Tag Archives: Judaism

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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Va Yak’hel

Inspired Va Yikahel sig

“Inspired Workmanship” by Laya Crust

In the previous Torah reading, “Ki Tissa”, we read about the sin of “the golden calf”. Just to remind you, Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God and bring them down to the Israelites below.  When Moses didn’t arrive at the expected time the nation grew worried and anxious, fearing that something bad had happened. They demanded a god, an idol,  to pray to. Breaking off their jewellery they fashioned a golden calf. The nation was punished by God. The golden calf was destroyed and three thousand men were killed.

In this week’s Torah reading Moshe invited all the people, whoever was generous of heart, ” נדיב לבו“, to bring forward gold, silver, brass, dyed linen and goats’ hair, wood, oil, spices, and precious gems. All these materials would be used to craft holy objects for the mishkan. The items to be crafted were listed and described, and  the people came forward with all that had been requested. The magnificence is described close on the heels of the sin of fashioning the golden calf. 

Wasn’t it contradictory- to punish the people for creating a golden calf but then command them to make expensive objects to be used in religious observance? The Israelites loved ornamentation and beauty. They gave their gold and precious jewelry to Aaron to make an idol to replace the absent Moshe. The answer to this seeming contradiction is in the wording.

Phrases like “wise hearted”  and “willing of heart” appear 15 times in this parsha. Only individuals who were wise hearted and generous could see past the expense and glitter of the materials through to the purpose of  prayer and service to God.  Those who are wise and generous can understand and facilitate elevation of spirit.

Beauty feeds the soul and God understood- and understands this. This parsha acknowledges the need the Israelites had for something beautiful and tangible to help them find comfort and help the on their journey.

Image result for 1299, Perpignan manuscript illumination

1299, Perpignan

Bezalel was chosen to be head architect and designer. He was filled with the spirit of God, with creativity, with understanding and with the knowledge of all kinds of craft. His aide, Oholiab, was also filled with wisdom of heart. Men and women were all invited to contribute and participate in the building of the mishkan and all the objects within it as long as they were generous of heart.

The value God places on creativity is the theme of my illustrationThe vessels are the brass pieces used in the mishkan. The painting is based on a  beautiful and timeless illumination from 1299, Perpignan, Aragon.  The two quotations are from the parsha:  “Take from among you an offering of the Lord, whoever is of a willing heart let them bring it…” (35:5)     “And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing of heart.” (35:22) The sparkling watercolour wash behind the quotations represents imagination and spirituality.

So, artists, artisans, wood workers, poets, musicians, playwrights, weavers, silversmiths,  authors, painters, dancers, photographers and potters, when you work with integrity and inspiration remember that it is God’s gift to you. This is your contribution to the spiritual beauty of the world.

Have Shabbat Shalom- one full of beauty and joy and of course – creative thinking. Hoping for peace and equality in the world,

Laya

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Laws – Mishaptim

The Ten Commandments by Arava and Eleanore Lightstone

Mishpatim, which means “Laws” is a parsha that seems out of place. The previous five Torah readings have been full of drama and excitement. The giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, with lightning and thunder was last week’s Torah reading. Following that we expect something more colourful than lists of laws that discuss slavery, murder, and theft.

Rashi points out the the parsha begins with the words “ואלה המשפטים” – “and these are the laws.” The word “and” indicates that the text is a continuation of the previous passages. Rashi is telling us that the laws presented in this parsha are here because they are elaborations of the Ten Commandments from Yitro. We will see that most of the commandments are expanded upon.

God introduced Himself and His position in the first three commandments. Each of the remaining Commandments are clarified and elaborated upon in one degree or another in parshat “Mishpatim”. We read a variety of punishments related to various acts of murder- premeditated and accidental. There are references to honouring one’s parents, enlargement of the observance of Shabbat, details about types of robbery, and attention to the treatment of slaves.

