Tag Archives: Torah story

Vayikra

Abandoned Altars by Laya Crust

This week we read the first parashah in the Book VaYikra- the Book of Leviticus. Vayikra means “and He called”. It commences a series of instructions God gives the Israelites concerning sacrifices. The theme of Leviticus is one of holiness, and holiness is described in different forms throughout the book.  (note: “Leviticus” is a Latin word meaning “from the Levites”)

Isaiah lived and prophesied in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. At the beginning of his life, both kingdoms were successful and prosperous. During his lifetime the Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed.  The Southern Kingdom of Judah barely survived a takeover by Assyria.

At the time of this haftarah the Jews are in exile. They are worn down, defeated, and turn from God to worship idols. Isaiah calls to them telling them that God notices they have abandoned the altars and sacrifices and they have stopped worshiping Him. Instead, they are offering sacrifices to man-made gods. God tells the Israelites He will not abandon them.  He says, “Even as I pour water on thirsty soil and rain upon dry ground, So I will pour My Spirit on your offspring”.

In my haftarah painting at the top of the page, I show a willow tree by a river. There are sheep grazing in the fields, sacrifices burning in the background, but abandoned altars overgrown with grass in the foreground. In the text, God says, “And they shall sprout like grass, Like willows by watercourses…”

Interestingly many scholars think the Book of Isaiah was written in more than one section. Dating back to the 12th Century Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra was convinced that chapters 40 – 66 were written by one or more prophets who lived in exile in Babylon, after the destruction of the Southern Kingdom. That would have been about 150 years after Isaiah died.  This second section is often called “Deutero Isaiah” or “Second Isaiah”.

This haftarah is a very beautiful, poetic composition. I hope you’ll read it and enjoy!  Shabbat Shalom.

Laya

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Reunited- VaYigash

The brothers selling Joseph to passing traders from the parasha VaYigash

For the last number of weeks we have been reading about our ancestors, Jacob’s children. More specifically, we have read about Joseph’s trajectory from favoured son at home, to being a slave, and then to becoming viceroy of all Egypt. By the time he was thirty years old Joseph ruled Egypt. He ran the finances and oversaw all of Egypt’s policies.

In this week’s Torah reading Joseph’s brothers still did not know that the leader they were speaking to was their brother. This parsha begins just after Benjamin had been “framed”. Joseph’s personal silver chalice had been “planted” in Benjamin’s belongings, and the Israelite brothers had been told that Benjamin would become enslaved to Pharaoh’s court as payment for the infraction. Joseph was playing a game with his brothers.

English: Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brot...Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brother, c. 1896-1902
 by James Jacques Joseph Tissot    (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 
 
Judah, The same brother who decades earlier had suggested Joseph be sold rather than be killed, begged for understanding. He pouredout his heart to the great Egyptian before him. Judah hoped that by telling this regent of his father’s heartbreak and frailty the leader might accept Judah as a slave rather than take his youngest brother. 
 

Joseph could carry on the charade no longer. He cleared all the Egyptian attendants from the room. The text says, “And no man stood with him while Yosef made himself known to his brothers. And his voice cried out with weeping, and Egypt heard…” When I read those phrases I imagine a stately, handsome regent who is always in control. He is a man who has faced one challenge after another but has always kept his wits about him, analyzed, strategized, and succeeded.  He has played with his brothers, waiting for just the right time to reveal his identity.  I think he was “undone”, hearing Judah’s humility and love for Yaakov, the father Joseph hasn’t seen and possibly thought he never would see again. The narrative sets the scene in a compelling way. Joseph is so overcome that he loses his controlled facade. Alone with his brothers he lets out such a cry of anguish that the entire land of Mizrayim (Egypt) hears… What powerful text. Joseph forgave his brothers. He feasted with them, gave them gifts of clothing and food, and convinced them to return to Egypt and live in comfort.

