Posts Tagged ‘crown’

Blessings Both Hidden And Revealed

December 15, 2013

ImageAt first glance, the blessing traditionally recited prior to reading the Torah appears to be merely a formal expression of respect for this foundational document of Judaism. But it’s much more. I’m including it in An Illumination Of Blessings because it is a way we can express our gratitude to the Source of Life for the opportunity of partaking in this sweet and savory feast for our minds, bodies and souls.

With this blessing, we honor the moment when Moses descended Mt Sinai with the divine gift of our ‘spiritual DNA’; a gift of timeless and inestimable value. I like to think about this gift in the metaphoric terms of information science, where data is transmitted to its destination via virtual electronic ‘packets’. Similarly, the Torah can be seen as a compilation of concise ‘packets’ of instructions for how to live and steward our planet embedded with the assurance that the Source of Life would bless us always; if and when we accepted them.

Extending this idea, we can think of each encounter with Torah as akin to meeting a person for the first time. Although we recognize that Hebrew is the language of Torah and that a person’s physical features define them as human, how do we account for our immediate physical and/or emotional reactions to them? It may be that Information and impressions are transmitted between individuals in virtual packets via a delivery method we do not yet understand or control. Only thought and time spent with that individual allow us to ‘unfold’ these ‘packets’ to understand our initial reactions and determine the character of that relationship. In the same way, the Torah reveals her meanings to us gradually through time and thoughtful study as we learn to see between her lines.

Perhaps the oddly-named scholar and convert to Judaism, Ben BagBag, quoted in Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) said it best: “Turn the Torah over and over for everything is in it. Look into it, grow old and worn over it, and never move away from it, for you will find no better portion than it.”

The Torah is masterwork of infinite, unfathomable depth; a virtual blueprint of Creation. Though we cannot fully decode its mysteries, it will always be there to keep our curiosity and questions alive and to help us maintain our dialogue with the Source of Life. Indeed, my five and a half year experience with Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) was an exercise in humility, for I realized how very much there is yet to learn…

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Famous Last Words: V’Zot Ha-B’Rakhah

September 28, 2010

“V’Zot Ha-B’Rakhah” or ‘this is the blessing’ are the words that begin Moses’ final address to the tribes of Israel preceding his death. It is a poetic rendering of blessings in the tradition of the patriarch Jacob. Both insightful and prophetic, the blessings describe the psychological nature of each tribe while prophesying their future actions in accordance with those characteristics. The tribes have exhibited and witnessed every duality in human nature during their 40 year journey, yet they have also been prepared to understand that they must become a model for humanity when they enter the Promised Land. To be worthy of God’s vision and blessings, they must develop the Land and refine their behavior according to the blueprint (Torah) that is God’s gift to them through Moses.

On Simchat Torah, the closing festival of the Jewish year, the reading of V’Zot HaBrakhah completes the annual Torah cycle. Accordingly, here are my illustrations for this parashah from Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) . To the right of the quotation, a large Hebrew letter ‘bet’ encloses the words, ‘Hazak, Hazak, V’Nithazek’. In a tradition that originated in the late 12th-13th century by Jews in France, Germany and Spain, this phrase is pronounced at the completion of the Torah cycle. In some Ashkenazic communities, it is pronounced after reading each individual book of the Torah. ‘Hazak…’ is an interpretation of the verse in the Book of Joshua (1:6-8), “Be strong, Joshua, be of good courage…this book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth.” The phrase appears within the ‘bet’ as in ‘Beresheit’ and as a reminder that each contains the other in the duality of beginnings and endings just as a question often contains its own answer yet leads to another question.

The Shekhinah figure to the right of Moses supports a shining breastplate that frames twelve gems representing each tribe above a prominent pavilion, ‘the House of Israel’. She wears an ornate crown of golden pomegranate branches that culminate in a large perfect fruit. The Hebrew letter ‘kaph’ which in kabbalah is the highest sefirot of ‘keter’ surmounts her crown while the letter ‘mem’ is the key element at the base, signifying the unification of heaven and earth. Moses, ethereal in pale earth tones heralding his imminent death stands on a windswept Mt. Nebo, his eyes raised in a last conversation with God and His Shekhinah. His state of spiritual completeness in their relationship is evident by the configuration of the Hebrew letters ‘dalet’ and ‘taph’ for the sephirot ‘da’at’ and ‘tiferet’. These merge the qualities of human and divine, revealing the path of return to his origins; for he now understands the fundamental import of his mission and the majestic legacy he has imparted to his people.

At the final appearance of the celestial mask of God in this book, note that it now appears above the Shekhinah where in Genesis (Parashah Beresheit), it was the foremost image in the illustration. I have done this to emphasize that while God and His Shekhinah are two aspects of One, She is His spiritual ambassador whom we greet each Sabbath and through whom we honor the unity that is God.  I must also include some additional comments on the design of these two images. First of all, no disrespect is intended to anyone who abhors any ‘image’ of God. Throughout the Torah, God is described as though He possessed ‘physical’ human features. Perhaps the common translations of Genesis stating that we are made in ‘His Image ‘gave rise to its simplistic inverse suggestion that ‘He’ ‘looks’ like us, but inconceivably larger.  Nevertheless, since the central concept of monotheism is that God cannot be ‘seen’, common sense asserts that terms such as ‘the eyes of God’ or the ‘breath of God’ are merely metaphors because the Torah was written for human comprehension. So it is with this mask, intended as a reminder that to seek God’s wisdom and blessings, we must look beyond any ‘masks’ into our own hearts.

With best wishes for a healthy, thoughtful and productive year…

 Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary may be ordered from:

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