Freeing the Slave by Laya Crust

The concept that parshat Mishpatim is a continuation of parshat Yitro is further supported by the way the two readings are bracketed visually and textually. Before the Ten Laws are announced to the Israelites there was thunder and lightning around Mount Sinai. “And the people perceived the thunder and lightning and the voice of the horn and the mountain smoking.” (Exodus 20: 15)

A Pavement of Sapphire Stone by Laya Crust

After the elaboration of the Commandments, Moses and the elders were invited to “come up.” It says, “and they saw the God of Israel and under His feet there was a likeness of a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very sky for purity.” (Exodus 24:10) This is a breathtaking image. Moses, a few chosen leaders and 70 elders were invited to the heights to witness God. The pavement of sapphire stone. The variety of translucent blues ranging in the skies above. The colours of peace, spirituality, calm, and the hues of the vastness of the firmament. Such a vision those chosen few were invited to witness!

That vision was just before the bracketing occurrence of pyrotechnics. “When Moses ascended the mountain the cloud covered the mountain…the presence of the Lord appeared …as a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” (Exodus 24: 15, 17) Here we read the visual bookends of lightning, thunder and cloud, dramatically encompassing the Laws that we , the Jews, are commanded to follow.

The narrative is also bracketed by the Israelites stating in slightly different ways ” כל אשר דבר ה׳ נעשה ונשמע” “All the God says we will do and we will hear”. (Exodus 24:7, as well as similar phrases in 19:8 and 24:3)

I hope this has been interesting to you. I had not connected the unity of these two Torah readings until I listened to a talk by Rabbi Alex Israel of Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. I hope, too that you enjoy the visuals and affirmations given to us through these parshiot.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

P.S. Parsha food idea via Eleanore Lightstone of Jerusalem..- A gingerbread Mount Siani with cranberries for the fire and ice cream for the clouds. What a great dessert!

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Respect: Parshat Yitro

Receiving the Torah by Laya Crust

This parsha presents the Ten Commandments, the outline for life that God presented to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments are the base rules for interacting with God and man. These rules can be encapsulated by one word- respect. It’s not just respect for God, it is respect for God, respect for all people, their families, and their property.

Three individuals take the centre stage in this week’s Torah and haftarah readings. The three are Moses, his father-in-law Yitro, and the prophet Isaiah whose words are read in the haftarah. The theme of respect connect the three men.

Moses was a person who, from his early days, cared for others and sought justice. Our first meeting with him as an adult was when he stepped in to stop a Hebrew slave from being beaten by an Egyptian slave driver. Then he saw two Hebrew slaves fighting and stepped in to stop that violence. Rather than sit back and be comfortable in his wealth and position as a member of Pharaoh’s household he ended up leaving the Egyptian dictates of brutality and regal order. When he came upon Yiro’s daughters being bullied at a well he again stepped in and protected them. He helped the weaker from the stronger, unjust men.

His desire to activate respect for all may be the trait that caused God to choose Moses as His messenger to lead the Israelites out of slavery.

Yitro had some of the same traits. Unlike Jacob’s father-in-law Lavan, Yitro truly embraced Moses as a friend, a son-in-law, and a partner. Although Moses ultimately decided on a path different from Yitro’s after encountering God’s presence at the burning bush, Yitro was supportive of Moses’ decision. Indeed, Yitro recognized HaShem as the one true God although he did not follow b’nei Yisrael on their journey to Canaan.

When we met Yitro at the beginning of this parsha he gave Moses incredible advice. With Yitro’s own trait of wanting good for those around him he told Moses how to change his judicial approach to difficult tribal issues. He saw that Moses stood from morning to night advising all the people of Israel who had a question or problem. Yitro told Moses to create a heirarchy of “able men such as fear God, men of truth hating unjust gain; and place  such over them to be rulers of thousands, fifties and tens”. (Exodus 18:21).  He continued by suggesting that only the most difficult cases that couldn’t be decided by the appointed judges be brought to Moses. Yitro wanted Moses to understand that to lead the people well and strongly Moses had to take care of his own self and health.

Isaiah and the Seraph by Laya Crust

The haftarah begins with Isaiah’s vision of God on a throne. This is a reflection of God’s magnificence in the Torah reading. God wanted to choose Isaiah as a prophet but Isaiah demurred, saying his lips were “unclean”. A seraph touched Isaiah’s lips with a coal and cleansed them allowing Isaiah to have the confidence of heart to preach the correct way to live to the children of Israel.

