Tag Archives: joseph

Shemini

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. 
Laya
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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

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,

Laya

 

 

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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

P1120437

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

P1120421

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. 
P1120435 Season with salt, pepper, and garlic. Garnish with parsley, cilantro or hyssop.

P1120437

The roasted eggplant is delicious with warmed or toasted pita and a good glass of beer.

Enjoy,

and Shabbat Shalom.

Laya

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Joseph and His Threads

And Yisrael loved  Joseph

We read the story of Joseph every year. It’s quite a tale. There is jealousy, subversion, lust, deception, desperation and at the end there is reconciliation.  It’s a good adventure and provides inspiration for musicals and bedtime stories.

 In reading and rereading it I was struck by how often clothing is mentioned. We all think of the special coat Jacob gives Joseph, the act that seems to be the catalyst for subsequent events. Throughout the saga of Joseph and his family events are punctuated by references to clothing. Sometimes the reference is to a garment being torn in mourning.

P1090522

Often the change in an outfit announces the change in a scene or situation, as when Joseph is taken out of jail and given a set of clean clothing to wear before seeing Pharaoh. 

 Why was there this focus on clothing?

 Clothing has been mentioned in previous Torah texts. Often – not always- it is related to deception or humiliation and shame.  In the story of Adam and Eve clothing doesn’t appear until Adam and Eve have sinned and they put on fig leaves to cover themselves and hide from G-d. Noah, while drunk, is uncovered and thereby humiliated.  In the story of Jacob and Esau, Jacob dons animal skins and Esau’s clothing in order to fool his father Isaac.  Later Leah wears a veil at her wedding  to trick Jacob into believing he’s marrying Rachel.  In the next generation Joseph’s brothers grab his coat and dip it in blood to fool Jacob into thinking Joseph has died.  Tamar deceives Yehudah by wearing the garb of a harlot and  Potiphar’s wife grabs Joseph’s cloak and keeps it, fabricating (pun intended) a story,  accusing Joseph of trying to molest her. The biggest masquerade of all is that of Joseph. Wearing Pharaoh’s ring,  garments of fine linen and a gold chain, he entertains his brothers while hiding his true identity

 The story of Joseph is a saga, a twisting tale of favouritism and sibling rivalry. Joseph began his life as the chosen son and was given an exceptional coat.  He wore his fabulous coat, announcing to his brothers how wonderful he thought he was. Think of it- he wore his regal cloak- the mark of his father’s favouritism- to the fields where the brothers were working hard in the sun and he was visiting, not working. He was sold into slavery because of his arrogance. Being sold into slavery and transported to a foreign land Joseph faced huge challenges.  He used his faith, intelligence and wits, rising to the highest position available in the country. Clothing and appearance continued to be elements in the saga. Sometimes they hindered Joseph and other times benefited him.P1090525

 This story sets the scene for the next chapter of the history of B’nei Yisrael where the favoured descendants of Joseph become slaves. It’s a fascinating study. I thought about how the words wove a complicated and layered story.  The repeated reference to clothing mirrored the layering of the narrative. I looked at the words as the threads of the story line.  I wove those phrases dealing with nakedness, dress, and clothing  and created 18 images for the Joseph story line.

 It seems that much of Bereshit deals with deception and appearance. Faith in one G-d is the main message of Bereshit, but deception is another.  In Joseph’s family- in the entire Jacob family chronicle – people tampered with appearance. Instead of speaking honestly to each other they often tried to get what they wanted by masquerading.

We live in a world where we are judged not only how we behave but also by what we wear. Clothing in our daily lives announce who we are and how we want to be seen.  We live in a time and a society that is very tolerant of individuality (piercings, tattoos, dreadlocks, shaven heads, hemlines of all lengths, necklines of all depths). But we are  still judged by our appearance. We can use our appearances and garb to get ahead,  and to achieve our goals. We may be masquerading but the truth catches up with us. At the end of the day the world turns and things probably work out as they should. But- it’s probably more comfortable to wear the clothes that are real rather than dress up as someone else.

 

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VaYigash

joey

This picture is from the Bar Mitzvah of a boy 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. Against the heart broken patriarch’s intuition the brothers must travel to Egypt to get food. They have 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.

It is a game Joseph is playing 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...

English: Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brother, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902), gouache on board, 7 7/8 x 10 3/16 in. (19.9 x 25.9 cm), at the Jewish Museum, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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,’ Cause 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.”

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.

