Posts Tagged ‘amulet’

From House To Home: A Blessing Of Transition

January 15, 2014

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Last week, after completing the blessing for installing a mezuzah, I decided to follow it with the traditional blessing for the home, the Birkat HaBayit. This brief blessing is usually found on decorative plaques or hand-shaped hamsas (amulets) near the entrance to Jewish houses worldwide. It is meant to drive evil spirits (negative emotional projections) from the house and to protect the individuals residing in it. Such items are often given as gifts to one who has just moved into a new house.

Since the text of this blessing is commonly presented on a ceramic tile or other surface enhanced only by pleasant floral or geometric decorations, I wanted my interpretation to be something more; to reflect additional levels of meaning in the text.

In the initial research phase of my illustrations, I often leaf through my collections of aphorisms and quotations for my first clues in understanding the subject of my work and the direction I will take to develop it. These comments are never interpreted literally; they only serve as metaphorical touchstones, suggesting levels of meaning in that subject which invite visual interpretation.

So I turned to the Book of Proverbs which told me: “A house is built by wisdom and is established by understanding; by knowledge are its rooms filled with all precious and beautiful things.” -24:3

Ok, I thought, that’s a powerful idea; but do these qualities also define a ‘home’? Generally speaking, yes. But having visited the homes of many friends and acquaintances around the world, each with its unique flavor and ambiance, I’ve learned that the difference between a house and a home is subtle, yet tangible.

Beyond its physical structure and plain or beautiful interior surroundings, a house that can be called a home glows with an aura of peace, laughter and love. These qualities color its walls, furnishings and inhabitants in a way no skilled decorator can truly emulate.

The desire for a home of one’s own is universal to all species on this planet from the ant to the elephant. It’s first cultural documentation among humanity quite likely originated in the tale of Adam and Eve whose first ‘home’ was the Garden of Eden, the womb of our world, so to speak. Even as the story relates their shock and fear upon exile from this holy place, the budding comprehension of their newly bestowed mortality soon becomes the powerful desire for shelter and stability in the chaotic world beyond Paradise.

Though the Torah offers many other examples of our developing survival instinct from Noah’s post-diluvian resettlement to the long quest for a Jewish homeland, one of the most picturesque appears in in the Book of Exodus (Shemot Parashat T’rumah 25:8-9). Here, G-d requests that Moses establish a sanctuary of a very specific design for the Divine Presence in the earthly realm so that “I may dwell among them (you).” It would seem that even the Source of all Life has need for a place to call ‘home’!

After much consideration, I decided to model the house in this illustration as an idealized amalgam of residential architecture drawn from several areas around Jerusalem because it is the spiritual home for so many of us.

The pomegranate and etrog (citron) trees flanking the doorway are metaphors of beauty, good health, fertility and mitzvot or good deeds that one would wish for the residents of the house. A midrash or commentary suggests that the pomegranate contains 613 seeds, a number equivalent to the categories of mitzvot incumbent upon us to perform in our lifetimes. The etrog, one of the four species honored on the holiday of Sukkot, symbolizes our connection to G-d through our hearts.

The cypress trees and the doves are symbols of sacrifice, but rather than the sacrifice attributed to religious ritual, mourning or death, I included them because sacrifices must be made on many levels by all within a household to insure peace and stability.

The fish-shaped mezuzot on the doorpost and near the text symbolize blessing and abundance as drawn from the verse in Genesis (Bereshit 48:16), “And they shall multiply like fish in the midst of the earth.”

The Hebrew letter bet is included in this illustration for several reasons. First, its original form in the proto-Semitic languages of the Middle Bronze Age resembled a tent-like shelter or ‘house’. Second, it begins the Torah with the word B‘reshit (In the Beginning) and represents the dualities that define Creation (dark, light, good, evil, male, female, etc). Third, bet begins the word ‘baruch’ for blessing. I formed this letter from the leaves and fruit of the fruit trees for the same reasons the trees themselves were included, but also because in a sense, trees were the prototypes of shelter from weather and predators.

