Tag Archives: shemot

Shemot- Those Who Are Nameless

Hopeless Desperation by Laya Crust

“Shemot”, meaning “Names”, is the title of the second book of the Five Books of Moses.  The book begins with the names of the patriarch Jacob and his sons, and tells how Jacob went down to Egypt with an entourage of 70 people. It says, “And the children of Jacob were fruitful and increased abundantly and multiplied and grew very very mighty, and the land was filled with them.” (Shemot/ Exodus 1:7)

The Israelites became slaves to the Egyptians. Neither slaves, taskmasters, nor nobility were named in the narrative. The first names we read are those of two heroic midwives, Shifra and Pua, who had the courage to ignore the edict to drown every Israelite boy at birth.  The next name we read is that of Moses- not when he was born but after he was rescued by Pharaoh’s (nameless) daughter, then taken by his own (nameless) sister to be nursed and raised for three years by Moses’ own (nameless) mother.

We read of Moses’ entanglement with an Egyptian taskmaster and three Israelite slaves, yet the next person who is named is Re’uel (Jethro), the Midianite priest who kindly took Moses in.

There is a pattern here. The people who were named were those who stood up against the norm of apathy and acceptance. The midwives risked their own lives because they didn’t want to kill innocent baby boys. The adopted boy Moses grew up to rail against the injustice he witnessed. Jethro the priest took in a needy stranger from a rival country.

photograph by Malcolm Peterson, 2003

But names are important. When Moses met God at the burning bush surprisingly Moses asked for God’s name. Moses knew that the Israelite slaves needed a name for God in order to believe. He demanded a name from a powerful, unknown, force. God complied and furnished Moses with a name – “אהיה אשר אהיה“, “I Will Ever Be What I Will Be”.

Names are a key to identity and self-determination.  The Israelite slaves were nameless. Black slaves were stripped of their birth names and given new monikers. Victims of the Nazi regime were numbered in order to add one more level to their dehumanization.  Victims of famine and genocide; and victims of large natural disasters like tsunamis, mudslides, and earthquakes, are unnamed. Missing Indigenous women needed their names shared in order to be noticed, and for their disappearances to be investigated.

When we see a face or hear a name we are more capable of empathizing with a person or an unfolding tragedy.  That is why, when a memorial is set up for fallen soldiers or victims of the Shoah (Holocaust), the invisible individuals can then be remembered, and why the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem is called Yad V’Shem (“A Monument and a Name”).

Ai Weiwei's Snake Ceiling, a serpentine form made from children's backpacks, is currently on display at the Hirshhorn Museum's "According to What?" exhibit. It commemorates the thousands of students who died in poorly constructed schools during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Snake made out of children’s backpacks, Ai Wei Wei, Hirshhorn Museum, 2008/ photograph by Cathy Carver

Ai Wei Wei, the Chinese dissident artist, took another approach in one of his installations.  In 2008, thousands of school children were killed by an earthquake in Sichuan, China, in shoddily constructed government schools. Wei Wei has produced a list of all the victims of the earthquake on his blog. He also created a number of art pieces made from thousands of children’s backpacks to memorialize their lives.

The thousands of victims have been given identities.

Referring to the narrative from the bible, it may seem that calling this story “Shemot” or “Names” is ironic, but on second thought it is a lesson. The people who were named were doers and helpers. They were people who stepped beyond normal expectations to change a condition and make it better.

When we see people in need it may help us to find out their names. That may make it easier for us to see them as individuals and allow us to reach out more quickly.

