Tag Archives: Mount Sinai

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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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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Up and Down at Har Sinai

Humanityart by Laya Crust

Ki Tissa-   Exodus (Shemot) 30:11 – 34:35

In this parsha we read about extremes of faith. Moses received the last of Gd’s directives while on Mount Sinai. He came down the mountain to the sound and spectacle of the Israelites praying to a golden calf, an idol.  In disgust and anger Moses destroyed the precious tablets Gd Himself had written. Soon after there was an interaction between Gd and Moses where Moses is almost taken to the heavens in terms of spiritual closeness. The parsha ends with another presentation of the Ten Commandments.

This is a profound narrative. The previous two Torah portions recounted Gd’s directions for building a beautiful “mishkan” (portable sanctuary). The furnishings were to be made of gold and precious wood. Bezalel, the architect, was chosen for the job and given spiritual insight in order to build an amazing sanctuary. The clothing of the Kohanim- the priests- was described in great detail. Obviously Gd was well aware that the Israelite refugees craved  extraordinary beauty to help achieve a level of awe and observance.

But there was a problem. Moses went up Mount Sinai alone and disappeared behind a column of fire and cloud. He disappeared for 40 days and 40 nights. It’s true- the people had been warned that Moses would be away for over a month. But like most people, b’nei Yisrael found it hard to believe that their aged leader survived the dramatic conflagration. So Moses came down to witness singing and dancing around the Golden Calf.

Ki Tissa sig

When Moses disappeared the people decided to create their own beautiful focus of prayer. Gd’s punishment was brutal. Three thousand men were killed for the sin.

Moses was not able to recover from this incident easily. He had devoted his heart and soul to saving b’nei Yisrael from slavery and leading them through  the desert. The demands on him were huge- leading them physically, judging them, and negotiating with Gd on their behalf. He acted as arbitrator time and again between them and Gd when they transgressed certain orders. So Moses, as righteous as he was, asked for more from Gd. He asked to see Gd.

Gd put Moses into the cleft of a rock. According to the text (Ex. 33: 22)  Gd protected Moses from seeing His face with His hand but allowed Moses to see His back. Moses was a transformed man. The experience took him to the greatest spiritual heights. Thereafter rays of light shone from his face.

This section of Torah is fascinating. It leaves us with a number of thoughts to ponder- the burden Moshe carried and the fact that he waited so long to ask Gd for greater closeness and identification. The text presents the heights of receiving the word of Gd on a mountaintop contrasted so quickly by the weakness of His people. This story underlines the fractious yet extraordinary relationship we have with Gd.

The relationship we have with Gd is quite incredible. My husband Les Lightstone mentioned an interesting point. Gd didn’t show Moshe His “face”. He showed Moshe His back. In the same way we cannot see what our future will hold or what Gd may do. We can only see what has happened, look “back ” on it, and learn from our past.

Have a Shabbat Shalom. May it be one of peace, and end of violence, and an appreciation of beauty.






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Shavuot and Visions

First Day of Shavo'otart by Laya Crust

Ezekiel ch 1, 3:12

The prophet Ezekiel was unique (to say the least) with incredible visions and amazing conversations with Gd.

On the second day of the holiday of Shavuot we read a section where the prophet Ezekiel describes a fantastic vision. “And I looked, and behold, a storm wind came out of the north, a great and a fire flaring up, and a brightness was about it. And out of the midst of it, as it were, the colour of electrum, out of the midst of the fire.”

Wow! What a vision! After that Ezekiel describes  four living creatures, each of whom have four heads. One is a man, one a lion, one an ox, and the fourth an eagle. These beings not only have faces, legs, hooves and wings, they propel themselves on elaborate wheels within wheels.

The holiday of Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Ezekiel’s vision parallels  the scene on Mount Sinai.

P1110570art by Laya Crust

It was a cataclysmic event with flames encircling the mountain, and lightning and thunder in the air. The description of  “Revelation” doesn’t include a four headed being, but that description encompasses different types of strength and humanity.  This text gives a different perspective to the wonder and amazement the people at the mountain must have experienced that day.

The text is so fabulous that it has also been immortalized in song.  The link below is a real treat- a rendition of “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel” by the Charioteers. They sang together from 1930 – 1957. I’ve also added a link to the same tune sung by Woodie Guthrie.

Mix – The Charioteers – Ezekiel Saw The Wheel by YouTube

Mix – Ezekiel saw The Wheel – Woody Guthrie

The book of Ezekiel is a really exciting one. Give yourself a treat and read it this weekend. And enjoy your Shavuot.

Laya Crust

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 Isaiah 49: 1-26

Isaiah (prophet)- c. 740 – 681 BCE

This summer of 2014 or 5774 of the Jewish calendar has been a difficult one.  We have just observed the Three Weeks of Mourning culminating with the fast of Tisha B’Av, and we are entering the Seven Weeks of Consolation.

The Torah portion, V’Etchanan, was described by my good friend Rabbi Michael Skobac as being like the ultimate full box of Crayons. Not only do you get all the colours, you get gold and silver too. This parsha carries with it some of the mo st important words of Torah which are the foundations of our faith. The painting on the top of the page shows the giving of the 10 Commandments with images around it describing different elements of our faith. It was created for my son Max on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah.

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 Gd’s laws. 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). So, as Rabbi Skobac said, it is the crayon box including the gold and the silver.