Although the story had begun many years earlier with fraternal jealousy, the brothers reunited and rebuilt their family. This was contrary to the patterns we had seen before. Cain killed his brother Abel. Isaac grew up without his brother Ishmael.  Jacob and Esau never truly reconciled. In this story we see Joseph and Judah build the unified family which would become a nation.

VaYigashReunited  by Laya Crust

The haftarah features the prophet Ezekiel. He lived from around 622 BCE – 570 BCE and was among the 8,000 Jews exiled to Babylonia. God told Ezekiel to take two beautiful branches, carve phrases on them and display them. One branch represented the nation of Judah and the other represented Joseph’s lineage, the nation of Ephraim. Ezekiel wrote phrases about the two Jewish nations onto the branches and held the two branches together. The action was to indicate that just as the branches could be rejoined, the Israelites could be reunited and grow together as one unified nation.

Both readings are about unity. In every era and in every generation there are disagreements between different sectors of Jews. The competition for leadership, the separation of the nations – began as early as the story of Cain and Abel. We have seen the story played out over and over again. We allow ourselves to be divided by traditions, dress, levels of observance, and politics. We are stronger as a united people.

We live in frightening times which are harder to navigate if we are divided. We witness and experience the Covid-19 epidemic, international terrorism, increasd anti-Semitism, tyrannical dictatorships waging war on its citizens and neighbours, slavery, rising opiad deaths, and bizarre weather related disasters. On the other hand we live in a time with potential for incredible good. Using medical innovation, social network, communication and the sharing of resources, we can create and heal the world.

 Just as Joseph and his brothers could forge a better future together, we can do the same. Joseph saved Egypt and its neighbours from starvation through sharing wisdom and strategy- we have the potential to do the same.

With prayers for peace and understanding,

Shabbat Shalom,    Laya

The painting “Reunited”, showing Ezekiel writing on a branch,  is one of the images in my forthcoming book, “ILLUMINATIONS: The Art of Haftarah”. Stay tuned for more information!

Shabbat Shalom,  Laya

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Dreams and the Dreamer

Joseph was the ultimate dreamer in the bible. As we know it got him into trouble with his brothers, yet saved him and an entire country when he was in Egypt. In Parashat Miketz we read how Joseph interprets dreams for Pharaoh, changing the course of economic and agricultural history, as well as changing the course of history for the children of Israel.

Joseph came by his ability to remember and read his dreams honestly. His father Jacob was guided both by his dreams and by angels. (The angel connection did not figure as highly in Joseph’s life.)

Jacob and the Ladder by Laya Crust

Dreams are important in many cultures. There are dream journals, dream symbols, and the idea that each element of a dream symbolizes something specific. One commonly held theory is that each person in a dream represents one characteristic of the dreamer. The truth is that successful people, those who achieve greatness, are dreamers. They have an idea, a focus, and they follow it. They hold tightly to the goal they wish to achieve and imagine or strategize how to reach their objective.

Not By Might by Laya Crust

We are celebrating Hanukkah this week. The Jewish leaders who fought and overcame the Greeks were focused dreamers who achieved what they had to achieve in order to survive. Herzl had a dream as did other Jews throughout the millennia. The dream was to return to Israel and make the land flourish, allow it to become a homeland for all Jews once again

Before Jews resettled the land in the early 1900’s the country was a barren, dusty, desert. The Jewish pioneers came and irrigated, cleared, drained swampland, and created what is now a flourishing agriculturally rich and technologically amazing jewel.

We have dreams. Dreams can lead to beautiful results. We can pay attention to our dreams- analyze what they may mean, and how we can do something better or differently. Dreams may help us reach a goal that we thought was impossible but really isn’t. We can make our lives- and the world- a happier place.

Have a Happy Hanukkah. May it be full of light, joy, peace, and happy dreams.

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

I painted many of the pictures you see in this post as part of a collection of pieces for a sefer haHaftarot- a haftarah scroll. You have seen many of these images over the years if you have been following my blog. I’m excited to announce that a collection of these paintings and their explanations will be published in a book called “ILLUMINATIONS, An Exploration of Haftarah through Art and History”. I will share more information about the book in the coming weeks.

