Sometimes, life seems so complex and inscrutable that we forget the intent of its basic philosophic and moral codes found in Parashah Mishpatim(Exodus/Shemot), the Torah reading for this past Sabbath. That intent was imparted to Moses in a form that defied understanding in those times, requiring him to render it comprehensible to his people and by extension, to all of us. Not a simple task by any means, but somehow, we were given a ‘recipe’, if you will, for living and developing our spiritual potential. Over time, much scholarly interpretation attempted to clarify these ideas and have indeed shed much light on them, but have also often resulted in obfuscation. To be fair, I admit that re-interpreting any classical text runs this risk, but perhaps that is part of our own task in pursuing our intellectual and spiritual growth process. I accepted this risk when I wrote and illustrated Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) For those of you whose inclination is towards literal Torah interpretation, you may find it objectionable on some levels, but be assured no insult was intended. Rather, the book is the result of my own artistic and spiritual journey which I wanted to share with those whose questions and ideas might parallel my own. Though we cannot begin to compare to Moses and his special status, I think that any attempt to preserve and disseminate his message may serve to keep us in perpetual pursuit of answers through the questions we were created to ask. From the AfterImages portion of Between Heaven & Earth, here are my interpretations for the images posted this week:
A Torah Tableaux (above) illustrates passage 24:3 from Parashah Mishpatim, which relates how, just prior to writing the Torah; Moses came and repeated God’s commandments to the people. They responded with ‘one voice’, promising to comply with all that the commandments required. I have taken this idea a step further in suggesting that whoever will maintain their dedication to God and to becoming ‘one with His Torah’ will continue to earn His Divine Protection. Following the spectacular event at Mt. Sinai, here is Moses the Scribe (Moshe Ha-Sofer) in an intimate conversation with an ethereal mask, a visual metaphor of the God Whom we may not look upon. He has written the word ‘Amalek’ on a surface that is separate from the actual Torah scroll and crossed it out three times; the traditional first step a Torah scribe takes when beginning to write a new scroll. With this requirement, the Torah teaches us to understand our history; to do good and not evil. The unique four-pronged letter shin is emblazoned on the forehead of the mask. It is called ‘The Letter’ or ‘Ha-Ot’ and with the standard shin of the alefbet reminds us that the Torah was given to us in two media; on stone and on parchment. When God instructed Moses to write a Torah scroll with ink on gewil, the special portion of a kosher animal’s skin, or parchment, it was written with the ‘normal’ three-pronged shin. But when the letters were engraved on stone tablets, they appeared from a negative space, which can be seen only by the outline in the remaining stone. The four-pronged shin represents the outline of the shin engraved on the tablets and is only one of two appearances of this special letter. The other place it can be seen is on the head tefillin or phylacteries used for daily prayer. The Ha-Ot is there to inform us that if we will learn Torah with its three-pronged shin, we will be granted the understanding to comprehend the true value of this holy gift.