Posts Tagged ‘twelve tribes of israel’

For Shavuot: An Antidote For Apathy

May 25, 2012

BaMidbar1Despite my conviction that works of art and literature, always contain the potential to become a work in progress, I am invariably surprised to find proof of this continual process of awakening and learning. Tomorrow, as we begin the Book of Numbers (BaMidbar), it is nearly three years after the publication of Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009).* Though I created illustrations for Parashat BaMidbar based on narrative with some artistic license, I recently wondered why Parashah BaMidbar (In The Desert) was designated as the Torah reading on the festival of Shavuot when it opens on the census of Israel, and focuses on tribal positions around the Tabernacle along with the rules regarding service of the Levite priestly class rather than the actual receiving of the Law from Mt. Sinai.

The parashah states, “Hashem spoke to Moshe in the desert of Sinai” (BaMidbar 1:1),for which the Midrash (BaMidbar Rabba 1:7) offered this metaphorical explanation: “Our Sages have inferred… that the Torah was given to the accompaniment of three things: fire, water, and desert” (Bamidbar Rabba 1:7). Though I am aware of the concept of mystical, elemental underpinnings within the desert sojourn, a 2010 commentary by Rabbi David Pinto, ShLIT”A provided some further clarification:”It may be that by this teaching, the Sages wanted to show man that he can only safeguard his learning and resist the evil inclination, which seeks to control him every day, by means of the Torah which possesses these three characteristics. As our Sages have said, “I created the evil inclination, but I created the Torah as its antidote.” (Kiddushin 30b). “Since the evil inclination is made of fire,…a person can only resist
it by the power of Torah, which is compared to fire… The evil inclination is like a small fire that anything can extinguish, and the Torah is a blazing fire that never goes out…thus the fire of the evil inclination is consumed by the fire of the Torah…In order for a person not to grow proud on account of the fire of the Torah, he must humble himself and resemble water. (Ruth Zutah 1). This is why the Sages instituted the reading of Parsha Bamidbar prior to Shavuot. It is in order to remind us that the Torah only endures in us when we metaphorically transform into a desert (perhaps a receptacle) for G-d’s will.

Wow. I guess that’s about as close as we’ll come to a ‘user’s manual’ for the Torah, whose full meaning and that of the events surrounding its debut will (hopefully) continue to be interpreted for many generations to come. Whether or not you agree with these ideas, apathy is not an option.

The full illustrations and complex symbolism on these pages are explained in greater detail in the AfterImages section of Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) on pages 165-166. Your questions and comments are welcome!

The book may be previewed and purchased at: under the gallery pull-down menu titled Books’.

Band Of Brothers, Inc.

January 11, 2012

The reading of Parashah VaYechi, the final chapter in the book of Genesis/Bereshit on this past Sabbath provides some interesting insights on the origin and often subversive nature of the corporate entity in human history. In the previous chapter, after a long Egyptian sojourn, Joseph as second-in-command to Pharaoh, receives news of his father’s failing health and rushes back to Goshen with his two young sons.

His brothers, the sons of the 147 year old patriarch Jacob/Israel with his wives and their handmaids are also summoned to their father’s deathbed to receive his final blessing. The old man however, is still playing favorites and grants a private audience to Joseph and his sons Ephraim and Manasseh. I can imagine the stressful vibe in that room, given their notable history of nasty behavior towards Joseph, their only sister Dinah and the people of the city of Shechem.

Nevertheless, their father elegantly couches his final blessings in a series of twelve verses which are uncannily prophetic analyses of his sons’ physical attributes and characters as well as the individual destinies of this band of brothers who will lead the twelve tribes of Israel to become the future Jewish people. In effect, the patriarch has laid the ground rules for history’s first corporation and suggested imagery for the logos that would represent each of the tribes. These visually rich verses, interpreted by many artists and architects who have incorporated them into architectural treatments of synagogues have also been a dominant inspiration for much of my work over the past twenty years. Beginning in 1986, I created three drawings called the Tabernacle Trilogy which included an interpretation of the verses. They can be seen at: within the Judaica gallery. In 1987, a fellow artist, Helen Bittmann Sysko and I were commissioned by the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh to design a set of banners on the Twelve Tribes theme to complement the newly built natatorium (swimming pool). These remained in place until 2007 when they needed to be replaced due to the harsh chlorine and humid environment. At that time, Ms. Sysko had changed careers and no longer practiced her art, so I was asked to design and install a new, updated set of banners. The first set had been constructed of appliquéd parachute cloth while for the second set, I had my designs digitally printed on canvas. Examples of both are below:

1987                                                                                       2007

In the illustration above, from my book Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009), the logos of the tribes are shown in their birth order: (left) Reuven, Shimeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, (right) Naphtali, Dan, Gad, Asher, Joseph (Ephraim & Manasseh) and Benjamin. The colors of their Hebrew names correspond to the colors of the gems assigned to each on the choshen (breastplate) of the High Priest that will be seen in the next book, Exodus. These are listed and detailed in the AfterImages section of the book on pages 143-144.

Though Parashah VaYechi is replete with ideological corruption, dirty money and nepotism, it sounds disturbing familiar (no pun intended) as we are bombarded daily with the frightening lies and tragicomic discourse of the current Republican Primary that is a precursor to the coming 2012 election. Which of these logos would fit each of the current contenders; or pretenders?