Tag Archives: Parasha

Shabbat Shira- BeShalach


Miriam’s Song by Laya Crust

This week’s Torah reading is given the name Shabbat Shira- the Shabbat of Song. We read three songs-  Miriam’s song after crossing the Red Sea, Moshe’s “Song of the Sea”,  and Devorah’s song of victory.  Not only do women sing and play music in both the Torah and haftarah readings, they are major figures in these biblical stories.

Miriam is called a prophet in this parsha. She accompanied her younger brothers, Moshe and Aaron, leading b’nei Yisrael to freedom. Miriam was the female role model for the nation. She exemplified strength and leadership and the confidence that God has in the abilities and wisdom of women. After crossing the Red Sea, Miriam led the women with a celebration of song and dance.

h shabbat shiraDevorah and Barak by Laya Crust

 Devorah was a judge and prophet who led the Israelites  for 40 years. She would sit under a palm tree to meet with her people. The haftarah tells of a battle waged by the Canaanites against the Israelites. The Jewish leader, Barak, asked Devorah to lead the battle with him. She warned Barak that a woman would be credited with the victory if she went, but he still insisted on her help.

Maciejowski Bible, ca 1240

Yael, the other major woman in the haftarah was not a Jew, but a Kenite. After the battle Sisera, a general fleeing from the Jews,  sought refuge with Yael. She gave him warm milk to drink, covered him with a blanket, then drove a tent peg through his temple, killing him. The hafatarah is unusual in that it features two women- Devorah and Yael- as the heroic characters.

hallelu 1Hallelu  by Laya Crust

Devorah wrote a song of praise mentioning herself as a mother of Israel, Barak as a leader, and Yael as a heroine. The end of the song is powerful. Devorah described Sisera’s mother waiting at the window for her triumphant son to return home from battle.  Devorah sang, “…The mother of Sisera…moaned…’Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why are the  hoofbeats of his steeds so tardy?…Have they not found spoils and treasure? Have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera many kinds of plunder…?”. Devorah described the scene- a mother waiting for her son- all the while knowing Sisera had been murdered. The mother’s confidence and pride that her son had been successful in killing, looting and abducting the Israelites is disquieting.

The women in the parsha and haftarah showed strength and leadership. God chose Miriam to be one of the three leaders of the children of Israel as they trekked towards freedom. God appointed Devorah and later Hulda to be prophets, and made Yael a hero. We must remember this and take it forward as we progress in religion, culture and politics. 

Have a joyous and tuneful Shabbat,



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Pomegranates and Bells

Emor sigart by Laya Crust

Torah reading: Emor    (Exodus: 23:1 – 24: 23)

Haftarah: Ezekiel 44: 15-31

The painting for this reading shows the Kohen Gadol in his robes, two ancient artifacts from Temple times, and text from the haftarah describing the clothing of the kohanim. The full description of the priestly clothing can be found in the Book of Exodus,  ch. 28: 2- 38. The detailed description is prefaced with the remark, “And you shall speak to the wise-hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to sanctify him…”  (I always love the way HaShem has imbued artists and crafts people with wisdom and wise-heartedness.)

The ivory pomegranate is famous.


Made of hippopotamus bone, it appeared in the antiquities market s in 1977, and was bought by the Israel Museum in 1988 for $55,000. It has an ancient inscription on it reading, “(Belonging) to the House of “Yahweh”, Holy to the Priests.”  There has been some controversy as to whether the ivory pomegranate is a fake or not, but the most recent opinion seems to advocate its authenticity. If you want to read an interesting article about it go to:  http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/scholars-study/is-the-ivory-pomegranate-a-forgery-or-authentic/

The gold bell I included in the painting was found in Jerusalem, July 2011,  while I was designing this haftarah illustration.

