Tag Archives: prayer

Oaths and Promises


Shabbat Shuva  by Laya Crust

This past Saturday we observed “Shabbat Shuva”, and now we are about to observe “Yom Kippur”, the day of Atonement. Yom Kippur begins with the beautiful prayer “Kol Nidrei”, a prayer recited in unison by the congregation. Kol Nidrei means “All my Vows” and we are asking God to pardon us for vows we have made to Him but that we haven’t fulfilled.

Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah. , all occur in Tishrei which is the seventh month of the Jewish calendar.  The number seven often appears in our texts and in our observances. Our new year, Rosh HaShana is celebrated on the first day of the seventh month, the first month being Nisan.

Rosh HaShana occurs after the Seven Weeks of Consolation following Tisha B’Av. In the haftarot during the Seven Weeks of Consolation there are repeated reference to God as a groom and the Nation of Israel as a bride. Following a wedding there are seven days of “sheva brachot” (seven blessings) at which we make seven special blessings over the bride and groom.

And where else do we find 7…

Related imageSukkot and Pesach in Israel are celebrated for seven days.

Between Pesach and Shavuot there are 7 weeks. We count the “Omer ” for 49 days- 7 weeks of 7 days.

Every seven years the land in Israel must lay fallow, the shmitta year.

Our gold menorah, the menorah rededicated on Hannukah, and the menorah wreathed with olive leaves used as the emblem symbol of Israel, has seven branches.

And of course, as we will read in a few weeks, the world was created in six days and on the seventh God rested. Our week is based on that model, a model of seven days. Interestingly the entire world seems to have taken the seven day week as a framework for their rhythm of life.

We can play all kinds of gematria with words and letters. For instance, this year is 5779. If you add the 5 and the 9, the first and last numbers of the year , you get 14. Divide 14 in 2 (because you added two numbers together) you get 7. Now we have 3 sevens in the counting of our year.

After we read the story of creation we will read the story of Noah and the destruction of the world. God made a promise never to destroy the world again. The symbol of the promise is the rainbow that we see after a rainfall. And the rainbow, interestingly, is identified as 7 colours.  Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and purple.

At the beginning of this I mentioned Kol Nidrei, when we speak to God about our vows, promises and oaths we have made. Neder is the word for vow.  Another is sheva, like Be’er Sheva- the well where Abraham made an oath with Avimelech. And sheva is also the Hebrew word for seven. If sheva means oath and means seven, maybe that’s why we have so many time patterns of seven in our observance. Seven is creation and it is retrospection. This seventh month we are attempting to forge a stronger and better bond with haShem through action and thought. that bond will be an oath between us and ourselves to be better and do better.

May we all have a Yom Kippur that is meaningful, and full of good and strengthening thought, prayer and retrospection. May we all reflect well, and have a g’mar tov.

Laya

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Isaac’s Role

King David Departing,   art by Laya Crust

The haftarah of “Chayei Sarah” (The Life of Sarah) recounts political discussions at the dying King David’s bedside. In the Torah reading Sarah and Abraham both die. Isaac marries Rebecca and he carries on from Abraham in the role of patriarch.

Isaac was not an active figure. He was not a traveler and fighter like his father Abraham, or a strategist and negotiator like his son Jacob. He seems to have been a quiet man who stayed at home and was content with the status quo. He didn’t even choose his own wife. Abraham’s servant found a suitable wife for Isaac. When the servant returned with Rebecca she saw him “meditating” in the fields.

Image result for chagall rebecca aND isaacRebecca and Isaac, Marc Chagall

… “and Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the evening time…” (Genesis 24: 63). It seems fitting that Isaac, a quiet man, would go out into the fields to contemplate at dusk, when there is a solitude and calm in the air.

We can look at each of the patriarchs and relate them to the different times of day. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote that that Rabbi Jacobovits “used to point out that the position of the sun at the various stages of the day mirrored that of the patriarchs themselves.”  Lord Jacobovits  likened Abraham to the sun which rose in the east, just as Abraham started his life in the east and traveled west to Canaan. Isaac was like the sun in the afternoon which is centered in the sky. He remained in Canaan, not straying from that chosen land. Just as the sun sets in the west, Jacob ended his life away from Canaan, in the land of Egypt.

The personalities and behaviours of the patriarchs also reflect the patterns of the day. Abraham rose early in the morning to do God’s bidding. Just as the sun ignites action, Abraham was a  man of action- not needing others to prod him along. The sun heralds a new day and Abraham founded a new nation.

Jacob is the night. He had the vision of angels climbing a ladder at night. God spoke to him at night. He fought with the angel at the Jabok River throughout the night. Jacob had many experiences with angels. They were mysterious and miraculous, and we think of the night as mysterious.

