Tag Archives: Judaism

Purim pop-up

EPSON scanner imageart by Laya Crust

Here we are approaching the most raucous holiday of the year. Revelry, costume and indulging with wine or something stronger is encouraged on Purim. Not only is it it encouraged, we are told we have to increase our joy.

The story of Purim is a tale of treason, love, lust, hatred, bad guys, and good triumphing over evil. There is a great explanation of it at http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday9.htm. There’s also an interesting analysis of the comparison of the Esther story and the Joseph story at http://learn.conservativeyeshiva.org/purim-esther-and-joseph/

Some of us are busy making costumes for the Purim parties and some of us are making hamantaschen. Hamantaschen is from the Yiddish words “Mohn” and “tasch”. “Mohn” means poppy seed and “tasch” means pocket. What a revelation! (for more info about hamantaschen go to The History and Meaning of Hamantaschen – Peeling back …  )

This year,5782 or 2022, Purim starts Wednesday, March 16, and continues the next day, Thursday March 17.  We celebrate the holiday with reading the Book of Esther (the Megillah), dressing up in costume, giving charity and sharing food with our friends Wednesday night and and Thursday, unless we live in a walled city like Jerusalem and then we celebrate Purim the next day, but that’s another story.

Rather than discuss the megillah I am presenting you with an arts and crafts project. Here is a pop-up Purim card you can make with your family, your class-  if you are a teacher-, or your buddies.P1110245

Start by printing the picture below on an 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper: We’ll call it ” Model 1″

EPSON scanner imageFold the sheet in half lengthwise, with “Mordecai”  towards you.P1110232

Take your page and cut along the solid black line at the base of the carpet Mordecai and Esther are sitting on. Stop when you get to the corner of the carpet. Then take your scissors out and cut along the thicker black line at the top of the carpet, up Mordecai’s arm, around his head, and back down his side until you get back to the edge of the carpet. Cut through both halves of the paper. Do NOT cut down the side of the carpet – only cut where the black outline is thick.P1110236Now you have cut the figures of Mordechai and Esther.

Fold the page in half widthwise. The message Purim Sameach (in Hebrew) and English will be on one side and all the painting will be on the other.

P1110248Fold the page as shown above. Then turn it back to the picture side.
P1110241Pull the figures gently towards you.  The figures should extend out and the rest of the card folds in the opposite way. I hope that makes sense to you. Make this card and send it out to your friends and family, or enjoy it yourselves. You are welcome to share the instructions with anyone you want. And- if you are a teacher, this can be a great Purim project with your class.

On another note: This year we are witness to the violent invasion of Ukraine by Putin’s Russian forces. The situation is not the same as the situation in the Persian Empire 2,500 years ago. At that time Haman, a court official, made plans to assassinate all the Empire’s Jews. Queen Esther, a secret Jew, exposed Haman’s horrifying plan and stopped it. There is a surprising parallel between Ukraine today and Shushan from 2,500 years ago. President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish. Previously his religion was not a focal point in his life or career. Now he is using his connection to Jewish history and Israel to inspire the Ukrainian people. His strength and integrity have unified Ukraine. He has inspired international support for Ukraine and condemnation of Putin’s aggression.

We all hope that justice and strength will prevail, and the evil aggressor will be vanquished.

Have a great Purim, and remember to “Share” this post with your friends.

Purim Sameach, Laya

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Vayikra

Abandoned Altars by Laya Crust

This week we read the first parashah 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…”

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 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.

Laya

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Mishpatim. G-d is in the Details

The sweetness of the Law- Shabbat dessert by Arava and Eleanore Lightstone

G-d gives the Ten Commandments to the Children of Israel in parashat Yitro. The parashah describes the thunder and lightning, the shaking of Mount Sinai, and the fear and trembling of the Israelites. It is a beautiful parashah. This week’s reading, Mishpatim (Laws), is comprised of laws that further define the Ten Commandments.

Judaism gave the world its moral code. The Ten Commandments outline many things from recognizing one G-d, to keeping the Sabbath, to the prohibition of murder, theft, and adultery. The first laws that are discussed in the parashah concern slavery. The Israelites had just been released from Egypt where they had been slaves. Those many years of servitude had been imprinted on their psyche. G-d knew that laws concerning slavery would resonate strongly with the Children of Israel.

The first law offers the possibility of freedom to a slave. “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free…” (Ex. 21:2-3). The Israelites are told to empathize with strangers. “Do not mistreat or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in Egypt.” (Ex. 22:21) and “Do not oppress a stranger; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners because you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Ex. 23:9) G-d knows that if a person empathizes with the “other”, with a stranger, that person will show greater understanding and patience to the stranger.

