Tag Archives: Sefer Bamidbar

Korach and a Change in Leadership

KorachKorach   art by Laya Crust

I Samuel 11:14- 12:22

Samuel (prophet and judge) 1070 – 970 B.C.E

This Torah reading tells how Korach, a Levi, led a group of people and confronted Moses. They wanted to know why Moses and Aaron were so special and they wanted a change in leadership. The accompanying haftarah is also about a call for change in leadership.

Samuel was prophet and judge and as things turned out he was to be the last of the judges of Israel. The Israelites asked for a King so that they would be like the neighbouring nations. In this haftarah Samuel reluctantly anointed Saul as the first King of Israel. He reminded the people of all that God had done for them, and how he himself had been an honest and caring prophet and leader. He told the children of Israel that if they did not listen to God and obey His commandments they would be punished.

The image I painted shows Samuel advising Saul.  My painting is based on a woodcut in a book from Southern Germany, 1450 called “Meshal ha-Kadmoni” (The Ancient Proverb) written by  Isaac ben Solomon ibn Abi Sahulah.  He was born in 1244 and lived in Guadalajara, in Castile. Isaac ben Solomon was worried about the influence of secular writings on his fellow Jews.  He noted that Jews were reading and being influenced by non-Jewish books. For example The Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor  and Kalila and Dimna- fables from India- were translated into Hebrew and read extensively by Jews in the Middle Ages. Below are two illustrations from an edition of Kalila and Dimna dated 1210 CE.


To counter the effects of these non-Jewish texts Isaac wrote his own book of  stories, poems, fables and parables. The book was illustrated with miniatures and wood cuts. The “Meshal ha-Kadmoni” was so popular it was reprinted six times in Hebrew and nine times in Yiddish! It was a popular book, but of course it didn’t stop Jews from reading and loving secular literature.

Samuel was concerned that the people were going to turn away from God; that they would subconsciously conclude that because they had anointed a King as leader of their country they could ignore God’s commandments. Samuel wanted to remind the people that their fate would always be in God’s power. It was the wheat harvest season. After Samuel was finished speaking he called to God, asking for thunder and rain When the thunderstorm came the show of force the frightened Israelites. They realized, “…we have added to all our sins to request a King for ourselves…” (Ch 12 v.19).  Although they admitted their error the statement did not prevent the Israelites from sinning against God as they continued their lives.

People are always looking for a change in power. When the leader is a good leader it is the forces of extremism or selfishness that want to change the status quo. When someone with poor vision or evil intentions is at the helm those with good leadership abilities must try to change the direction of politics. It is important element to have the wisdom to recognize good leadership and bad leadership, and to further the goodness.  Let’s all hope for good directions in this crazy world of crazy leadership that just seems to get crazier.

Have a good Shabbat,





Filed under Uncategorized

A Blessing and a Curse

Ki Tavoart by Laya Crust

Ki Tavo: Dvarim (Deuteronomy)  Ch. 26 – 29 v. 8

Haftarah:  Isaiah   Chapter 60

The Torah reading of Ki Tavo (“when you enter”) begins with a description of first fruit offerings. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and entered the promised land they were commanded to offer first fruits and tithes.  However, this parsha is better known for the blessings and curses that are listed later on.

In Ki Tavo Moses tells the people they will cross the Jordan River into Canaan. Once there the twelve tribes would be divided between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. The tribes of Simon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin were to stand upon Mount Gerizim to “witness” or hear  the blessing.  The tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun,Dan and Naftali were to stand on Mount Ebal to “witness” or hear the curse. The tribe of Levi were to stand in the middle.  The Levites would turn towards Mount Gerizim and in a loud voice announce the blessing to which the tribes would answer “Amen”. And then they would turn to Mount Ebal and announce the 12 acts that would make someone cursed, and the tribes would answer “Amen” to each of the twelve curses.

Image result for mount ebal and mount Gerizim

It must have been an amazing sight- hundreds of thousands of people standing on two mountain tops, paying close attention to and answering a tribe of Levites!

In chapter 26 instructions are given for making the special altars. Stones were to be cut  without using  metal tools. They were to be plastered and have words of the law carved upon them. An altar was set up at Mount Ebal and used for sacrificing peace offerings.

Yoni Lightstone, an Israeli tour guide who was born in Canada, shared some fascinating information with me.

 In 1980 the archaeologist Dr. Adam Zertal  and his team discovered ancient  altars in the Jordan Valley. They had been used for animal sacrifices and were enclosed by stone walls. When seen from above the site looks like a footprint.

Image result for mount ebal footprint altar     Image result for mount ebal footprint altar

Dr. Zertal and his survey team carried on their excavations until 1989. The most famous of the “footprint” sites ( sometimes called sandalim and gilgalim)  is on Mount Ebal. Dr. Zertal uncovered the  large altar, which was built of unhewn stones. He became convinced that it was the altar described in parshat Ki Tavo and later built by Joshua’s men.

It’s amazing to see these remnants of our history and to be 21st Century witnesses for events recorded in the Torah and in נ״ך  (the “writings” of the bible).

Back to the parsha…at the beginning ch.28  we are told, “Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the field”…this is followed by 15 verses of beautiful blessings and the good fortune we will receive by following Gd’s laws and commandments. Let us focus on the blessings and may we continue to be an אור לגוים (a light unto the nations) as referenced in the painting at the top of the page.

And hopefully we won’t suffer the horrible consequences described in the subsequent 54 chapters due to non-compliance!

You can seeImage result for mount ebal and mount Gerizim some of the archaeological “footprint sites” in Yehuda and Shomron.  Unfortunately some are in danger of being destroyed because they are largely unprotected. However they can still be viewed.

If you want more information and photographs look up  “footprint sites, Israel”.  According to Wikipedia, “Israelis wishing to visit the site today must coordinate their activity with COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry unit which manages civilian affairs for Palestinians in the West Bank and liaises with Gaza, since Mount Ebal is located in what is now designated as Area B. In addition, Israeli citizens visiting the area are required to be escorted by IDF soldiers, to ensure their personal safety. The Shomron Regional Council, as of July 2016, was trying to promote the area as a tourist destination.[23]

If you need a tour guide while in Israel check out http://yonitours.com/


Have a Shabbat Shalom,



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

We Remember the Melons… Reprise

P1130245photo by Laya Crust

There were a number of occasions when the Israelites complained about their food choices while in the desert. They complained about the lack of water and longed for the “melons, cucumbers, leeks and garlic” they remembered from Egypt. Israel and the Middle East is know for its abundance of wonderful fruits and vegetables in the summer. Israel particularly, with its use of drip irrigation has a fabulous choice of delicious produce during the summer.


Gazpacho is a cold soup made with fresh vegetables and/ or fruit. Here is an easy vegetable gazpacho recipe. If you are looking for an easy, refreshing appetizer for a Shabbat or summer lunch, this is it.

Laya’s Easy  Gazpacho:

1 onion

1 cucumber

1 green pepper

1 packed cup parsley

4 cloves garlic

1 lemon

1 large tin tomato juice

salt and pepper to taste

Cut all the vegetables into large chunks. Toss them all into your food processor, add a little tomato juice, and blend it until it is the consistency you like . (I like mine to be a little chunky- not completely smooth)


Add the crushed garlic, the juice of half a lemon, and salt and pepper to taste. You may want to add the rest of the lemon juice or more garlic, depending on your palate. Add the remainder of the tomato juice and voila, it’s ready to serve.


A great thing about these basic ingredients is that they are the foundation for a number of recipes including Israeli salad and tabouli. When you try it let me know how you like it!

Enjoy these days of summer and have a Shabbat Shalom!


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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,



1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized


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,



Filed under Uncategorized

Watermelons in Egypt?

 P1130242All photos by Laya Crust

Numbers (BaMidbar)

When the Israelites left Egypt they wandered in the desert for 40 years without a great deal of choice in their menu.

In frustration they yelled out- “We remember remember the fish, which we ate in Egypt for nothing [it was free]; the cucumbers and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: but now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, except for this manna… ” (Numbers ch 11:  v 5,6)

Now that summer is here we can identify with the Israelites longing for nice, cool melons and watermelons in the hot desert. Today I’d like to share a lovely fruit soup using melons, watermelons and other fruit grown in Israel that you can serve as a refreshing appetizer or delicious dessert at a summer meal.


