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Terumah: Giving

Building a Temple by Laya Crust

This week’s blog is in memory of my mother, Dorothy Crust. Devorah bat Mordechai haCohen v’Rachel Leah was a woman imbued with beauty, wisdom, intelligence, and love of Judaism. This week’s parashah deals with building a home for God and introduces the concept of giving with an open heart. My mother z”l gave with an open heart and strengthened the community around her. Her memory is a blessing.

This week’s parashah is called “Terumah”, which means an offering, denoting something set apart as a donation. God says, “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me contributions; you shall accept contributions for Me from every person whose heart so moves him” (Exodus 25:2). The wording is precise, “אשר ידבנו ולבּו”. “Those with a willing heart” are invited to contribute to the building of this important sanctuary. The building materials are to be given with generosity and joy rather than coercion or compulsion (like taxes and levies.)

Up until now, the Children of Israel have been entirely dependent. They were slaves in Egypt, and they did nothing for themselves in the desert. They were given manna, water, and led each step of the way. Finally, the Children of Israel are invited to do something for themselves and God. They step up to contribute energy, creativity, and materials to create a community hub.

In a functioning society, people are responsible for themselves and others. They must come forward to help things run smoothly. People give when they feel they have enough for themselves and enough to share. Whether helping with small tasks or major undertakings the contributor is empowered to share. When giving or sharing, you are forging a link with the person receiving. The recipient, in turn, is strengthened and can give to others.

When God asks B’nei Yisrael to build the Mishkan, He invites them to become partners with Him. God says, “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם׃ (Exodus 25:8). The words “shikhanti” (I will dwell), “Mishkan,” and “shekhinah” (Divine Presence) all come from the same root word, which is found in the Hebrew words for neighbour, neighbourhood, and dwell. God wants to be a constant presence among the people and knows that human beings need visual reminders and beauty to awaken a joyful soul. “Neighbour” is in the word for God’s holy dwelling, and “neighbour” describes God’s Presence.

The bottom line of God’s message is, “Be involved. Don’t be a spectator.”

In this parashah we see the emergence of a group that is growing into a cohesive community. They will combine their materials and skills to make a mishkan, a sanctuary. God does not live in a building, but rather in the hearts of the builders. As He said, “Let them make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8).

Have a Shabbat Shalom, Laya

P.S. The painting at the top is based on a ketubah from 1853 Istanbul, Turkey. It shows boats floating on the Bosphorous River. If you want to enlarge the image at the top of the ketubah below, you can click on them.

istanbul ketubah02

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Marriages and Weddings

Jacob’s Dream  by Laya Crust

This week’s parsha, VaYeitze, tells the story of Jacob’s time in Padan Aram from start to finish. He left his family in Be’er Sheva to escape his bother’s wrath and seek a wife among his mother’s family. When he decided to return home he had two wives, two concubines, twelve sons and one daughter plus cattle and wealth.

When Jacob arrived in Padan Aram he saw his cousin Rachel at a well and fell in love with her. He promised to work for seven years for her hand in marriage. He was tricked by his Uncle Lavan and the morning after the wedding he discovered he had married Leah, the older sister. So Jacob worked an additional seven years in order to marry his beloved Rachel.

In this story we see the foundation of certain elements of the traditional Jewish marriage ceremony. Before the wedding ceremony under the chuppah we have the “Bedecken” when the groom sees the bride’s face before lowering her veil. This is to ensure the groom marries his chosen bride, and avoids the trick played on Jacob. As in ancient times there is an exchange of goods between the two families. The bride brings a dowry and the groom gives something of value to the bride’s family. In Isaac’s case his proxy, Eliezer, gave precious silver and gold and “raiment” to Rebecca’s family. In Jacob’s case he didn’t have valuables so he pledged to work for seven years for each of his brides.

Florentine Ketubah by Laya Crust

Over 2,000 years ago Jews began to use a written marriage contract. The ketubah, meaning “writ” in Hebrew, records the date and place of the wedding, the names of the bride and groom, and the financial obligations of each family. This legal document was the first legal document in history designed to ensure financial stability for a married woman.

Throughout time couples started to get decorated ketubahs. Now it is very popular for a couple to commission an original, hand written and painted ketubah, or to buy a poster-type ketubah on line.

I’ve been making ketubahs for decades and have designed and painted over 600 of them! The ketubah in still written in the ancient language of Aramaic and still mentions dowry and the husband’s responsibilities towards his wife and her well being.  Some traditions use actual dollar values and some ceremonially use ancient currencies.


Joy by Laya Crust ——- Tova and Cliel’s Stairway to Heaven by Laya Crust

Leah and Rachel, Jacob’s wives, didn’t have a ketubah. They were fortunate to be married to a man who took care of them and their children, honoured his obligations to his father-in-law, and was able to feed and shelter his large family. It’s true- there were jealousies and difficulties, but Jacob did take care of his own.

I love making ketubahs- discovering a couple’s dreams and preferences. If you want to see more examples of my ketubahs, maybe even order one or commission your own, take a look at my website: www.layacrust.com. 

Make sure to read this week’s Torah portion and enjoy. It’s the beginning of a world altering family saga! Have a Shabbat Shalom,





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Days of Joy

Terumah sigart by Laya Crust

Parsha- Terumah (Exodus 25:1 – 27:19)

Haftarah-  Kings I,  5:26-6:13

This year the month of Adar began on the evening of February 9, 2016. And, we don’t have one Adar, but 2 months of Adar. Yes- it’s a Jewish leap year, a year when we add another month so that our lunar calendar lines up, more or less, with the solar calendar. It’s an interesting topic and you can read about it at  Months of the Jewish Year – My Jewish Learning  or for a more mind boggling explanation you can go to Leap years , an article from wikipedia.

Terumah might just be a perfect reading for the beginning of Adar. The parsha deals with the instructions Gd gives for building a holy sanctuary. The haftarah parallels this with a description of the work King Solomon instituted for building the Beit haMikdash, the Temple in Jerusalem.

At the beginning of the parsha Gd says, “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me contributions; you shall accept contributions for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.”  (25:2) The gifts Gd is referring to are precious building materials for the sanctuary .

The wording is precise, “אשר ידבנו ולבּו”.  Those with a willing heart” are invited to contribute to the building of this important sanctuary.  The building materials are given with generosity and joy. Resentment won’t taint the sanctuary of prayer and guidance. The idea of giving with generosity and joy rather than giving through coercion or compulsion (like many taxes and levies) fits nicely with the joy of Adar.

Adar is called the month of joy, and so having 2 Adars means we get to celebrate 60 days of joy. What could be better? My friend Esther Gur gave a talk in which she discussed the meaning of “simcha” (joy or happiness) in the month of Adar. My interpretation of what she said is that joy or happiness is not the simplicity of laughing at jokes. It’s not the fleeting pleasure of drinking a good glass of wine; or buying a new book, piece of clothing or electronic device.  “Simcha” is related to fulfillment. When we create something beautiful or do something good- doing it from a place of generosity not from a feeling of duty- we feel “simcha” or heartfelt joy.

In these two months of Adar I hope you give yourself the opportunity to do things you really love and give you great satisfaction. Enjoy and HAPPY ADAR!

Have a Shabbat Shalom


P.S. The painting at the top is based on a ketubah from 1853 Istanbul, Turkey. It shows boats floating on the Bosphorous River. I f you want to enlarge the image at the top or the ketubah below you can click on them.

istanbul ketubah02


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Terumah sig

Kings I,  5:26-6:13

King Solomon –  Succeeded David as King in the year  967 B.C.E.

King Solomon ruled for 40 years. He was known for his wisdom, his wealth and his writings. The haftarah and Torah portion both discuss the construction of HaShem’s “home”. In parshat Terumah G-d tells Moses that the children of Israel should make G-d a sanctuary (called a mishkan in Hebrew). Beautifully, G-d includes EVERYONE who wants to be included the project. He says to accept contributions from everyone who has a willing heart.

This announcement is followed by a list of materials that are needed to build the mishkan. It is quite an undertaking to build a portable sanctuary in the desert, but the plans are dictated and this how it may have looked. 

The haftarah is about the construction of King Solomon’s  most famous achievement – building the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

The construction of the Temple under King Solomon’s reign began around 958 B.C.E. The trees (cedars and cypress) and stones were imported from Lebanon. I began to imagine how the materials were transported from Lebanon southward to Jerusalem- over mounatins, through forests, all uncultivated terrain. The idea is daunting. There were huge numbers of men involved in the production. Thirty thousand men went to Lebanon in shifts of 10,000 men, one month at a time. Seventy thousand men carried the loads. Eighty thousand men quarried the mountains. 3,300 men were appointed as overseers. It made me think of the building of the national railway in Canada!