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Lech Lecha

Dear Reader,

I painted the pictures you see here as part of a collection of pieces for a sefer haHaftarah- a haftarah scroll. You have seen many of these images over the years if you have been following my blog. I’m excited to announce that a collection of these paintings and their explanations will be published in a book called “ILLUMINATIONS, An Exploration of Haftarah through Art and History”. I will share more information about the book in the coming weeks.

“Count the Stars”

If you’ve ever been camped in the desert or in the countryside at night without artificial light, you will have seen a  sky studded with stars. The heavens are so full of stars it seems amazing the sky can hold them all.

The parasha of Lech Lecha introduces us to Abraham, the man Gd chose to begin a new nation. Gd tells Abraham that He will bless him. Abraham’s descendants will be as numerous as the dust on the ground and the stars in the skies. Gd said, “Look now toward the heavens and count the stars if you are able to count them. And He said, “and so your descendants shall be…” (Genesis 15:5) Looking up at that night sky Avram couldn’t have begun to imagine how many stars there were. There were too many to count, too many to even guess at.

God told Abraham to leave his birthplace and travel to where God would direct him. Just as Abraham was called by God and promised a new homeland, the haftarah relates that God will gather all Jews from the corners of the earth and take them to their homeland – to the land of Israel.

This week’s haftarah is from the Book of Isaiah. The Jews have been in Babylon, in exile, for decades. They are sure they will never be able to return home. It seems that King Cyrus is about to conquer Babylon and Isaiah is hopeful that Cyrus will allow the Jews to go back to Israel. Isaiah assures the Jews that Gd will not abandon them. Gd reminds the Jews that they are His chosen people. “The coastlands look on in fear, the ends of the earth tremble … But you, Israel my servant … whom I drew from the ends of the earth and called from its far corners …”(Isaiah 41:5, 8, 9)   

Compass Rose by Laya Crust

The references to coastlands and the ends of the earth evoke thoughts of maps and atlases. This painting shows a section of the famous Catalan Atlas which incorporates Majorca, Spain, and the compass rose which is found on every navigational map.

One of the most accomplished medieval mapmakers was Abraham Cresques who lived in Majorca, Spain. He was the mapmaker to the king. In 1375, Prince John of Aragon commissioned Cresques to make a set of nautical world charts as a gift for the future King Charles IV of France. Abraham and his son Jehuda created the Catalan Atlas, which is recognized as the most important atlas of the medieval period. The Catalan Atlas included the names of coastal towns, locations of houses of worship, and drawings of traders, rulers, and flags of the empires.

Although he had worked on maps which were commissioned by royalty, ironically, Jehuda was caught in the snare of the Spanish Inquisition. He was forcibly converted to Christianity during the anti-Jewish outbreaks of Spain in 1391, and took the name Jaume Riba. He continued to create maps and was called Magister Cartarum Navegundi – “Master of Navigational Maps”.

Abraham was chosen to begin a new nation, the nation that would one day be known as Jews. Even back then Gd told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a strange land, referring to their enslavement in Egypt. Abraham was warned that life would be tough for the Jewish people, his descendants.  The hardships have continued throughout history. In this haftarah Isaiah gave encouragement to his exiled brethren in Babylon, telling them that Gd would not abandon them.

Every time period is a time of challenge for the Jews. Right now we are still facing challenges and terrible anti-Semitic tides. We are reminded that Gd made a promise and will always keep that promise initialized with Avraham Avinu- Abraham our father.

Have a good week and a good Shabbat. May it be one of peace and health for klal Yisrael and the world.

Laya

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Korach- Rebelling against the Establishment

Samuel and Saul by Laya Crust

Parasha: Korach Haftarah: I Samuel 11:14- 12:22

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 the 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…” (Numbers 16:3). The accusation was particularly galling since Korach and his followers were already distinguished as men of note with special roles.