May this be a Shabbat of welcoming and hope, of reaching out to help the other- the nameless and those in need. And through our actions may we bring peace and healing to the world. Shabbat Shalom, Laya

You can follow my blog by clicking on “Follow this Blog” at the top right corner.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Shemot- Nameless

Shemot by Laya Crust

“Shemot”, meaning “Names”, is the title of the second book of the Five Books of Moses.  The book begins with the names of the patriarch Jacob and his sons, and tells how Jacob went down to Egypt with an entourage of 70 people. It says, “And the children of Jacob were fruitful and increased abundantly and multiplied and grew very very mighty, and the land was filled with them.” (Shemot/ Exodus 1:7)

The Israelites became slaves to the Egyptians. Neither slaves, taskmasters, nor nobility were named in the narrative. The first names we read are those of two heroic midwives, Shifra and Pua, who had the courage to ignore the edict to drown every Israelite boy at birth.  The next name we read is that of Moses- not when he was born but after he was rescued by Pharaoh’s (nameless) daughter, then taken by his own (nameless) sister to be nursed and raised for three years by Moses’ own (nameless) mother.

We read of Moses’ entanglement with a (nameless) Egyptian taskmaster and three (nameless) Israelite slaves. The next person who is named is Re’uel (Jethro), the Midianite priest who kindly took Moses in.

There is a pattern here. The people who were named were those who stood up against the norm of apathy and acceptance. The midwives risked their own lives because they didn’t want to kill innocent baby boys. The adopted boy Moses grew up to rail against the injustice he witnessed. Jethro the priest took in a needy stranger from a rival country.

photograph by Malcolm Peterson, 2003

But names are important. When Moses met God at the burning bush surprisingly Moses asked for God’s name. Moses knew that the Israelite slaves needed a name for God in order to believe. He demanded a name from a powerful, unknown, force. God complied and furnished Moses with a name – “אהיה אשר אהיה“, “I Will Ever Be What I Will Be”.

Names are a key to identity and self-determination.  The Israelite slaves were nameless. Black slaves were stripped of their birth names and given new monikers. Victims of the Nazi regime were numbered in order to add one more level to their dehumanization.  Victims of famine and genocide; and victims of large natural disasters like tsunamis, mudslides, and earthquakes, are unnamed. Missing Indigenous women needed their names shared in order to be noticed, and for their disappearances to be investigated.

When we see a face or hear a name we are more capable of empathizing with a person or an unfolding tragedy.  That is why, when a memorial is set up for fallen soldiers or victims of the Shoah (Holocaust), the invisible individuals can then be remembered, and why the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem is called Yad V’Shem (“A Monument and a Name”).

Image result for ai weiwei children's backpacks, toronto, AGO

Snake made out of children’s backpacks, Ai Wei Wei, Art Gallery of Ontario

Ai Wei Wei, the Chinese dissident artist, took another approach in one of his installations.  In 2008, thousands of school children were killed by an earthquake in Sichuan, China, in shoddily constructed government schools. Wei Wei has produced a list of all the victims of the earthquake on his blog. He also created a number of art pieces made from thousands of children’s backpacks to memorialize their lives.

The thousands of victims have been given identities.

Referring to the narrative from the bible, it may seem that calling this story “Shemot” or “Names” is ironic, but on second thought it is a lesson. The people who were named were doers and helpers. They were people who stepped beyond normal expectations to change a condition and make it better.

When we see people in need it may help us to find out their names. That may make it easier for us to see them as individuals and allow us to reach out more quickly.

Have a good week,  Laya

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Up and Down at Har Sinai

Humanityart by Laya Crust

Ki Tissa-   Exodus (Shemot) 30:11 – 34:35

In this parsha we read about extremes of faith. Moses received the last of Gd’s directives while on Mount Sinai. He came down the mountain to the sound and spectacle of the Israelites praying to a golden calf, an idol.  In disgust and anger Moses destroyed the precious tablets Gd Himself had written. Soon after there was an interaction between Gd and Moses where Moses is almost taken to the heavens in terms of spiritual closeness. The parsha ends with another presentation of the Ten Commandments.

This is a profound narrative. The previous two Torah portions recounted Gd’s directions for building a beautiful “mishkan” (portable sanctuary). The furnishings were to be made of gold and precious wood. Bezalel, the architect, was chosen for the job and given spiritual insight in order to build an amazing sanctuary. The clothing of the Kohanim- the priests- was described in great detail. Obviously Gd was well aware that the Israelite refugees craved  extraordinary beauty to help achieve a level of awe and observance.

