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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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?
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.
During my MA studies in Jewish Education, at Hebrew University, we were working in groups on analyzing artistic portrayals of biblical stories. I decided to add my own take, and make some art, since I haven’t been actively doing that in a long time. I miss it.
So, here goes.
Naomi’s devastation upon the loss of her two sons, a decade after her husband died. And this time her loss is complete, since as long as her children were alive, there was hope of rebuilding the family.
Then those two—Mahlon and Chilion—also died; so the woman was left without her two children and without her husband. (Ruth 1:5)
Note two details.
The two sons’ pronoun changes. At first they are banim, sons. Ben comes from the root binyan, which means “building”. But after they die, they change to yeladim, which merely refers to their having been born. They are children. But there is no potential for being built by them:אל תקרי בניך אלא בוניך
The Sages interpreted this verse homiletically: Do not read your children [banayikh], but your builders [bonayikh]. (Berakhot 64a)
When they die, Naomi loses her husband again. She is truly bereft of him, because now she can no longer be built by her children.
Ruth and Orpah, the daughters in law, are embraced in the background. They are also bereaving, but their loss is not as utter and total as Naomi’s.
This came to mind because I’m planning a trip to London, this summer.
My father visited London in 2009, and bought me a set of Unison Pastels. I decided to try using them right away, and placed an Etrog (citron) on our living room table, in the Old City of Jerusalem. The sun was quite kind, as I wrote this song – or rather, made this drawing.
Back in 2009, I was working with a person who owned a jewelry store in Meah She’arim. At the time, we were working on some ideas of reproducing my art in giclee – printing pastel painting scans onto canvas, and adding paint into them for a higher value.
Well, I’ll say I’ve experimented with different ways of selling my art, but I am happy that this venue didn’t work out. It didn’t feel authentic and I did not want to market myself in such a way.
Anyway, he asked if I would make a pastel painting of his wedding. First of all, I don’t really like working from photographs, and second – there are so many people in the background – overload!
Long story short, I ended up doing it anyway, and here is the result:
Pharaoh dreamed, and behold, he was standing on (or: by) the Nile, (Gen. 41:1)
He fell asleep and dreamed a second time: Seven ears of grain, solid and healthy, grew on a single stalk. But close behind them sprouted seven ears, thin and scorched by the east wind. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven solid and full ears. Then Pharaoh awoke: it was a dream! (ibid 5-7)
Ok. We know the story. These dreams were foretelling of the seven years of plenty, and then of famine, that were to come. Joseph interprets these dreams, and then rises to power, helping Egypt prepare for the inevitable famine.
What caught my attention was the imagery: Ears of wheat swallowing a stalk of wheat. Wow. How does that happen? I mean, sure, it’s a dream, but still, I couldn’t quite imagine how wheat does that?
And then I had a bizarre idea. In 2014, I was doing a weekly Parasha drawing for my middle school students, as a way to engage them in discussion about the Parasha. I would typically try to draw something which doesn’t often get attention. An example would be Joseph’s dreams – which are very popular, versus Pharaoh’s dreams, which aren’t often illustrated. But how to illustrate this idea? What came to my mind was Disney’s Fantasia. Just imagine – a dreamlike reality in which inanimate things come to life with the right music, and then act in strange ways. If Hippopotami can dance and Brooms can carry water, why can’t ears of wheat be threatening and devouring? So I don’t have music, and I don’t have the means to illustrate this as a video clip (which I would love to, one day!), but I had my pastels, so I got busy!
This was my initial sketch for a future drawing:
It has been three years, and I decided it is time to act. I’ve been spending considerable time studying about ancient Egypt, and was inspired to paint this idea in a Papyrus-like imagery. I even bought papyrus, but by the time the order arrived, I had invested significant time into this sketch, so the Papyrus will have to wait for a future painting.
This painting will include hieroglyphs which tell the story, and I have posted that on my Instagram feed a few weeks ago. Below are a couple pictures of where the painting is holding as of now. It will be painted in watercolor, and BE”H will be part of a series of Parasha related paintings, which I do hope to exhibit in the future.
In the drawing, I had to tone down the Fantasia style dancing of the ears, to make it resemble a Papyrus painting, while gently stretching the borders of that style. Notice that the ears are hinting at being three dimensional, and Pharaoh is standing on the Nile, as some of commentators take the verse to mean. It is a dream, so why not?
However, after completing this, I feel that it is still not so clear that Pharaoh is on the Nile. To make it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt, I added some of the reeds and lotus flowers behind him, adding as well to the natural borders of the painting.
This post is in honor of the current weekly Torah portions, and my favorite Biblical character – Yosef!
(For the general public, I will call him Joseph, henceforth).
My hero, Joseph the Dreamer. Beloved of his father, hated by his brothers, and oh, so romantic. Sold by his brothers – only to rise to the top of Egypt and meet his brothers again – and try to bond with them, once again. Yet this post is not about Joseph the Dreamer, nor the Seeker of Brotherhood, but about dreams per se. Joseph is part of a new saga in the development of the Genesis narrative: The Saga of Dreams.
Up to this point in the narrative, Biblical characters are driven by conviction and purpose, perhaps even vision or revelation (which could have occurred in a dream). Seekers and fighters, yes, but not dreamers.
From here on, we hear about several dreams: Jacob’s Ladder, and later a bizarre dream relating to the strange goat-sheet breeding episode. Joseph dreams time and again, and then becomes an interpreter of several critical dreams.
On his way northeast, Jacob makes a rest stop in Beit-El (Bethel), and in his slumber he has a defining dream – one which speaks of history (taking for granted Midrashic and Kabbalistic interpretations), the rise and fall of the Great Empires of the world, and his place in the scheme of things. But it is also a dream in which he sees himself from the outside.
He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it.
And G-d was standing beside him and He said, “I am G-d, the Lord of your father Abraham and the Lord of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring. (Gen 28:12-13)
Jacob – dreaming – seeing himself from the outside. Out of body experience? Freudian analyses, anyone?
This images speak strongly to me of a delving into the experience of consciousness itself, and the matter of the subconscious. Several contemporary ideas come to my mind. One of them is the 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder. Not an easy movie to watch, but it has a poignant interpretation of a ladder: Constant, repetitive awakening from a nightmare. Once awake, it was clear that the previous experience was, indeed, a dream. But then he wakes up again, and again, and again.
The main source of inspiration for my drawing (though poorly represented) is KurtGödel‘s incompleteness theorems. The ladder could thus represent an infinite climb to higher orders of truth, or reality, from which the lower levels can be better understood. Kabalistically, this would work well with various interpretations of Jacob’s attributes, as well as his connection to Truth and Beauty.
I tried to express, in the least, the idea of a ladder which takes us outside of the confinements of the parochial. A vision which takes us outside of the planet and into the stars.
The next drawing is about starts. And the sun, and the moon. And sheathes. Josephs’ two defining dreams, both a premonition of his greatness, and the cause of his alienation from his brothers:
His brothers answered, “Do you mean to reign over us? Do you mean to rule over us?” And they hated him even more for his talk about his dreams. (Gen. 37:8)
All that didn’t end well for Joseph.
Joseph was driven by his dreams. And dreams indeed helped him rise from the depths of despair to the top of the world.
This acrylic was created out of an experiment I was doing with mixed media, on some used pieces of canvas. I was going to throw this out, and then I realized I can do something with it.
The colors were right. Reminds me of something primordial. I was inspired by the line that was in between them (after removing a strip of masking tape), and this painting was born. Based on the following verses from Genesis 1:6-7:
The Lord said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water, that it may separate water from water”. The Lord made the expanse, and it separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse. And it was so.
ציור אקריליק, בד על קרטון. הציור הזה נולד מתוך התנסות על שילוב סוגי מדיה שונים. זו היתה חתיכה שהתכוונתי לזרוק, ואז שמתי לב ליופי הגלום בצבעים הללו. מראה קדמוני, רדום, מים…הסרתי את חתיכת המסקינג-טייפ שיצרה את הפס המפריד, ונולד הציור הזה. ע״פ הפסוקים מספר בראשית א:ו-ז