Posts Tagged ‘Sabbath’

A Blessing For Peace & Protection

February 16, 2014

This week, I present to you The Birkat Kohanim, or the Priestly Blessing for my Kickstarter book, An Illumination Of Blessings.

ImageFans of the Star Trek television series and its inscrutable Vulcan Mr. Spock like to reference their admiration by raising their hand in the strange configuration shown in my illustration. Since the actor, Leonard Nimoy is Jewish, it’s no small wonder that he affected this gesture from his own ethnic background, basing it on an ancient Hebrew blessing, the Birkat Kohanim, or Priestly Blessing.
Inspired by the biblical verse: “They shall place My name upon the children of Israel, and I Myself shall bless them,” the verses of the Birkat Kohanim come from BaMidbar (Numbers) 6:23-27 in which the Levite Aaron, the first High Priest and his sons bless the nascent Israelites. Since then, this oldest of known biblical texts was adapted by individuals for personal use and has been found inscribed on amulets that date to the First Temple period beginning in 957 BCE, some of which are currently in the collection of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

According to David Abudirham, a 13th century Spanish Torah scholar focusing on synagogue liturgy, although the unconventional Birkat Kohanim doesn’t begin with “Blessed Are You…”, it is, nevertheless a prayer for peace and protection. It was and is traditionally recited in a synagogue during the major festivals to express the joy and good will of these celebrations. This blessing differs from others because it is not to be recited by an individual but by one or more Kohanim, or descendants of Aaron from the priestly Tribe of Levi. Later interpretations extended its use to rabbis for blessing children at their bar or bat mitzvot and to parents who wish to bless their children before the Sabbath meal. On these occasions, it is usually introduced with a phrase requesting G-d to endow these children with the admirable qualities of Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph or the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.

The Birkat Kohanim is also replete with arcane symbols, two of which compelled me to include it in An Illumination Of Blessings.

First is the unusual configuration of the hands; held spread out beneath a prayer shawl over the congregation with fingers and thumbs positioned to create five apertures. The apertures refer to the verses in the Song of Songs (2:8-9) which posit that although G-d remains hidden, He peers through the cracks in the wall, watching over and protecting Israel. Second is the idea that the Birkat contains fifteen words corresponding to the fourteen joints of the fingers and to the palms of the hands to represent the word ‘shalom’ or peace. Accordingly, I’ve taken artistic license to mark the joints of the hands with letters of the Hebrew alephbet signifying the numbers 1 to 15.
Since the Birkat Kohanim speaks to us from the tribal era of Jewish history, the decorative element at the base of the blessing is my fanciful interpretation of the choshen, or breastplate worn by the high priest during Temple services. Within the elaborate golden frame are twelve precious stones, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The significance of the twelve stones is explained in more detail in the AfterImages chapter of my previous book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) on pages 144, 152 and 166. The choshen itself was said to contain a hidden pocket which held the Urim and Tmimim, two ‘oracular’ stones used only by the priests to determine answers to various questions brought by the people. The actual functionality of these stones is the stuff of legend.

Thinking back on my own fondness for Star Trek, I realized that Spock’s ubiquitous salute introduced me to a facet of Judaism that would infuse my artwork with mystical speculation for the rest of my creative life. And that turns out to be an inadvertent blessing, indeed.

Note: Additional details about the ceremonial procedure and its history may be found at these links:  http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/894569/jewish/The-Priestly-Blessing.htm and  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priestly_Blessing

Kickstarter Update #4: An Illumination Of Blessings: Sabbath

July 3, 2013

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Dear Backers and Backers-To-Be:

Wow, with 64% funding and three days to go, I am really getting into the rhythm of An Illumination Of Blessings! Yesterday and today I’ve been working on this new illustration; the blessing recited when lighting the Sabbath candles. At this rate, I feel confident that the book will be done on schedule if not before!

Here you can see a woman (who could be any age) blessing the two candles she has lit to usher in the Sabbath, the twenty-four hour period of rest from sundown to sunset that is a central tenet of the Jewish faith for it mirrors the completion of Creation and defines a place in our lives in which we can cease our week’s efforts, open our senses to those things that we rush past during the week and achieve a sense of accomplishment for when we resume our activities afterwards.

On her lace tablecloth is a kiddush cup filled with wine and two challahs that has been baked fresh for the Sabbath. Blessings for these items appear in this book as well. The spirit figure in the background represents the Shekhinah, or the feminine aspect of our Creator whom we welcome into our homes for this brief time each week. I will be sharing additional thoughts on these images in the book’s commentary.

As always, your questions and comments are welcome!

