Posts Tagged ‘Joseph’

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.

On Hanukkah: Miracles Big & Small

December 19, 2011

I was recently honored by an invitation from Pomegranate Communications, the publisher of my book Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary(2009) to contribute a post on the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah which begins tomorrow evening , December 20/24 Kislev, 5772 at sundown. I’ve re-posted it here:

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 On Hanukkah: Miracles Big and Small

Friday, December 16, 2011

We are pleased to welcome guest blogger Ilene Winn-Lederer, artist, illustrator, and author of Between Heaven and Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary. In today’s post she provides a brief history of Hanukkah and explains the symbolism of the menorah. Hanukkah begins this year at sunset on December 20.

The holiday of Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, commemorates the historical events that showed the Jewish people’s resilience during the enforced prohibition of their faith and religious culture.

In the writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, the story begins in 175 BC, when Judea, then part of the Syrian Seleucid Empire under the benevolent rule of King Antiochus III, was invaded by the armies of his son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, goaded by special interests dedicated to imposing Greek culture on the Jews.

After the invasion that resulted in the looting and desecration of the Second Temple at Jerusalem, all practices associated with Judaism were outlawed.

One legend relates how children of that era, forbidden to study Torah, would go out to the gardens or fields with their study materials and toy dreidels, or wooden spinning tops. If they were confronted by soldiers who accused them of religious study, they innocently spun their dreidels as a decoy. Below is an illustration of this legend:

In 167 BC, when Antiochus IV installed an altar to the Greek god Zeus in the Temple, he provoked the bloody Maccabean revolt for Jewish independence. The leaders of this rebellion were Mattityahu, a Jewish priest, and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah, who later became known as Judah the Hammer (Judah Maccabee). After the death of his father in 166 BC, Judah inherited the mantle of leadership and under his watch, in 165 BC, the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was completed.

The Temple was then rededicated with a new altar, a restored menorah (candelabrum), and new holy vessels required for proper religious observance. According to Jewish law, the lights of the menorah must be tended for continuous illumination. The Talmud (a core text of Judaism) explains that after the Temple was desecrated, only enough pure (undesecrated) olive oil remained to keep the menorah’s eternal flame burning for one day.

Miraculously, however, the oil continued to burn for eight days, allowing sufficient time for a new supply to be obtained. The holiday is observed by lighting an additional candle on each of eight nights, recalling the time the oil remained alight in the Temple. Outside of Israel, this miracle is recalled by four Hebrew letters traditionally written or carved on the dreidels we use today. The letters nes, gadol, hayah, and sham stand for “A great miracle was there.” Inside Israel, the dreidels carry the letter po instead of sham, meaning, “A great miracle was here.”

The Talmud also states (in Menachot 28b) that the Jerusalem menorah, which has seven branches, may not be used outside the Temple.

So the menorahs used for Hanukkah observance are called hanukiya. They have eight branches plus a ninth (called the shamash or servant), set off from the others, that is used for lighting them.

In Between Heaven and Earth, Ilene Winn-Lederer illustrates the Torah reading preceding Hanukkah, Parashah VaYeishev from the Book of Genesis. Her commentary in the AfterImages portion of the book about this illustration provides further insight into the structure of the menorah and its symbolism.

The steadfast spirit of Hanukkah is also reflected in the preceding weekly Torah portion, Parashah VaYeishev, found in the Book of Genesis. It recounts the story of Joseph and his brothers, sons of the patriarch Jacob, his two wives Leah and Rachel and their handmaids Bilhah and Zilpah. Joseph, Jacob’s youngest son, was the offspring of Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife. He flaunted his intelligence and prophetic abilities, and his father prized him above all of his other children. Great dislike and jealousy festered among Joseph’s brothers, who plotted to kidnap Joseph and murder him. Whether or not they wished to claim his portion of their father’s inheritance is not clear. Though he was cast into a pit full of snakes and scorpions, the young man survived, setting into motion the story of his journey to Egypt. Initially sold into slavery by unscrupulous captors passing the pit, Joseph was able to use his skill at dream interpretation to rise from servant of the palace guard captain Potiphar to become Pharaoh’s grand vizier, credited with saving Egypt from dire famine. The story continues on the Sabbath of Hanukkah when parashat Miketz is read.

Joseph’s subsequent reunion with his father and brothers, detailed next week in parashat VaYiggash dramatically illustrates the workings of divine providence. I will post an illustration next Monday for that reading.

Finally, if we posit a common thread tying the stories of Hanukkah and these parashiyot together, it might be the dual natures of blessings and adversity, where each occurrence is seeded with the other so that the outcome often manifests as a miracle, teaching us to appreciate the importance of both.