Finally, the antique bronze key is shown here because with it we enter the idea that when a house becomes a home, it also becomes a metaphor of memory; a repository of touchstones that connect us to ourselves, to each other and to the larger world beyond our doors.

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Kickstarter Update #8: A Blessing For Body & Spirit

August 18, 2013

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Dear Backers and Imaginarius Readers,

Today,  for the eighth update on my Kickstarter project, I have posted the ninth of the thirty-six blessings that will comprise my book, An Illumination Of Blessings. With the illustration above, I’ve chosen to interpret the Mi Shebeirach (May the One Who Blesses). A full explanation on the visual symbolism in this illustration will be in the book’s commentary. But for now, here is an excerpt:

The Mi Shebeirach is recited for those in need of healing, whether spiritual, physical or both. The first recorded appearance of this blessing/prayer was in the 12th century French prayerbook, The Vitry Mahzor compiled by the Talmudist Simcha ben Samuel of Vitry. It’s original intention was to petition for the well-being of the  community and indeed its essence is preserved in the Amidah, as one of the set of prayers recited three times daily. But in recent times, in Reform and Conservative practices it is recited after the Torah reading and includes names (usually their Hebrew names) of specific individuals in need of healing by those praying on their behalf.

As I thought about the significance of this blessing/prayer and why it has changed over time, I realized that the Mi Shebeirach also tells us that we must partner with the G-d Who is The Source of Life by participating in our own recovery or in that of a loved one(s) to the best of our ability, whether it be through seeking medical intervention or by recognition of an ailing spirit that can manifest as physical illness. Forgiveness of oneself and/or others is one of the elements at the core of this process. Although the future outcome of serious illness is often unclear and sometimes all we can ask for is strength to endure, I feel this blessing  speaks for all of us living and working together as community to understand the bigger picture of life and our role in it.

For those of you and those within your extended circle in need of healing, I  wish you a full and speedy recovery of body and spirit.

Update #2-An Illumination Of Blessings: More Work In Progress!

June 27, 2013

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Dear Illumination Backers and Backers-to-Be:

With only nine days to go until midnight of July 6th, this project is only 52% funded! Don’t wait until the last minute to be part of this unique creative adventure! ( But it’s ok if yours is the big pledge that brings me to my goal! I’d love to fill my dedication page with your name and share my work with you! http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1330347473/an-illumination-of-blessings

Speaking of which, I’ve been hard a work creating a new illumination for An Illumination Of Blessings. This new one is the Tefilah Ha Derech or The Traveler’s Prayer. Historically, travel has always been fraught with anticipation, excitement and potential hazards. Most of us have childhood memories of the phrases “Have a good trip and/or Be Careful!” as we set off on journeys large and small through the various stages of our lives. Yet to embellish these sentiments with a prayer to One greater than us somehow makes them ‘official’, almost like a protective amulet. Indeed, in the Jewish tradition, small cards with these prayers are readily available in bookstores and online and when you are gifted with one of these, it somehow lends gravitas to your journey.

But I’ve never seen The Traveler’s Prayer interpreted in the way I have chosen here. Its presentation as an antique map hints at the history of travel and navigation that is both timeless and time-based. The iconic elements of earth, air, fire and water within the border are the forces that drive the various means of transportation that we’ve developed over the centuries from astrolabes that have guided us by the stars to sandal-ed feet guided by such maps and onward through the ages of iron, steam, air and space travel. Which brings me to the lesser known fifth element shown here; the Aether. In classical mythology, ‘Aether’ personified the ‘upper skies’ of space and heaven. I like to think of it as the worlds of our imagination, where we may travel unhindered by earthly concerns. Nevertheless, one might wish to use caution when traversing our inner landscapes. While the insights and ideas we discover there are often exciting and rewarding, they, like our dreams, may not always be what they seem… Safe travels, everyone!!

And don’t forget to visit Kickstarter to post your pledge; I can’t do this without you!!! Thanks!! http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1330347473/an-illumination-of-blessings

Ilene