Tag Archives: Sarah

VaYechi- And He Lived

King David and Saul by Laya Crust

VaYechi is the last Torah reading in the Book of Beresheit (the Book of Genesis). It is just that- the story of the beginning, or genesis, of the world and of a people. The parsha begins with a word that in biblical Hebrew means “and he lived”, and in modern Hebrew means “and he will live”. It is appropriate because this word refers to Jacob who died in this parsha but created the family legacy which would continue, living as the Jewish nation.

Our forefathers and foremothers did not have perfect family lives. There was jealousy, jostling for power and attention, and lifelong resentments. We read about favouritism. There was very little tenderness exhibited in the harsh lives they led. However, tenderness does appear in this parsha.

When Jacob was 137 years old he had been living in Egypt with Joseph and his other 11 sons for 17 years. He knew he was about to die and called Joseph and Joseph’s sons to his bedside. “…he kissed them and embraced them. And Yisrael said to Joseph,’ I had not thought to see your face: and lo, God has also shown me your children.’ ” (Genesis ch 47 v..11) Yaakov was expressing the longing he had felt for decades, never believing he would see his son Joseph again. Neither Abraham nor Isaac had ever spoken to their children with such honesty and warmth.

We go on to read the first ethical will ever recorded. Jacob spoke to each of his sons, and to his two favourite grandsons. He foresaw how they were going to navigate the world. The prescience could have been see by the sons either as warnings or as guidelines for how to lead their lives in the best way possible. As well as speaking about the children’s’ attributes Jacob also made it clear that when he died he was to be buried in Canaan in the same place his wife Leah, his parents Isaac and Rebecca, and his grandparents Abraham and Sarah had been buried.

This scene and this request- he actually insisted that it be an oath- were the greatest lessons of all. By gathering the sons together in one room and speaking to each of them one by one Jacob was cementing the family unit. It wasn’t a speech to all the servants and to those Egyptians who respected him, it was a speech only to his sons. This showed them how he valued them as a family unit with common roots, and that they would retain their nationhood and integrity if they stayed together.

The insistence that he be buried in Canaan was an indication that Canaan, not Egypt, was his and their homeland. That being said, Joseph was the only one of the twelve sons who made an oath that he too would be buried in Canaan.

As always there are many lessons in the parsha. Communication in family, showing love to our children, expressing our deepest wishes, seeing each child as an individual, the power of the ethical will, unity, and being in the right place are all lessons from this reading.

We live in a frightening world with too much hatred and too much violence. If we stand together as a unified nation, if we live with the integrity laid out in halachah (Jewish precepts and law), and if we know who we re as Jews and where we belong, maybe we can help heal our nation and heal the world more effectively. As we go forward we might also be able to learn from Yaakov Avinu (our father Jacob’s) ethical will to us, his descendants.

With blessings for goodness and peace, Shabbat Shalom.

Laya

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Funerals and a Wedding

The Cave of Machpelah - Vincent van Gogh
The Cave of Machpela by Vincent Van Gogh

This week’s parsha begins with the news that Sara Imeinu (our matriarch) had 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.  Although the cave of Machpela was offered to him as a gift, he insisted on paying for it.  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.

chayei sarah0040
Abraham’s Journey by Laya Crust

At the end of this week’s reading Abraham died and his two sons- Isaac and Ishmael-came together as brothers and buried their father in the cave of Machpela, where Sara his wife had been buried. There had been a separation in the family after Isaac was born. Ishmael and Hagar were sent away because Sarah was adamant that Ishmael was a bad influence in Isaac’s life. It’s quite a testament to the strength of Abraham’s personality that the two half brothers united and buried their father together and without rancour. The ability to live apart but with respect was not the situation in King David’s family.

The haftarah is from the Book of Kings and concerns the last days of King David. After leading the nation of Israel through many battles, King David was old and ailing. In his illness and on his deathbed he was always cold. The court found a young and beautiful maiden, Avishag the Shunemite, to attend to him and “keep him warm”. The last days of two King David in the haftarah and the patriarch Abraham in the Torah reading link the haftarah to the Torah reading: .

Heir to the Throne by Laya Crust

This scene shows King David on his deathbed. Avishag, his attendant is there along with Bathsheba his wife, and Nathan the prophet. The calm scene in the picture belies the bloodshed and jockeying for leadership that was going on outside David’s chamber walls.