But there was a problem. Moses went up Mount Sinai alone and disappeared behind a column of fire and cloud. He disappeared for 40 days and 40 nights. It’s true- the people had been warned that Moses would be away for over a month. But like most people, b’nei Yisrael found it hard to believe that their aged leader survived the dramatic conflagration. So Moses came down to witness singing and dancing around the Golden Calf.

Ki Tissa sig

When Moses disappeared the people decided to create their own beautiful focus of prayer. Gd’s punishment was brutal. Three thousand men were killed for the sin.

Moses was not able to recover from this incident easily. He had devoted his heart and soul to saving b’nei Yisrael from slavery and leading them through  the desert. The demands on him were huge- leading them physically, judging them, and negotiating with Gd on their behalf. He acted as arbitrator time and again between them and Gd when they transgressed certain orders. So Moses, as righteous as he was, asked for more from Gd. He asked to see Gd.

Gd put Moses into the cleft of a rock. According to the text (Ex. 33: 22)  Gd protected Moses from seeing His face with His hand but allowed Moses to see His back. Moses was a transformed man. The experience took him to the greatest spiritual heights. Thereafter rays of light shone from his face.

This section of Torah is fascinating. It leaves us with a number of thoughts to ponder- the burden Moshe carried and the fact that he waited so long to ask Gd for greater closeness and identification. The text presents the heights of receiving the word of Gd on a mountaintop contrasted so quickly by the weakness of His people. This story underlines the fractious yet extraordinary relationship we have with Gd.

The relationship we have with Gd is quite incredible. My husband Les Lightstone mentioned an interesting point. Gd didn’t show Moshe His “face”. He showed Moshe His back. In the same way we cannot see what our future will hold or what Gd may do. We can only see what has happened, look “back ” on it, and learn from our past.

Have a Shabbat Shalom. May it be one of peace, and end of violence, and an appreciation of beauty.

Laya

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Tetzaveh

Titzaveh

Tetzaveh

Ezekiel 43: 10 – 27

Ezekiel (prophet) – c.622 BCE – 570 BCE

It’s February- winter for those of us in the Northern hemisphere. Here I am in Toronto watching the snow relentlessly falling. The wind is swirling the snowflakes around those of us who have taken a walk outside. Travelling -even in our imaginations– from snowfall 2014 to Babylon 565 BCE is quite a distance. But that’s where we are going.

P1110163

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

In the Book of Ezekiel,Chapter 40, Ezekiel writes that he is carried by G-d to the land of Israel. He is set on top of a very high mountain where he sees something like the structure of a city. A man who looks like he is made of brass proceeds to give Ezekiel a very thorough tour of the future Temple.  We read about the restored Temple of Jerusalem with detailed descriptions of each element that is to be measured and positioned. The descriptions continue for over 3 chapters. The haftarah begins with the words, “Thou, son of man, describe the house to the house of Israel that they may be ashamed of their iniquities…And if they are ashamed of all that they have done make known to them the form of the house…”

 G-d gave Ezekiel an incredible amount of information on the construction of the next Temple. Along with the architectural and design plans came a provision- that the Jews had to feel remorse over their  wrongdoing. It  appears that the description of the Temple  to the Jews was in order to give them hope that they would have their Jewish world restored in the future. They were miserable. It was the 25th year of the exile to Babylon. G-d wanted to give them hope but it to be clear, however, that the temple would only be restored if the Jews were repentant and corrected their behaviours and observances.

There have been many interpretations on the appearance of the Temple over the millenia.

I based my drawing at the top of this post on a rendering of Solomon’s Temple from an illumination in an early 12th C. German manuscript. The manuscript is currently in Vienna, Austria in the National Library. I loved the way the artist showed every little detail of the Temple. The columns were drawn, the altar, the basins, the incense. And to give the viewer a true idea of the appearance of each item they were drawn on the floor plan as one would see them if the objects were standing up. It may have been done in the 12th C, but it may also have been a forerunner to the cubists. (Just joking. Maybe I’ll give a lesson on cubism another day.)