The tiny bell was found in an ancient drainage channel under Robinson’s Arch, right by the Western Wall. In the description of the priest’s robes it says, “And upon the skirts of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the skirts thereof; and bells of gold between them round about.” (Exodus 28: 34,36). So – this tiny bell was probably sewn onto the hem of the priest’s robe, alternating with tiny pomegranates. If you want to read more about the find you can go to:


Concerning the haftarah, Ezekiel was among the 8,000 Jews exiled to Babylonia. He criticized the behaviour of the Jewish people, and also described the duties of the kohanim. In this way he bolstered the confidence of the exiled children of Israel, convincing them that they would return to Israel.

The haftarah was a promise from God. He said, “they shall enter My sanctuary and they shall come near to My table…” It reminded the Jews that they were not forgotten, and they would one day return to Jerusalem and to the Temple.

If you click on the illustration it will enlarge. Please share this blog post with your friends and family on Facebook, your students at school, or your buddies at synagogue. We love to hear from you if you have a comment. And if you want to get my post each week you can click on “Follow” on the right hand side of the post.

All the best,



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KorachArt by Laya Crust

Korach:  Numbers ch 16 – ch 19

Haftarah:  I Samuel 11:14- 12:22

This week’s Torah portion and haftarah reading are both about challenges to leadership.

The  illustration is inspired by a woodcut from a book by Isaac ben Solomon ibn Abi Sahulah. Isaac ben Solomon was a scholar and Hebrew poet born in Castile in 1244. He noticed that Jews were reading and being influenced by books like “The Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor”  and “Kalila and Dimna” (fables from India). To counter the effects of these non-Jewish texts Isaac wrote his own book of  stories, poems, fables and parables called “Meshal ha-Kadmoni”. The “Meshal ha-Kadmoni” was so popular it was reprinted six times in Hebrew and nine times in Yiddish! My painting is based on a a reprint of   “Meshal ha-Kadmoni” (The Ancient Proverb) from Southern Germany, 1450. The picture shows Samuel speaking to Saul. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

In the Torah reading Korach, a priest, gathered 250 followers and challenged Moshe’s authority. Korach thought it was presumptuous of Moshe and Aaron to retain leadership of the Israelites. He said, “You take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them…” The accusation was particularly galling since Korach and his followers were already distinguished as men of note with special roles.

Later in the parsha there was another rebellion, this one  questioning Aaron’s leadership. Gd proscribed a test where each tribe inscribed  a wooden staff with its name then put the rod into the Tent of Meeting. The rod of the true leader would sprout leaves over night. The next morning Moshe brought out the twelve rods. Not only had Aaron’s rod sprouted leaves but it had flowering buds and almonds on the staff.

Sanctuary Vessels- manuscript painting by Solomon ben Raphael, 1299. Note Aaron’s rod in the bottom right hand corner.

The haftarah repeats the theme of challenging the “Establishment”. The Israelites wanted a King so they would be like all the other nations.  The change wasn’t being sought for positive, constructive purposes. Rather the change was being pursued so that the Israelites would be like the other nations.  Similarly Korach’s goal was not the improvement of his people. His goal was self promotion and  personal power.

The issues of self-interest and personal power are issues that plague us to this day. To create a healthy society and a healthy world we have to hope our leaders have the right goals. Unfortunately often that is not the reality. So- we have to pursue the right path ourselves and endeavor to make the world a better place through our own fair and caring  actions.

I am blessed to be part of a community of educators, activists, and caregivers who devote large amounts of time to improving the world. Hopefully through their actions and our actions we will see peace,  justice and equality in the world sooner rather than later.

Have a Shabbat Shalom,




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Picnic in Dothan

VaYeishev SigIllustration by Laya Crust

VaYeishev:  Bereshit (Genesis) chapters 37 – 41

We are introduced to Joseph and his brothers this week. They were shepherds. It seemed Joseph stayed at home with their father Yaakov rather than go out into the fields with ten of his siblings. There was a lot of jealousy for more than one reason.

At one point in this week’s Torah portion Joseph was sent out to the fields to look for his brothers and report back to Yaakov. They had gone to Shechem with their flocks, and then traveled on to Dothan.  Joseph went to Shechem but couldn’t find them. A man- we suspect that he was an angel- and redirected Joseph to Dothan. The brothers saw him approaching. To paraphrase Maurice Sendak, they “made mischief of one kind and another”.  They resented Yaakov’s favouritism of Joseph and probably also resented the fact that their brother was comfortable at home while they took care of the flocks. They threw Joseph into a pit and gave him to Midianite traders who then sold him to Ishmaelite traders.

I’ve often wondered about the brothers out in the fields, sleeping and eating there. What did they have for lunch? What were they eating as Joseph approached? Many Israeli cookbooks feature eggplant recipes, and I thought- could the brothers have enjoyed something like roasted eggplant?

Roasted Eggplant with Silan and Tomatoes



1 medium eggplant                                                        1 – 2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 Tbsp. raw tehina                                                          1- 2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. yogurt                                                                   sprigs of fresh parsley, cilantro or hyssop leaves

1 tomato halved, cored, and diced                            1 crushed clove of garlic

1Tbsp. silan or dark honey                                           sea salt and crushed pepper to taste


Bake the eggplant. You can roast it over a bonfire, a gas flame or, as I have here, an electric element. It gives a wonderful smokey flavour.

Slice in half and drizzle with tehina, yogurt, silan (or honey), olive oil and lemon juice. 
P1120435 Season with salt, pepper, and garlic. Garnish with parsley, cilantro or hyssop.


The roasted eggplant is delicious with warmed or toasted pita and a good glass of beer.


and Shabbat Shalom.




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VaYishlach Laya Crust 2013

As with many of our readings in the book of Bereishit this week’s reading is full of stories and adventures. The event pictured here is that of Shimon and Levi rescuing their sister Dina from a local man who abducted and raped her. In light 0f current events the brothers’ efforts seem quite progressive. (Shimon and Levi didn’t punish their sister for her misfortune and didn’t hide their revulsion of the act because they were afraid of what society would say.) That incident is sandwiched between Jacob’s encounter with Esau, and the death of Rachel at the end of the parsha.

Today I’m going to write about a different incident in the parsha, Jacob’s fight with “a man”  the night  before he was to meet Esau. Jacob was worried- frightened- to see his brother. Esau was a wealthy hunter and fighter. Jacob had wronged Esau in the past and realised that Esau may want to attack him and his family. He divided his family into four camps and put them on the far side of the river Jabok. He camped on the other side of the river so that he would be the first line of defence.

 Golden Haggadah, Barcelona Spain c. 1320

In the middle of the night a man came and wrestled with him. They were obviously well matched because the wrestling continued until dawn. By the end of the night there was still no victor.  The man, an angel,  touched and injured Jacob’s thigh then gave Jacob another name- “Yisrael”, translated as “you have striven with Gd”.

When Jacob first left his parents’ home he had a dream in which angels were climbed up and down a ladder, with Gd at the top of the ladder.

VaYeitzei Sig   Laya Crust 2013

Rashi suggested that angels accompanied Jacob in Canaan, the land promised to the Jews. When Jacob fled and lay down to sleep that set of angels left his side and another set of angels came down to accompany him to the unknown country.

Why was an angel sent to fight him on the bank of the Jabok River when Jacob was on his way back to Canaan ? If the angels were there to guide and protect him, why start a wrestling match? Who won? Jacob was given a new name describing a stronger personality but he was injured and limped for the rest of his life.

Some suggest that the fight wasn’t with an angel. Some suggest it was an inner psychological struggle.When you think of it- Jacob was an older man sleeping on the hard ground. He was having nightmares about meeting his brother. Maybe he rolled around and knocked into a sharp boulder. That could explain a pretty painful injury. In any case, the fight was cathartic. After all those years Jacob had to face himself before he saw his brother again.