The ailing king had not yet appointed an heir to his throne. Although David had promised Batsheva that their son Solomon would be the next king of Israel, it had never been officially announced. There was a vicious power struggle among his sons and Adonijah, was about to declare himself king. Nathan the prophet knew that David had to announce his successor before his death to prevent a possible civil war. He also knew that David would listen to Bathsheba. “Then Nathan said to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother….’Go immediately to King David and say to him, “Did not you, O lord king, swear to your maidservant: ‘your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit upon my throne.’ ?”   ( 1 Kings 1: 11, 13 )   When Adonijah announced himself king, Nathan and Bathsheba approached King David.

David was a great warrior and beloved king, but his leadership skills as a father left much to be desired. The fighting continued among his sons. In contrast Isaac and Ishmael reunited at Abraham’s funeral. Isaac had been chosen as heir and leader of Abraham’s legacy and Ishmael accepted that.

David was always in conflict with the nations surrounding him, and brilliantly led the battles that needed to be fought. Abraham fought as a last resort, attempting to make compromise and make peace when possible. Maybe Abraham’s non-confrontational policy paved the way so that his estranged sons could meet in peace and live parallel but non-combatant lives.

May all parents and leaders choose paths of dialogue and peace. Maybe then the world will be a safer and peaceful place.

Have a Shabbat Shalom.

The scene of David surrounded by Avishag, Bathsheba, and Nathan is one of the paintings in my forthcoming book, “Illuminations”. Stay tuned for more information!

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Sarah and the Divine

VaYeira Sig
art by Laya Crust

Vayeira- Genesis 18 – 22 Haftarah- Kings II, ch. 4: 1-37

This week’s parsha is a series of at least five incredible narratives, each worthy of detailed study. Today I will focus on Sarah, the woman chosen to be the mother of the Jewish nation.

When Gd told Avraham to leave his homeland and that he would become the father of a great people, he left Ur Kasdim, taking his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot with him. Sarai was 75 years old when she and her husband left their home for an unknown destination. She was described as beautiful- so beautiful that King Avimelech took her to his harem. We may wonder how a woman of 75 can be that appealing, but some have an ageless beauty that is enhanced by grace and wisdom.

etching by Laya Crust

Gd chose Sarai to be the mother of His nation. Her name was changed from Sarai to Sarah at the same time Avram’s name was changed to Avraham. Twice Gd protected her from the leaders of alien nations- first from the pharaoh of Egypt and later from Abimelech, the king of Gerar. After Sarah suggested that her handmaiden bear a son to Avraham Gd made it clear to Avraham that Sarah was to be the matriarch of the nation and that no other woman would fulfill that role.

In this parsha, the Lord told Avraham that he and the men in his group would need to be circumcised. Then Gd had told Avraham that he and Sarah would have a child together. It seemed so ridiculous Avraham fell on his face and laughed. Gd declared that the baby would be called Isaac, after the Hebrew word “to laugh”.

The circumcision was, and is, the sign of the covenant between Gd and the Jewish people. Sarah did not become pregnant until after Abraham was circumcised. As a dear friend pointed out, the covenant between Jews and Gd had to be initiated before the line of the Jewish people was created.

Abraham and Sarah by Marc Chagall

Like Avraham, Sarah laughed when she heard she was to bear a child at the age of 90. When Sarah laughed “within herself” Gd asked Avraham why she had laughed. The question was actually two questions. Did Avraham not tell his wife and partner that she was to become pregnant and have a child? Is that why she was incredulous and laughed? The second question was – why did Avraham and Sarah still not believe that Gd can make unusual and unexpected things happen? The Torah and commentaries seem to criticize Sarah for laughing when she heard the news, but the rebuke wasn’t just to Sarah. It was to Abraham as well. That whole incident can be seen as a larger conversation Gd had with Sarah, the future matriarch.

There are many criticism of Sarah and her attitude towards Hagar. We can’t judge. Life and community were very different in biblical times. Recognizing her infertility Sarah offered her handmaid Hagar to her husband, hoping that way he would become a father. Recognizing Hagar’s behaviour Sarah handled the situation as she thought she had to. When the three angels appeared at their tent in the desert Avraham and Sarah worked as a team to create a feast for them. It appears that Sarah ran her community with wisdom and level-headedness.