    Image result for abraham and isaac rembrandt 1634Abraham and Isaac,   Rembrandt, 1645

Isaac was the path between Abraham- man of action and obedience to God,  and Jacob- man of manipulation and negotiation.  Isaac obeyed his father and God at the akeida, when Abraham almost sacrificed him on Mount Moriah. Isaac accepted the role of patriarch, never questioning it. He remained in Cannan, managed the flocks, married whom he was told to marry, and raised his sons. He was a thinker, renouncing Abraham’s aggressive movement and Jacob’s passionate reactivity. If Abraham was morning and Jacob was night, then Isaac was the day, moving through the sky connecting morning to night.

If we relate the patriarchs to prayer Abraham is shacharit (morning prayer) Isaac is mincha (afternoon prayer) and Jacob is ma’ariv (evening payer).

Isaac’s personality is not described in the Bible. We read about Abraham, Sarah, Rebecca, Jacob and each of Jacob’s wives, but Isaac is passive. He was a quiet leader who held it all together. He was a bridge between those who waged war, who took over land, and who grabbed what they felt they deserved. He was a figure of calm and permanence who meditated and lived simply.

We need all kinds of personalities to balance the world and Isaac’s quietude is a trait to integrate in our commercial, materialistic, and goal oriented world.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

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Yom Kippur and the Fast

art by Laya Crust

As we approach Yom Kippur- for many of us the most serious day of the year- we prepare for a day of fasting, prayer, and meditation. I expect that the significance of Yom Kippur differs for many of us. Is it a cleansing of the mind or the soul? Is it a day to take stock? Even if we can define what we think it is, can we achieve what we have defined?

The haftarah is from the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah’s message isn’t focused on the self. Rather it is focused on social justice. He says, “The fast you perform today will not make your voice heard on high.” (58:4) …”Loosen the bindings of evil, … shatter every yoke of slavery. Break your bread for the starving and bring the dispossessed home. When you see a person naked, clothe him; do not ignore your kin. And then your light will break out like the sunrise…”(58: 6,7)

This central message is that in and of itself the fast of Yom Kippur does not get God’s attention. Filling the world with justice and positive actions is the true goal of healing oneself and one’s relationship with the Creator. We can pray, we can fast, we can cry over our failings. If we don’t work to improve our actions and act in ways to improve the world round us, the tears and lack of food and water on the Day of Atonement are meaningless.

art by Laya Crust

Isaiah continues, saying, “…if you give of your soul to the starving, and answer the hunger of your souls oppressed- then your light will shine out in darkness, and your night will shine like noontide.”

There are many ways- large and small- to help those around us. Every small positive action betters the world around us and betters our selves.

Have a meaningful Yom Kippur, and let’s make the world better and brighter.

Shana Tova- May you be blessed and inscribed for a good and healthy year.

Laya

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New Year Thoughts

art by Laya Crust, inspired by Ben Shahn

Rosh HaShana is a day of deep prayer and meditation- as well as an opportunity to connect with family and friends. Put another way, the time of prayer allows us to connect with ourselves and then connect with others. The Shabbat between  Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuva- a Sabbath of return.

The Haftarah for Shabbat Shuva begins, “Return o Israel unto the Lord your God…”  Within the haftarah we are told to blow the shofar, and gather together.

I’ve been thinking about the act of personal prayer and our place in society and the world. Much of the New Year and Day of Atonement is spent  in personal prayer. What do we get out of personal prayer? What are the benefits?

On the first day of Rosh HaShana we read the story of Hanna, a childless woman who goes to the Temple and prays silently, moving her lips, but making no sound.

art by Laya Crust

Hanna was the first person in Jewish text who prayed silently. She expressed her thoughts to God, conversing with God and stating her needs and desires. Hanna must have been a person who knew herself well. She did something unconventional and clarified her personal path to allow herself to go forward.

We live during a time that is full of natural disasters, spiritual disasters, leadership disasters and international tragedy. It’s possible that the world has ever been thus, but with the existence of internet, twitter, skype, cell phones, and immediate news we are aware of the international calamities immediately. The fascism and racism exposed in Charlottesville and the genocide in Myanmar are but two of the horrific “human rights abuses” (understatement if there ever was one)currently taking place in the world. The global peace watchdog- the UN is a disaster. The forest fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, mudslides and droughts are all natural disasters that have destroyed lives and communities around the world- all disasters we have witnessed in the last couple of months.  It is very difficult for some of us to know what to do, how to respond to these world crises both man made and natural.

It makes me think of another narrative in the bible.

Elijah was a prophet who was being hunted down by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Although God told him to face his accusers Elijah decided to hide in a cave on Mount Horev in order to avoid his dangerous and overwhelming realities. God finally tells Elijah to step out of the cave. First a huge, violent wind comes by, breaking the mountains and rocks. Then after the wind there was an earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire. God was not in any of those forces. After the fire there was a still, small voice, and God was in that voice. At that point Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle , stood in the entrance of the cave , and “behold, there came a voice to him.” (Kings I 19: 13) The voice was the voice of God.

