Posts Tagged ‘moon’

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.

Of Memories And Realities

June 8, 2012

As always, I am surprised at how the stories and lessons in the Torah are able to transcend their times and reach into our own. Understanding how requires projecting and transposing their symbolism into our present era. This week’s reading, Parashah Beha’alotekha , addresses a range of instructions and events in the Israelites’ post-Exodus sojourn that include Tabernacle/Mishkan rituals for the Levites (priestly class) and the establishment of a second Passover (Pesach Sheni) for those who were not permitted to participate in the first one due to ritual impurities. These are further detailed in the AfterImages section of my book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009)

Today, I’ve decided to focus on a third element that is also addressed in this parashah; the events caused by the sometimes tragic disconnect between what we remember and what is.  The images above are selected from the illustrations for this parashah and presented here with a brief explanation of their symbolism.

The figure floating above the sand is an allegory for some of the Israelites who have come perilously close to idolatry in their weariness and boredom with the abundant supply of manna (buried in the sand). I imagined them as a hybrid creature of man and fish; a parody of the pagan fish-god Dagon angrily demanding meat while voicing idealized memories of Egypt’s plentiful cuisine. He is holding a backwards-facing letter nun’ that appears twice in this section of Parashah Beha’alotekha, surrounding the account of the Israelites leaving Mt. Sinai and their subsequent rebellious demands. Rabbi Shlomo Efraim of Luntchitz, also known as the ‘Kli Yakar’ explains this phenomenon. In the Aramaic language, the word for fish is ‘nune‘. A fish instinctively turns towards water, as it understands where it can remain alive. Conversely, the Israelites, in their eagerness for the Promised Land, left Mt. Sinai without remorse, turning away from their source of life; acting metaphorically as a backward ‘nune‘ or fish. God’s retribution for their attitude comes at Kivroth HaTaavah (also called ‘The Graves of Craving’), a day’s march from the Sinai wilderness. A multitude of quails descend on the camps, sating their hunger, but leaving behind a devastating plague. Accordingly, the second backwards nun appears just out of reach near a hand protruding in the agony of death. A discussion in the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma 75b) offers a mystical foundation for God’s choice of quails as meat. This type of bird is naturally saturated with fat and oil. Oil, in mystical texts is often compared to the sefirot of Chochma, or wisdom. So the oily quail meat may have been an altruistic attempt to impart wisdom to the Israelites, but one that failed since they were too attached to their own bodily needs to attend to their spiritual needs.

Moving forward, I find a potential parallel between those ancient Israelites and our religious fundamentalists, politicians and the wealthy 1% who support them. In their ideological nostalgia for the 1950’s, an era of burgeoning national prosperity and civic growth fueled by two disastrous world wars, those fatalistic desires have become a foundation of quicksand beneath us, eroding moral behavior, political and social balance within a gravely ailing economy. Despite the often clairvoyant voices of media pundits and commentators, we seem stuck in that quicksand. Like those unfortunate Israelites eager to satisfy their hunger, we too are enslaved by our creature comforts and the tantalizing consumer culture we’ve created that enables them.

Nevertheless, I believe we have the potential to be better than our material needs by looking inwards and trying to understand the essence of our humanity that such materialism is decimating. Do we truly need the latest SUV, grand McMansion or expensive ocean cruise? If so, why?

Bits Of Whimsy: Sushi By The Sea Of Tea

May 21, 2012


Each painting or drawing I have made over the years usually disappears into its own secret place, perhaps within a portfolio, a drawer, a private/public collection or simply my memory when a collector contacts me. Which is what often prompts me to re-engage with an older work just for a clue to who/where I was when it was made. This idea was translated graphically (see below) when I set up The Magic Eye Gallery(www.magiceyegallery.com)last year.