May we learn from Sarah’s strengths and have wisdom in dealing with our challenges.

Have a Shabbat Shalom, Laya

The illustration at the top of the page is from the haftarah of VaYeira. It shows the prophet Elisha with the Shunammite woman who had a room built for him for when he visited Shunem. This woman, like Sarah, was childless for many years. Her son, like Isaac, almost died. Unlike Sarah, she was able to watch her son grow to adulthood.

The print is from my collection of 82 paintings of the haftarot. The collection is currently on display at Beth Tedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. The address is 1500 Bathurst Street. The exhibit is free and open to the public 7 days a week, 9 a.m. through 9 p.m. I am currently working on a book focusing on the haftarah paintings and their meanings.

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Lech Lecha and Respect

Compass Rose by Laya Crust

The Torah reading For “Lech Lecha” begins, “Gd said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation’…” (Gen. 12:1)

Three weeks ago we read about the creation of the world and the creation of humanity. There were problems. Adam and Eve, the first people, did not listen to Gd’s instructions and were punished. The first children were Cain and Abel. From feelings of anger, jealousy, and shame Cain killed his brother. The negative behaviours of humanity increased until Gd decided to wash the world clean and start again.

Noah, a righteous man was chosen to restart the community of mankind. But once again murder and disrespect became rampant in the civilization. Rather than destroy the world again Gd chose Abraham and Sarah to become the ancestors of a new and righteous nation.

“Turn your gaze towards the heavens and number the stars. if you can count them. And Gd promised him, and so shall your seed be.” (Genesis 15:5)

In Genesis chapter 13 there is a description of a quarrel between Abraham’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. The men were arguing over the grazing fields for their cattle. The situation could easily have gotten out of hand but Abraham used calm and wisdom to find a solution. “There should be no quarrel between you and me, and your herdsman and mine, for we are close kin. The whole land lies before you! Please, part from me. If you go north I will turn south and if you turn south, I will turn north.” (Gen. 13:8,9)

Abraham was the patriarch and Lot’s uncle. It would have been acceptable for him to choose the best land for himself. Alternatively, there could have been a skirmish over ownership of the grazing lands. Abraham’s approach was an example of insight and sympathy delivered with respect, attributes of a good leader.

In Toronto the week leading up to November 11, Remembrance Day, is Holocaust Education Week. There are hundreds of films, talks and presentations throughout the city and neighbouring communities. Millions and millions of people were exterminated because of horrible arrogance and the lack of respect or acceptance of difference. The presentations address heroism, compassion, anger, and resolution.

The understanding and calm Abraham displayed is a model we can take forward to our interactions. If everyone looked at the person across from him/her and said: “What is on their mind? How can I understand them and communicate my position respectfully?”, maybe strikes, fights, and wars could be avoided.

I guess the lesson we can learn is very basic. Everyone has their own story. Everyone has their own approach. By explaining ourselves and listening to others, problems can be solved respectfully, without anger or bloodshed.

May you have a week of joy, peace and understanding.

Laya

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A Week of Tears

photo by Lis Shapiro,  October 28, 2018 

This week Is Holocaust Education Week in Toronto,. It is a week devoted to learning about and remembering the Holocaust. We listen to Holocaust survivors who share their experiences, watch films, and attend lectures and musical performances relating to the Holocaust. In addition there are presentations about atrocities and genocides against other peoples.

This week is also the anniversary of Kristallnacht, and in a few days we will observe Remembrance Day. It is a day devoted to honouring those who fell fighting in World War I.

IMG_9443photo by Lis Shapiro,  October 28, 2018

Last week was a difficult week, a week of tears. The murder of eleven Jews in Pittsburgh who were in synagogue praying on Shabbat shocked the world. Tears were shed around the globe and vigils were attended by all races and religions in hundreds if not thousands of cities. Antisemitism was condemned internationally by leaders from countries in every corner of the planet. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter how many words were spoken by leaders of the nations, eleven Jews were shot to death because they were Jewish.

The parsha on that fateful Shabbat was “VaYeira”, the story of Abraham and Sarah and their long awaited son Isaac.

