The reading of Parashah VaYechi, the final chapter in the book of Genesis/Bereshit on this past Sabbath provides some interesting insights on the origin and often subversive nature of the corporate entity in human history. In the previous chapter, after a long Egyptian sojourn, Joseph as second-in-command to Pharaoh, receives news of his father’s failing health and rushes back to Goshen with his two young sons.
His brothers, the sons of the 147 year old patriarch Jacob/Israel with his wives and their handmaids are also summoned to their father’s deathbed to receive his final blessing. The old man however, is still playing favorites and grants a private audience to Joseph and his sons Ephraim and Manasseh. I can imagine the stressful vibe in that room, given their notable history of nasty behavior towards Joseph, their only sister Dinah and the people of the city of Shechem.
Nevertheless, their father elegantly couches his final blessings in a series of twelve verses which are uncannily prophetic analyses of his sons’ physical attributes and characters as well as the individual destinies of this band of brothers who will lead the twelve tribes of Israel to become the future Jewish people. In effect, the patriarch has laid the ground rules for history’s first corporation and suggested imagery for the logos that would represent each of the tribes. These visually rich verses, interpreted by many artists and architects who have incorporated them into architectural treatments of synagogues have also been a dominant inspiration for much of my work over the past twenty years. Beginning in 1986, I created three drawings called the Tabernacle Trilogy which included an interpretation of the verses. They can be seen at: http://www.magiceyegallery.com within the Judaica gallery. In 1987, a fellow artist, Helen Bittmann Sysko and I were commissioned by the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh to design a set of banners on the Twelve Tribes theme to complement the newly built natatorium (swimming pool). These remained in place until 2007 when they needed to be replaced due to the harsh chlorine and humid environment. At that time, Ms. Sysko had changed careers and no longer practiced her art, so I was asked to design and install a new, updated set of banners. The first set had been constructed of appliquéd parachute cloth while for the second set, I had my designs digitally printed on canvas. Examples of both are below:
In the illustration above, from my book Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009), the logos of the tribes are shown in their birth order: (left) Reuven, Shimeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, (right) Naphtali, Dan, Gad, Asher, Joseph (Ephraim & Manasseh) and Benjamin. The colors of their Hebrew names correspond to the colors of the gems assigned to each on the choshen (breastplate) of the High Priest that will be seen in the next book, Exodus. These are listed and detailed in the AfterImages section of the book on pages 143-144.
Though Parashah VaYechi is replete with ideological corruption, dirty money and nepotism, it sounds disturbing familiar (no pun intended) as we are bombarded daily with the frightening lies and tragicomic discourse of the current Republican Primary that is a precursor to the coming 2012 election. Which of these logos would fit each of the current contenders; or pretenders?