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The Ethics Of The Omer: The Abstract Omer Paintings Of Yitzhok Moully

Omer Map (website image) by Yitzchok Moully. Courtesy the artist.

Omer Map (website image) by Yitzchok Moully. Courtesy the artist.

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The 7 weeks are arranged vertically, advancing right to left. The artist has followed the Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh’s understanding of the Zohar in assigning each sefirah a specific color; for example allowing the white of Hesed to arrange a vertical collection of the first week, all utilizing a background of white. Each day’s permutation is made up of that week’s “foundation,” abstractly relating to the color of the daily influencing sefirah. In making Malchus a combination of all the preceding colors, Moully correctly expressed its traditional designation as blue and black.

The first thing one notices is the enormous variety of his abstractions, especially considering the restraints placed on his use of color by the predetermined color assignments of the Zohar. He has painterly abstractions, color-field abstractions and graphic abstractions. Additionally he has posted textual meditations on each day that appear as you place the cursor over each image. These are usually 2 sentences that examine the relationship of two basic sefirah qualities and frequently challenge the viewer to examine their current behavior and possible improvement. While Moully’s texts are loosely based on Simon Jacobson’s books as well as weekly Omer thoughts of Rabbi Mendy Herson, his own voice comes through especially in light of his abstractions.

Day 19, Hod of Tiferet (acrylic on canvas) by Yitzchok Moully. Courtesy the artist.

Day 19, Hod of Tiferet (acrylic on canvas) by Yitzchok Moully. Courtesy the artist.

Day 19 is Hod of Tiferet; meaning Humility of Beauty (authenticity). Moully’s text advises us “to be authentic to our inner voice, our guiding principles, but it must include humility…we are not better than another because of the good we do…” The painting’s yellow (beauty / authenticity) is struggling with an invasion of orange (humility) that threatens to take over, even sometimes mixing with the beautiful yellow. The abstraction is in fact a struggle that reflects the tension between these two essential qualities.

Day 24 is Tiferet of Netzach, meaning Beauty of Victory/Endurance. The text claims that “authentic (beautiful) endurance demands being true to yourself over the long haul. Endurance is not for the sake of endurance, but because it is a tool to expose the real you. Be authentic in your endurance – all the time. That is the challenge.” This painting presents a complex version of this aphorism. The impastoed violet background (victory/endurance) forms a foundation for the lyrical yellow (beauty) calligraphy that dances on its surface. But then another layer of broader light-violet swirls traps the yellow, providing a kind of ultimate victory of endurance and strength. In its abstract way the painting is pointing to a perhaps inescapable reality not easily overcome.

Day 24, Tiferet of Netzach (acrylic on canvas) by Yitzchok Moully. Courtesy the artist.

Day 24, Tiferet of Netzach (acrylic on canvas) by Yitzchok Moully. Courtesy the artist.

By adding the “language” of the visual to the dynamic of divine qualities and personal introspections, Moully has opened a complex and creative door to the daily process of counting the omer. While not all of his abstractions were equally successful and double worded translations are a challenge, there is no doubt that the attraction of a lush visual field definitely made the daily omer more engaging. The very struggle to unpack the riffing symbols of different color combinations played out against esoteric kabalistic concepts demands a concentration and immersion easily worthy of the biblical mitzvah.

Additionally this complexity seems to address the original question of why we were commanded to count 49 separate times in the first place. The repeating 49 mitzvahs demands that we delve into their very complexity, now recast in a visual exploration. Moully’s Abstract Omer paintings open that enormously fruitful door.

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About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com


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