Tag Archives: Parashah

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:

http://www.jpost.com/National-News/2000-year-old-golden-bell-discovered-in-Jerusalem

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,

Laya

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Miriam, Moses and Aaron

P1130369The Waters of Meriba-  art by Laya Crust

Miriam, Moses and Aaron

Parshat Hukkat,  Numbers 19 – 21: 1

As I was reading this week’s parsha I thought about the extraordinary link between  three siblings- Miriam, Moshe and Aaron. Miriam, the oldest of the three, watched over baby Moses, trying to help keep him as safe as possible under impossible circumstances. Moshe (Moses) spent his earliest years with his mother and sister until he was returned to Pharaoh’s daughter where he grew up in wealth and entitlement.

The Torah/ Bible narrative focuses on Moshe the great leader of the Israelites. When he argued with Gd at the site of the burning bush Gd sent Aaron, Moshe’s older brother, to be his support and mouthpiece. From that time on the two brothers traveled together.

Miriam didn’t appear again until the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea. She is called a prophetess and was accepted as a leader with her brothers. According to Midrash Miriam’s presence brought water throughout the desert journey. She died in parshat Hukkat and the water disappeared.


P1130373Moshe, Miriam and Aaron having tea in the desert after a long day

 

This parsha shows the unity and relationship of the three siblings in a touching way. They led the nation together in almost constant agreement. (Naturally there were some blips here and there.) I imagine that they encouraged each other and were there for moral support.

When Miriam suddenly died and was buried the Israelites complained about being thirsty. Gd  commanded Miriam’s two grieving brothers to speak to a rock and make water flow. Instead, Moshe hit the rock, calling the people “rebels”. He used the Hebrew word מרים  (morim)- which is the same spelling as their late sister’s name. It seems they were so distraught they couldn’t follow Gd’s instructions properly.

Gd punished the two brothers for their disobedience. Aaron would die immediately and Moshe would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land. When the sister who saved Moshe died it was the true end of a strong, unified leadership, with her brothers having the end of their lives foretold.

Throughout Bereishit we read about sibling relationships. None of them were as unified or supportive as this one. It is interesting that they embarked on such a difficult journey together. They led together and in a way they died together. It was the end of their leadership but the beginning of a legacy and an example of inspired, cooperative leadership.

I hope this added a new way of looking at Miriam and Aaron’s deaths, and the beauty of family ties.

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

 

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Korach

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,

Laya

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Shabbat Shuva

ShabbatShuva sig

Hosea 14:2-10,   Micah 7:18-20,   Joel 2:15-27

It’s that time of year again, the count down to the holiest days of the year, Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.

The Shabbat between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur is called “Shabbat Shuva” meaning “The Shabbat of Return”. The first words in the haftarah are, “Return (shuva), Israel, to the Lord your Gd…”  The words direct our thoughts to introspection. Later in the haftarah, in the book of Joel, it says, “Blow the horn in Zion, sanctify a fast…” The illustration for this week shows a leader blowing a shofar. People of all colours- representing people from different corners of the world- are hearing the shofar. Above them is the hand of Gd surrounded by flames, representing Gd’s presence. This illustration is based on a wonderful painting by the American Artist Ben Shahn. Shahn was born in Lithuania and came to America with his family in the early 20th Century. His life was dedicated to human rights and social action, and he expressed that through his prolific art works.

Social responsibility and expression through art is part of our history. This summer my family and I were lucky enough to go to Israel and to Prague, an amazing jewel of a city in the Czech republic. The streets are lined with beautiful, beautiful buildings. Everywhere we turned there were sculptures, embellished doorways, and decorative columns. The curving streets showcased colourful homes and eye catching balconies and windows. 
                            P1110731   P1110671   P1110843

We walked the streets and looked at the six synagogues there, synagogues that had been built throughout the centuries. The oldest is the “Alte Neu Schul” (Old New Shul) built in 1254. Two legends surround this amazing medieval structure. One is that the wings of angels transformed into doves to protect the synagogues from fire in the ghetto. The other is that of the famous “Golem” . The story is told that the Maharal, Rabbi Loew, created the Golem out of clay in order to protect the Jews of Prague. It is said that the Golem’s remains are in the attic (but we didn’t see the Golem or his remains).

The newest synagogue was built in 1906 and is breathtaking, inspired by Moorish architecture. It was built as a Reform synagogue and has an immense organ in it.  Two of Prague’s six synagogues have regular services and two of the synagogues are museums to the Jews lost in the Holocaust.

