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September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Avodah Zarah’

A Lifetime Guarantee

Friday, September 21st, 2012

I rarely take the extended warranty when purchasing new electronics. I figure that this warranty must not be worth much if they feel the need to pressure me into buying it. They must know what I have learned the hard way: there is no such thing as a real guarantee. In my more naive days, I purchased this “peace of mind,” as they call it, but never cashed in. Usually, by the time the item broke, I had forgotten about the extended warranty and purchased a replacement. Once I taped a copy of the extended warranty to the side of the copy machine so I would remember it could be replaced if it broke. Which it indeed did, and when I enthusiastically dragged the 60-pound machine to the store for my free replacement, they insisted I give them the original receipt. They refused to accept the photocopy of the receipt that I had responsibly filed away. It seems that page four of the warranty states that the original receipt was required. I had neglected to read the pages of rules that accompanied by original purchase. The lesson was clear. If I were to purchase another extended warranty, I would have to bring a lawyer to the store to read and interpret the fine print. Since a replacement machine is probably cheaper than legal fees, I now make do without this costly and fruitless purchase.

On Yom Kippur we can get a warranty from Hashem with no complicated fine print. On Yom Kippur, we are offered the guarantee for a year of life and blessing, with no need to incur legal fees. We can all sign up for this great offer. However, in order to understand this amazing deal from our Creator, we must obtain some insight into the nature of teshuvah.

Whose fault is it when things go wrong? In general, we don’t like to accept blame. We prefer to blame others or to rationalize our actions. Chazal tell us that when we repeatedly sin, the sins become habits; they become part of who we are, and it becomes very difficult to change the patterns of sin. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 17) tells us of Eliezer ben Durdiya who had become a habitual sinner. When he decided to repent, Eliezer sat between two mountains and asked them to request mercy for him. They responded that they must request mercy for themselves. In turn, he proceeded to ask the Heaven and earth, the sun, moon, and stars, each responded that it must first request mercy for itself. He finally realized that it was up to him to ask for mercy, whereupon he put his head between his knees and cried until his soul left him. A voice from Heaven declared, “R’ Eliezer ben Durdiya is destined for the World to Come” (without need for Gehinom). Some explain that we learn from this story that even a habitual sinner can change his ultimate direction in life as long as he realizes that he himself is ultimately responsible to change his attitude or actions. When Eliezer ben Durdiya cried out to the two mountains, some explain that the mountains represented his parents, whom he blamed for his current situation. When he cried to the other forces of nature, he was blaming his teachers, friends, or boss. It wasn’t until he assumed personal responsibility for his actions that was he capable of real change, to the extent that his repentance erased a lifetime of serious sin and gained him admission to the World to Come.

The Rambam tell us that there is a serious type of sinner called “minnim,” who “stray after the thoughts of their hearts, concerning themselves with foolish matters… until they ultimately transgress against the body of the Torah arrogantly, with scorn, with the intent of provoking Hashem’s anger, and yet say that there is no sin involved.” At the moment a person sins he does not feel the presence of Hashem, as that alone would prevent him from sinning. We may know that we are wrong, but we easily blame our faults on other people, stress, or the desire for the pleasure involved. The classic example is the person who awakens in middle of the night to get a drink of water. As he passes through the dark kitchen, he trips over a chair, stubs his toe, and jumps up and down in pain. It does not occur to him that his injury occurred because he was not careful or too lazy to turn on the light. After he takes his drink, he passes by the same chair and painfully stubs his toe again. He hops up and down and screams at the stupid chair as if the furniture has a life of its own and deliberately meandered into his path. This explains why a person who gets angry is compared to one who worships idols, since anger makes a person imbue life and power into inanimate objects. Here he gave life and power to the inanimate chair that hurt him with its dastardly actions.

May One Finish Davening After The Z’man?

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

In this week’s parshah Balak hires Bilam to curse the Jews. The Gemaras in Berachos 7a and Avodah Zarah 4a say that there is a very brief moment during each day when Hashem allows himself to get angry. The Gemara says that no one was ever able to exact that moment except for Bilam the rasha, as it says: “veyode’a das elyon – and he knew Hashem’s knowledge.” The Gemara explains that this pasuk teaches us that Bilam knew this moment because we cannot explain that he knew Hashem’s knowledge, when he didn’t even know his animal’s knowledge; rather, it teaches us that he knew this moment. The Gemara then quotes from the Navi Micha, explaining that Hashem did so many tzedakos for us during Bilam’s lifetime, as He did not get angry even for that moment each day. Had Hashem gotten angry, Bilam would have been able to curse the Jews.