The haftarah for Mishpatim is from the Book of Jeremiah. King Zedekiah had ordered the release of all Jewish slaves, as per G-d’s instruction. Two years later the owners re-inter their slaves. G-d tells Jeremiah that since the owners have re-enslaved their servants they will be punished. Slavery did not end in Jeremiah’s time as we know.

oneworldeducation.org

It has continued throughout history, even to the present day. Modern slavery exists in the notorious sweatshops in China, with the chained children in India who weave carpets, prostitution rings, and collapsed garment factories. Jews, too, have been the victims of modern slavery.

Freeing the Slave by Laya Crust

The slave conditions of sweatshop workers in the “shmatteh” business are well documented.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, young immigrants from Europe were put to work in dangerous conditions. The hours were long, the pay was miserly, and the workers would be locked in so they couldn’t take breaks for lunch or supper, or meet with union leaders to organize. Although the workers were not “owned “by their employers as they were in biblical times- they were owned by their employers in terms of their lives.

My illustration for Mishpatim shows the infamous fire in 1911 at New York City’s Triangle Shirtwaist Company. It killed 146 young sweatshop workers; most of whom were Jewish immigrant girls aged 16 – 23. The image of the workers is based on a photograph of the young women and men striking, trying to get better working conditions.

May Day Parade, 1909

Rose Schneiderman and Clara Lemlich were two of the Jewish women who organized the women’s garment unions. Jews have been union organizers throughout time and throughout the world. Just as G-d commanded us not to enslave and torture others, Jews have fought throughout history for human and employee rights. Human dignity, respecting other people, and treating all humans as equals are concepts central to Judaism. We are a people who believe in justice and freedom and will continue to work for it and fight for it. Our stubbornness in this particular arena is a stubbornness we can all be proud of.

Read this week’s parashah and haftarah. Notice the righteousness. Notice the details. G-d is in them.

Have a Shabbat Shalom, Laya

“Five Thousand Years of Slavery” by Marjorie Gann and Janet Willen gives a thorough history of world slavery with fascinating photographs and reprinted documents. It is a great educational tool for home or school.

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BeShalach-Shabbat Shira

B'Shalach
Miriam’s Song by Laya Crust

This week’s Torah reading, Beshalach, is called Shabbat Shira- the Shabbat of Song. We read three songs-  Miriam’s song after crossing the Red Sea, Moshe’s “Song of the Sea,” and Devorah’s song of victory. Women sing and play music in both the Torah and haftarah readings, and they are also significant figures in these biblical stories.

Before focusing on our heroines, Miriam, Devorah, and Yael, I will mention some elements from this week’s parashah. The Israelites have fled Egypt, but Pharaoh and his army are in quick pursuit. God splits the Red Sea so the Israelites can cross to the other side. We read about the manna that appears to feed the hungry people. God introduces the notion of “Shabbat” by sending two portions of manna on the sixth day so that everyone can refrain from collecting food on the seventh day, Moses sweetens the water in this parashah and we read about the battle with the Amalekites.

Miriam is called a prophet in this parashah. She and her brothers, Moses and Aaron, lead b’nei Yisrael to freedom. God has confidence in the abilities and wisdom of women and chose Miriam to be the female role model for the nation. She exemplified strength and leadership. After crossing the Red Sea, Miriam led the women, celebrating with song and dance.

h shabbat shira

Devorah the Prophet by Laya Crust

 Devorah was a judge and prophet who led the Israelites for 40 years. She sat under a palm tree to meet with her people. The haftarah tells of a battle waged by the Canaanites against the Israelites. The Jewish commander, Barak, asks Devorah to lead the battle with him. She warns Barak that a woman will be credited with the victory if she goes, but he still insists on her help.

Yael Killing Sisera Maciejowski Bible, ca 1240

Yael, the other significant woman in the haftarah, is not a Jew but a Kenite. After the battle, Sisera, a general, flees from the Jews, seeking refuge with Yael. She gives him warm milk to drink, covers him with a blanket, then drives a tent peg through his temple, killing him. The haftarah is unusual in that it features two women- Devorah and Yael- as heroic characters.