Later in the parasha there was another rebellion concerning Aaron’s role as High Priest. 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 overnight. 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.

The haftarah echoes the rebellions against the established leadership. The prophet Samuel was the prophet and leader of the Jews around the year 1000 BCE. The Israelites saw that other nations were ruled by a king, and they wanted to be like other nations. Samuel saw this as a betrayal of Gd and Gd’s rule. Moshe and Samuel each attempt to convince the Israelites not to overturn the leadership. Moshe says, ” I have not taken a single donkey of theirs, nor have I wronged even one of them.” (Numbers 16:15) Samuel says, “Whose ox have I taken or whose ass have I taken? Whom have I defrauded or whom have I robbed? From whom have I taken a bribe to turn the other way?” (I Samuel 12:4)

The parasha is resolved with Moshe and Aaron each retaining their positions and the rebels being punished. In contrast, Samuel loses his position as leader. He anoints Saul as king and becomes Saul’s advisor.

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 need leaders who are leading for the betterment of society, not for self-promotion. At the grassroots level, we need to strive to make the world a better place by supporting wise leaders and with our own fair and caring actions. Hopefully, through these actions we will see peace,  justice, and equality in the world sooner rather than later.

A word about the illustration for this haftarah: The painting is inspired by a woodcut from a book by Isaac ben Solomon ibn Abi Sahulah. Born in Castile in 1244, he was a scholar and Hebrew poet. He noticed that Jews were reading foreign novels like “The Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor”, fables from India, and books from other cultures. Isaac wanted Jews to read about Jewish subjects so he wrote his own book of poems and parables called “Meshal ha-Kadmoni” (The Ancient Proverb). It was so popular it was reprinted six times in Hebrew and nine times in Yiddish! My painting shows Samuel speaking to Saul, based on a German reprint from 1450. 

Let’s all hope for good directions in this crazy world of crazy leadership that just seems to get crazier. Shabbat Shalom, Laya

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Shelach Lecha- Correcting the Past

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Rahav and the Spies    art by Laya Crust

Parsha- Shelach Lecha (Numbers 13:1- 15- 41); Haftarah- Joshua 2: 1- 24

The parsha of Shelach Lecha tells the story of twelve leaders who were appointed to spy on the land of Canaan. When they returned to the Israelites’ camp they carried fantastic fruit and tales of fantastically dangerous enemies.

The haftarah for Shelach Lecha took place 40 years after the above mentioned story.  Joshua, Moshe’s successor sent two spies (as opposed to the twelve men) into Jericho to assess the situation. The two men went straight to an inn at the edge of the city walls owned by a woman named Rahav.  It was a brilliant move.  The spies would be able to talk to citizens and travelers at the inn to ascertain the mood of the community.

It is common for women to be unidentified in Tanach text. If you remember the story of Samson’s birth, Samson’s mother was never identified. Manoah his father, on the other hand, was named 16 times. Maybe Rahav, the innkeeper, was named because she was a heroine. She put herself at risk to help the two spies escape even though she knew that their purpose was to usher an attack on Jericho. The information she shared with them was key to their confidence in conquering the land. She said, “We have heard how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Mitzrayim, and what you did to the two Kings of the Emori…as soon as we heard these things our hearts melted, neither did there remain any more courage in any man because of you…”

Let’s look back at the parsha. After the twelve men returned from their mission with messages of doom and gloom the people began to rebel against God. God responded in anger, threatening to destroy them all. Moshe stopped God’s rage by telling Him, “if you kill all these people as one person then the nations that have heard your fame will say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he promised them and so He has killed them in the wilderness.” We may have thought this was Moshe speaking in hyperbole but Rahav’s words (“We have heard how the Lord”, etc….)  proved that Moshe had been correct. God’s reputation and His protection of the Israelites were recognized by the neighbouring nations.

In the parsha, we read Moshe’s tribute to God’s glory: – “haShem erech epayim v’rav chesed noseh avon vaPesha  v’nakeh”. ” The Lord is slow to anger, great in love, forgiving iniquity and transgression.”  This was mirrored by Rahav’s statement that “…the Lord your God. He is God in Heaven above and on the earth beneath…” Those words were a declaration of faith of God’s greatness.

We see by these parallels that the haftarah is a mirror to the events in parshat Shelach Lecha. It may also be a “tikkun” or mending of those events. The slave mentality had to be erased from the nation before it could take the initiative to have faith in God’s promise and fight the inhabitants of Canaan. When that slave mentality was erased Joshua could investigate the land wisely. The unnamed spies could gather the pertinent information without their egos getting in the way. Rahav could show the spies their route- or “rehov”- while acknowledging the breadth- “rahav”- of God’s greatness, and help b’nei Yisrael in its battle.

The two stories read together bring another dimension to consider when we read our history. According to Midrash, Rahav converted to Judaism and married Joshua. One Midrash states that Jeremiah and 7 other prophets descended from her. Just as with Tamar and Ruth, Rahav’s faith and righteousness created a legacy for the future of the Jewish people.

I hope you enjoyed this perspective on the lessons from this week’s parsha and haftarah.

May we see peace in the Israel and the rest of the world. May shalom encompass us all.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

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Naso- Sanctity, Equality, and Justice

Samson by Laya Crust

My thoughts this week have been circling around all the painful news coming out of Minneapolis and Hong Kong. And of course the overwhelming health issues faced by the entire world. I tried to see what we might learn from this week’s Torah and haftarah portions.

This week’s haftarah is the story of an angel telling a woman and her husband that they will become parents. The wife is to raise her child as a Nazir- a holy individual who cannot cut his hair or partake of food or drink from grapes. The two farmers listen to the messenger’s instructions. The woman herself follows the rules of a Nazir, and they raise their son as directed. The fact that the baby will be a Nazir is the connection to this week’s parashah.

The parashah discusses the certain rules surrounding the purity of the Israelite camp while traveling through the desert:

  • Men and women are to be housed outside of the camp if they are suffering from tza’arat.
  • Men and women are allowed to take the oath of the Nazir, elevating them to a higher level of purity.
  • If a jealous husband accuses his wife of adultery without any evidence of impropriety, she is not to be punished by him. Instead, a specific ritual trial is held. [The trial may have been put in place to protect the women from jealous husbands.]
Gamaliel , leader of the Menashites by Laya Crust

As well as protecting the sanctity of the camp we see a measure of equality established. The leader of each of the twelve tribes brought forth a specified series of offerings to the Tabernacle. All leaders brought the same offerings, and each was assigned a different day to perform the ceremony. In that way, each tribe was given the same honour and recognition as the other tribes.

Aaron’s priestly blessing is introduced in this parashah. “May the Lord bless you and keep you: May the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you: May the Lord lift up His countenance to you and give you peace…” (Numbers 6:24-26)

Aaron gave this blessing to all the Israelites. It was a prayer to give children of Israel a sense of love and security. The nation was given rules in the form of the Ten Commandments to create a society of equality, fairness, integrity, and respect. Cohanim bless their congregations with this prayer to this day. Parents say this blessing over their children on Friday nights.

I have been thinking about the terrible murder of George Floyd. Some people have reacted violently by destroying property, looting stores, and injuring others.

What can we learn from this week’s readings? We must treat others with respect and equality, no matter what their station in life. We can only surmount the difficulties through cooperation, wisdom, and respect. If we carry Aaron’s prayer in our hearts we may feel less alone. If we act with integrity, respect, and love we will be able to pass it on to those around us and help to heal this fractured world.

With hopes for love and respect, have a Shabbat Shalom. Laya

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Jeremiah’s Story

A Contract of Sale by Laya Crust

This week we read two parshas- Behar and B’Hukkotai. Each parsha has a haftarah from the Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived in Judea, prophesying from 626 BCE until the fall of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem in 587 BCE. He lived in difficult times which spanned the reigns of five kings and ended his life in Egypt.