Watermelon Fruit Soup  

 prep: 1/2 hour               yield: 10 servings      

1/2 watermelon              1/2 cantaloupe

1 apple                                 4-6 strawberries

1- 1 1/2 c. grapes             1 Tbsp. mint leaves

Juice of 1/2 lemon         1 – 2 Tbsp. honey

1 mango-  finely diced

1/2 cup Israeli white wine

pomegranate seeds and mint leaves to garnish

P1130253Roughly chop the first 5 fruits.

Blend them with the honey, lemon juice and white wine using an immersion blender or standing blender. You can do it in 2 or three batches if that’s easier. I like a textured fruit soup so I leave it a little chunky. You may prefer a smooth texture.

Add the finely diced mango. Refrigerate.


Serve in a soup bowl or your grandmother’s beautiful china cups. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and mint leaves.

P1130264A glass of white wine is a lovely accompaniment!

The Israelites may not have had this fruit soup in Egypt, but you can enjoy it today! (And there is a watermelon GAzpacho that uses more of the ingredients the Israelis cried out for… I’ll share that with you another day!)

HAve a wonderful week and a Shabbat Shalom,


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized



Jeremiah 2:4– 28; 3:4;  4:1-2

Jeremiah (prophet) c. 655 BCE -.586 BCE.

Haftarat Masei is the second “Haftarah of Rebuke” and is read during the “Three Weeks of Mourning” (17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Av).

The path the Israelites followed from Egypt to Canaan is described in both the parsha and the haftarah, so that became the theme  for this week’s painting. The route  is described in great detail in the first 49 verses of the parsha. It was a long and arduous journey for the Israelites and they strayed from Gd’s lessons throughout. Although they didn’t always follow Gd’s rules, after 40 years they arrived in the Promised Land.

In the haftarah the prophet Jeremiah reminds B’nei Yisrael how Gd led His people “out of the land of Egypt, through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and pits, through a land of drought and of the shadow of death…. And into a land of fruitful fields…” (ch.2: 6,7). However, reproach is the real message of the haftarah.

Jeremiah was a prophet who lived through a tumultuous time in Jewish history. His life spanned the reign of 5 kings- Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. It was a time of idolatry and war. Jeremiah warned B’nei Yisrael that they were going to be punished for their idol worship, using very direct and damning language. 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. Jeremiah, who never married and was reviled for his messages, escaped to Egypt. He continued his prophecies from Egypt and died there.

The haftarah begins with the word “Shim-u”- “Listen” or “Hear” the word of Gd. The rabbis remind us that these words are reminiscent of “na’asei v’nishma” –we will do and we will hear– the words B’nei Yisrael used at Sinai to affirm their covenant with Gd. The word “Eich”- How? is used twice in the haftarah asking how Israel can have changed so much, turning to sinning and base behaviour. This reminds us of the word “Eicha”- the name of the book we read on Tisha B’Av.

There is negativity and sadness in the haftarah. Jeremiah reminds B’nei Israel of the difficult trek through the desert and how Gd brought them to the Promised Land. Then Jeremiah describes B’nei Yisrael’s sins. At the very end of the haftarah Jeremiah mitigates the message slightly by telling the people that if they return to Gd “in sincerity, justice and righteousness nations will bless themselves by you and praise themselves by you.”

In the midst of what is happening in Israel the messages from the haftarah still resonate today. We are blessed to be in the “Land of Milk and Honey”. Brave Israelis are fighting for our survival, for the right to live on our land and for the existence of our crops, our farms, our education and our nationhood.  As well as fighting physically for our survival we are reminded to act morally and do good deeds- an echo from Jeremiah’s prophecies.

May the battles be over soon. May there be no more loss of life. May Israel live in peace and security, unbothered by bombs and rockets.  And may we all endeavor to live a life of goodness and be an “ohr l’goyim”  (“a light unto the nations”).

Shabbat Shalom.

This haftarah is dedicated to Noam ben Nicole.

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 Gd to answer your good deeds with protection for that soldier.   There is no charge, and it takes 30 seconds to sign up.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized