Tag Archives: Sefer Bamidbar



Haftarah:  Judges 11: 1 – 33        Yiftach (Jephte)- warrior,  12th- 11th C. BCE

I’ve been away for a while, preparing for an art exhibit, but I’m back. Here are thoughts and art pertaining to this week’s haftarah

The haftarah for Hukkat focuses on the story of a man named Yiftach (Jephte) who led his tribe to victory against the Ammonites. 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 their land inheritance with him. When the Ammonites declared war against B’nei Yisrael, the sons of Gilead begged their half-brother Yiftach to lead them to battle. They said they would appoint him as leader of their tribe if he led them to victory.

Yiftach tried to negotiate with the enemy but they would neither negotiate nor compromise.  With God’s support Yiftach led his army to victory and consequently he became leader for six years. ( The victory is followed by a terrible incident caused by an unnecessary oath Yiftach made to God. The result of this oath is a well known and  tragic story that is not included in this week’s haftarah.)

To paint Yiftach leading his fighters into battle I tried to find images of Jewish warriors. I looked at ancient paintings, medieval haggadot 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”.                                             This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is duke-of-sussex-1.jpg       “V’Yidaber” Duke of Sussex Pentateuch,  by Hayyim, c. 1300

The Duke of Sussex Pentateuch was written and illuminated in southern Germany around 1300 by a scribe-artist known only as Hayyim. The “carpet page” (illuminated title page) shows four knights drawn in fine line work and with surprisingly delicate features. Each represents one of the tribes that camped around the Tent of Meeting, displaying their tribal flags.  The fantastical beasts with human faces are quite intriguing. 

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 warriors ready for battle.  I gave them weapons and the flag of the Tribe of Menashe.

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Rather than depending on the uniforms of other nations, now we can be proud of our Jewish soldiers in a Jewish army defending our Jewish State of Israel in their own uniforms.

The story of Yiftach is yet another story of family relationships, discussion, and pride. The brothers selfishly expelled Yiftach from their family. When they were desperate for help they appealed to him and he returned. He didn’t allow his pride to stand in the way of saving his tribe. Both Moses and Yiftach tried to negotiate with the nations who stood against them in order to avoid war. Either pride or greed stopped the Amorites and the Ammonites from settling with the Israelites. In each case the Israelites won the battles. These narratives are lessons to us to negotiate in good faith and fulfill our relationships with open hearts, and good faith.

Now, about the exhibit. For the last few years I have been posting blogs featuring paintings referring to Tanach and Bible narratives. Now these images are on display at the Beth Tzedec Museum in Toronto, Canada. As well as 88 prints from my haftarah series, there are also ketuboth, handmade books, and the Megillat Esther  I created for the Gilbert-Schachter family. Most of the work on display is available for purchase. The exhibit is up until October 24, 2019. Please come and take a look, and let me know what you think! 

Beth Tzedec Reuben and Helene Dennis Museum                                                  1700 Bathurst St, Toronto, ON M5P 3K3                                                                    Hours: When the synagogue is open       7 days a week, 8:00 a.m.  – 9:30 p.m.    

Have a Shabbat Shalom,  Laya


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I Samuel 11:14- 12:22

Samuel (prophet) 1070 – 970 B.C.E , he was the last of the judges

The Israelites wanted a King so they would be like all the other nations. In this haftarah Samuel reluctantly anoints Saul as the first King of Israel. He reminds the people of all that God has done for them, and how he himself has been an honest and caring prophet and leader. He tells B’nei Yisrael if they do not listen to God and obey His commandments they will be punished.

Samuel is concerned that the people are going to turn away from God; that they will subconsciously conclude that because they have a anointed leader in their country- a King- they can ignore God’s commandments. It is the wheat harvest season. When Samuel is finished he calls to God, asking for thunder and rain- to remind the people that their fate is in God’s power.

On the heels of this show of force the frightened Israelites say, “…we have added to all our sins to request a King for ourselves…” Ch 12 v.19

The image I painted shows Samuel speaking to Saul. (Click on the image to enlarge it.) My painting is based on a book illustration from Southern Germany, 1450 called “Meshal ha-Kadmoni” (The Ancient Proverb).  The circumstances surrounding ”Meshal ha-Kadmoni” are very appropriate to today’s haftarah and the prophet Samuel’s concerns. Just as Samuel was concerned about the Israelites straying due to outside influences (wanting a King like all the other nations) Isaac ben Solomon, the author of the proverbs, was worried about the influence of secular writings on his fellow Jews.

Isaac ben Solomon ibn Abi Sahulah was born in 1244 and lived in Guadalajara, in Castile. Isaac 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!