Jeremiah - Wikipedia
Jeremiah by Michaelangelo, Sistine Chapel painting

The haftarah for Behar took place during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem. When Jeremiah advised King Zedekiah to surrender to the Babylonians the king threw him into prison. While Jeremiah was in prison Gd told him that Jeremiah’s cousin would come and ask him to buy their family’s parcel of land. Although the country was under siege Jeremiah was to buy the property.

As foretold, his cousin Hanamel asked Jeremiah to buy his land. Jeremiah went to great efforts to make the transaction legal and formalized by witnesses. He weighed out the silver, wrote two bills of sale – one sealed and one unsealed, and carried out the sale in the prison courtyard. The documents were then stored in an earthenware jar for safekeeping. The sale was a symbol that the siege of Jerusalem would end and land would become valuable once more.

Jeremiah said, “For so said Gd, Master of Legions, Gd of Israel, ‘Houses, fields, and vineyards will yet be bought in this land.'” (Jeremiah 32:13)

A Tree by the Water by Laya Crust

Jeremiah constantly reminded the Jews to follow Gd’s laws and ethics. Buying a parcel of land when the country was under siege was an inspiring and selfless act, but he was still disliked by the population because of his constant warnings and negative messages. In the next haftarah, B’Hukkotai, Jeremiah told the nation that a person who is good will flourish. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose trust the Lord is. He will be like a tree planted by the waters… Its foliage will be lush and will not be anxious in the year of drought. And it will not cease from yielding fruit.”   (Jeremiah 17: 7,8)   

Jeremiah’s message ring true today. The world is in terrible disarray. There is a pandemic, economic crises, war, and natural disasters. Yet there is good being done, acts of kindness, and progress throughout the world (as well as the disasters). Let’s keep that in mind and do our little bit to improve the world around us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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Halfway through the Torah

Flames of Division by Laya Crust

A couple of weeks ago we read parshat Shemini on Shabbat. It is an unexpected combination of two very different narratives, and the break between the two narratives occurs pretty much in the middle of the reading. Similarly, the parsha itself appears right in the centre of the Torah cycle. Coincidently we are experiencing an unprecedented break in the functioning of the world. I want to explore this dividing of text and experience.

In the first half of parsha Shemini we read about the sacrifices that Moses and Aaron offered to Gd. In the second half of the parsha we read about which animals are kosher (acceptable for Jews to eat) and which are treif (not acceptable for Jews to eat).

Aaron and his sons had spent weeks purifying and spiritually readying themselves to perform these important offerings. The sacrifices were accepted. Dramatically, Gd’s fire consumed the sacrificial remains and His flames ascended to the heavens.  In a moment of religious fervour Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu offered their own (unholy) fire to Gd. In anger, Gd sent down flames that killed the two men. It was a shocking and tragic incident.

Following this distressing event, the Israelites were told which animals were kosher and which were non-kosher. The two narratives are very different- one is a drama the other is a list of guidelines. Yet they are united by a phrase at the end of each of the 2 sections.

After Nadav and Avihu died Aaron and his sons were tasked with being able לְהבדיל בּין הקדשׁ ובין החֹל ובין הטמה ובין הטהור -to distinguish between holy and common, between impure and pure.

Later, when Israelites were told what they could eat and what they could not eat, we read: לְהבדיל בין הטמה ובין הטהור. They were “to separate between the impure and the pure”.

The phrases of separation are obviously very important, and fire is used in Torah as a means of separation. HaShem formed a pillar of fire to light the way of the nation of Israel, and to separate and protect them from their enemies as they traveled through the desert. We, ourselves, use Aish (fire) to separate Shabbat from the rest of the week. We light candles before Shabbat begins and at Havdalah when Shabbat ends. So, to restate, Aish or fire is used as a device to divide and separate.