Tosafos asks how Bilam could have cursed the Jews in such a short span of time. What could he have said? Tosafos gives two answers: 1) He could have said the word “kaleim (destroy them)”; and 2) It was only necessary, Tosafos says in the name of Rabbi Eliyahu, for Bilam to start his curse during the brief moment, and it would in effect be as if the whole curse was said at the appropriate time. He says that based on the length of the pasukim, we can see that Bilam intended to give a lengthy curse (which Hashem turned into a berachah). Therefore, he asserts, it would suffice to merely start his curse during the moment of Hashem’s anger and continue cursing even after the moment has passed.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 110) says that in a pressing situation, e.g. a traveler who feels that he will be disturbed and thus cannot daven a full Shemoneh Esrei, the traveler may daven a shortened version. This consists of the first three berachos, followed by a berachah called havi’neinu (which comprises all of the middle berachos of Shemoneh Esrei), and concludes with the last three berachos. The Magen Avraham adds that another situation when one may daven this shortened version of Shemoneh Esrei is when the time to daven that particular tefillah is about to pass and he feels that he will not be able to complete the davening of a regular Shemoneh Esrei before time runs out.

The Aruch HaShulchan questions this opinion from the abovementioned Tosafos: It seems from the Magen Avraham that if one starts to daven during its proper time and finishes after the allotted time, his tefillah is not good. However, Tosafos (Berachos and Avodah Zarah) says that Bilam could have started his curse during the proper time and finished afterwards, making it effective. So the Aruch HaShulchan says that the same should hold true for tefillah, and one should be able to start his tefillah during the allotted time and continue to daven thereafter.

The Aruch HaShulchan, however, is very difficult to understand. How can he compare the allotted time to daven to that of the moment when Hashem gets angry as Bilam intends to curse the Jews? If one davens after the allotted time, he is not yotzei the davening. But regarding Bilam’s cursing of the Jews, there is nothing lacking if he curses after Hashem is no longer angry. It is only that he wanted the curse to be more effective, and therefore wanted to curse them while Hashem was still angry. For this, Tosafos says that it is effective if Bilam merely starts in the proper time. The entire curse, even the part after the time when Hashem is no longer angry, is all the more effective. Nonetheless, davening after the z’man is a problem as per the actual davening. So how does it help to only start the davening in the proper time?

Perhaps the p’shat in the Aruch HaShulchan is that he understands that z’man tefillah is not a time when one must daven after which the tefillah is disqualified, but rather a time when one’s tefillah will be most accepted. That is why the rabbanan established those times to daven. Therefore it is comparable to what Tosafos says regarding Bilam. Since in both scenarios the proper time for each one is only a better time for the tefillah/curse to be accepted, if one merely starts in the proper time the entire tefillah/curse will be accepted – as if it was all said in the proper time.

Depending On A Wise Sister

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

It is a scene that still has the power to shock and disturb. The people complain. There is no water. It is an old complaint and a predictable one. That’s what happens in a desert. Moses should have been able to handle it in his stride. He has been through far tougher challenges in his time. Yet suddenly he explodes into vituperative anger:

“Listen now, you rebels, shall we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. (Numbers 20: 10-11).

It was such egregious behavior, so much of an overreaction, that the commentators had difficulty in deciding which aspect was worst. Some said it was hitting the rock instead of speaking to it as God had instructed. Some said it was the use of the word “we.” Moses knew that God would send water; it had nothing to do with Aaron or with Moses himself. Others, most famously Maimonides, said that it was the anger evident in the words “Listen now, you rebels.”

The questions I want to raise are simply these: What made this trial different? Why did Moses momentarily lose control? Why then? Why there? These questions are entirely separate from that of why Moses was not allowed to enter the land. Although the Torah associates the two, I argue elsewhere that this was not a punishment at all. Moses did not lead the people across the Jordan and into the land because that task, involving a new generation and an entirely new set of challenges, demanded a new leader. Even the greatest figures in history belong to a specific time and place. “Dor dor u’parnasav – Each generation has its own leaders” (Avodah Zarah 5a). Leadership is time-bound, not timeless.

Behind Moses’s loss of emotional control is a different story, told with utmost brevity in the text: “In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There, Miriam died and was buried. Now there was no water for the community…” Moses lost control because his sister Miriam had just died. He was in mourning for his eldest sibling. It is hard to lose a parent, but in some ways it is even harder to lose a brother or sister. They are your generation. You feel the angel of death come suddenly close. You face your own mortality.

But Miriam was more than a sister to Moses. She was the one, while still a six-year-old child, to follow the course of the wicker basket holding her baby brother as it drifted down the Nile. She had the courage and ingenuity to approach Pharaoh’s daughter and suggest that she employ a Hebrew nurse for the child, thus ensuring that Moses would grow up knowing his family, his people and his identity.

Small wonder that the Sages said that Miriam persuaded her father Amram, the gadol hador (leading scholar of his generation), to annul his decree that Hebrew husbands should divorce their wives and have no more children since there was a fifty percent chance that any child born would be killed. “Your decree,” said Miriam, “is worse than Pharaoh’s. He only decreed against the males, yours applies to females also. He intends to rob children of life in this world; you would deny them even life in the World to Come” (Midrash Lekach Tov to Exodus 2:1). Amram admitted her superior logic. Husbands and wives were reunited. Yocheved became pregnant and Moses was born. Note simply that this midrash, told by the Sages, unambiguously implies that a six-year-old girl had more faith and wisdom than the leading rabbi of the generation!

Moses surely knew what he owed his elder sister. She had accompanied him throughout his mission. She led the women in song at the Red Sea. The one episode that seems to cast her in a negative light – when she “spoke against Moses because of his Cushite wife,” for which she was punished with leprosy – was interpreted more positively by the Sages. They said she was critical of Moses for breaking off marital relations with his wife Zipporah. He had done so because he needed to be in a state of readiness for Divine communication at any time. Miriam felt Zipporah’s plight and sense of abandonment. Besides which, she and Aaron had also received Divine communication but they had not been commanded to be celibate. She may have been wrong, suggested the Sages, but not maliciously so. She spoke not out of jealousy of her brother but out of sympathy for her sister-in-law.

For The Sake Of His Name

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

When Rabbi Berel Wein began working for the O.U. kashrus division, he shared an office with Rabbi Alexander Rosenberg a’h, the founder of the kashrus division and its administrator for thirty years.

Whenever a proprietor would propose a new idea to Rabbi Rosenberg he would quietly listen without uttering a word. When the person finished, he would always ask, “Und vos zugt Gott – And what does G-d say?” Rabbi Wein would impress upon his students that a Jew should always live his life asking himself that question, “Und vos zugt Gott?” Ironically, we often don’t take G-d into the equation.

In Rabbi Wein’s words, “While he was training me for the job before his retirement, he had impressed upon me the importance of our work. ‘Kashrus is more than checking chickens,’he used to say, ‘The job of the O.U. is to pay attention to G-d. “Und vos zugt Gott” is the main concern. “What would G-d say about this?” That is the question that must always be answered before making any decision.”

The conclusion of parshas Shemini discusses how to distinguish kosher animals from non-kosher animals. The Torah offers a detailed list of the credentials an animal requires to render it permissible for consumption.

At the conclusion of those laws the Torah writes, “…And you shall not contaminate your souls through any teeming thing that creeps on the earth. For I am Hashem Who elevated you from the land of Egypt to be a G-d unto you; you shall be holy, for I am holy.” (11:44-45)

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 61b) states: The academy of Rabi Yishmael taught, G-d said, “Had I not brought the people of Israel up from Egypt except for this thing, that they do not contaminate themselves via creeping insects, it would have been sufficient.” The Gemara then asks, “Is the reward for refraining from impurity of creeping insects greater than that of refraining from usury, false weights, or wearing Tzitzis? The Gemara answers, “Even though the reward is not greater, they are exceedingly disgusting to eat.”

What is the added merit of refraining from eating something because it is repulsive and disgusting?

The Ksav Sofer explains that ideally the reason why a Torah Jew refrains from eating crawling insects should not be because they are abhorrent, but because G-d commanded us not to eat them since they contaminate and enervate our souls. The goal of a Jew is to live his entire life as G-d commanded, because G-d commanded. In other words, the motive and driving force behind all of ones actions, even those actions that one would perform without the Torah instructing, should be because it is the Will of G-d. Ultimately, one must honor his parents, maintain his integrity in his business dealings, and seek to be a moral person, not because it makes sense, but because that is what the Torah demands. If one adheres to the Torah’s rulings only when he can comprehend the logic in doing so, he is perilously hovering atop a slippery slope.

The reason why we practice the laws of kashrus has nothing to do with physical health. We keep kosher simply because the Torah instructs us to do so.

In a similar vein, our Sages state, “One should not say I could never eat the meat of a pig (i.e. because it is disgusting to me)… Rather he should say, ‘I would eat it. But what can I do? For my Father in heaven has instructed me not to’… Thus, one who separates himself from sin accepts upon himself the yoke of heaven.”

I often think about this statement during the summer, when I accompany my campers to a theme park on Trip Day. As the day wears on and hunger pangs set in, one inevitably notices the tantalizing aromas of the hot dog stands wafting through the air. I am always reminded of the words, “I would eat it. But what can I do? For my Father in heaven has instructed me not to.”

It is for this reason that there is (potentially) more reward for refraining from consuming insects then from refraining from usury, faulty weights, or in the wearing of tzitzis. Most people would not entertain the notion of eating insects because the idea is utterly loathsome. But one who is able to instill within himself the notion that he doesn’t eat insects because that is G-d’s Will, has reached a far greater level.

The holiday of Pesach is called, ”Chag HaEmunah- the holiday of faith, and matzah is termed, “מיכלא דמהימנותא – the food of faith.” The holiday which celebrates the revelations, miracles, and plagues that G-d demonstrated in Egypt at the time of the exodus, impresses upon us the Divinity, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence of Hashem, the One G-d.

Seder night is the jovial celebration of the transformation that occurred within us at that time. We were no longer slaves to Pharaoh and his tyranny. We became free men; free to be slaves to G-d.

Heeding The Cry Of The Unborn

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Let’s face it: it’s unusual and even somewhat bizarre nowadays to encounter a family with more than two children. It is almost as if a war is launched against the unborn after a “red line” of two or three children has been reached.

Instead of enriching our world with the unparalleled innocence and joy of children, we have impoverished it with various ways of contraception. It’s no wonder the birth ratio of our global population is rapidly deteriorating. In the United States, it stands at 2.11 children per family. Europe’s birth ratio is even lower: it currently stands at 1.38 children per family, and if not for the massive influx of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East, it could have been much worse.

My wife and I were made aware of these shocking statistics after we were blessed with our sixth child a few weeks ago. “When are you going to stop?” many asked. “We really hope this is your last one,” others suggested gently, with a tone of affection and bewilderment.

Why has our society developed a mindset obsessed with birth control and family planning? Are we afraid of overpopulating the world? Have we become unsure of our ability to raise more than two children?

Bringing up children involves an enormous sacrifice of emotion, time, attention and financial resources. Every parent knows that when a child is born, a new environment is created in the home. The new arrival swiftly captures the center stage of consciousness. The focus of life suddenly shifts from “I” to “you,” from receiving to giving.

But in our society – where the “I” is idolized and the “you” is invariably abandoned – where does one find space for children and the sacrifice they require? Can the selfish man or woman become selfless and allow room for unborn children?

Perhaps there’s an additional reason for the reluctance of our society to procreate: It’s no secret that children intensify the love and commitment between spouses. When a husband and wife have children they learn to surmount their differences and unite in love and devotion for the sake of their offspring. As more children are born, the commitment only deepens, as every child becomes another binding factor.

Yet today, many prefer to shy away from this binding commitment due in large part to the unprecedented number of divorces around the world. Further, this crisis often raises doubt and ambiguity in the minds of many a husband and wife who wonder whether their spouse is really “the right one.”

“Maybe I should have married someone richer, smarter or stronger,” they fantasize. But if the marriage unit is not established as a fait établi, it will never be able to soar to new heights of love and commitment. For how can one build a towering edifice and an everlasting genealogical tree of blossoming branches and fruits without solid foundations of certainty?

“For this is what God says – He who fashioned and made the earth did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited” (Isaiah 45:18). Indeed, the purpose of creation was to inhabit the world and elevate it. The world is not complete without the habitation of man. And the world will only reach its ultimate purpose through the unique contributions of each and every human being.

This poignant idea was well articulated by the Talmud (Avodah Zarah, 5a): “The son of David will come [and the world will attain a state of completion and redemption] only when all the souls destined to [inhabit earthly] bodies will be exhausted.” So if a person is blessed with the health (physical, emotional and mental) and ability to procreate, how can he or she halt the future contributions of the unborn that will bring about redemption to the world? And would the world ever have evolved if the parents of our historical heroes had decided not to bear them? And would you, the reader of this essay, be here today if not for the unwavering faith and commitment of your parents to give birth and raise a personal hero of their own?

Woody Allen once said, “I do not want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.” Alas, in the end, everyone departs this world. Of course, our inner souls, unaffected by death, will continue to live on forever in the World to Come. Yet there exists a way in which we can continue to have an impact in this world even after our passing: we can have children. Most human achievements come and go. But children have the unique power to carry our lives onward, until the end of time.

Majzner’s Illuminated Torah

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Painting the Torah by Victor Majzner

Design by Michael Battista and Paper Stone Scissors

Melbourne, Austrilia, 2008
 
For the Jewish artist the desire to illuminate a Torah is an irresistible act of devotion, an offering to Hashem as precious as any sacrifice imaginable.  Each parsha is etched into the Jewish consciousness as a calendar for the year, changing weekly, subject, tone and atmosphere.  From the primal drama of Lech Lecha to the national transformation of Yisro, and beyond to Moshe’s tragic death on the eve of our long sought homecoming, the weekly portion celebrates and delineates God’s complex relationship to His beloved.  Illuminating the Torah parsha by parsha is the artist’s ultimate amidah.
 
Victor Majzner has created a contemporary illuminated Torah called “Painting the Torah,” that distills each parsha into one complex image.  Majzner is a widely exhibited Australian artist and former professor of Painting at the Victoria College of the Arts who has in recent years turned his attention to Jewish themes including the Land of Israel (the Negev), the dybbuk, the Wandering Jew, creation of “The Australian Hagaddah” (with his son Andrew Majzner (1993), “Images of Tanya,” and various projects which are connected with the Institute for Judaism and Civilization in Melbourne, Australia.
 
In the book’s introduction Kabbalah scholar Rabbi Dovid Tsap admits the dangers inherent in visual representations.  Aside from the seemingly clear ban found in the Second Commandment, according to the midrash the vision afforded the Children of Israel at Matan Torah opened the way for the creation and worship of the Golden Calf. However the Ramban “explains that the Biblical injunction refers to specific symbols only, e.g. angels, celestial constellations or demonic deities, and even then only if the intention is to worship them.”  In an apparent contradiction, in Avodah Zarah (43 A-B) the verse in Exodus “You shall not make [images of] what is with Me (itti) enjoins even the creation of purely decorative images.  Nonetheless, the contemporary posek, Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner has ruled that for the purposes of teaching Torah, even celestial imagery is permitted.    What is clear is that the Torah inherently recognizes the power and danger of the visual imagination while the rabbis seem to be divided on the permissibility of visual images in practice.  The long visual record of Jewish art clearly opts for its permissibility and dynamism as a cultural force.
 
The earliest illuminated Biblical manuscript are Christian works: the Latin Quedlinburg Itala fragment (from the book of Kings) dating around 398 CE and the Ashburnham Pentateuch, a much better preserved Latin 6th century work that features some 60 miniatures and probably reflects Jewish midrashic influence in the illustrations. The famed Greek Cotton Genesis (almost completely destroyed in a 1731 fire) was possibly produced in Alexandria, Egypt around 500 CE and was thought to have as many as 340 miniature framed paintings in the text of the book of Genesis.  It may have been the original model for the extensive 13th century mosaics in San Marco, Venice.  The contemporaneous Vienna Genesis with 48 surviving pages is thought to originally have 192 illustrations, many images of which show influence by various Jewish midrashic sources. 
 
The oldest complete bible (Tanach) is the Leningrad Codex, probably written in Cairo around 930 CE.  This Masoretic text following the grammatical and vocalization notation of Ben Asher contains an illuminated carpet page depicting the Tabernacle and its utensils. There are Hebrew Biblical manuscripts with carpet pages (abstract or purely decorative pages of overall illumination) from 13th century Christian Spain as well as the richly decorated 14th century Farhi Bible that sports 29 Islamic inspired carpet pages introducing the Hebrew text.  Frequently the Temple implements are the favored subjects of such depictions.  The medieval illuminated bibles proved irresistible to Jews and Jewish artists, created in such diverse communities as Sana’a, Yemen, Burgos, Toledo, Saragossa, Cervera, Spain, Perpignan, Aragon, and Southern Germany. 
 
            Contemporary Jewish biblical illuminations include extensive works by Marc Chagall (1935-56), Abel Pann (1930), Archie Rand’s Parsha Paintings (1989) and Yonah Weinrib (2009). That said only Rand’s Parsha Paintings attempt to do what Majzner has accomplished, i.e. an image that sums up each and every section of the Torah.
 
             Majzner’s images can be understood on a number of different levels.  The aforementioned author of the introduction, Rabbi Tsap, sees the works as visual meditations on the Kabbalistic meanings hidden in the text.  Working with the notion that the Torah operates on two primary levels; revealed narrative and concealed mysticism, he reads the meanings of the images in terms of kabbalistic color correspondences with the sefirot and refractions of emotions again emanating from the sefirot.  This interpretation relies on the highly symbolic nature of many elements in Majzner’s illuminations.
 
              In his preface Majzner sees the works he created here as a means of learning Torah, developed from six years of intensive learning and painting (preceded by some 20 years of ongoing Torah study), parsha by parsha, contemplating a wide variety of commentators, kabbalah, teachers and literature to help focus and shape his vision of the weekly portions.  “Slowly the images began to reveal themselves to me. Gradually I started seeing the Torah as a visual feast.”  It is deeply refreshing see an artist express this kind of humility about making art.  As an expression of piety and practicality about learning Torah and creating art it is certainly a very good guide as to how the viewer should approach this work as a learning experience.
 
               Each of the 54 parshas presents one page of highly condensed English and Hebrew text facing one image annotated with a Rashi, Rambam, Gemara or eclectic commentator.  At the end of the book there is a chapter-by-chapter short explanation of the images. Taken as a collectivity they are deeply impressive as a learned intellectual and visual meditation on the Torah experience. 

 

 


Vayishlach – illumination by Victor Majzner

Painting the Torah (2008), Melbourne, Australia

 


 Vayishlach depicts Jacob’s terrifying encounter with a supernal being: simultaneously Esau’s guardian, the angel of death and an apparition of the Divine.  The red winged creature lifts the helpless Jacob off the ground behind a vine-like scrim of foliage reminiscent of barbed wire.  It is as if the crippling encounter with the supernal presaged the Holocaust.

 


Bo – illumination by Victor Majzner

Painting the Torah (2008), Melbourne, Australia


 
Parsha Bo waxes deeply personal, as the entire image is effectively one matzah embedded with three squares of the final plagues.  The plague of locusts shows a peaceful landscape flooded with millions of insects destructively swarming in their famished quest.  Next the plague of darkness seems to drip down upon the Egyptian monuments with a lava-like inevitability.  Finally the plague of the Death of the First Born descends from the night sky passing over the blood stained Jewish portals, comets of red death heading to the damned Egyptian first born.

 


Kiddoshim – illumination by Victor Majzner

Painting the Torah (2008), Melbourne, Australia


 
Kedoshim focuses on the fateful words; “You must be holy, since I God your God am holy.”  A giant set of luchos emblazoned with the commandments forms the structure upon which the sefirot chart punctuated by blue flames effectively maps the body of the Divine.  Quoting from Yedid Nefesh “Please be revealed and spread upon me, my Beloved, the shelter of Your peace” Majzner is simultaneously pleading and showing us a symbolic representation of the Divine and the road through which we can become holy: Torah and mystical revelation.