Devorah writes a song of praise, mentioning herself as a mother of Israel, Barak as a leader, and Yael as a heroine. The end of the song is powerful. Devorah describes Sisera’s mother waiting at the window for her triumphant son to return home from battle. Devorah sings, “…The mother of Sisera…moaned…’Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why are the hoofbeats of his steeds so tardy? …Have they not found spoils and treasure? Have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera many kinds of plunder…?”. Devorah describes the scene- a mother waiting for her son- all the while knowing Sisera has been murdered. The mother’s pride that her son has successfully killed, looted, and abducted the Israelites is disquieting.

The women in the parashah and haftarah show strength and leadership. God chose Miriam to be one of the three leaders of the children of Israel as they trekked towards freedom. God appointed Devorah and later Hulda as prophets and made Yael a hero.

Women may not be mentioned in our writings as often as men, but women were essential leaders and educators then, as women are today. Let’s work in strength and harmony, and sing in harmony too!

Have a joyous and tuneful Shabbat,

Laya

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Bo, The Stand-off

Bo sig

Haftarah:  Jeremiah 46: 13-28

This week’s haftarah is from the Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived most of his life in Israel, witnessing both sieges of Jerusalem (597 and 586). In this haftarah, after the fall of the First Temple, he warned the Children of Israel not to ally themselves with Egypt. He prophesied that Egypt would fall to the Babylonians.

In the illustration Egypt {Pharaoh) is being confronted by Jeremiah (Moses). The images Jeremiah uses in his warnings about Egypt are painted in the background. The heifer, gadflies, serpent, locusts, and trees that will be cut down have been painted to look like an Egyptian wall painting. The images the prophet used echo the plagues visited upon the Egyptians in parsahat Bo.

The Egyptians had already experienced 7 plagues. Some were unpleasantly uncomfortable (being overrun with frogs) and some were devastating (pestilence killing the cattle and hail destroying crops). In this week’s parashah, Moshe warned Pharaoh that if he didn’t free the children of Israel there would be even more dire consequences. Three more plagues were to be visited upon the Egyptians. Pharaoh lost patience with Moses. After the plagues of locusts and darkness, he wanted the threats to stop. Bombastically, he proclaimed, “Depart from me, take heed of yourself. Make sure never to see my face again. For on the day you see my face you will die.”  (Exodus 10:28) Moses answered, “You have spoken well. I will not see your face again.” Pharaoh’s threat was answered. He did not ever see Moses’ face again.

Pharaoh had been given opportunities to let the Israelites leave. His pride would not allow Moses to threaten him or speak of a Gd more powerful than he. Pharaoh threatened Moses with death. He would never see Moses again, but he paid a horrific price. His eldest son- and the eldest of all Egyptian families would die. Pharaoh’s decree not to see Moshe’s face again had negative implications and terrible results.

Rabbi Ari Kahn, a rabbi in Israel, points out that children are the focus of the Exodus narrative. Our all-powerful Gd could have freed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery with little pain and fuss. For instance, the plague of darkness immobilized the Egyptians for three days while the Israelites had light. Moses could have led Gd’s people out of Egypt and across the Red Sea without their oppressors even knowing what was happening. Why the elaborate choreography of the plagues?

The cries of pain began with overwork and Pharaoh’s decree to kill newborn Jewish babies. Midwives and mothers risked their own lives to save the babies. The lives of children are precious to Jews. In this parashah Gd tells Moses that our children may forget the story of Egypt, slavery, and deliverance. The seder itself will be the reminder. That reminder will ensure our children’s education and the continuity of our people.

We are told to remember the stranger because we were strangers. We are reminded to remember our past and learn from it. We live in challenging times and hopefully if we remember to be kind to those around us we will get through this period without too many bruises.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

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Reunited- VaYigash

The brothers selling Joseph to passing traders from the parasha VaYigash

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 Joseph be sold rather than be killed, begged for understanding. He pouredout his heart to the great Egyptian before him. Judah hoped that by telling this regent of his father’s heartbreak and frailty the leader might 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…” 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. 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.

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.

Both readings are about unity. In every era and in every generation there are disagreements between different sectors of Jews. The competition for leadership, the separation of the nations – began as early as the story of Cain and Abel. 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. We are stronger as a united people.

We live in frightening times which are harder to navigate if we are divided. We witness and experience the Covid-19 epidemic, international terrorism, increasd anti-Semitism, 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

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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Dreams and the Dreamer

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 Parashat 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 his 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.

Not By Might by Laya Crust

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

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.

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. 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.

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

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

I painted many of the pictures you see in this post as part of a collection of pieces for a sefer haHaftarot- a haftarah scroll. You have seen many of these images over the years if you have been following my blog. I’m excited to announce that a collection of these paintings and their explanations will be published in a book called “ILLUMINATIONS, An Exploration of Haftarah through Art and History”. I will share more information about the book in the coming weeks.

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Lech Lecha

Dear Reader,

I painted the pictures you see here as part of a collection of pieces for a sefer haHaftarah- a haftarah scroll. You have seen many of these images over the years if you have been following my blog. I’m excited to announce that a collection of these paintings and their explanations will be published in a book called “ILLUMINATIONS, An Exploration of Haftarah through Art and History”. I will share more information about the book in the coming weeks.

“Count the Stars”

If you’ve ever been camped in the desert or in the countryside at night without artificial light, you will have seen a  sky studded with stars. The heavens are so full of stars it seems amazing the sky can hold them all.

The parasha of Lech Lecha introduces us to Abraham, the man Gd chose to begin a new nation. Gd tells Abraham that He will bless him. Abraham’s descendants will be as numerous as the dust on the ground and the stars in the skies. Gd said, “Look now toward the heavens and count the stars if you are able to count them. And He said, “and so your descendants shall be…” (Genesis 15:5) Looking up at that night sky Avram couldn’t have begun to imagine how many stars there were. There were too many to count, too many to even guess at.

God told Abraham to leave his birthplace and travel to where God would direct him. Just as Abraham was called by God and promised a new homeland, the haftarah relates that God will gather all Jews from the corners of the earth and take them to their homeland – to the land of Israel.

This week’s haftarah is from the Book of Isaiah. The Jews have been in Babylon, in exile, for decades. They are sure they will never be able to return home. It seems that King Cyrus is about to conquer Babylon and Isaiah is hopeful that Cyrus will allow the Jews to go back to Israel. Isaiah assures the Jews that Gd will not abandon them. Gd reminds the Jews that they are His chosen people. “The coastlands look on in fear, the ends of the earth tremble … But you, Israel my servant … whom I drew from the ends of the earth and called from its far corners …”(Isaiah 41:5, 8, 9)   

Compass Rose by Laya Crust

The references to coastlands and the ends of the earth evoke thoughts of maps and atlases. This painting shows a section of the famous Catalan Atlas which incorporates Majorca, Spain, and the compass rose which is found on every navigational map.

One of the most accomplished medieval mapmakers was Abraham Cresques who lived in Majorca, Spain. He was the mapmaker to the king. In 1375, Prince John of Aragon commissioned Cresques to make a set of nautical world charts as a gift for the future King Charles IV of France. Abraham and his son Jehuda created the Catalan Atlas, which is recognized as the most important atlas of the medieval period. The Catalan Atlas included the names of coastal towns, locations of houses of worship, and drawings of traders, rulers, and flags of the empires.

Although he had worked on maps which were commissioned by royalty, ironically, Jehuda was caught in the snare of the Spanish Inquisition. He was forcibly converted to Christianity during the anti-Jewish outbreaks of Spain in 1391, and took the name Jaume Riba. He continued to create maps and was called Magister Cartarum Navegundi – “Master of Navigational Maps”.

Abraham was chosen to begin a new nation, the nation that would one day be known as Jews. Even back then Gd told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a strange land, referring to their enslavement in Egypt. Abraham was warned that life would be tough for the Jewish people, his descendants.  The hardships have continued throughout history. In this haftarah Isaiah gave encouragement to his exiled brethren in Babylon, telling them that Gd would not abandon them.

Every time period is a time of challenge for the Jews. Right now we are still facing challenges and terrible anti-Semitic tides. We are reminded that Gd made a promise and will always keep that promise initialized with Avraham Avinu- Abraham our father.

Have a good week and a good Shabbat. May it be one of peace and health for klal Yisrael and the world.

Laya

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VaYeilech- Shabbat Shuva

VaYeilech- Shabbat Shuva by Laya Crust

Shabbat Shuva is the Shabbat between Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur. On Rosh haShana we were in synagogue thinking about our past year and obstacles we faced. Many of us wondered about the coming year and what it would bring. Many of the prayers remind us of the fragility of our lives and the inevitability of death. Who will die? What is in store for us, our friends, and for our families?

The Torah reading begins with Moses’ words, “I am 120 years old today. I can no longer go out and come in, for Gd told me, ‘You shall not cross this Jordan’. HaShem your Gd, He will cross before you…” Moses, the greatest prophet and leader, had to face death. But he reminded the Israelites that Gd is the eternal leader of the Jewish people.

