art by Laya Crust
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. Isaiah lived during the fall of the kingdom of Judah to the Assyrians. At this point Judah was the only Jewish independent sovereignty. The others had all fallen due to immorality, drunkenness and failure in faith. Isaiah predicts that Judah will also be defeated. It is a trerribly low point for the Jews.
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 . They lived and flourished 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. When the new Pharaoh Egyptians noticed them- their numbers, their individuality and their strength he 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 and they were commanded to drown any baby boy who was born to them.
Barcelona Haggadah Golden Haggadah
The children of Israel were at their most desperate point in their history until that time. Unbelievably their situation worsened following Moses and Aaron’s appeal to Pharaoh.
The greatest similarity between the the haftarah and the parsha is the depths to which b’nei Yisrael had fallen. Unfortunately Jews have faced those unbearable conditions and situations numerous times. I wanted to show the hopelessness and pain of B’nei Yisrael in my illustration for the parsha and haftarah of Shemot, and tie it to a broader history. The Shoah was the darkest time for Jews 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 was mandated. Of course in the Shoah the mandate was taken further than that.
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 them 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.
Today, January 8, 2015, is the day after a terrible massacre of political cartoonists in France. The perpetrators of the assassinations are men who hate democracy. They blame democracy for the ills of the world. In the 1930’s and 40’s the Jews were blamed for Germany’s economic problems. In Egypt Pharaoh was ready to enslave and blame B’nei Yisrael for whatever he feared at the time. Blame is easy and can become toxic and evil very quickly. It’s easy to blame someone else or “society” for a difficulty we face or for an offence an “underdog” has committed. Each of us should try to safeguard against empty blame and try to solve the difficulties we face. That way we can be stronger as a nation and as a world.
Vive la liberte. May democracy and respect prevail.
Artist in residence for The Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Textiles https://pomegranateguild.wordpress.com/
Visit my website http://layacrust.com/