst into the Jewish quarter of Meshed and forcibly converted the entire  community to Islam. Again the anusim lived outwardly as Muslims but continued to practice Judaism in secret. It wasn’t until after WWII Jews began to practise their faith openly.  
Jewish manuscripts and ketuboth from Isfahan, Meshed, and other Persian communities are interesting and unique.  It was fascinating to come across these beautiful illustrations and I had the wonderful experience of looking at the original books in the JTS library. They are colourful and evocative. It’s beautiful to see Jewish art done in Eastern style.
 I hope you enjoyed this little taste of Persian Jewish culture. 

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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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VaYigash                                                                                        Art by Laya Crust

Ezekiel      37 15-28

Ezekiel (prophet) – c.622 BCE – 570 BCE.

Ezekiel was among the 8,000 Jews exiled to Babylonia. Although much of his time was spent criticizing the behaviour of the Jewish people, he kept the spirit of the Jewish people alive during a time of despair. He was a great advocate of individual responsibility, an important trait for each person in the world to  practise no matter when he/she lives.

The haftarah’s message is unity and the unity is expressed through writing on two branches. The storyline gives a message through art and craft. Gd told Ezekiel, a prophet, to take two beautiful branches, polish the branches, carve on them and display them. Naturally this craftsmanship is an art form. The background of my painting is made up of significant phrase from Ezekiel’s speech. You can click on the image to enlarge it.

So, about those branches-  One represented the nation of Judah and the other represented the nation of Ephraim, Joseph’s lineage. Ezekiel wrote the following phrases onto the branches: “For Judah and for the children of Israel his companions” on one, and “For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and of all the house of Israel his companions” on the other. Ezekiel then held the two branches up in front of a gathering of the exiled Jews. He showed that the two groups could be reunited and grow together as one unified nation. He also told them that Gd would gather them from among all the nations and bring them back  to their own land. The text reads, “I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel.” (v. 22)

beit horon passage

Photo by Yoni Lightstone tour guide

This speech by Ezekiel comes right after the vision of The Valley of the Dry Bones. He is preaching unity of the nation, and the revival of their political and spiritual connection to their Gd and their land.

This week’s parsha continues the saga of Joseph and his brothers. We have read how Joseph was sold into slavery. Jacob went into deep mourning believing Joseph was dead when in reality Joseph was imprisoned and ultimately made high vizier in Egypt. He was second only to Pharaoh in his powers. The Middle East suffered a debilitating drought and Jacob’s family was forced to go to Egypt to purchase food. We have read how Joseph recognized his brothers but hid his identity from them. Now, finally, Joseph has revealed his identity and they have all been reunited. The haftarah echoes the family reuniting.

It is written in this week’s Haftarah: “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.” (v.21). We see it happening today. Jews from all over the world are coming to Israel. But- you don’t have to be Jewish! Come to Israel! Visit! It’s beautiful there.

Enjoy this holiday time,





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Picnic in Dothan

VaYeishev SigIllustration by Laya Crust

VaYeishev:  Bereshit (Genesis) chapters 37 – 41

We are introduced to Joseph and his brothers this week. They were shepherds. It seemed Joseph stayed at home with their father Yaakov rather than go out into the fields with ten of his siblings. 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. They had gone to Shechem with their flocks, and then traveled on to Dothan.  Joseph went to Shechem but couldn’t find them. A man- we suspect that he was an angel- and redirected Joseph to Dothan. The brothers saw him approaching. To paraphrase Maurice Sendak, they “made mischief of one kind and another”.  They resented Yaakov’s favouritism of Joseph and probably also resented the fact that their brother was comfortable at home while they took care of the flocks. 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



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.

Slice in half and drizzle with tehina, yogurt, silan (or honey), olive oil and lemon juice. 
P1120435 Season 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.


and Shabbat Shalom.




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