The three men were chosen because of their own integrity and their desire to help those around them led lives of respect and integrity.

That’s what the Ten commandments are about. They are a gift God created for us,. They are a template for righteousness, fairness and goodness to ourselves and all those around us. Shall I add- the rest is commentary?

Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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Jacob’s Lentil Stew- The Best Parsha Food Ever

Toldot- Family Dynamics  by Laya Crust

An interesting tradition some families follow is to include food that relates to the Torah reading of the week at the Shabbat meal. You may remember the post where I featured foods to represent the ten plagues (https://layacrust.wordpress.com/2018/01/18/parsha-foods/).  Or for Joseph’s dreams you could make cookies in the shape of the sun, moon , and stars.

This week’s parsha, “Toldot”, tells the story of Isaac and Rebecca and their twin sons Esau and Jacob. According to the text Esau had been out hunting. Naturally he was tired when he came home. When he noticed that Jacob had been cooking lentil stew he said, “Give me now some of that red, red stuff.” (Genesis 25:30). Instead of just giving his brother a bowl of the red lentil stew Jacob traded the food for his brother’s birthright. The stew must have smelled amazing. Here is a recipe for you to try this Shabbat.

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I always wondered about that mystical lentil stew. It must have been filling, it probably smelled wonderful, and it would have been red. I found a recipe which fit the bill.  One note of interest- this recipe doesn’t call for red lentils. Red lentils turn yellow when they cook. Instead this recipe calls for brown lentils.  Yes, the stew does end up red.  P1100786Here we have a nice collection of lentils, vegetables and 10 (!) spices. Beware, the spices are pretty intense!

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The aroma of the sauteeing carrots and onions with fresh ginger and garlic is amazing and the addition of 10 exotic spices makes the aroma even more pungent.  The tomatoes and lentils are added next.

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If you are having a dairy meal you can garnish the lentil stew with yogurt and fresh coriander or parsley.

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Spicy Red Lentil Stew

1 cup brown lentils

2 cups water

2 onions, diced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

4 cloves of garlic, minced

2 Tbsp. ginger, minced or grated

2 Tbsp.  olive oil

6 fresh, chopped tomatoes or a 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes

1/2  cup tomato paste

1 cup water or vegetable broth

Spice Blend

2 tsp. cumin                         2 tsp. Hungarian paprika

1 tsp. turmeric                     1/4  tsp. ground cardamom

1/2 tsp. dried thyme           1/4 tsp. ground coriander

1/8 tsp. ground cloves       1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

1/8 tsp. ground allspice     1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)

Method:

Boil the lentils in the 2 c. of water for about 45 minutes, until they are tender.

In another pot, over medium heat, saute the onions and carrots for 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and spice blend. Saute 5 more minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, the tomato paste and the cup of water/ vegetable broth. Simmer until bubbling.

Yield: 4 large servings.

Let us hope for calm and peace throughout the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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Oaths and Promises


Shabbat Shuva  by Laya Crust

This past Saturday we observed “Shabbat Shuva”, and now we are about to observe “Yom Kippur”, the day of Atonement. Yom Kippur begins with the beautiful prayer “Kol Nidrei”, a prayer recited in unison by the congregation. Kol Nidrei means “All my Vows” and we are asking God to pardon us for vows we have made to Him but that we haven’t fulfilled.

Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah. , all occur in Tishrei which is the seventh month of the Jewish calendar.  The number seven often appears in our texts and in our observances. Our new year, Rosh HaShana is celebrated on the first day of the seventh month, the first month being Nisan.

Rosh HaShana occurs after the Seven Weeks of Consolation following Tisha B’Av. In the haftarot during the Seven Weeks of Consolation there are repeated reference to God as a groom and the Nation of Israel as a bride. Following a wedding there are seven days of “sheva brachot” (seven blessings) at which we make seven special blessings over the bride and groom.

And where else do we find 7…

Related imageSukkot and Pesach in Israel are celebrated for seven days.

Between Pesach and Shavuot there are 7 weeks. We count the “Omer ” for 49 days- 7 weeks of 7 days.

Every seven years the land in Israel must lay fallow, the shmitta year.

Our gold menorah, the menorah rededicated on Hannukah, and the menorah wreathed with olive leaves used as the emblem symbol of Israel, has seven branches.

And of course, as we will read in a few weeks, the world was created in six days and on the seventh God rested. Our week is based on that model, a model of seven days. Interestingly the entire world seems to have taken the seven day week as a framework for their rhythm of life.

We can play all kinds of gematria with words and letters. For instance, this year is 5779. If you add the 5 and the 9, the first and last numbers of the year , you get 14. Divide 14 in 2 (because you added two numbers together) you get 7. Now we have 3 sevens in the counting of our year.

After we read the story of creation we will read the story of Noah and the destruction of the world. God made a promise never to destroy the world again. The symbol of the promise is the rainbow that we see after a rainfall. And the rainbow, interestingly, is identified as 7 colours.  Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and purple.

At the beginning of this I mentioned Kol Nidrei, when we speak to God about our vows, promises and oaths we have made. Neder is the word for vow.  Another is sheva, like Be’er Sheva- the well where Abraham made an oath with Avimelech. And sheva is also the Hebrew word for seven. If sheva means oath and means seven, maybe that’s why we have so many time patterns of seven in our observance. Seven is creation and it is retrospection. This seventh month we are attempting to forge a stronger and better bond with haShem through action and thought. that bond will be an oath between us and ourselves to be better and do better.

May we all have a Yom Kippur that is meaningful, and full of good and strengthening thought, prayer and retrospection. May we all reflect well, and have a g’mar tov.

Laya

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V’Etchanan- Consolation and Renewal


My summer office

In the summer I’m fortunate to be able to sit outside and do my writing and editing in the backyard. The morning as I looked around at my garden I thought about how lucky I am to have the good weather and sunshine. Then I thought about how lucky I am to have a garden. The more I thought, the harder it became- I thought about the fires in Greece and North America where gardens disappear in a moment. And the fires in Southern Israel set by terrorists who send incendiary balloons into yards, playgrounds, and fields. And I thought about the people in war torn Syria (among other countries) whose homes and lives have been bombed to pieces.

These thoughts came to me as we leave the sadness of Tisha B’Av and enter the Weeks of Consolation because the world is not healed.

This week we read the parsha and haftarah of V’Etchanan.

V’Etchanan- Maximum Impact by Laya Crust

This painting shows a flaming Mount Sinai heralding the giving of the 10 Commandments. The images around it illustrate different elements of our faith. The parsha carries with it some of the most important words of Torah which are the foundations of our faith.  In this parsha we are privileged to read, once again, the 10 commandments and we are also given the “Sh’ma Yisrael”. We are told about the Land of Milk and Honey. We even read the question presented by the first of the four sons at our Pesach seder (Deuteronomy ch. 6 v. 20). We read about Moshe speaking to the children of Israel as they are about to enter the land of Canaan. He warns the children of Israel not to forget God’s laws.

V’Etchanan- Measuring the Skies with a Span,   by Laya Crust

This haftarah is the first Haftarah of  Consolation. Isaiah said that God created the heaven and the earth. God “measured the water in the hollow of His hand and measured the skies with a span…”

We are reminded that God created the world- that no man could do it and no man could even measure it. The parsha reminds us of the laws, the ethics, and the miracles God has given us. Moshe also reminds us, the Jews and Israelites, that He will protect us and our land if we safeguard His gifts to us. Those gifts are the Ten Commandments and accompanying laws.

As I sit in my beautiful garden in peaceful Toronto I am aware of the tragedies in the world. I can only believe that God is protecting Israel and safeguarding it from its multiple enemies. By living ethically, by respecting others and respecting all lives, we help to safeguard Israel too.

So, here we are beginning the Seven Weeks of Consolation, reading the words of Isaiah. He is still trying to guide a wayward group. Hopefully we will be able to live in a peaceful land flowing with Milk and Honey. Hopefully the unity and mutual support will prevail.

All the best and Shabbat Shalom, Laya

 

 

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