Posts Tagged ‘earth’

From Day Into Night: The Wisdom Of Perception

March 9, 2014

ImageOrdinarily, I like to deny subscribing to coincidence, but I must stand corrected on account of this week’s installment from An Illumination Of Blessings.

Anyone of middle-age and beyond will readily admit that as we age, time seems to pass more quickly, yet we only recognize that deceptive phenomenon in retrospect.

Last week, when I chose to begin work on this blessing for the wisdom to distinguish day from night it did not immediately occur to me that coincidentally, we were about to begin the ‘spring ahead and fall behind’ cycle for one hour semi-annually in the parlance of daylight saving time.

Today, it began around 2AM this morning and though I can always feel the transition instinctually, the fact of it never fails to take me by surprise.

This tradition began centuries ago as an informal observance of the Earth’s rotation in relation to the effects of the sun and moon cycles on agriculture, lifestyle and human productivity. It became progressively codified and enforced well into the twentieth century but today, there are groups advocating for its eradication in the interest of simplifying travel, scheduling, commerce and environmental conservation. The latter justification is ironic considering that daylight saving time was initially instituted as an energy saving measure!

However, since daylight saving time may have derived from our ability to distinguish and contemplate the differences between day and night, it is only marginally related to today’s blessing essay. So to learn more about it, you can find a detailed history of daylight saving time and the arguments against it at: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daylight_saving_time and at: http://www.standardtime.com/proposal.html.

As for the blessing itself, you might notice a tiny rooster perched on the roof of the medieval-style house in my illustration. This refers to the blessing’s original title, ‘The Wisdom of the Rooster’. It is unique among the many we have for expressing appreciation for our physical, mental and environmental gifts. Why? Because instead of thanking our Creator for our own ability to distinguish between day and night, we offer praise for “giving the rooster understanding to distinguish between day and night.” Rabbi Michael Gourarie* explains:

“Although a rooster crows at the beginning of each day it actually happens some time before it gets light. When it senses that dawn will break soon, and light is on the way to substitute for the darkness, he emits the crowing noise that became the ancient alarm clock.

In every day there are periods of light – clarity, blessing, peace of mind and prosperity; but there are also sometimes patches of darkness – challenge, confusion and difficulty. It takes special strength not to be caught up in the moments of challenge. It takes maturity to look beyond the darkness and see the light that awaits us. A wise person learns from the rooster. He/she knows that the darkness is only temporary and that light is on the way. The rooster is symbolic of an attitude filled with optimism, hope and belief. The rooster teaches us to envisage and celebrate blessing even before it comes.”

In addition to the rooster, the other elements in my illustration are arranged around a sort of cosmic hourglass. Suspended within their separate spheres, our sun and moon are poised to reverse their positions in a dance designed at the time of Creation. I wanted to symbolize our understanding of these celestial bodies with regard to our environment and our lives (trees and houses) by placing them within a man-made timekeeping device. The sprinkle of stars that inspired the signs of the Zodiac on the hourglass are there to remind us that while our acquired knowledge is of great value, the light of that value darkens without the wonder and faith that guide it.

*http://shiratdevorah.blogspot.com/2011/08/wisdom-of- rooster.html

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

June 27, 2013

  • Image-282338-full
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

On The Pragmatism Of Prayer…

April 19, 2013

TheFlightOfAPrayer

In light of the national media babbling 24/7 about the fear and trembling amidst heightened security measures that have overtaken the Boston environs in the wake of the Marathon bombing, I thought about all the prayers that go out both to comfort ourselves, each other and perhaps in attempt to stanch the rising panic over the still at-large bombing suspect. In doing so, I offer these questions for your comments:
 
1. Can prayers be understood as pleas for protection from evil, or for those more philosophically inclined, can they be seen as praise for a G-d whose will in all things is inscrutable?
2. What about the concept of prayers as a way to understand that the balance of good and evil must, however costly to life and property, be maintained for some larger cosmic purpose?
3. Could these prayers relate in some obscure way to the intent of sacrifices in ancient times? In other words, did we perform sacrifices and offer prayers as a tribute to the greatness of G-d, to assuage our fear of His/Her potential anger or a little of both?
 
In Acharey Mot, this week’s Torah reading, although the above questions are given no definitive answers, we learn how the qualities of good and evil inform a duality in our concept of G-d that inspires the custom of absolving communal sin by sacrificing two goats.
 