You can read more about Isaac ben Solomon ibn Abi Sahulah in the Encyclopedia Judaica.

How are the parsha and haftarah related? The parsha’s main theme is that Korach and his followers challenge Moshe’s leadership and demand that the leadership be more democratic. This is akin to the Israelites wanting a King because they now feel that a prophet or “shofet” (judge) is not adequate for their modern needs.

Another link between the two readings are similarities between Moshe  and Samuel. The two leaders are chosen by HaShem, the two men defend their honour with their record of justice and respect towards their people, and later, in the Book of Jeremiah, God speaks of Moshe and Samuel in the same sentence. (Jeremiah ch. 15 v.1)

Both the parsha and the haftarah are interesting to read. So, this Shabbat,  read and enjoy.

Shabbat Shalom



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Shelach Lecha

Shelach Lecha


Joshua 2: 1- 24

Joshua- prophet and leader, circa 13th centruy BCE

This haftarah takes place just after Joshua has succeeded Moshe as leader of the nation.

He secretly sent two spies to Jericho to investigate the city and the surrounding countryside. They went to to the home of Rahav, a harlot and innkeeper whose inn was located in the outer wall of Jericho.  The leaders of Jericho found out that the two spies had gone there and they questioned Rahav about their whereabouts.  She misled the city leaders, hiding the spies under bales of flax on her roof top, and helped them escape the town safely. The spies climbed from her window out of the city walls using a red cord she had given them They told her to put that same red cord in her window so that when the Israelites later attacked Jericho, her home and all those in her home would be spared.

My illustration at the top of this page shows Rahav on the roof of her inn with the two spies. They are holding the red cord that she will show from her window.

This haftarah is paired with the parsha that describes the previous occasion Israelite spies went on a mission to investigate Jericho. The two parallel stories play out very differently.  In the parsha Moshe appointed twelve men, one from each tribe, to spy on the land and bring back fruit of the land. Moshe spoke to them and gave them instructions publicly. They returned laden with beautiful grapes, pomegranates and figs but with warnings that the mission was impossible. Their negative report was public too. A rebellion was averted, but not before God said that these Israelites did not merit entering the land of Canaan.

Of the twelve men who were sent only Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim and Caleb of the tribe of Judah believed that B’nei Yisrael, led by God , would be able to possess the “land of milk and honey”.

In this haftarah we see that Joshua learned from the earlier experience. Rather than send a large delegation of twelve well known men he sent only two unnamed spies. It was a secret mission- b’nei Yisrael did not know about it. Moshe had given the twelve spies a long list of things to report. This afforded them the chance to discuss and debate amongst themselves and discover elements to be afraid of. In contrast Joshua gave his two emissaries one goal- to observe the land of Jericho. In that way Joshua avoided getting unwanted advice from tribal leaders who did not have enough faith in the invisible hand of God.

The two spies returned with the information Joshua needed. This haftarah is our introduction to the triumphant entrance of the children of Israel to the land that God had promised them.

It is intriguing that Rahav, the woman who helped the Israelites was a harlot, an innkeepeer, and wasn’t a member of b’nei Yisrael. Yet she recognized the strength of the one God who led the Israelites and she was ready to pledge her future to Him. It’s an interesting story that has a number of hints to other stories in our canon. Read it through-see what you can find.

Have a Shabbat Shalom, and thank-you for reading this week’s entry!



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NassoJudges: 13:2 – 25

Samson- circa 12th C. BCE

Samson was an enigmatic personality. He was the 12th of 13 Judges living sometime in the 12th Century BCE. It was a time of great conflict and decline for the Israelites, a period that pre-dates the Kings who would be chosen to lead Israel.  When reading his story it’s important to remember that the term “Judge” denotes a leader, rather than an adjudicator.

Samson was a different from the other judges.  He was designated as a Nazir before he was born. His parents, Manoah and his wife, were farmers. One day  Manoah’s wife was alone in the fields.  An angel of God approached her and told her she would have a son. The angel instructed her to refrain from drinking wine and eating tamei (religiously unclean) food. These rules were to be followed by the baby who was to be born. In addition the child’s hair was never to be cut. These rules, the rules of the Nazir, are part of the parsha Naso- and that is feature that relates the Haftarah to the Torah portion.

When Samson was born the text says, “…and the spirit of the Lord began to move him… ”   The word used for “to move him” comes from the root word for “bell” or “ringing” suggesting the rapid, impetuous nature of Samson.

The story of Samson is a puzzling one in many ways. It describes a man who is like a super hero. He is fearless, extraordinarily strong, and impetuous. Why, one wonders, is he given the title of Judge and Leader?