The haftarah reading is a combination of texts from three prophets. Hosea, Micah, and Joel. The three prophets, each in their own way, ask us to endeavour to improve ourselves.

I based my painting at the top of the page on a piece by the American artist Ben Shahn. It is based on his painting called Ram’s Horn and Menorah. It illustrates Joel’s words, “Blow a shofar in Zion, consecrate a fast, call an assembly; gather the people, ready the congregation…” The words describe our communities getting ready for the Days of Awe, and Shahn in his unique way used colour and movement to convey the awe, fear and unity of these important days of reflection.

His life was dedicated to human rights and social action, and he expressed that through his prolific artworks. His paintings, graphic art, photographs and essays are devoted to the “human condition”.  The strength of human beings to survive difficulty and stand tall in the face of adversity and unfairness runs through his works. His paintings are gritty, honest, and thought-provoking.

Image result for ben shahn poster
Image result for ben shahn paintings

Shahn’s work communicates the struggle of the human spirit to succeed, not just to survive. He reminds us that we don’t live in a bubble. We must care for ourselves and those around us. Those are among the meditations of Rosh HaShana.

We are reborn each day. Each day we have the opportunity to make new choices and make them good choices. Each day we can forgive ourselves for what we didn’t do yesterday, or what we wish we had done differently. We can begin anew and strive to have a fulfilling day.

May this year be a year of health, growth, improvement and goodness. Enjoy your Shabbat and have a meaningful Yom Kippur. To you and your family from me and my family,

Laya

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Korach- Rebelling against the Establishment

Samuel and Saul by Laya Crust

Parasha: Korach Haftarah: I Samuel 11:14- 12:22

In the Torah reading Korach, a priest, gathered 250 followers and challenged Moshe’s authority. Korach thought it was presumptuous of Moshe and Aaron to retain the leadership of the Israelites. He said, “You take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them…” (Numbers 16:3). The accusation was particularly galling since Korach and his followers were already distinguished as men of note with special roles.

Later in the parasha there was another rebellion concerning Aaron’s role as High Priest. Gd proscribed a test where each tribe inscribed a wooden staff with its name then put the rod into the Tent of Meeting. The rod of the true leader would sprout leaves overnight. The next morning Moshe brought out the twelve rods. Not only had Aaron’s rod sprouted leaves but it had flowering buds and almonds on the staff.

The haftarah echoes the rebellions against the established leadership. The prophet Samuel was the prophet and leader of the Jews around the year 1000 BCE. The Israelites saw that other nations were ruled by a king, and they wanted to be like other nations. Samuel saw this as a betrayal of Gd and Gd’s rule. Moshe and Samuel each attempt to convince the Israelites not to overturn the leadership. Moshe says, ” I have not taken a single donkey of theirs, nor have I wronged even one of them.” (Numbers 16:15) Samuel says, “Whose ox have I taken or whose ass have I taken? Whom have I defrauded or whom have I robbed? From whom have I taken a bribe to turn the other way?” (I Samuel 12:4)

The parasha is resolved with Moshe and Aaron each retaining their positions and the rebels being punished. In contrast, Samuel loses his position as leader. He anoints Saul as king and becomes Saul’s advisor.

The Israelites wanted a king so they would be like all the other nations.  The change wasn’t being sought for positive, constructive purposes. Rather the change was being pursued so that the Israelites would be like the other nations.  Similarly, Korach’s goal was not the improvement of his people. His goal was self-promotion and personal power.

The issues of self-interest and personal power are issues that plague us to this day. To create a healthy society and a healthy world we need leaders who are leading for the betterment of society, not for self-promotion. At the grassroots level, we need to strive to make the world a better place by supporting wise leaders and with our own fair and caring actions. Hopefully, through these actions we will see peace,  justice, and equality in the world sooner rather than later.

A word about the illustration for this haftarah: The painting is inspired by a woodcut from a book by Isaac ben Solomon ibn Abi Sahulah. Born in Castile in 1244, he was a scholar and Hebrew poet. He noticed that Jews were reading foreign novels like “The Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor”, fables from India, and books from other cultures. Isaac wanted Jews to read about Jewish subjects so he wrote his own book of poems and parables called “Meshal ha-Kadmoni” (The Ancient Proverb). It was so popular it was reprinted six times in Hebrew and nine times in Yiddish! My painting shows Samuel speaking to Saul, based on a German reprint from 1450. 

Let’s all hope for good directions in this crazy world of crazy leadership that just seems to get crazier. Shabbat Shalom, Laya

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