Tag Archives: King David

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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Vayechi

Va'yechi Sigartwork by Laya Crust

1 Kings 2:1- 12

King David, on his deathbed, giving guidance to his son Solomon who will become King.

Today is January 1, 2015, the first day of the new year on the Gregorian calendar. (FYI: It was named the Gregorian calendar after the man who first introduced it in February 1582: Pope Gregory XIII.)

Both the haftarah and the parsha are narratives of handing over the reigns of power. In the parsha Yaakov, on his deathbed, describes each of his sons. He goes on to predict how they will lead their lives. In the haftarah King David tells Solomon to vanquish their enemies, be strong and  follow Gd’s laws. Each of these men- Yaakov and David- recognize that the end of their lives is a new beginning for their sons. The new era will hopefully be easier and better than the era being left behind.

New Year’s is seen in the same way in our Western culture. We look at our ups and downs from the past year and make “New Year’s Resolutions” in the hope of having a better and/or more successful year.  In Judaism we have a beautiful prayer we say each morning, “My Gd, the soul You placed within me  is pure. You created it. You fashioned it, You breathed it into me. You safeguard it within me and eventually you will take it from me and restore it to me in time to come. As long as the soul is within me I gratefully thank you my Gd and Gd of my forefathers, Master of all works, Lord of all souls…”

Morning Prayer0059abstraction of prayer by Laya Crust

Each day we have the opportunity to see our life as a new beginning. Each day we have the opportunity to make a change for the better, face a challenge, or make a fresh start.

In this week’s texts Yaakov and David, reflecting on their own lives, were giving their sons guidance in how to look ahead. Their sons could take the exhortations as face value reflection and advice, or could take them on a more profound level. The deeper level would be for the sons to listen to their father’s and ask themselves- “What can I change in myself in order to heed this wisdom and at the same time beome a better person using the wisdom?”

In the same way we can greet January 1, and remind ourselves we can do things we love, that make us feel good, and are beneficial to others. On the same note when we read the prayer thanking Gd and we remind ourselves that we have a fresh soul each day.We can use the newness of each day to move ourseleves towards a greater ideal.

So- Happy New Year, Happy New Day, and enjoy the readings this week! Click on the images to enlarge them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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