The illustrations below are details from my book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009). We can see one animal lying trussed and wearing an inscribed boxwood lot dedicating it to G-d. The other, marked as an offering to ‘Azazel’ will be the scapegoat sent into the wilderness.  The term ‘Azazel’ has various connotations. Medieval commentators have referred to it as a desert cliff in the Sinai from which a goat was thrown on Yom Kippur to atone for the sins of Israel. But In his commentary on Leviticus 16:8, the Spanish Talmudist Moses Ben Nachman Gerondi (Nachmanides) described Azazel as a goat-like desert god or demon. The image of a demon has long been associated in mythology with evil, sexual misdeeds and the fearsome forces of nature. Merging the two ideas produced the portrayal of Azazel as a winged demon pictured in a barren desert setting. The string tying the lot to Azazel’s goat is partly colored scarlet to recall a custom in the Temple. A red cord was hung in the Temple porch for all to know that a goat had been sent to Azazel. The amount of time needed for the goat and its escort to reach the cliff was calculated and when the sacrifice was deemed complete, the cord allegedly turned white.
 
Perhaps this elaborate, dramatic ritual, was in itself an answer to my questions? If the Torah had not told us that we were made in “…Our Image”, how else would it be possible for us to understand that God may inspire both joy and
heartbreak?
Imaginarius-AchareyMot

Parsing Passover…

March 15, 2013

ImageSince beginning this blog in conjunction with the publication of my book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) I have presented many of its illustrations along with new insights that have grown from the traditional readings and from your questions and comments.

Sometimes, the illustrations themselves have been tweaked to reflect these changes, making my book a continual work in progress.Though I can not pretend to their scholarly stature, I like to imagine this process akin to the conversations and Torah insights of the great 2nd century rabbis and scholars (Amoraim) that were gathered to comprise the Talmud. Accordingly, the illustrations are structured so that each element’s story and symbolism for a parashah enhance each other on its page.

So, in this week preceding Pesach/Passover, as we begin the Book of Leviticus with Parasha Vayikra, I was thinking about the concept of sacrifice as more than the ritual slaughter of animals and other material offerings. Sacrifice can also be considered as a tenet of mindfulness.

While the Temple stood in Jerusalem, animal sacrifice was at the core of Judaism’s complex practices; fulfilling G-d’s commandments and providing nourishment for the priests. Yet, the parashah also reminds us of its more subtle purpose; to learn the difference between our animal and divinely-based natures and to gain mastery over them so that we may evolve culturally and spiritually.

A slight digression: metaphorically, the body of esoteric knowledge of kabbalah understands Creation as a process of ‘tzimtsum’, where G-d contracts/withdraws His/Her Essence to allow all that we know to exist.

That said, each time we perform a mitzvah (a commandment or good deed for the benefit of another), we can think of this process as our own microcosmic ‘tzimtsum’.  In this way, we are setting aside our ‘animal’ nature (which is characterized by instinctive actions for self-preservation) in favor of our divinely based nature (marked by our mindfulness as a human being  and a responsible member of the larger community).

Often, there is great pain associated with a transition from one nature to the other, as in the time of the Exodus when the Hebrew slaves coming out of Egypt made the agonizing 40-year transition to becoming Israelites. Though we are many generations removed, we are reminded of that learning process each year when we remove the masks of our animal natures to allow our divinely-based essences to commemorate and celebrate Passover.

**********************************************************************************************************************

Signed copies of Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary ($36.00+Shipping) may be ordered at: http://www.winnlederer.com or by email from: ilene@winnlederer.com. Allow up to one week for delivery in the US; if required sooner for a gift or special event, express services are available. For organizations, the author is available for on-site presentations of the book’s creative process and book signings.

For Tu B’Shevat: In Celebration Of Creation

January 25, 2013

The universe is always unfinished. It calls for our continuous effort and unceasing renewal for we are the partners of the Creator.” R. Simcha Bunim of Przysucha (1765-1827)

Image

THE holiday of Tu B’Shevat or Jewish New Year of the Trees which occurs tomorrow on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat or in January on the Julian calendar has long been one of inspiration for me, a powerful metaphor of our connection with the Creator and our mandate as stewards of our planet.

Last year at this time, I posted an image based on a new Hebrew alphabet I had designed called ‘Abundance‘. It’s letters are formed of the plants, fruits and vegetables cultivated in the land of Israel. Tomorrow we celebrate this holiday once again and for those that might have missed last year’s post, I’ve decided to offer it again along with the entire alphabet (alefbet):

Image

Gicleé prints of this image in sizes 11″x14″ or larger are available. I can also format them as place-mats for your Tu’B Shevat seder celebrations. For prices and ordering information, contact me at: ilene@winnlederer.com

In addition, here is a calligraphy illustration that references the quotation above this post. It is from a series of six prints commissioned by Hadassah/NY in 1998. The others can be seen here: http://magiceyegallery.com/PicturePage.aspx?id=243 where they may be ordered individually or as a set.