P1110764    P1110815

 The beauty of Prague and the long history of Jews there was put into stark relief by our trip to the Terezin work camp/ transit camp/ ghetto 45 minutes outside of Prague. Walking through the camp where thousands of Jews had walked was more than sobering, and I have yet to integrate my impressions and emotions. Thousands of deported children, infants, women, and men walked those roads and through those doorways. But through the impossibly dark situation art flourished. Painting, theatre, music and composition were produced. Operas and plays were written and performed. Children published weekly newsletters. Although the circumstances were devastating  hope, faith and beauty survived. We saw hundreds of beautiful watercolours and drawings as well as original musical scores and even intricately crafted hand-made dolls. How inspiring!

Prayer was elevated too. A small  synagogue was built in secret. A man named Artur Berlinger decorated a storage room, painting designs and Hebrew quotations on the walls.  He led services there for a small group that lived on the same street. Below you can see stars painted on the ceiling and candles painted on the walls. The wall decoration ws intact until the flood of 2002 damaged them.

P1110865  P1110866

In Prague and Terezin we saw the art of the synagogues and the art of the people. It was all around us in different forms. The art, music, theatre and architecture were created by Jews through different eras for different purposes. Much of it was done by  architects and craftsmen, but much of it was done by non-artists, adults and children, men and women, who loved artistic and creative expression.

 Art, music and creativity help make the world a brighter place.  They bring comfort to the creators and designers. The art can bring ideas, pleasure and even escape to the audience. Positive action, good deeds, political awareness- all these things are important too. So however you approach these holidays, may this be a time for reflection and creativity..
What do you think? I’d love to read your comments.
Shabbat Shuva Shalom,  Laya

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It’s the Three Weeks – of War

Hesped 0036

Devarim

Isaiah I: 1- 27

Isaiah (prophet)- c.740 – 685 BCE

This painting was created in response to the senseless killing of innocent Israeli soldiers on leave a few years ago. Called “Hesped” (Eulogy) it is King David’s eulogy over King Saul and Jonathan. Two psalms are written in the top corners. The writing was done in  23K gold leaf to represent the pain of loss, like fire on fire. Click on the painting to enlarge it.

This haftarah always precedes the fast of Tisha B’Av  (the 9th of Av). It is a desolate haftarah where Isaiah recounts how God laments that His children – B’nei Yisrael – have rebelled against Him. They are corrupt, their prayers are empty and their sacrifices are meaningless.

The haftarah is bleak, expressing Gd’s disappointment in His people and longing for them to improve. Gd and Isaiah are begging the children of Israel to improve their behaviour. Gd asks Israel to “Learn to do well; Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1: 17)

Right now we are nearing the end of the “Three Weeks” which is a period of mourning and reflection that occurs between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av.   It is a time of solemnity and is used to reflect on our behaviour. Can we perform a good deed and help another person? Can we cut back on- or even stop- our gossiping? What can we do to improve ourselves and the world around us?

It is a strange coincidence- or is it- that this year Israel is engaged in Operation Protective Edge. It is a defensive battle against the terrorist organization Hamas during these three weeks of mourning. Precious lives have been lost, but the battle must go on until the secret tunnels from Gaza to Israel are eradicated, the enemy weapons caches are destroyed, and the citizens of Israel can sleep at night without suffering continued rocket attacks from Gaza.

Photo Photo  (Photos from Ohel Arl Community, organized by Rachel Jacoby, Erica Jacoby, Nicole Azulay)

The people in Israel and Israel’s supporters are trying to do just what Gd called for. We are looking for ways to help. We are thinking of the young soldiers on the fronts lines who are protecting Israelis and trying to spare innocent civilians in Gaza.  We are thinking of Israeli families traumatized by death and destruction of their homes and communities. We are thinking of the extra burden on the health system and front line care workers.

Beautifully, love and  energy and resources have been mobilized to send support, prayers, and good deeds to help win the war- not only by might but by faith and “mitzvoth”.

If you want to help you can donate to one of many organizations that are on the ground assisting those affected by the conflict. Magen David Adom, Leket, Yad Sarah, UJA, Soroka Hospital, Beit HaLochem Canada, One Family, are just a few. If you don’t want to send money, send prayers. It’s all good.

We hope to win the war with as little bloodshed as possible so we can live in our land in peace. May it be soon. Amen

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Mattot and the Three Weeks

Mattot

Jeremiah 1:1- 2:3

Jeremiah (prophet) c. 655 BCE – 586 BCE

This week we observed the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz, the beginning of the Three Weeks of mourning. The haftarah readings during the three weeks  include sections from the book of Jeremiah and the book of Isaiah.  Mattot is the first of the three readings, introducing us to the prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah warned B’nei Yisrael that they were going to be punished for their idol worship. He told the people  the Temple would be destroyed and they would be exiled  but the Israelites ignored him.  At the end of his life, in 586 BCE, Judah was destroyed and Jerusalem was sacked by Nebuchadnezzar. The majority of Jews were exiled to Babylon.

