Life, Death, and Birth Offerings

Paster Drawing for Parashat Tazria, Barkai Yeshiva Series, 2014

Parashat Tazria (Lev. 12:1-8) opens with matters of birth: A new life, boy or girl, and the related issues of ritual impurity and the offerings the woman would bring to the Tabernacle (Mishkan).

The two children of Aharon had just been consumed by fire (10:1-11), at the climax of the inauguration of the Mishkan. Immediately following the event, the Torah plunges into a long list of kosher and non kosher animals, forms of bodily and structural dysfunctions such as leprosy, and bizarre types of impurity and purification processes.

This tangential issues is, in the least, concerning. Must it take two whole weeks of public Torah reading (or longer, in the triennial cycle), until this matter is addressed?

The laws of Kashrut (Tazria and Metzora) all share a common theme: the importance of boundaries and distinction – whether in signs of kosher/non-kosher, celular deterioration and bodily fluids, or speech that is out of line. Nadav and Avihu, the two children of Aharon, overstepped their boundaries – out of pure love or rapture – and got themselves consumed.

Life and death, establishing boundaries, love and rebirth – all so central to our lives – are issues of intense nuance, subtlety and consequence.

This drawing shows a new mother and her child, bringing a thanksgiving offering to the Mishkan that is almost empty, for there are only few of Aharon’s sons left to serve. And yet she is celebrating life. And they are deeply involved in the process of blood, guts, fire, life and death, elevating this world through consciousness into the higher realms, into a connection with G-d, and into the betterment of humankind.

Though often tragically misunderstood, laws of kosher, boundaries regarding how we eat, dress, act and speak, are all part of the nature of relationship. And animal offerings, distant from the sentiment of the modern human (who rarely comes into contact with animals) can be a very meaningful and moving opportunity.

Vanishing Into the Mist

The last thing we saw before Moshe ascended to Sinai, was a person being shrouded in mist, into the unknown, and the scary fiery mountain. Since this is my Bar Mitzvah parasha, this subject is close to hear, and I was playing with this idea in my 2014 Barkai Parasha Drawing series.

Shuli Rand’s song ערפל – mist – comes to mind. Moshe went into the mist, for there was the Lord.

וַיַּעֲמֹד הָעָם מֵרָחֹק וּמֹשֶׁה נִגַּשׁ אֶל־הָעֲרָפֶל אֲשֶׁר־שָׁם הָאֱלקים שמות כ, יח

So the people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was. (Shemot 20:28)

Moshe going vanishing into the mist, ascending Sinai

And then I wanted to see what it would look like in a smoky, gray scale palette.

וַיַּעַל מֹשֶׁה אֶל־הָהָר וַיְכַס הֶעָנָן אֶת־הָהָר׃ וַיִּשְׁכֹּן כְּבוֹד־ה׳ עַל־הַר סִינַי וַיְכַסֵּהוּ הֶעָנָן שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים וַיִּקְרָא אֶל־מֹשֶׁה בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִתּוֹךְ הֶעָנָן׃ וּמַרְאֵה כְּבוֹד ה׳ כְּאֵשׁ אֹכֶלֶת בְּרֹאשׁ הָהָר לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל׃ וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה בְּתוֹךְ הֶעָנָן וַיַּעַל אֶל־הָהָר וַיְהִי מֹשֶׁה בָּהָר אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְאַרְבָּעִים לָיְלָה׃

שמות כב:טו-יח

When Moses had ascended the mountain, the cloud covered the mountain. The Presence of the LORD abode on Mount Sinai, and the cloud hid it for six days. On the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. Now the Presence of the LORD appeared in the sight of the Israelites as a consuming fire on the top of the mountain. Moses went inside the cloud and ascended the mountain; and Moses remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Shemot 24:15-18

Moshe vanishing – in gray

Sinai and Ice Wine

In this video, Tzvi (Greg) Lauren and I talk about the experience at Sinai and what it means to us – over Gat Shomron’s superb 24k Viognier Ice Wine

For Parashat Yitro – the Parasha of the Revelation at Sinai – Tzvi and I share afterthoughts on the Parasha. We talk about different wines as well as display art I did in 2014 on the parasha, seen below.