Foster Bible Pictures 0054-1 Joseph Kissing Hi...

Foster Bible Pictures 0054-1 Joseph Kissing His Brother Benjamin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story began 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.

The hafatarah for this week is Ezekiel 37: 15 – 28.  Ezekiel the prophet lived in the early part of the 6th C. BCE.  He was among those exiled to Babylon. In this haftarah he is told by G-d to take two sticks. On one he should write the name of Joseph and his “house” (kingdom), and on the other the name of Judah and his “house” (kingdom).  The two sticks should then be held together signifying that the two kingdoms should and can be reunited. The people of Israel will be gathered from among the nations, they will live righteously , and they will live as one nation. 

We have seen the story played out over and over again. Now we have our own country of Israel. Jews are immigrating there from the four corners of the world. Yet we are divided by traditions, dress, levels of observance, and internal politics. We’ll see how our next chapter unfolds.

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VaYeishev

VaYeishev Sig

Amos 2:6 – 3:8                                                                                                                                                                           Amos (prophet) prophesied in the 8th Century, BCE in the Northern Kingdom of Judaea.

Last week’s post, VaYishlach, featured an image inspired by a medieval haggadah- the Rylands Haggadah from 14th C. Catalonia. This week I harken once again to a medieval haggadah. This time it is the Sarajevo Haggadah from 1350 Spain.  I want to take you on a time traveler’s tour using this image. We will visit the prophecies of Amos, the story of Joseph, the courts of the Empeor Hadrian, medieval Spain and come back home. So get your passport and hold on to your hat!

The haftarah is from the Book of Amos. He was a herdsman and farmer concerned with righteousness.  He believed that if a society and all the members of society are not good to each other the society crumbles. The fortunes of Assyria were waning and the Kingdom of Judaea had a period of affluence- but there was a large economic gap between the rich and the poor and it seemed that the rich were selfish and unrighteous.

Amos begins this haftarah by saying “… they sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes…And a man and his father go unto the same maid to profane My holy name”.  Both of these phrases allude to the parsha. The first describes how the brothers sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites for 20 shekels of silver. “The man and his father going to the same maid ” reminds us of Yehuda being unfair and humiliating Tamar, his daughter-in-law.

I decided to represent the haftarah and parsha showing the brothers selling Joseph.  I went to the Sarajevo Haggadah with its wonderful rendering of the scene. In the painting we see the brothers exchanging money with Ishmaelite traders. The brothers are depicted as  Spanish merchants with fair skin and light hair wearing typical clothing of the period. Look at the traders- they are black, with dark skin, curly black hair, and black features.  Joseph stands with the foreign traders. He’s portrayed as a little boy, his hands held together begging his brothers to take him back. And we see the camels carrying the merchants’ goods.

We can learn from historical images. This image tells us that the Spanish Jews were trading with black merchants traveling from North Africa. It tells us about the clothing of the time and the art produced for the Jewish community. We also learn that today we use the same haggadah that Jews used in medieval Spain, and that Pesach was so important that someone commissioned a hand written, illustrated book to be used at their seder.

The scene of Joseph I painted, inspired by the Sarajevo haggadah, reflects the first phrases of the haftarah and takes us to how that story was viciously used in history.  In some synagogues at the musaf service on Yom Kippur we read about ten righteous Rabbis who were martyred by the Romans under the emperor Hadrian about 120 CE. The Roman judges quoted a law which stated, “Whoever kidnaps a man and sells him, or if the man is found in his possession, must be put to death”. They used Amos, Devarim 24:7,  and the story of Joseph as an excuse to torture the ten Rabbis.

  This is the line through history. The haftarah from around 750 BCE mentions the sin of “selling your brother”. That quote reminds us of the story of Joseph who lived 3,500 years ago.   Then we travel to the Roman tyrants in the reign of Hadrian 1900 years ago. And then we move to the beautiful Sarajevo Haggadah from 660 years ago, replete with Jewish cultural history from that time. And Amos’s message comes through- do not sell your brother- in other words, treat your family and society with respect and understanding. Otherwise tragedy will unfold.

One of the goals in creating my haftarah art pieces is to communicate the theme of the haftarah, relate it to the parsha, integrate Jewish history, and hopefully forge a connection between the viewer and our Jewish past. In that way we can remember that the Tanach is alive. Although time continues to pass we can still learn from our history and that in truth we are living the history.

So, I hope you are enjoying my posts. 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 an update by e-mail.

 

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