Tag Archives: Sarah

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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Abraham’s Test?

Bird’s Head Haggadah,  1290, Southern Germany

This week’s parsha is “VaYeira”. The parsha is comprised of beautiful narratives. It includes the story of the 3 angels who visit Abraham and Sarah, the destruction of Sodom and Gemorra, the birth of Isaac, and the binding of Isaac on the sacrificial altar.

We are told that God tested Abraham 10 times. The final trial was Abraham being told to sacrifice Isaac.

“Take now your son, your favourite son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will point out to you.” (Genesis 22: 2)

Abraham followed God’s words. This narrative and its conclusion has disturbed, inspired, or puzzled Jews since it was first read in the Torah. How, we ask, can a father be told to slay his son on an altar? And, even more so, how can a loving father, the  patriarch of the  Jews, have agreed to this murderous sacrifice?

File:The sacrifice of Isaac.jpg

 Beit Alpha Synagogue Mosaic 5th C. CE

We do not see Abraham as a meek character. God chose him to be a leader because he wasn’t afraid to strike out on his own or to defy adversity. We saw Abraham argue and then bargain with God about Sodom and Gomorrah, so why didn’t he challenge God this time? He and Sarah discussed strategy for entering the land of a foreign king and talked about not having had children, so why didn’t Abraham discuss this with Sarah, his life partner? He could have refused God and defended his position or he could have tried to run away like Jonah did, too afraid to stand up to God and unwilling to slay his son. But when it came to the situation of “akeidat Yitzchak” (the binding of Isaac) Abraham chose to quietly obey.

Image result for sacrifice of IsaacRembrandt, 1636

We are told that Abraham passed God’s test. But what was God’s test? Is it that if we do whatever God tells us to do without question, it will all work out? I have a different theory. I think the test was to see whether or not Abraham would be scared off by God’s instructions.

Would Abraham continue to engage with God, even when given such an unbelievable task? Abraham could have run away from God and tried to hide as the prophet Jonah did, saying, “No more. I will no longer follow you.”  It could be that any reaction that acknowledged God – whether it was arguing, bargaining, discussing or  accepting would have been good enough to pass the test of God’s search for the patriarch of a new nation who would not run away from adversity and confrontation. Rather than enter discussions, Abraham decided to follow with blind faith.

Image result for rembrandt Abraham and IsaacAbraham and Isaac, Rembrandt, 1645

Abraham proved his faith and passed the test but it was at a very high cost. It ends with Isaac alive but relationships are  broken. Abraham and Isaac never spoke to each other again. Abraham and Sarah never saw each other again. She died, and midrash (apocryphal story) relates that she died when she heard of Abraham’s intention to sacrifice their son.  Abraham and God never spoke again either.

The story is tragic. The lack of communication we saw here is a pattern that is repeated throughout the book of Genesis. Other than the lesson of faith in God we can take away another lesson- the importance of communication and honesty within a family facing all sorts of challenges.

As always there is much to think about and learn through our Torah and our sages.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

 

 

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Chayei Sarah 5777

Related imagelithograph, Marc Chagall

This week’s parsha begins with the death of Sarah and ends with the death of Abraham. Sarah and Abraham were partners in their lives. They were ten years apart in age. They probably grew up together- Abraham told King Avimelech that they were married but they were half siblings- they had the same father.

The Torah focuses on Abraham. He follows Gd’s instructions and leaves his birthplace, he makes a covenant with Gd, bargains with Gd, travels throughout the land, and agrees to circumcision as a proof of his allegiance to Gd. Throughout all this Sarah is at Abraham’s side, almost a silent partner.

Sarah was a beautiful woman. “Behold now, I know you are a beautiful woman to gaze upon…” (Genesis 11: 11) Abraham was afraid  he would be killed if another leader wanted to marry Sarah. They discussed it. Sarah agreed to say she was Abraham’s sister. “And it came to pass that when Avram came to Mitzrayim [Egypt], the Mitzrim [Egyptians] beheld the woman that she was very fair. The princes of Par’o saw her and commended her to Par’o and the woman was taken to Par’o’s house.” (Genesis 11: 14, 15) Abraham had been correct. Sarah was very beautiful and she was taken by the Par’o- and that happened twice! (Spoiler- Gd intervened each time and she was returned to Abraham by each of the two rulers)P1140345

Sarah, etching by laya Crust

The point is that it seems Abraham and Sarah were true partners. They started their life’s journey together and discussed things as situations arose. They stayed together as a couple even though Sarah was barren. She accepted Gd’s word. When she understood that Abraham needed to have a son to build a nation she offered her handmaid Hagar to Abraham. Her understanding of situations was broad and deep. She said, “…when she [Hagar] saw that she had conceived , I was despised in her eyes.” (Genesis 16:5) Sarah realised at that point that Hagar would not allow her son to be raised by Sarah and Abraham in order to be an appropriate leader with Gd’s message. Instead Hagar felt superior to Sarah and would, in that case, naturally retain the molding of her baby’s character and behaviour.

It is hard to understand the breakdown in communication when Abraham is directed to take Isaac to Mount Moriah in order to  sacrifice Isaac. How could Abraham not have discussed this with his wife, the mother of their son, the visionary always at his side?

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin suggests that Sarah did know what was happening. He suggests that Sarah heard Abraham in his preparations early in the morning. When she looked and saw Abraham packing a knife for “shechita” (ritual slaughter) and planning to take Isaac with him, she was concerned. Rabbi Riskin writes, “Sarah demands to hear G-d’s precise words, saying: “He didn’t say that you should slaughter our child; He merely said to lift him up, to dedicate him to Divine service. G-d could not possibly have commanded you to slaughter an innocent child!”

P1150568drawing by Laya Crust

While Abraham and Isaac were climbing up  the mountain for the sacrifice Sarah went in another direction. She went to Kiryat Arba/ Hebron to the place where, according to midrash, Adam and Eve were buried. There she prayed to Gd to stay Abraham’s hand and save her son.

She died there. Neither Abraham nor Isaac saw her again.

Abraham and Isaac didn’t see each other again after the “akeida” (binding of Isaac), and Gd didn’t speak to Abraham after that incident. It seems Abraham lived out the rest of his life quietly with no further leadership moments. He remarried, had 12 more sons and was buried beside his beloved Sarah by Isaac and Ishmael.

Sarah was the partner, the sounding board and support to Abraham. She accompanied him from their birthplace steeped in idol worship to a new land. She established a home open to visitors and partnered in nurturing a new belief system. Sarah knew how fragile their mission was. She did all she could to  shield her son- the future of the nation- from negative influences. When she died the matriarch of Gd’s new nation died, and Abraham was left without his equal and partner.

At the end of “Chayei Sarah” we read that Isaac married Rebecca. “And Isaac brought her (Rebecca) into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebecca, and she became his wife. And he loved her, and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” (Genesis 24:67)

And so it goes. And the story continues.

Shabbat Shalom.

Laya

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