Tag Archives: Judah

Bechukotai

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Jeremiah  16:19 – 17:14

Jeremiah- prophet, ca 640 – 568 BCE

Jeremiah lived in the ancient land of Judah at a very difficult time for the Jews. He began to prophecy when he was 18 during the reign of King Josiah.  A scroll was found in the Temple and King Josiah re-established Jewish law- much to the displeasure of the idol worshiping law-ignoring Israelites.

Jeremiah begins this haftarah by telling B’nei Yisrael that their sins are written on their hearts and they will be punished. He continues by saying that those who depend only on men will be like a tree that grows on parched land in the wilderness. But one who trusts in God will be like a tree planted by the waters which spreads its roots by the river.  He goes on to say that the tree will be calm in the year of drought. The terminology is beautiful, giving the tree emotion and human feeling.

The prophet Jeremiah was not respected. He was a tragic figure. He spent his life lonely- unmarried, unpopular, and derided. He so wanted to help the Jewish people that he dictated his prophecies to his scribe Baruch and had them read to the current king, King Jehoiakim. The scrolls were burned so Jeremiah had them written and presented again.

Jeremiah was an idealist.  He spent his entire life trying to reawaken faith in the hearts of the Jews.  He preached peace and encouraged compliance  to a population that wanted war and revolt. He was imprisoned for his outspoken support of observance to God, and ultimately had to flee to Egypt after Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Israel.  Jeremiah died in exile, in Egypt.

Maybe Jeremiah is like that tree of uprightness that he spoke aboout in this week’s haftarah. He led a difficult and sad life but his words lived on. His thoughts were strong like a tree, nourished by the waters of truth.  His ideas continued to grow and nurture even in times of drought. And we still read Jeremiah’s words and learn from them.

Share these thoughts on the Haftarah and Jeremiah on Facebook, and with your friend, family and students. Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

 

 

 

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VaYikra

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Vayikra

Isaiah 43:21 -44:23

Isaiah (prophet)  c. 740 – 681 BCE

This week we read the first parsha in the Book VaYikra- the Book of Leviticus. VaYikra means “and He called”. It commences a series of instructions God gives the Israelites concerning sacrifices. The theme of Leviticus is one of holiness, and holiness is described in different forms throughout the book.      (note: “Leviticus” is a Latin word meaning “from the Levites”)

Isaiah lived and prophesied in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. At the beginning of his life both kingdoms were successful and prosperous. During his lifetime the Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed.  The Southern Kingdom of Judah barely survived a takeover by Assyria.

At the time of this haftarah the Jews are in exile. They are worn down, defeated, and turn from God to worship idols. Isaiah calls to them telling them that God notices they have abandoned the altars and sacrifices and they have stopped worshiping Him. Instead they are offering sacrifices to man made gods. God tells the Israelites He will not abandon them.  He says, “Even as I pour water on thirsty soil and rain upon dry ground, So I will pour My spirit on your offspring”.

In my haftarah painting at the top of the page I show a willow tree by a river. There are sheep grazing in the fields , sacrifices burning in the background, but abandoned altars overgrown with grass in the foreground. In the text God says, “And they shall sprout like grass, Like willows by watercourses…”

I wanted to show that the Jews have forgotten God. Even so, God is waiting for the Jews to resume their observance of God. They have lush fields, herds of sheep and flowing rivers, yet they have turned away. God waits until they return and will bless their children.

Interestingly many scholars think the Book of Isaiah was written in more than one section. Dating back to the 12th Century Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra was convinced that chapters 40 – 66 were written by one or more prophets who lived in exile in Babylon, after the destruction of the the Southern Kingdom. That would have been about 150 years after Isaiah died.  This second section is often called “Deutero Isaiah” or “Second Isaiah”.

This haftarah is a very beautiful, poetic composition. I hope you’ll read it and enjoy!  Shabbat Shalom.

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Shemot

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Isaiah  27:6 – 28:13 and 29: 22,23

Isaiah (prophet)- c. 740 – 681 BCE

The haftarah for Shemot is from the Book of Isaiah. He was a prophet who lived during the fall of the kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians. At this point the tribe of Judah was the only tribe that had independence. Isaiah’s words are poetic but very strong. He criticizes the Northern Kingdom, the kingdom of Ephraim, describing their drunkenness and gluttony.  He goes on to predict that Judah too will fail. At the end of the haftarah Isaiah does manage to impart some comforting words. He says that the nation of Israel will return to G-d and sanctify Him.

The hafatarah takes place at a very difficult time for the Jews. The sovereignty and power of the northern kingdoms have disappeared and Judah will follow the same path.

This is similar to the situation of B’nei Yisrael in the parsha. Jacob’s descendants had gone to Egypt under the protection of the Pharaoh who was in power during Joseph’s time. They lived in Goshen, separate from the Egyptians. According to the parsha  after Joseph dies the Pharaoh says, “Behold, the children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us…”  and that was the beginning of the end of comfortable living for b’nei Yisrael. We can assume they lived in dwellings  similar to those of the Egyptians and had enough to eat. But once the Egyptians noticed them, their numbers, their individuality and their strength those in power became concerned- maybe even paranoid. To counter the success and numbers of the Hebrews  Pharaoh began the process of their enslavement. By the time Moses was born the Hebrews were almost at their lowest point. They had lost their independence, they were enslaved and were building the treasure cities of Pitom and Raamses, and they were commanded to drown any baby boy who was born to them. They were at their most desperate point in their history until that time.  Unbelievably their situation worsened following Moses and Aaron’s appeal to Pharaoh.

I thought about the similarities of the haftarah and the parsha. The greatest similarity was the depths to which b’nei Yisrael had fallen. Unfortunately Jews faced those unbearable conditions and situations numerous times.  The Shoah would be the darkest time in recent history.  As in Egypt the Jews quickly moved from positions of honour and equality to  those of poverty and enslavement. In the parsha the murder of baby boys wss mandated. Of course in the Shoah the mandate was taken further than that.

I wanted to show the hopelessness and pain of B’nei Yisrael in my illustration for the parsha and haftarah of Shemot. In my investigations of imagery  I found a series of woodcuts by Miklos Adler, a Jew from Lithuania who had been transported to Auschwitz and then to Vienna. He was liberated from Theresienstadt. The woodcut I chose shows Jewish slaves labouring under the whip of an S.S. soldier, with a Jewish corpse disregarded at the feet of the Nazi. Miklos Adler did a series of 16 woodcuts, 7 of which were printed in “A Survivor’s Haggadah”  which was edited and compiled by Yosef Dov Sheinson for Pesach, 1946.

There is such darkness and horror conveyed in the images in that Haggadah that I felt it connected the three time periods together- B’nei Yisrael in Egypt, the Jews under the Assyrians, and the Shoah.

Those were horrible periods of time to put it mildly. In the parsha HaShem sends Moses to the children of Israel because He has not forgotten them and will free them. The haftarah concludes with a positive prediction.  Isaiah says that , “[the house of] Jacob shall not now be ashamed…. they shall sanctify the Holy One of Jacob. and shall stand in awe of the Holy One of Israel.” And in present times? We cannot forget the loss of millions of lives and many more millions of their descendants z”l. But we can look with pride at the land we once again own, the innovations and improvements to the world brought by Israeli and non-Israeli Jews and the amount of Jewish learning that exists. We must be ever cognizant and protective of the continued freedom for our people.

 

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VaYigash

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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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