The image on this Haftarah page is one of Moses looking at the land of Canaan- which he has been forbidden to enter. It was a tragic moment. Moshe had dedicated his life to leading the children of Israel to the Promised Land, but he was not allowed to enter. The one consolation- if it was a consolation-was that Gd allowed Moses to see the land of Canaan. Gd said, “Go up to the top of the Pisgah and lift your eyes westward, northward, eastward and southward, and look with your eyes…”  3:27.  Moshe saw its greatness and its beauty from a vast perspective that no-one else would ever see. Maybe it was a gift that Moshe did not see the struggles and the sins of b’nei Yisrael once they had entered the Promised Land.

So, here we are beginning the Seven Weeks of Consolation, reading the words of Isaiah. He is still trying to guide a wayward group. And in Israel people are trying to put back the pieces of their lives after a month of war and lives lost.

Hopefully we will be able to live in a peaceful land flowing with Milk and Honey. Hopefully the unity and mutual support we saw in the last few weeks will continue.

All the best and Shabbat Shalom, Laya




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Shavuot Second Day

Shavuot day2 sig


Habakkuk 2:20 – 3:19

Habakkuk- prophet, lived circa late 7th Century

Shavuoth is the time celebrating both the “first fruits”- the first harvest- and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Our Torah reading discusses celebrating the holiday, but the haftarah seems to echo elements of the giving of the Torah.

Habakkuk was the prophet who wrote the words we read today. The text is less like a lecture and more like a psalm or a poem. First Habakkuk describes God’s glory and might and then asks Him to rescue His people.

The prophet ends the haftarah saying he will rejoice in the Lord, the God of his salvation.

The descriptions of nature are reminiscent of Mount Sinai during the giving of the Torah. In the haftarah we read that the mountains tremble, there is thunder and lightning,  the earth shakes,there are fiery bolts, and the sun and moon stand still in the sky. During the revelation at Sinai there was thunder and lightning, fire and smoke, and the mountain trembled. The shofar blew louder and louder and louder. The children of Israel were so frightened they did not want to approach the mountain and acceded to Moshe’s position of communicator with God.

The painting at the top of this post (if you click on it, it will enlarge) shows the sun and moon, the waters flooding through the mountains, rocks tumbling down, and lightning contrasting in the deep blue sky.

My intention was to show in this tiny image the beauty and fury of God’s power as exemplified by nature. We can learn from nature and we can learn from words.  I hope the Shavuoth is a time of learning, inspiration, and enlightenment.

Chag Sameach!

Please share this post with your friends on Facebook, your friends at synagogue and school, and your friends and relatives at home.


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Mishpatim sigJeremiah 34: 8-22, 33: 25-26

Jeremiah (prophet) c. 655 BCE -.586 BCE.

Parshat Mishpatim follows the parsha in which G-d gives the Ten Commandments to b’nei Yisrael on Mount Sinai. The first commandment is commonly translated as “I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” It is fascinating that G-d could have introduced and described Himself in many ways. What did he choose? He chose “Who took you out of the land of slavery”

This parsha begins to describe various of G-d’s laws and the first laws discussed are about slavery.

Judaism gave the world its moral code. The Ten Commandments deal with many things from recognizing one G-d to keeping the Sabbath, to the prohibition of murder, theft, and adultery. Why then would the first laws that are discussed in the Torah concern slavery?

If you remember, the Israelites had just been released from Egypt where they had been enslaved. Those many years of servitude had been imprinted on their psyche. When G-d introduces Himself to the Israelites He uses slavery as part of the introduction. “I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of the land of slavery.” Bondage was obviously in the forefront of the Israelites’ minds. G-d knew that laws concerning slavery would resonate strongly with the Children of Israel. Consequently it was a wise strategy to introduce a moral code starting with issues of slavery.

The haftarah for Mishpatim is from the Book of Jeremiah. It is set during the final siege of Jerusalem. In 588 BCE Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, invaded Jerusalem. King Zedekiah ordered the release of all Jewish slaves, thinking this might reverse the conquest of Judaea. Two years later, when things had calmed down slightly, the slave owners re-intered their slaves. G-d  told Jeremiah that since the people had put men and women back into servitude they would be punished.

– oneworldeducation.org

 When thinking about an illustration for this week’s haftarah I thought about the laws of servitude and what freedom would mean to an individual. Then I thought about modern slavery- the notorious sweatshops in China. The chained children in India who weave carpets, the slave trade in prostitution,  the collapsed garment factory in Bangladesh last year. How could I remind people that even in modern times Jews, too, have been the victims of slavery and have been involved in it. I remembered the tragic situation of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire.

The slave conditions of sweatshop workers in the “shmatteh” business are well documented.  Young immigrants from Europe were put to work there. 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.

2811 × 1919 – en.wikipedia.org

My illustration at the top of the page 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.

P1110081I took these two photographs of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Building, now called the Brown Building. It has two plaques on its  exterior memorializing the fire and its victims.


It is fitting that many of the union organizers throughout time and throughout the world have been Jews, and 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. Jewish laws are concerned with those ideas and have communicated them to cultures around the world. 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.

“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.

2700 × 2700 – openbookontario.com


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First Day of Shavu’ot

Shavuot day1 sig



Ezekiel 1:1-28, 3:12

The Torah describes the appearance of G-d at Sinai. It says that G-d came down in smoke and fire, there were the blasts of the shofar and thunder and lightning, and the entire mountain trembled. The Torah portion continues with the recitation of the Ten Commandments.

The haftarah begins with Ezekiel saying that the heavens opened and he saw visions of G-d. The depiction Ezekiel gives of the panorama of sound and light is quite incredible. He describes amazing sounds and flames, flashes of light and smoke.

He goes on to describe the creatures he saw. They were like flashes of flame. Each had four animal faces, 6 wings, and legs with hooves. They were balanced on a wheel within a wheel, and the wheels had eyes on them, all about.

The description in the haftarah is quite beautiful, amazing, and detailed.


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