Abraham and Sarah had been chosen by God to lead a new nation that would be righteous and exemplify a moral compass created by God. The new nation would be small compared to the peoples around them. And, as the the story played out both in the Torah and throughout history, the new nation created by God would survive longer than other nations would survive, but at a price. The new Jewish nation would be be envied, feared and hated.

photo by Lis Shapiro,  October 28, 2018 

Unfortunately amid the tears there was also a lot of hateful speech. Following the Pittsburgh massacre fingers were pointed and leaders were blamed. Why did this happen and who is to blame is a big question. “Who is to blame?” One answer is that the gunman, fueled by anti-Jewish propaganda and armed with legal guns and rifles is to blame. Another answer is that unbridled hate speech feeds the loathing. An individual who hates, an individual who uses the free choice God gave humanity, but uses it selfishly and with malice, commits a crime like this.

Human beings are given free choice but Jews are given many, many, many strictures and guidelines about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behaviour. We aren’t expected to love everybody. We don’t even have to like everybody, but we have to respect our parents and teachers, we can’t kill or maim, we can’t steal from another, we aren’t even allowed to “covet ” another’s property. We aren’t allowed to slander. We aren’t allowed to take another’s life, even in error. If all people read the rules God gave us (many of them are outlined in parshat Kedoshim, Leviticus chapters 19 and 20 ) there would be respect for those unlike ourselves and the world would be a peaceful place.

Lis Shapiro,  October 28, 2018 

We live in a world where “freedom of choice” and “freedom of expression” are seen as the highest levels of “freedom”. But according to Judaism that’s not true. As we walk through life and make decisions we need to remember that each decision we make impacts others. The rules and guidelines in Torah help to keep a respectful and safe environment.

When someone dies their death leaves a hole in the lives of their family and the community. May there be fewer holes in the world and let’s all try to mend the holes that exist.

The photographs in this blog were taken by my friend Lis Shapiro. The day after the shooting she was walking in the rain. As she looked around her she saw that even nature was shedding tears.

With prayers for peace, B’Vracha,

Laya

es around them, and they would be

 

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Bill Glied z”l

Image result for bill gliedBill Glied z”l,  1930 -2018

We are reading the first stories in the Book of Genesis, ספר בראשית.  After creating the world and creating humankind with the gift of free will, God saw that free will wasn’t a trait that always would be used for good purposes. Rather than using their choices for beauty and good, some of humanity showed themselves to be envious, greedy, violent,  and, well murderous. God found a man, Abraham, who had integrity and searched for truth. Together Abraham and his wife Sarah were chosen to begin a new nation, God’s chosen people the Jews.

In the Torah readings of “Lech Lecha” and VaYeira” we read some of the challenges that God put before Abraham. One of those tests was “Akeidat Yitzchak” the binding and threatened sacrifice of Abraham and Sarah’s precious son Isaac. There were personal repercussions, but Abraham retained his faith in God and his descendants are the Jewish people of today.

Bill Glied wrote the following poem which he read when he led groups to the concentration camp of Majdanek:

Bill Glied z”l was a wonderful man of faith. He was born  in 1930 in the town of Subotica, Serbia. In April of 1944 Hungarian gendarmes rounded up more than 400,000 Jews. Bill Glied and his family were among those Jews and were transported in cattle cars to Aushcwitz. His mother and 8 year old sister were killed immediately. He and his father were sent to a camp in Bavaria where they worked for 12 hours a day to build an underground airplane factory. Bill survived the camps and the war but tragically his father died of typhoid fever eight days before U.S. troops liberated the camp in 1945.

Bill was not a bitter man and devoted a great deal of time to teaching youth about the Holocaust, and making sure that the tragedy will not be forgotten.

He wrote a beautiful poem, “I AM A JEW” as a wake-up call and an inspiration to others.”I AM A JEW” is a lesson, a guideline, for what we, as Jews, are. It describes the best that we can strive for. It outlines the traits we should cultivate and can achieve.

I was honoured to be asked to write out the poem,  With the family’s permission I am reprinting it and showing the illustrated poem.

Bill Glied came to Canada in 1947,  and married Marika Nyiri in 1959. They had three daughters, Sherry, Tammy, and Michelle, eight grandchildren, and a great grandchild. His family carries on Bill’s love of the world and let’s all ensure that his name will be remembered as a blessing.

Have a Shabbat Shalom,   Laya

bill glied_20181025_0001 (3)

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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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