To deal with our difficulties we all have to look at ourselves and our past. Jacob was a strong man, and a strong leader. He faced his fears and his “ghosts”. He didn’t have an easy life but he left the amazing legacy of b’nei Yisrael, the children of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom,



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Chayei Sarah- this land is our land

chayei sarah0040Chayeih Sarah

Bereshit 23 – 25: 18

Haftarah- I Kings 1: 1-31

This week’s parsha begins with the news that Sara Imeinu (our matriarch) has died in Qiryat Arba at the age of 127. Abraham came to mourn and weep for her and to find a fitting burial place for his beloved wife.  He insisted on paying for the cave of Machpela even though it had been offered to him as a gift.  The text reads, “And the field of Efron, which was in Machpela,which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was in it,  and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made over to Avraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Chet,…before Mamre: the same is Hevron in the land of Canaan.” ( Ch. 23 v 17 -19)

Avraham paid full price for this small piece of property, also known as Hebron, in front of witnesses so that there would never be a question of ownership.

The Cave of Machpelah - Vincent van Gogh

              The cave of Machpela by Vincent Van Gogh
These days Israel is constantly on my mind. The situation is tragic. The loss of innocent life, the fear, the rioting in Israeli streets and shelling of Israeli homes and communities is horrifying. Many so-called intellectuals and human rights activists question the right of Israelis and Jews to live in Israel which is historic Canaan with a modern name. The fact is that we Jews have lived in that land longer than any other people.  Jews have owned and lived in the land- Canaan, Palestine, the Turkish Empire, Israel- call it what you will-ever since Abraham bought and owned that parcel 5,000 years ago.
At the end of this week’s reading Abraham died and his two sons- Isaac and Ishmael-came together as brothers to bury their father. The two men mourned together. Isaac and Ishmael buried their father in the cave of Machpela, where Sara his wife had been buried. The two brothers met in peace and acted cooperatively. They recognized and remembered that the land belonged to Abraham, and we have to remember that too.

Over the past week there have been outstanding speeches in Toronto by  Melanie Phillips ( journalist),  Nitsana Darshan-Leitner (lawyer), and Caroline Glick (activist). All three women reminded their audiences that the Jews owned Israel before 1967, before 1948, before the Balfour Declaration, and before the Zionist movement under Herzl. We owned the land all the way back to the time of Abraham. We must remember that and not be apologetic or embarrassed.  I pray that we will see peace and cooperation in Israel very soon.


Shabbat Shalom,   Laya



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Lech Lecha

Lech Lecha sig

Isaiah  ch. 40:27 – 41:16

Isaiah (prophet) – c. 740 – 681 BCE

The picture we see here is a beautiful desertscape at night.

If you’ve ever been camped in the desert or in the countryside at night without artificial light, you will have seen a  sky studded with stars. The heavens are so full of stars it seems amazing the sky can hold them all.

The parasha of Lech Lecha introduces us to Abraham, the man Gd chose to begin a new nation. Gd tells Abraham (called Avram in this section of the Torah) that Gd will bless him. Abraham’s descendants will be as numerous as the dust on the ground and the stars in the skies. Looking up at that night sky Avram couldn’t have begun to imagine how many stars there were. There were too many to count, too many to even guess at.

This week’s haftarah is from the Book of Isaiah. The Jews have been in Babylon, in exile, for decades. They are sure they will never be able to return home. It seems that King Cyrus is about to conquer Babylon and Isaiah is hopeful that Cyrus will allow the Jews to go back to Israel.

Isaiah tells his people that Gd will not abandon them. Previously (Isaiah ch. 39, v 12) Isaiah described Gd saying, “…[Gd] …meted out heaven with a span and and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure…” In this haftarah Gd reminds the Jews that, “…you, Yisrael are My servant Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham My friend. You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth and called you from the farthest corners…”ch. 40 v 8,9.

Avram was chosen to begin a new nation, the nation that would one day be known as Jews. Even back then Gd told Avram that his descendants would be slaves in a strange land, referring to their enslavement in Egypt. Avram was warned that life would be tough for them.  The hardships have continued throughout history. In this haftarah Isaiah gave encouragement to his exiled brethren in Babylon, telling them that Gd will not abandon them.

Every time period is a time of challenge for the Jews. Right now we are still facing challenges and terrible anti- Semitic tides. We are reminded that Gd made a promise and will always keep that promise initialized with Avraham Avinu- Abraham our father.

Have a good week and a good Shabbat. May it be one of peace and health for klal Yisrael and the world.




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