The haftarah doesn’t describe how the stones and lumber were carried to Jerusalem. I thought about the technology of the time. Would the material be carried on ox carts? On flatbeds with wheels? With a pulley system? It seemed impossible. Then I realized- these large, heavy materials were probably transported on the Mediterranean Sea down the coast to the nearest port, and then overland to Jerusalem. The logs could have been floated down and the quarried stone could have been taken by ship or rafts. I immediately remembered a beautiful ketubah- a favourite design of mine- from 1853 Istanbul, Turkey. istanbul ketubah02It shows two large, beautiful trees on the banks of the Bosphorous River with boats sailing in the water.

This image seemed perfect for the haftarah with its abundance of trees, elaborate structures and many side chambers extending from the central building. And the flowers and the leaves!  We see the vivid florals and fruits within the foliage. (We know that there were pomegranates and lilies on the columns in the Temple.)

This ketubah, unlike many other historical  ketuboth, is painted on paper rather than parchment. The artist used watercolour and gold leaf on the artwork. The profusion of foliage is typical of ketuboth from Turkey and other Muslim countries. The leaves and flowers are painted very closely together and the dark green  of the leaves creates a wonderful undulating movement in the decoration. As is typical of these ketuboth the text is written in tiny cursive lettering centered within the arched opening allocated for lettering.

All that building and transportation mentioned in the haftarah text resulted in a beautiful structure. Unlike the mishkan which was dictated by G-d, the Temple was designed by people.

Quite an amazing feat for thousands of years ago. We don’t have the beauty of the Temple today, and we pray for its return. In the meantime haShem has blessed artists and artisans with the ability to create beautiful objects with which to enhance our daily lives and our special occasions. And thus- the beautiful ketubah from 1853 Istanbul.


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Stairway to Heaven

Tova and Cliel Schachter's Brit Ha'Ahuvim

Tova and Cliel Schachter’s             Brit Ahuvim

This week we are reading parshat Nitzavim, and the haftarah is from Isaiah 61:10- 63:9. It is the seventh Haftarah of consolation after Tisha B’Av and is read on the Shabbat preceding Rosh HaShana. King Cyrus has defeated Babylonia and the possibility of returning to Israel is ever closer.

As in other haftaroth that we have read recently God is presented as a bridegroom and the nation of Israel as a bride. There are two lines in this haftarah that are often sung at weddings- (excuse the transliteration) “um sis chatan al kallah, yasis alayich elokayich “. “And as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride so will your God rejoice over you”  Isaiah ch. 62: 5.

August is a beautiful month to get married. The trees are green, the flowers are bright and colourful, and we are enjoying the last relaxing weeks of summer. Two weeks ago a lovely young couple- Tova and Cliel Schachter- got married. Surrounded by family and friends they formalized their commitment to each other, embarking on a new path together.

Tova and Cliel wanted a special ketubah that would represent their values, outline their dedication to each other and reinforce their commitment to mutual respect and equality. Together we discussed the steps they had taken throughout their lives to reach this point and the ideals they share.

Their love of family, friends and Judaism are paramount in their lives. They have a desire to better the world. Their creativity and joy in all they approach is obvious. So- how to put this into a ketubah design?


It occurred to me that they had mentioned that the events of their lives were steps they had taken to arrive at this point in time. And  nothing is more important to Tova and Cliel than family. The idea of a staircase rising within a bower created by two trees seemed perfect. They used a traditional Aramaic ketubah under the chuppah and also signed a Brit Ahuvim which discusses love, respect and mutual responsibility.  The Brit Ahuvim is the text shown here.


The two family trees are growing together, sheltering and guiding a staircase that will reach to the future- to heights beyond imagination.The papercut leaves are the relatives and friends and children of the future. In the sky are 18  23 karat gold stars- a life of precious beauty.P1090134I put it all together, writing the Brit Ahuvim on the staircase, cutting the trees and leaves in a papercut design, adding the 18 stars and then combining all the elements.P1090356

It was a perfect day for the young couple, and in terms of our Jewish calendar it is a perfect time too.

We are approaching the New Year, a time of reflection and renewal. We read aboout God’s commitment to us and our promises to God. In this week’s haftarah Nitzavim we are likened to a bridegroom and a bride. As bridegroom and a bride enter a new life together with commitment and joy, may that be a template for us and our new year as well.

Mazal Tov to Tova and Cliel, and Shabbat Shalom to you!

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