Fire is mysterious, beautiful, and threatening. If flames come too close they are dangerous- destroying and killing what is in their path. It is a contrary force, and ambiguous one. We need fire for light, for warmth, and in historical times humans needed fire to protect them from wild beasts at night. And yet this protective force can suddenly, without warning, rage out of control.

Differentiating, “לְהבדיל”, creates awareness. That is a theme in this Torah reading. The list of acceptable and unacceptable animals makes us conscious of our dietary choices. The dire punishment of Nadav and Avihu remind us of the sacredness of HaShem’s commands and words. Boundaries create awareness. Without boundaries all things are equal. With limits, there is greater focus and the focus makes everything more precious.

The world is experiencing a time of separation. Due to the danger of COVID-19 we are forced to separate from others in order to keep ourselves and others safe. The separation allows us time to reflect on what is necessary and what is unnecessary. Let’s use this time wisely and make our lives and the world better.

Be safe, be well, be healthy and be kind.

Laya Crust

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Reunited

Joseph by Laya Crust

           

Parsha: VaYigash                                   Haftarah:   Ezekiel 37: 15-28

For the last number of weeks we have been reading about our ancestors,  Jacob’s children. More specifically, we have read about Joseph’s trajectory from favoured son at home, to being a slave, and then to becoming viceroy of all Egypt. By the time he was thirty years old Joseph ruled Egypt. He ran the finances and oversaw all of Egypt’s policies.

In this week’s Torah reading Joseph’s brothers still did not know that the leader they were speaking to was their brother. This parsha begins just after Benjamin had been “framed”. Joseph’s personal silver chalice had been “planted” in Benjamin’s belongings, and the Israelite brothers had been told that Benjamin would become enslaved to Pharaoh’s court as payment for the infraction. Joseph was playing a game with his brothers. 

English: Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brot...Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brother, c. 1896-1902
 by James Jacques Joseph Tissot    (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 
Judah, the same brother who decades earlier had suggested that Joseph be sold rather than be killed, stepped forward and begged for understanding. He poured out his heart, recounting the family history to the great Egyptian before him. Judah hoped that by telling this leader of his father’s frailty the leader may accept Judah as a slave rather than take his youngest brother.

Joseph could carry on the charade no longer. He cleared all the Egyptian attendants from the room. The text says, “And no man stood with him while Yosef made himself known to his brothers. And his voice cried out with weeping, and Egypt heard…” Joseph forgave his brothers. He feasted with them, gave them gifts of clothing and food, and convinced them to return to Egypt and live in comfort. He told them how to get land so they could raise cattle.

Although the story had begun many years earlier with fraternal jealousy, the brothers reunited and rebuilt their family. This was contrary to the patterns we had seen before. Cain killed his brother Abel. Isaac grew up without his brother Ishmael.  Jacob and Esau never truly reconciled. In this story we see Joseph and Judah build the unified family which would become a nation.

VaYigashReunited  by Laya Crust

The haftarah features the prophet Ezekiel. He lived from around 622 BCE – 570 BCE and was among the 8,000 Jews exiled to Babylonia. God told Ezekiel to take two beautiful branches, carve phrases on them and display them. One branch represented the nation of Judah and the other represented Joseph’s lineage, the nation of Ephraim. Ezekiel wrote phrases about the two Jewish nations onto the branches and held the two branches together. The action was to indicate that just as the branches could be rejoined, the Israelites could be reunited and grow together as one unified nation. 

beit horon passagephoto by Yoni Lightstone, tour guide

Ezekiel also told them that God would gather them from among all the nations and bring them back  to their own land. The text reads, “Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, whither they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them to their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel.” (v.  21, 22)

Both readings are about unity. In every era and in every generation there are disagreements between different sectors of Jews. We are stronger as a united people. I hope we can learn to discuss, consider, and be united for the benefit of all.

The painting “Reunited”, showing Ezekiel writing on a branch,  is one of the images in my forthcoming book, “ILLUMINATIONS: The Art of Haftarah”. Stay tuned for more information!

Shabbat Shalom,  Laya

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