Let’s go to the beginning of the story. It is introduced with the sentence, “And the children of Israel continued to do evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Pelishtim for 40 years.” It was a period of immorality and belligerence and b’nei Yisrael came under the rule of the antagonistic Pelishtim (Philistines).

For the Israelites to fight effectively against them they had to do it surreptitiously. Samson became an unrecognized undercover activist and rebel. Samson was able to “punish” the Philistine tyrants. Having seemingly deserted his own people and marrying Philistine women he was able to infiltrate their community, destroy property, kill fighters, and deflect all attention away from the Jews. In fact, he was wily enough to have blame deflected onto other Pelishtim. His strength, impetuousness and solitariness allowed him to became the leader who fought, unrecognized, for his people.

File:Lovis Corinth - Der geblendete Simson - Google Art Project.jpg

This a larger than life story that ends with the humiliation and then honouring of a tragic hero. The painting above is “The Blinded Samson”, 1921, by Lovis Corinth . The painting shows  Samson’s pain and degradation when he has ultimately been betrayed by Delilah.

This is another fantastic narrative in our writings. Go to the Book of Judges, chapters 13- 16, and read great adventure!

Please share this post with your friends on Facebook, and share your comments with us all. Have a Shabbat Shalom.

Professor Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr Zvi Lederman found this tiny coin, less than an inch in diameter, near the Sorek River by Tel Beit Shemesh. This coin, from about the 11th C. BCE  shows a man fighting a lion.  Some feel this may represent Samson and his fight with the lion.   To read about this interesting discovery go to http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2181404/Israeli-scholars-claim-uncovered-archaeological-evidence-Samson.html





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 Isaiah I: 1- 27

Isaiah (prophet)- c.740 – 685 BCE

The Book of Isaiah is used for 18 haftarot through the year- more than any other book.

This haftarah always precedes the fast of Tisha B’Av  (the 9th of Av). It is the last of the “Three Haftarot of Rebuke”. This may have been prophesied around 701 BCE, during the reign of King Sennacherib. Assyria had invaded Judah and had begun the siege of Jerusalem. 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.

He tells the nation their sins can become white as snow and the land can become fruitful and full again.  God asks Israel to “Learn to do well; Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1: 17)

The haftarah is bleak, expressing God’s disappointment in His people and longing for them to improve. In searching for an image I wanted something that expressed God’s desires for His children.  I thought back to the survivors of the Shoah and how they had to be cared for.

As we know, Jewish immigration to Israel, their ancestral homeland, was severely restricted by the White Paper of 1939. Jewish survivors of the Shoah (Holocaust) had to enter mandate Palestine illegally and if they were caught were sent to D.P.camps. When Israel was declared a state in 1948 there were suddenly thousands of Jewish immigrants in the country needing food, clothing and shelter.

“Ma’abarot” (or temporary camps and cities) were set up to temporarily house survivors and refugees. In the early 1950’s they accommodated 130,000 expelled Iraqi Jews. By the end of 1951 there were over 220,000 people in about 125 different  areas.

The ma’abarot had problems and were not “perfect” solutions, but they were a genuine attempt to take care of the widows, the orphans and the needy when Israel was first established.

 The illustration is inspired by a photograph of a ma’abarah in 1952.


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Jeremiah 2:4– 28; 3:4;  4:1-2

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

Haftarat Masei is called “The Second Haftarah of Rebuke” and is read during the “Three Weeks of Mourning. (17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Av).  I will discuss a number of aspects of admonition, Jeremiah the prophet, and parallels between the parsha and the haftarah.

The parsha begins with a description of the route the Israelites took as they were led through the desert by Moses and Aharon. The first 49 psoukim list all the places where they camped.  The next chapter of the parsha (perek 34) delineates the boundaries of the land of Canaan being awarded to B’nei Yisrael. It’s fascinating to see the mapping in the parsha and to read how accurately each encampment and each border is listed.

In the haftarah the prophet Jeremiah reminds B’nei Yisrael “how God 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).  So, I used a map of the route mentioned in both the parsha and the haftarah for this week’s painting. 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.

In this haftarah he begins by reminding B’nei Israel how God brought them to Canaan. Then Jeremiah describes a litany of B’nei Israel’s sins. At the very end of the haftarah Jeremiah mitigates the message slightly by telling the people that if they return to God “in sincerity, justice and righteousness nations will bless themselves by you and praise themselves by you.”

The haftarah begins with the word “Shim-u”- “Listen” or “Hear” the word of God. The rabbis remind us that these words remind us 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 God. Another word of note in the haftarah is “Eich”- How? “Eich” 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.