Tzvi Lauren is co-founder of heartofisrael.wine and my partner in the “pod” cast Tasting and Torah.

In these images, Moshe sits to judge the people, as they stand in line all day, awaiting their hearing. Yitro did not like this, and told his son-in-law, Moshe, “It is not good, that which you are doing”! I chose this scene because it is off the beaten path, it’s not the usual focus of art in this parasha. And I did it over winter break when students were on vacation, because I had committed myself to this series. Interestingly enough – I made a large mistake in the picture, which my art teacher pointed out (hint: it’s a chronological issue) – can you find it?

The Burning Bush

Another two of my parasha pastel drawings for Parashat Shemot, during my 2013-14 year teaching at Barkai Yeshivah.

  1. Pharaoh’s Daughter finds Moshe (my grandfather OBM said that the basket looks like a crockpot)!
  2. The Burning Bush

 

11 בת פרעה ותיבת משה
Pharaoh’s daughter finds the basket with the Hebrew Baby. Pastel on paper, 2014.

 

12 הסנה איננו אוכל
The Burning Bush, with the verse. Pastel on paper. 2014.

Words – A Poem

The toy thing of poets, weapons of orators, the stuff of prose and tales

The articulation, classification, compartmentalization and domestication of the abstract,

Of the sensuality in awareness and perception of the fabric of interconnections in our life, of the happenstance in our place and time, of emotions,

Rising from the depths of the unknown psychological and biological pasts, histories unknown and yet – experienced in that shared space called language, while so limited to culture, place of birth, space and time.

Contingencies upon which, and through which, our mind may escape the bondage of the now,

Those very same contingencies which allowed that thought to emerge.

 

Drawings for Parashat Vayeshev

Last year I posted these pictures in the context of “Dreams“, but here I would like to focus specifically on this parasha. I posted Yosef in the pit first, and not his dreams which got him there, because it is more in line with the goal of this series.

In 2013-14, while teaching at Barkai Yeshivah in Flatbush, I would regularly draw a pastel drawing as students were preparing their parasha study sheets. My guiding principal was to find something not stereotypical, if possible. Below this picture is Yosef’s dreams – quite a stereotypical motif – which I must pay homage to. However, this is a unique picture, because it is intended to express despair, being alone and abandoned.

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My Breakthrough

This Shabbat, as I was walking from Clifton to Passaic, NJ, for a family Bar Mitzvah, I had an astounding realization. I realized that I have been struggling to find a solution to an idea – and did not realize that I have not only found a solution, but have been doing it for a few years!

Let me explain…

Stage #1:

Menorah Midrash Drawing

For a long time, I have wanted to express ideas in Torah that inspired me, through art. Ideas such as the light of the Menorah being more valuable to G-d than billions of stars and galaxies, or the powerful scene of King Saul going to battle with his sons, knowing they will die – doing the right thing, or Abraham being taken to see planet earth from the outside, and several more ideas. I tried sketching them in different ways, but something just wasn’t right…and so I was stuck for several years, occasionally trying to paint them in this way or that.

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Stage #2:

When I was in the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, a few years ago, I saw paintings that were more than just a canvas, which interacted with the space around them. I realized later that I was stuck because I was trying to paint an idea on canvas or on paper, when it needs to be perceived in space.

This opened me to the idea of installation art, and I sat to illustrate installations for my various ideas. This would involve lighting, sound, and all kinds of things… but it is an expensive endeavour, and perhaps one day I will have the time and resources to launch it…and so I reached a standstill.

Avraham Outside Installation Draft
First sketch of an idea for installation art

Stage#3:

On Shabbat, as I was walking from Clifton to a bar mitzvah in Passaic, NJ, I realized that not only had I found a solution for this quest, but I have been doing it for a few years!

Imagine, standing in the planetarium of the American Museum of Natural History (as in this video), with galaxies as your backdrop, the whole mood is set – and then light a candle, or talk about individual investment and uniqueness. And then it hit me – “I can do that!” I realized that the museum is where I can convey my ideas, and have an attentive audience, I can ‘make my art’.

