Posts Tagged ‘sons of Jacob’

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: or from Amazon: where you will also find several reviews.

An Epic Tragedy: Dinah’s Story

December 9, 2011

It is difficult for me to read this section of Parashah Va-Yishlach without a recurring sense of outrage and injustice. Though the parashah relates the story of Dinah, Jacob and Leah’s only daughter among twelve sons and her ill-fated liaison with the Prince of Shechem, it gives short shrift to this epic tragedy. In barely more than a footnote, we learn of the dishonoring of a daughter of Israel and the subsequent pathologically violent response led by Simon and Levi, two of her brothers.

Despite the horrific mass circumcision and murder of the men of Shechem, the only remorse is expressed by Jacob, their father who seems more concerned about his political relations with that city than with the welfare of his daughter. Curiously, no mention of Leah, her mother is made either, adding insult to injury in my mind. While the text presumes Dinah was raped when it tells us that ‘he took her by force’, it then adds that Shechem claimed to be in love with her as he requests her hand in marriage afterwards. Nowhere do we hear Dinah’s side of the story, a fact that invites much speculation. In her bestselling novel, The Red Tent, writer Anita Diamant suggests that Dinah may have felt reciprocal love for Shechem; a view which I found quite intriguing. Accordingly, I’ve shown Dinah’s two brothers, Simeon and Levi plotting against the Prince of Shechem in revenge for ‘defiling’ their sister. She appears at their mercy while her bound wrists indicate her status as the possession of her father, rendering her wishes insignificant. In my portrayal of Dinah, I wondered; how I might have reacted to the unjust pillaging of an entire city allegedly on my behalf and to the horrifying post-circumcision slaughter of my lover and his male subjects? It took quite a while to channel these thoughts into a cohesive illustration. Yet, I wasn’t sure I’d interpreted the story correctly until I read a story last week in the New York Times ( about Gulnaz, an Afghan woman and her extreme punishment for being the victim of rape. For me, these events opened an old wound in the history of women that in some quarters has never been allowed to completely heal. Despite my dramatic treatment of Dinah’s story, it seems that neither words nor pictures are enough…