To those of you that kindly and generously pledged your support to bring me to this point in my campaign, I thank you unreservedly. To those of you who are on the wire trying to decide if this is worth your investment, worry  no more. You’ve spent plenty of money on all kinds of stuff, but what can you count among your possessions to prove you’ve taken a journey through my imagination? I mean, how many artists devoted to high quality spiritual art can you call yourself a patron of? Here’s the link, hop to it!!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1330347473/an-illumination-of-blessings

Update #3: An Illumination Of Blessings-Havdalah

July 2, 2013

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Dear Backers & Backers-To-Be:

We’re just about down to the wire: 57% funded and 4 days until midnight of July 6th when funding closes for An Illumination Of Blessings! So if you haven’t decided to become part of this unique effort, please take a few moments to consider doing so and by all means spread the work to anyone you know who would also like to contribute.

I promise that you will not be disappointed when you receive your postcards, prints and copy or copies of this beautiful art book. Like every work of art I make, it does not leave my studio unless I am entirely satisfied that I have done my best to bring it to life.

This week I’ve completed a new blessing for the book; it is called Ceremony Of The Senses and presents the Havdalah ceremony, performed at the conclusion of the Sabbath. The book will include a detailed commentary about the imagery I’ve chosen. As always, your comments and questions are welcome and I look forward to being able to share An Illumination Of Blessings as a personal legacy to you for generations to come.

Here is the link for you to enter your pledge and to forward to all you think would want to participate.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1330347473/an-illumination-of-blessings

Thanks in advance!

Ilene

Emor, Omer & Zohar: A Spiritual Evolution

May 6, 2011

This week’s Torah parashah, Emor, is one of insightful contrasts. It emphasizes the observance and performance of good deeds (mitzvot) for the festivals of Passover (Sefirat ha-Omer or Counting of the Omer), Shavuot (Shtei ha-Lechem or Grain Offering), Rosh HaShanah(Yom Teruah or Blowing of the Shofar), Yom Kippur ( Yom Ta’anit or Day of Fasting), Sukkot (Chag Ha Succot or Festival of Booths). My images for this parashah focus on the Counting of the Omer which occurs during the forty-nine days between Passover and Shavuot (remembering respectively the exodus from Egypt and the receiving of the Law at Mt. Sinai). Omer  is the Hebrew word for ‘sheaf’, an offering of grain brought to the Temple in hopes of a healthy barley harvest. For seven weeks, one omer is set aside (today, this is done symbolically) and counted each day. The practice commemorates the length of the Israelites journey from Egypt to Mt. Sinai.

According to the  Zohar (a collection of classic Jewish mystical treatises), forty-nine days is also a period recognizing the transition from their spiritual impurity to the Israelites’ comprehension of their profound relationship with God upon receiving the Law on Shavuot. The candelabra, beneath a vignette of the night sky with three stars, announces the onset of the Sabbath, considered the most important religious observance throughout the Jewish year. Below the candles a sheaf of barley represents the omer offering and below that is a colorful grid that I designed for counting the omer. Each numbered space in the grid contains two Hebrew letters, one nested within the other. They connect the seven weeks of the omer to the values of seven of the sefirot, or sacred energies: Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod, Yesod and Malkhut. Through meditation, we can incorporate these values into our lives to facilitate spiritual development. Each letter encloses a second one to illustrate that each day of the omer count encompasses all the other values. Below the omer grid is a blessing recited on the Sabbath and during Festivals. “Blessed are You, O Lord, who sanctifies {the Sabbath and} Israel and the Festivals.”

Besides these images is Shimon Bar Yohai, the revered rabbi, scholar and alleged author of the Zohar. It seemed appropriate to include him on this page because he is said to have died on the thirty-third day of the omer count. Behind him is Psalm 67, traditionally recited on Lag B’Omer. The psalm consists of seven verses with forty-nine words mirroring the count of the omer in appreciation of the earth’s bounty by all who partake of it.

Below this page is a detail from the facing page of the spread for parashah Emor. It is called Of Stars & Seasons and is my interpretation of the ancient Hebrew zodiac, which is based on the Jewish luni-solar calendar. In this system the year corresponds to the solar calendar while the months follow the lunar calendar. Since the twelve months are about eleven days short of 365, a leap month is added to the calendar on its nineteen-year cycle. Accordingly I have merged the sun and moon and surrounded them by the holidays corresponding to the signs of the zodiac. The Shehekhianu blessing for praise and thanks to God is recited at the first candle-lighting for each festival is seen at the core of this celestial calendar.

Additional information from my interpretation for parashah Emor may be found on pages 159-161 in the AfterImages portion of my book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009)

To Order:

http://www.pomegranate.com/a166.html  Amazon: amzn.to/gZSp5j