Here are my thoughts on the genesis of Sushi By The Sea Of Tea:
August 26, 1998-The image shown above actually began about ten years ago as a sketch entitled ‘Sushi Under Clouded Moon’ following business trips to New York and Los Angeles, where my taste for these Japanese delicacies developed. I have always admired the spare, yet colorful sensuality of Japanese graphic design and the ways in which this sensibility translates to every aspect of that culture… particularly the presentation of food. The finished painting was put on hold in deference to a continuous stream of other projects, both personal and professional, yet always came to mind when I found myself in a Japanese restaurant. On a recent trip to NY, I made a few sketches of the restaurant staff and customers in such an establishment and considered these experiences part of my ‘research ‘. This year at last, everything seemed to come together; the choice of watercolor as the medium and the images of Madame Ginger and Master Wasabi … exchanging spicy stories of their travels amidst a feast of sushi. The tiny fisherman, guiding his craft on silky waves, is the eternal Guardian of The Sea of Tea.

The original art and gicleé prints of Sushi By The Sea Of Tea may be ordered at The Magic Eye Gallery: http://www.magiceyegallery.com.

Bits Of Whimsy: Innovasion

April 13, 2012

One evening, in the mood for some lo mein and oolong tea, I headed for my favorite neighborhood Chinese bistro. When the waiter had taken my order, he handed me a set of flatware, but asked if I preferred to use chopsticks. I chose the latter out of habit. But as I returned the fork, I had a strange notion about this ubiquitous tool. If a fork normally has four tines, why is it not called a ‘fourk’? Silly, I suppose; nevertheless, I soon began to wonder about the design and taxonomy of gastronomic utensils in general. For that matter, why are two or three-pronged implements not called ‘tworks’ or ‘thorks’? Following this fork in my thought trail, I recalled Edward Lear’s famous poem, The Owl and the Pussycat in which the lovers ate their mince and quince with a runcible spoon, a very practical utensil that combined a fork and a spoon. Now it’s called a ‘spork’. Well, I couldn’t stop there. As I mused on the look and possible names of other hybrid utensils, my eye noticed a brown marmolated stink bug staring down at me from atop my computer monitor. Eeuww. And the image you see above began to materialize. For sure, this drawing has other levels that you can enjoy interpreting, but you can get back to me on that…

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…

The Odds Of March

March 19, 2012

ate one night, near the end of February, the rooster-less weather vane spun madly atop the Inn Of The Four Winds. Perhaps it was anticipating the outcome of the wager within…

Beneath the iridescent glow of a crystal chandelier, March’s fate lay in the cards. Would the month begin with the icy breath of a roaring storm or with the gentle bleat of a spring breeze? Excitement ran high among those with stakes in this annual game, for the cards were to be held by those famous adversaries, the Lion and the Lamb. The game required a curious playing deck consisting of three hundred and sixty-five cards (with a wild card thrown in for leap years). Its four suits distinguished the deck, each representing one of the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. On the cards within each suit, specific weather conditions such as thunderstorms or clear, blue skies were depicted. But these magical cards were more than just pretty pictures. As they were selected in the game, each image exuded its unique sounds, sensations and smells!

A dealer was appointed to divide this enormous deck into twelve stacks of cards, corresponding to the months of the year. From those stacks, he then dealt each player twelve cards. The remaining cards were tossed into a barrel and shuffled so they could be reassembled into one large stack at the center of the ornately carved table.
The rules of the game decreed that neither the Lion nor the Lamb were to see each other’s hand, but were to select cards in turn from the center stack, rejecting unwanted cards back into the barrel for next year’s game. Then, by means of dealing, trading and bluffing (if necessary), each player must build a complete hand of thirty-one cards (corresponding to March’s thirty-one days) whose suits and weather conditions matched their own meteorological vision.

If the Lion expected to win, his hand must consist of thirty-one cards depicting only fierce weather conditions; while the Lamb would need to collect thirty-one cards displaying only fair weather symbols for her victory. The first player to collect a complete hand would win the honor of deciding whether March came in like a Lion and went out like a Lamb, or vice versa! Although the weather was enigmatically commanded by the powers that be, ancient wisdom held that this annual match exerted its own mysterious influence…

The large hall of the Inn was crowded with spectators and speculators proclaiming their wagers and noisily debating the fate of March. Among these were the weather vanes’ Rooster, the Groundhog, the Dove and the Monkey. By virtue of their special interests in the resolution of the match, the four were permitted to surround the principal players.
The Rooster, having abandoned his weathervane for this event, anxiously hoped for an early spring in March. He was a proud fellow, but he was exhausted after a long winter of announcing early sunrises and taming temperamental winds. An early spring would allow him to do his tasks a wee bit later in the morning. And so he crowed enthusiastically for the Lamb.