Image

I wish all of you who celebrate a year of abundance and inspiration.

The Challenge Of Change

June 21, 2012

Though  I am not fluent in French, the classic aphorism, ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’ (the more things change, the more they remain the same) seems particularly relevant with regards to Korah, the Torah portion from the Book of Numbers (BaMidbar) that will be read this Sabbath. This particular parashah is memorable to me personally, as it marks the Bar Mitzvah of my eldest son in 1988 and the beginning of the thought process and research that would become my book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009). As the story recounts the challenge made by the Levite Korah to the divinely ordained authority of his cousins Moses and Aaron, it reminds us that the often smarmy dynamics that characterize ‘modern’ politics has barely changed in 2.000+ years. From the AfterImages section of this book which also includes footnotes for the sources, here is an excerpt of the interpretation for the illustrations shown above and below:

“In The Price Of Power, we see the blue-robed Korah ben Izhar, a wealthy, prominent Levite. Despite his influence as cousin to Moses and Aaron, he craved more power and determined to challenge the authority assigned to them over the Israelites. He gathered 250 men with ambitious agendas of their own, and outfitted them in luxurious tallitot (prayer shawls) made entirely of blue wool. In a mockery of the ‘one-cord of blue’ commandment (Shelakh-Lekha), Korah, exhibits a serpents’ forked tongue as he and his party arrogantly confront Moses and Aaron with a cunning argument for the equal holiness of all the Israelites.

Yet, for such a clever man, he seemed unaware that challenging God’s wisdom would have dire consequences. The Mishnah  describes the violent ‘earthquake’ that swallowed Korah and his men as the ‘mouth of earth’, one of ten mystical things created before the first Sabbath of the world. The copper firepans (upper left) had once held incense offerings. These were obligatory when Korah requested the meeting with Moses and Aaron. They were all that remained of Korah’s party. The firepans were later gathered by Eleazar, Aaron’s son to be melted into plating for the sacrificial altar– a legacy of this tragic event. Louis Ginzberg in Legends of the Bible suggested the disgruntled sun and moon. They, too, challenged God and refused to voluntarily perform their duties if He levied punishment on Korah and his men. Ever after, sun and moon must be prodded into their daily cycles. With linguistic irony, the three Hebrew consonants in Korah’s name translate as ‘kereach’ or’ice’ and also as ‘bald’, both meaningful descriptions of his nature. The ‘ice’ refers to his cold, logical approach to spiritual matters while the ‘bald’ recalls the ‘bald spot’ he left among the Israelites when the earth swallowed his followers. 

When Korah challenged the right of Aaron to be High Priest, The Ark Of Judgment was employed to provide a test of faith in response. One of its k’ruvim sits on top of the Ark holding eleven barren staffs, each carved with the name of a tribe. The other keruv holds the staff of the tribe of Levi, which has put forth almond blossoms and fruit, confirming the choice of Aaron as High Priest of Israel. Aptly characterizing this tale is an unusual feature of Aaron’s staff: its dual fruits of bitter and sweet almonds. One variety begins sweet and turns bitter, like most disputes while the variety that begins bitter, but yields sweet fruit is akin to the achievement of peace. The motif on the shekel coin below commemorates the miracle of Aaron’s staff. The almonds in the hands below Aaron’s crown demonstrate that their name in Hebrew, ‘shaked’ is a permutation of ‘kodesh’ meaning ‘holy’: proof that God had chosen Aaron to bring holiness to the world.”

So where does that leave us now? In a metaphorical desert, I suppose; forced to define our own sense of morality in the face of our own media-driven misinformation campaigns. Then, as now, personal wealth and smarmy charm were exploited to secure a position of leadership with intentions that were far more self-centric than concerned with the spiritual and physical well-being of those who would be led. The major difference between now and then is the absence of a Divine Presence to dramatically balance the scales of justice, unless you naively believe that those who would rule us have a hot-line to Heaven.

Transforming Perception

December 7, 2011

How much of our perceptions of the world around us are physical and how much psychological? I suspect a fine line appears between them regarding realities we see and those we create. Several weeks ago, I posted a photo on Facebook of a strange purple berry-laden plant in my yard which I later learned was a pokeweed. I was fascinated by its wild beauty and though tempted to taste a berry, was disappointed to find that it is toxic to humans, but not to birds who eat its berries and excrete the poisonous seeds. Yet perhaps someday, a cosmetic or medicinal use for this exotic weed may be discovered.  So, on the tail of my previous post on the theme of transmogrification, I offer this drawing of my ‘Dandelion Fairy’ who accompanies a lovely quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that succinctly expresses my thoughts as well.

Dreams and Nightmares: The Foundation of Faith

June 17, 2011

Parashah Shelakh-Lekha, one of the best-known episodes in the Book of Numbers, concerns the twelve scouts, or spies, sent ahead of the Israelite camp to appraise the nature of the Promised Land. It is often compared to the Golden Calf incident of Exodus, in that both events were tests of the Israelites’ faith and trust in G-d, their leaders and themselves. When the expedition returned, ten of the men dramatically exaggerated what they had seen, in an attempt to discourage the Israelites from accepting their territorial inheritance. “We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves and so we must have looked to them.” In the left-hand illustration, the small hybrid grasshopper-man addresses the terror and trepidation the scouts disseminated. Perhaps, they calculated, their negative report would ensure positions of power for themselves among the people instead of encouraging the people to act with faith in G-d and in their own abilities? I have given this creature a tattoo in the shape of the Hebrew letter ‘mem’ whose numerical equivalent is forty because this incident doomed the Israelites to wander in the desert for forty years until a new generation arose that would be spiritually prepared to realize its divine inheritance.

The symbols that comprise these illustrations each tell stories of their own that are too lengthy to include here. They can be found on page 169 in the AfterImages portion of my  book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) It can be purchased directly from the publisher, http://www.pomegranate.com/a166.html or from Amazon,  amzn.to/gZSp5j where you will find several reviews.

I welcome your comments and questions here at Imaginarius and will do my best to respond. Wishing you a thoughtful Sabbath and weekend…

Uncle Toad: Going My Way?

June 8, 2011

Like so many task-chair political activists, I sometimes feel the need to create a work of art on an issue that is of local and national importance where our environment is concerned. Though I receive many requests to donate art for free to various organizations, the invitation from Ann Payne was one I simply couldn’t refuse. Ms. Payne has been organizing an exhibition of art that will be called Reflections: Homage To Dunkard Creek.

Here is what she wrote:

“It is said that the living can freely move on only when they have helped the newly dead rest in peace. Reflections is a collaborative installation by  more than 100 artists to commemorate the lives of the 116 species who perished in Dunkard Creek during the warm days of late summer 2009. The creek literally died when a fatal combination of chemical mine wastes and low water, exacerbated by “frac” drilling water withdrawals, set off the bloom of an alien toxic algae, suffocating an estimated 18,000-22,000 animals. Forty-three mile Dunkard Creek meanders across the Pennsylvania and West Virginia state lines before it flows into the Monongahela River, recently listed as one of America’s 10 most endangered rivers. The Monongahela River supplies drinking water to 850,000 people. Water is an age-old symbol for purity, clarity, and calm. The artists participating in Reflections are united by a common body of water, the Monongahela Watershed. To honor the tragedy that befell this watershed, each artist will ‘adopt’ and memorialize one of the 116 species of animals who perished, to celebrate the life of that species with an original work of art.”

As one of 100+ participating artists, I agreed to create a work dedicated to one of the species lost in Dunkard and was assigned my ‘species’ via lottery. When the project is complete, the drawing you see above will be part of a thought-provoking installation that will extend for 99 feet. This installation will travel throughout the watershed from Fairmont, West Virginia to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (and perhaps beyond) so the larger community may experience a broad, detailed perspective through artists’ eyes on all that has vanished beneath the water that is the lifeblood of this planet. Along with Ms. Payne, I hope that this project will provoke others throughout the US and the world where corporate profiteers with their juicy bribes to residents in exchange for toxification of their properties seriously threaten our environment and all the creatures that depend on it. Here are a map and photo from the area:

Postscript For The New Year: A Divination Of Snails

December 30, 2010

For this fifth drawing from my Codex Gastropoda series, I was inspired by a cartoon which recently appeared in the online Tablet Magazine, drawn by the playwright David Mamet (http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/54112/a-very-special-message/). So, in addition to The Time Snails posted a few days ago, here is a postscript New Year Wish for Good Fortune to all of Imaginarius’ visitors!  I imagined the traditional forms of snails’ shells morphing into the equally intriguing shapes of a Chinese fortune cookies; which will you choose?