Perhaps what triggered this realization is a couple questions a writer for the Jewish Press asked me, for an article. But either way, what blew my mind is that I had found the solution without realizing it, and have been doing it for a while. At least for some of my ideas, this is the perfect setting. And for the rest – who knows what the future holds?

MetTour44 Melton NewYork 20181028
My favorite classroom!

Some of the questions from the Jewish Press, and my answers below:

Can you tell me one story of something that happened on a tour that encourages you in your work?

Having a 5 year old an 82 year old, an egalitarian woman Rabbi and a hassidic family all learning Torah together in the museum – where else can you do that?

How does what you do differ from a standard museum tour?

I bring my adventurers (or clients) into a world where we don’t look at “interesting stuff” from the past. Rather, we are engaging in our ongoing identity, the Saga of Klal Yisrael. To us, Nebuchadnezzar and Antiochus are yesterday, and the Assyrian and Persian Empires are things we read about in our liturgy, prayers, and our holidays. It brings the museum and our Torah to life in a special way, with an interdisciplinary educational approach.

Parashat Lech-Lecha in Rhymes

Here’s for fun: I made a brief introduction to each Aliya in the Parasha, in rhymes. Enjoy!

It can be read by two people, which is why I made it in two colors (bold and regular)

First Aliya

This is the Story of Avram, Sarah and Co.

From when they left Ur Kasdim, a while ago

God said “Lech-Lecha” – go to the unknown land

And when the time comes, everyone will understand

That you are a blessing for the world,

You’ll be wealthy, and your name shall be heard

In Canaan they arrive,

And to settle they may strive

But hunger struck, oh-no!

So pack up your suitcases, and down to Egypt – we go!

 

Second Aliya

Welcome to Egypt, where we have the Nile and bread!

“Where can we find a good breakfast and bed?”

“Just in case something goes bad-

We really have to think ahead

– say you’re my sister, we have the same dad”

But Pharaoh had a different idea,

And Sarai to his palace, was taken to see-a

Well G-d didn’t like that at all,

And he sent plagues on Pharaoh – household and all

So Sarai and Avram back to Canaan he sent

With gifts and good stuff and lots of money he spent

Third Aliya

Family matters – did we ever mention?

That even back then required attention?

So we’re telling you now, we can say that you’ve heard

That Lot’s shepherds fought over grazing their herds

“Let’s not have a fight, you do not have to stay

You go live in one place, and we’ll go away!”

Sarai and Avram – they went down to Hebron

And Lot and his shepherds – went to Sodom

“Now look all around you” said G-d to Avrom

The time will arrive, indeed it shall come

When you many children, this land will call home

 

Fourth Aliya

“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Kedorla’omer – or how ever you pronounce it

Has came with his buddies to squash this rebellion

Four kings against five, what a battalion

Lot – he was captured, so Avram has heard,

So in hot pursuit he and his people were spurred

What a chase it was, half the country they ran

But they rescued Lot, and every woman and man

And so with a royal banquet, to put it to rest,

The king of Shalem, Malkitzedeck, did attest:

“Thank you, Avram, G-d bless you – you’re the best”

Sixth Aliya

“I am G-d who took you out of Ur Kasdim,

to inherit this land, that was the scheme”

“But how will I know, that these children, you see,

Will inherit the land, that I cannot foresee?”

Let’s make this a Covenant, A Brit, an Agreement,

For suffer they shall, working hard, with enslavement,

But they’ll make it out, very soon, you will see,

And that’s how you’ll know – because they will be free!

Avram and Sarai had no children, and were old

“So marry my maiden, Hagar” he was told

A child she bore him, his name – Yishma’el

To find out what happen, you must listen well

But one last thing must change: Avram’s designation

From now on it’s “Avraham – the Father of Many Nations”.

Seventh Aliya

Now here’s the deal, G-d said, let’s not wait

When every baby boy turns days eight

You must make a Bris, it’s called circumcision

So Avraham’s household all followed this mission

Now one last thing, said the Lord, k’nain a hora

Your wife’s name, Sarai, from now shall be Sarah

With these two new names, Avraham and Sarah,

You’ll soon have your children, bli ayin ha-ra

Believe it or not,

Do not feel indignation,

So laugh all you want,

But you’ll be a great nation