The Dove cooed for the Lamb, too. As the messenger whose task was to let other birds know when the ice and snow would end, Dove’s sentiments were also personal; she dearly missed all of her friends who flew south for the winter.
The Groundhog, charged with predicting the fate of winter for humans, had grumpily crept out of his burrow for this game, grunting in favor of the Lion. He wished to enjoy his winter nap for just a little longer.

And the Monkey, gifted with a special knowledge of the language of plants and trees, was entrusted with bearing the tidings of spring to jungles and forests everywhere. In recognition of her intelligence, she was appointed to act as dealer. This obliged her to remain neutral, though she secretly hoped for an early spring. There was nothing she liked better than swinging lazily on a thick vine and munching an early crop of mangoes.

When the table was prepared and everyone had settled down, the Lion and the Lamb entered the room, greeted their audience, and took their seats. While the Monkey dealt their cards, the players exchanged menacing glances and crooked smiles, each determined to emerge victorious from the match.

As the game proceeded, the Lion could barely suppress his little rumbles of delight; for the majority of his cards depicted his signature storm symbols: lightning, thunder, snowy blizzards and hurricanes. Smugly, he glanced around the room and then at his opponent; a clear gesture that he held the winning cards. On the other hand, the Lamb, with her gentle features drooping, seemed to be down on her luck this year. Shivering from her handful of wet, cold, windy storm cards, she desperately wanted to declare an early spring, and hoped that some of her beautiful sunshine and flower symbols would turn up soon.

Suddenly, as if the powers that be had heard her wish, the stack of cards at the center of the table began to yield one springtime card after another! Growing more excited with each turn, the Lamb could nearly taste her victory as her fans cheered her on. The Lion began to growl in frustration, his whiskers wrinkling at the scent of the spring grass and crocus cards, which kept cropping up. Peeved by the waning encouragement of his supporters, the big cat was not a good loser. But he did have a flair for drama.

Narrowing his big green eyes, he stood up as if about to stretch, letting loose a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a roaring yawn. The startled Lamb gasped and dropped her cards, then bleated accusingly at her opponent for cheating. The Monkey, who had just reached out to straighten the center stack of cards, trembled, scattering the remainder of them all over the table and floor! To make matters worse, the crowd had begun to panic. What would become of the month of March?

After a few moments, the Lamb’s natural grace and charm returned, and she giggled as she regarded the mess on the table and floor. “Oh, well,” she shrugged philosophically, ” I was getting tired of this old game anyway!” The Lion, somewhat abashed by the Lamb’s swift recovery, felt a slow smile creeping across his chops. “So am I,” he agreed, nodding his shaggy head. “Besides,” he added slyly, ” I’ve heard there is a cheap flight to Paradise this weekend. Would you like to join me?” Fluffing the curly wool behind her delicate pink ear, the Lamb glanced flirtatiously at the Lion, and happily accepted his offer.

The crowd of spectators and speculators had finally regained their wits and were so busy arranging their wagers for next year’s game, that they never noticed the Lion and the Lamb waltzing out of the Inn’s doors locked in an embrace.

The powers that be rolled their collective eyes indulgently as they helped a very sleepy Rooster back to his weathervane perch atop The Inn Of The Four Winds.

This year, for a change, March would have to take care of itself.

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 

Voyage Of The Snail Queen

November 29, 2011

Though journeys require literal time away from domestic doldrums, some require only an investment of imagination. So for today, still in a state of surgically enforced enervation, I’ve decided to revisit my Codex Gastropoda series with Voyage Of The Snail Queen. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skimming the seas above her domain
The Snail Queen surveys all in her reign
One kingdom lies far beyond her reach
For want of a treaty to heal the breach

Within her shells of memories rerun,
She sails to the islands of her renegade son.
Beneath a pale moon, her dragonship flies
The shadow of a dream traversing night skies.