Posts Tagged ‘famine’

A Map To The Heart

December 30, 2011


As promised in my post of December 16,  here are the illustrations from Parashah Va-Yiggash which is read tomorrow on the Sabbath. In this concluding chapter of Joseph’s story, the young prodigy and dream master is now a grown man with his own family. As Grand Vizier to Pharaoh, he is the second most powerful player in Egypt now tasked with managing food distribution for the country during a prolonged famine (which he fortunately foresaw). Yet, like all of us at one time or another, he is also faced with an ill and aging parent. Through circumstances of destiny, he has not seen his father Jacob for many years. Nevertheless, his love and childhood memories remain true enough to spur him to dramatic action.

Having learned that his father is dying, Joseph orders his chariot prepared and leaves immediately for what will be a final visit. Below him is a map of Goshen, the land that Joseph has promised for Israelite resettlement in the wake of the famine. The map is in the shape of a hand symbolizing Joseph reaching out to his people. It is also a nod to the illustrated allegorical maps of the Holy Land found in Heinrick Bunting’s Itinerarium Sacra Scripturae, or Travels According to the Scriptures, first published in 1581. Below, Joseph and Jacob are seen in an emotional embrace, the former having cast aside his formal court wig and scepter as evidence of his true identity as a son of Israel. You might notice that Jacob’s foot is twisted as a reminder of his angelic confrontation and dramatic transition from a man named Jacob to that of Israel, the progenitor of the twelves tribes of Israel. The young girl in the foreground is Serakh Bat Asher, the legendary daughter of Jacob’s son Asher. She earned immortality for her kindness to old Jacob who had given up hope of ever seeing his son Joseph after his tragic disappearance long ago. So as not to shock him in his fragile state, she is said to have played her harp embedding the news that Joseph was alive in a song. When we need a complex story like this one to yield an understanding of a basic human value, in this case, of chesed (the fourth of the ten sefirot) or kindness, it may be that we must earn that understanding intellectually before we can manifest it unconditionally and unmotivated in ourselves and towards those we love and cherish.

These images are from my book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) which can be purchased directly from the publisher at this link: http://www.pomegranate.com/a166.html or from Amazon:  amzn.to/gZSp5j where you will also find several reviews.