In the midst of such negativity and sadness the image of the trek through the desert to the Promised Land is one of hope and the realization of God’s commitment to us.

 If you have any comments, please post them. I’d love to hear from you.

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after the 17th of Tammuz

Usually for Parshat Pinchas we read the haftarah from Kings I  ch 16: 46 –19: 21. It is about Eliahu (Elijah) and his confrontation with Queen Jezebel and King Ahab. They were wicked rulers, who endeavored to kill all the Jewish prophets in their kingdom of Israel.    G-d speaks to Eliahu and instructs him to confront Jezebel and Ahab.  It’s a very exciting haftarah, but not the one we will be reading this week.


The Prophet Jeremiah by Michaelangelo

This Shabbat is one of the three Shabbatot preceding Tisha B’Av. This period is called “The Three (Weeks) of Admonition (Tlat DePuranuta)”. We read the first of three haftarot dealing with G‑d’s disappointment with Israel’s lack of faith and the punishments they will receive if they don’t behave righteously.
This haftarah reading is from the beginning of the Book of Jeremiah and is usually read on Shabbat Mattot. The first sentences tell us that Jeremiah prophesied from the time of King Josiah in Judah until the time of Jerusalem’s exile at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.

We are introduced to the prophet , being told that G-d spoke to him even before Jeremiah was born, and that at that early point Jeremiah felt inadequate to speak for HaShem. In this narrative G-d shows Jeremiah first a budding almond branch, and then a steaming pot “tipped away from the north.” The budding almond branch is a symbol of G-d’s swiftness in attending to His people- just as the almond is the first tree to flower, HaShem is first to attend to us. The steaming pot tipped from the north represents the disaster that will befall B’nei Yisrael coming from the north.

The last few lines are comforting, stating that we will be attacked but not overcome.   G-d will always be present to save us.

The painting of Jeremiah is inspired by the style of the 13th C North French Miscellany.

The steaming pot and the budding branch are to the left and right of Jeremiah.

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I Samuel 11:14- 12:22

Samuel (prophet) His book covers 120 years. His prophetic experiences lasted about 100 years, from 1070 – 970 B.C.E  He was the 16th and the last of the Shoftim (Judges).

Samuel the prophet has just anointed Saul as King. He reminds the people of all that G-d has done for them, and how he himself has been an honest and caring prophet and leader. He tells B’nai Yisrael if they do not listen to G-d and obey His commandments they will be punished.

The image is a painting of Samuel speaking to Saul, from ”Meshal ha-Kadmoni” (The Ancient Proverb), published in Southern Germany, 1450.  The book is a translation based on stories by Isaac ben Solomon ibn Abi Sahulah. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica Sahulah was a poet, scholar and kabbalist. He was born in 1244 and lived in Guadalajara, in Castile. Isaac was concerned that Jews were reading and being influenced by non-Jewish texts. 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 the 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 very popular and reprinted six times. It was also reprinted nine times in Yiddish.

My illustration for the haftarah of Korach is modeled on a reproduction from ”Meshal ha-Kadmoni”.


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Shelach Lecha

Shelach Lecha


Joshua 2: 1- 24

The parsha relates the story of Moshe sending twelve spies into Canaan to see what the land is like. Joshua was one of those spies. We remember that the men came back from their mission laden with grapes, pomegranates and figs. However they spoke of how frightening the land and the people were. Of the twelve men who were sent only Joshua and Caleb believed that B’nei Yisrael, led by G-d , would be able to possess the “land of milk and honey”.

In this haftarah Joshua is the leader of the nation. He sends two spies to Jericho to investigate the city and the surrounding countryside. They are seen and are subsequently hidden by Rahav, a local woman. She hides them in bales of wheat on her roof, then lowers them from a window so they can escape safely. The two Israelite spies give her a red rope to hang from her window so that when the Israelites attack Jericho her home and all those in her home will be saved.

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In the first 4 verses of the parsha God commands Moshe to direct Aaron to light the seven branched menorah, and then describes what the menorah is to look like. This theme is continued in the Haftarah. The Haftarah is from the Book of Zechariah. In chapter 4 verses 2 and 3 Zacharaih describes the golden menorah and goes on to say that the menorah is flanked on either side by an olive tree.

The image for this dedication page is inspired by an image from the Cervera Bible, Cervera Spain, 1300. It is an example of early Castilian Hebrew illuminated manuscripts.

An interesting detail- the pedestal of the menorah was, throughout ancient history, rounded with three “feet”. The Arch of Titus shows the pillaged menorah with an angular base. This image from Cervera shows both influences- the three footed menorah of ancient times and the angular influence of the Roman period.



May 23, 2013 · 3:28 am