The haftarah describes Jeremiah’s conversation with Gd. The prophet’s mouth is touched by Gd’s hand, and then he successively has a vision of a flowering almond branch and a boiling cauldron. This is reminiscent of Isaiah’s mouth being touched by an angel. The almond branch represents Jeremiah’s link to Aaron the kohen and the boiling cauldron from the north represents destruction coming from the north.

 Jeremiah tried to warn the Jews about the destruction of the Temple and their fate at the hands of their enemies but the Jews wouldn’t believe him.

I tried to think of a parallel situation where a Jew tried to warn his brethren of upcoming disaster to the nation but he or she was ignored. I remembered two individuals who lived at the time of the Second World War and attempted to rally Western Jews to put political pressure on their governments and spur them to save the Jews of Europe.  M.J. Nurenberger  was a journalist  who attempted to mobilize individuals and organizations to fight for the survival of Jews under the Nazi regime.  He wrote, met, and organized tirelessly but met with political stonewalling.  He wrote a book about his experiences called “The Scared and the Doomed”.   Arthur Szyk, an artist, used his art  to disseminate the message of Nazi goals and brutality. There are messages in his political cartoons, illustrated Haggadah and illustrated megillot.

This photograph was taken in New York in 1944 at the commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.   Nurenberger is in the 1st row, 1st on the left.  Szyk is in the 2nd row, 1st on the left.

M. J. Nurenberger with Einstein            Szyk  self-portrait , drawing the enemy

            

We are always at risk it seems- look at what is happening in Israel and Europe today. There are those visionaries who try to help and warn us. May we see a sustained peace for Jews, Israel,  and all humanity soon.

On a side note,  there is a program pairing people with soldiers and people on guard duty in Israel called The Shmira Project. Go to http://www.shmiraproject.com/SignUp.aspx.  You then pray and/or perform mitzvot with that soldier in mind, asking G-d to answer your good deeds with protection for that soldier.  (My soldier’s name is Noam ben Nicole.) There is no charge, and it takes 30 seconds to sign up.

Shabbat Shalom, and may these three weeks be for healing and peace.

 

 

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Hukkat

Hukkat

Judges 11: 1 – 33

Yiftach (Jepfte)- warrior,  12th- 11th C. BCE

The haftarah for Hukkat focuses on the story of a man named Yiftach (Jephte) who led his tribe to victory against the Ammonoites. This echoes the parsha where we see Moshe leading b’nei Yisrael against the Ammonites and the Amorites, conquering the latter.

Yiftach was an accomplished fighter. He was driven out of the family by his half brothers- the “legitimate” sons of Gilead who said they did not want to share the land inheritance with him. When the Ammonites made war against B’nei Yisrael, the sons of Gilead begged their half-brother Yiftach to lead them to battle as he was a great warrior and a good leader. He agreed on the condition that he would get his share of the inheritance.

Yiftach tried to negotiate with the enemy but they would neither negotiate nor compromise.    G-d told Yiftach they would be victorious. Despite G-d’s promise Yiftach made an oath to G-d that if he won the battle he would sacrifice the first thing that crossed his path when he returned home. The result of this oath is a well known and  tragic story that is not included in this week’s haftarah.

I wanted to paint Yiftach leading his fighters into battle. I tried to find images of Jewish warriors. I looked at ancient paintings, medieval hagaddot and early manuscript paintings confident that I would find something- after all b’nei Yisrael was involved in many battles in throughout the bible.  I couldn’t seem to find historical images of Jewish soldiers.

I finally came across this beautiful rendering from The “Duke of Sussex Pentateuch”. It was painted in 13th C. Southern Germany, and shows the Jewish fighters holding the standards of 4 of the  12 tribes.

It is intriguing that the Jewish artist had painted the leaders of the tribes of Israel as crusaders. I assume that was the only context the Jews of Germany had for soldiers. Even though these men are wearing crusader uniforms they are b’nei Yisrael ready for battle.  I liked that the Jews were portrayed as warriors. I gave them weapons and the flag of the Tribe of Menashe.

The truth is that there have been battalions  and units of Jewish soldiers as part of larger secular armies. Now, of course, we can be proud of our Jewish soldiers in a Jewish army fighting for our Jewish State of Israel.

The “Duke of Sussex Pentateuch” can currently be found in the British Library.

Shabbat Shalom. Remember- if you click on the image at the top of the page you can see an enlargement.

 

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