We may not be exiles in Babylon but Jews all over the world today still hope for the rebuilding of the Third Temple.  We have  a few ideas we can carry with us from this week’s haftarah- one of the ambition to live lives of goodness and integrity, and the continued longing for a unified nation able to pray together in Jerusalem.

So- what do you think of Ezekiel’s opportunity to see the Third Temple and tell his fellow Jews about it? The concept of Ezekiel being carried by G-d from Babylon to a mountain top in the future Israel is quite amazing.

Share your thoughts and share this post with your friends and on Facebook. Take care and I’ll be back next week…..

(a note:  I reconfigured the floor plan so it would fit the long narrow format that I waned for the Haftarah series.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Bo- (or Be Careful What You Wish For)

Bo sig

Jeremiah 46: 13-28

Jeremiah (prophet) c. 655 BCE -586 BCE

Do you remember the short story by W. W. Jacobs called “The Monkey’s Paw”? We read it in school. It’s a chilling story about wishes that are granted by a mysterious monkey’s paw. The wishes are indeed granted but in horrifying ways with devastating results.

Many of us have experienced odd weather in the last few weeks. December arrived without a snowflake in Toronto, Canada where I live. Many people wished for a “White Christmas” or skiing weather for the winter break. Their prayers answered. We had extraordinary snow and ice storms in North America that moved all the way from the mid west to the east coast.

P1110040
 Trees and plants encased encased in ice were beautiful,

P1110044

but the blackouts and lack of heat and electricity were quite difficult- especially for those people who went without power for 10 days. 

P1100764

And of course Israelis and others around the world saw their share of devastating beauty with the snow and ice storms and flash floods they experienced only a month ago.

That brings me to this week’s parsha and haftarah. In parshat Bo,  Moshe as                                      G-d’s mouthpiece warns Pharaoh that if he doesn’t free the children of Israel there will be dire consequences. Three more plagues are visited upon the Egyptians. After the plagues of locusts and darkness Pharaoh loses patience with Moses. He wants the threats and the plagues to stop. Menacingly, Pharaoh proclaims to Moshe , “Go from before me, take heed of yourself. See my face no more- for on the day you see my face you will die.” Moshe  answers, “You have spoken well. I will not see your face again.” Pharaoh’s threat is taken seriously. He will never see Moshe again, but the payoff is that his eldest son- and the eldest of all Egyptians die.  Pharaoh’s wish came true- but it came at a horrific price.

The haftarah is from the Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived most of his life in Israel, witnessing both sieges of Jerusalem (597 and 586). In this haftarah, after the fall of the First Temple, he warns the Children of Israel not to ally themselves with Egypt. He prophesies that Egypt will fall under the hands of Babylon.  The illustration shows Egypt being confronted by Jeremiah. That is represented by Pharaoh (Egypt) facing Moshe (Jeremiah). The background suggests the wall paintings found on ancient Egyptian frescoes and scroll paintings. The images Jeremiah uses in his warnings about Egypt are painted here- the heifer, gadflies, serpent, locusts, and trees that will be cut down. It is intriguing that the images the prophet uses echo the plagues visited upon the Egyptians.

Pharaoh’s decree not to see Moshe’s face again not only had negative implications, it had terrible results.

We are starting a new year in the Gregorian calendar. And we are entering the month of Shevat- the New Year for trees in the Jewish calendar. Many of us have a tradition of thinking about the coming year and making wishes or resolutions. We often make unnecessary or light-hearted wishes and resolutions. This year may we reflect more seriously on our realities. May we weigh what is important and what is not. Let’s not wish for good things- let’s work towards realizing them. May we achieve a year of health and  peace and integrity. And the world will become a better place through cooperation and respect.

Did you know that you can enlarge the painting at the top of this entry by clicking on it? That way you will see all the detail.                                                                                                                               We would love to read your comments and thoughts – so let us know what you think of this week’s entry. And feel free to share this blog with your friends.

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized