Posts Tagged ‘Elijah’

The Visitors

April 6, 2012

In honor of the first night of the Passover holiday, here is an excerpt from the source of these illustrations in my book Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009):

‘The Visitors’ featured in this illustration for Parasha B’Shallakh are Eliahu Ha-Navi (Elijah the Prophet) and Miriam, Moses’sister. Elijah, flying from house to house is the perpetually honored guest at every Passover seder. Attired in clothing reminiscent of Eastern Europe, Elijah is the perpetual guest at the Passover seder. He carries an ‘Elijah’cup customarily set aside for him and a candelabra, the light of tradition. To emphasize his immortality, the prophet also wears the satchel which Moses carried on his exile from Egypt. Below Elijah is a paschal lamb, represented as a sacrificial symbol in the traditional seder plate.

The ‘Miriam’ in this illustration is the 20th century counterpart of Moses’ sister. In similar period costume, she holds her special cup with her ancient name written in Mesha (Paleo-Hebrew) script, uniting past and present. The cup commemorates Miriam’s well, one of ten magical objects called into existence on the sixth day of Creation. This phenomenon appeared to the Hebrews during their journeys only as needed. Including a Miriam’s Cup on the seder table has become traditional in recent decades as a reminder of the equal and important role of women in the time of redemption. In honor of her namesake ‘Miriam’ is shown with a tambourine. The object below her is a ‘mayim achronim’ or ritual washing implement.

For all of you that observe this holiday that is one of the cornerstones of the Jewish year, I wish you a joyous and thoughtful journey through the next eight days…

Celebrating Schadenfreude?

February 3, 2012

In a musical rendition of the celebratory ‘high-five’ gesture, Parashah B’shallakh offers the ‘Song of the Sea’ following the safe crossing of the Sea of Reeds by the Israelites upon their departure from Egypt. I have always had a problem with these somewhat self-serving verses, and prefer not to read them during the morning service. Although I think I understand the need for them in the aftermath of horrific events in our history, still, the gloating tenor of them seems a bit much like schadenfreude. Moreover, I wonder: could the brief echoes of that song via the appearance of Moses’ sister Miriam and ‘all the women’ be just another patronizing plot device to drive the Exodus narrative forward? To be sure, unlike the cameo roles of other women in the Torah, it was a rare display of solidarity among them considering the often bitter rivalry and cattiness displayed by some of the other matriarchs. Nevertheless, because of that brevity and the body of literature she has since inspired, Miriam and her intelligent influence among the tribes has become a powerful role model for women through the  generations. For this reason I’ve chosen to make her the focus of my illustrations for Parashah B’shallakh in Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate 2009) along with the prophet Elijah, her unlikely male counterpart whose appearance in legend and symbolic presence at Passover seder tables is traditional.

A detailed commentary on The Song of the Miriams details that appear throughout this post can be found on page 147 of the AfterImages section of my book. As always, I invite your thoughts and questions and look forward to a continuing conversation.

For previews and purchase information of Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) visit: http://bit.ly/g2D9Lm