This story encompasses my thoughts about prayer and personal prayer.

Each of us is a compilation of experiences. Within our psyche we carry the lessons we have learned from parents, grandparents, teachers, wise individuals, illnesses and events we have experienced. We carry ethical truths based on what we have learned. Those ethical truths are God’s voice. It is the still small voice that speaks to us and can help us unravel difficulties that we face in a day or in our lives.

It is a thought I will take with me. As I enter synagogue to pray or meditate, like Hanna I will focus on my own prayers rather than pose for others. As the shofar is blown I will hear that pure, unusual call and know it is calling all Jews from every corner  of the world. When I am distressed by the earthquakes and fires and hurricanes I will listen to the still small voice and work out how I am able to best help and contribute to making the world a better place.

May you have a meaningful Rosh HaShana, May your year be one of health, peace, tranquility, and goodness throughout the world.

Shana Tova,  Laya

 

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Temple Visions

Titzavehart by Laya Crust

Tetzaveh

Haftarah: Ezekiel 43: 10 – 27

Ezekiel, the son of a Cohen, was among the 8,000 Jews to be exiled to Babylon in 597 BCE.

In the Book of Ezekiel, Chapter 40, Ezekiel writes that he is carried by Gd to the land of Israel. He is set on top of a very high mountain where he sees something like the structure of a city. A man, seemingly made of brass, proceeds to give Ezekiel a very thorough tour of the future Temple.  The descriptions of the restored Temple of Jerusalem continue for over 3 chapters. There are detailed descriptions of each element to be measured and positioned.

The haftarah begins with the words, “Thou, son of man, describe the house to the house of Israel that they may be ashamed of their iniquities…And if they are ashamed of all that they have done make known to them the form of the house…”

The Jews were miserable. It was the 25th year of the exile to Babylon. Gd wanted to give them hope but made it clear that the Temple  would only be restored if the Jews were repentant and corrected their behaviours and observances.

Right now, in February 2016, the debate about who can pray at the Kotel (the Western Wall) and how they can pray has ignited again.

Under Jordanian rule Jews were forbidden to pray at the Western Wall from 1948 until 1967. When Israeli forces liberated Jerusalem in 1967 Jews were once again free to go to the Kotel. In the last few years there have been debates and protests about the type of prayer allowed at the Kotel. Men and women together? Apart? Women reading Torah? Permissible? How? Where? When? Why?

The temple Mount is the holiest place of Judaism. The Kotel is the only remaining wall of the Temple’s encompassing structure. This remnant of the Temple should be a place of acceptance and harmony. It should be a place where all Jews can speak to Gd in their own way, unfettered by divisive, alienating rules.

I hope that each of us will be able to look straight up to the heavens and talk to Gd instead of expending our energies looking sideways at what others are doing. Maybe then peace, and the Third Temple, will appear.

I based my drawing at the top of this post on a rendering of Solomon’s Temple from an illumination in an early 12th C. German manuscript. The manuscript is currently in Vienna, Austria in the National Library. The floor plan shows the position of the ritual objects in the Temple.

May you have a Shabbat Shalom- one of peace, understanding and warmth.

Laya

Rabbi Cardozo wrote an interesting piece on the subject of prayer at the Western Wall.  http://www.cardozoacademy.info/thoughts-to-ponder/shut-down-the-kotel/

 

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Shana Tova

A do it yourself happiness project.

Rosh HaShana and the days until Yom Kippur are high energy and high anxiety for some of us. Ultimately we want our friends, relatives-  and ourselves- to have a happy, worry free, healthy, peaceful, year.  I adapted some blessings wishing for those exact things, wrote them in Hebrew and English, and designed a pop-up New Year’s card that you can make yourself.

P1090433

Start by printing the picture below on an 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper: We’ll call it ” Model 1″

rosh hashana 2

Fold the sheet in half lengthwise.

P1090425Take your page and cut along the solid line through both halves of the paper. DO NOT cut through that blank space in the centre of the half circle near the words “without any”.P1090427Now you have cut the shape of a pomegranate.

Fold the page in half widthwise. The message “Shana Tova u’Metukah” (in Hebrew) will be on one side and all the text will be on the other.

P1090431

Fold the page as shown above.
P1090430
Pull the pomegranate gently towards you.  The pomegranate should extend out and the rest of the card folds in the opposite way. Does that make sense? So, below you can see all the steps.And here is the ultimate greeting!P1090432..

P1090442So get out the honey cake and a cup of tea, print up a couple of pages from “Model 1” and with just a pair of scissors a piece of paper and some patience you can wow your friends and impress your family with a 3-D card! Have a wonderful New Year! Good wishes from me and my family!

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