 


Mattos – illumination by Victor Majzner

Painting the Torah (2008), Melbourne, Australia


 
The image for Mattos reflects a midrash that depicts the encounter of Pinchas with Bilam and the five levitating Midianite kings.  Pinchas overpowers them with the great holiness of the tzitz of the Kohen Gadol and the Midianite kings plunge to their deaths as B’nai Yisroel slaughter all the Midianites and burn their cities.  Majzner brilliantly connects this overwhelming horror with the purging of Midianite vessels bringing this violent history into our everyday koshering experience.

 


Shoftim – illumination by Victor Majzner

Painting the Torah (2008), Melbourne, Australia



The strange and puzzling mitzvah of egel arufah in Shoftim has the elders of the city declare, “Our hands have not shed this blood, and our eyes did not see.”  Over the outline of the slain man indeed the bloodied innocent calf lies, the washing hands hovering, attempting to assuage the nagging guilt that somehow, somebody was responsible for an unsolved murder.  Justice is demanded even from the ostensibly innocent because in the holiness of the Land of Israel we are all responsible for one another.
 
Majzner’s images boldly speak to us in the context of our Torah knowledge, his presentation of biblical text and commentary and a flurry of kabbalisticly-inspired symbols.  While much is inevitably lost in limiting his Torah commentary to only 54 visual interpretations, what is gained is the invaluable signifying of each parsha with a visual identity.  We all admit that the Torah is a vast palace; a textual universe that we visit each year and yet don’t necessarily know as well as we think we should.  Majzner’s illuminated Torah, “Painting the Torah,” if we follow him parsha by parsha, image by image, will help us get a little more personal and a take us a step closer to fully possessing our sacred heritage.

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

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 10/20/06

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories by e-mail to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 338 Third Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215.

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Dear Rachel,

As I read the letter by “Can’t endure any more” (Chronicles 8-4), I wished that I could wipe the tears of that married wife and mother who has suffered such horrible emotional abuse by her husband. Your advice was so true, and I hope helpful! I pray that this poor soul does heed your advice to find a rav/rebbetzin to help her out of that abusive marriage.

I too had an emotionally abusive husband whose degrading words in front of my family, friends and our son caused a great deal of pain and damage. And despite the fact that I did get out and have, Baruch Hashem, a healthy self-esteem intact, I still find that I am defending myself to those whom my ex belittled me to. I always have to prove to these people that I am not lazy. I work part time and struggle to be a single mom. I really don’t care what they think, but it does hurt me at times to have to explain to my son that I am not at all the way his dad depicted me during our marriage.

I pray that my son does not become like his dad. I teach him not to be verbally abusive to women, and I hope that he will grow up to be a respectful husband and dad some day. Luckily I got out of my abusive marriage while my son was young, but even eight years of being exposed is damage enough to need to be worked on every day.

I hope this woman gets out before any more damage can be inflicted on her and her precious children. Even if going out on your own is hard, the effort to have a quiet peaceful home is well worth it. Sure, I struggle at times, especially with finances, but the security of not having someone degrade me at every turn and not having my son exposed to that Avodah Zarah is worth the sacrifices I have made!

Many people don’t understand my views on this, but only through experiencing this type of ordeal, G-d forbid, can one understand how painful it is. My message for the woman who wrote that heartbreaking letter is this: It won’t be easy. But when you have the first quiet Shabbat without your abusive husband’s tirades and make your own Kiddush or have a Bar Mitzvah-aged son make it, or you are visiting another’s household and feel a sadness at having no husband, ask yourself which is better: to be slightly lonely, or to live in a battlefield home.

And the worst sin is to degrade any person in the world, and even worse is to do it to your spouse and children. All the mitzvot one does are worthless with this sinful behavior.

Thanks Rachel, for bringing this issue to light and for giving me this chance to share my experience, and for the wonderful work that you do here.

Baruch Hashem, I found my way out!

Dear Found,

Many readers, no doubt, identify with you and know exactly where you are coming from. The fortunate ones will have found a way out of their deplorable conditions and will have hopefully acquired some peace of mind and heart.

Anger is a factor that figures strongly in stormy relationships. According to our sages, uncontrollable rage is tantamount to idolatry (Avodah Zarah) − for anger is a display of arrogance, which in essence negates the omnipresence of our G-d. An enraged individual is immersed in his own importance and fails to recognize that it is not he (or she) who runs the world’s state of affairs. A temper tantrum may be somewhat acceptable of a child who is still in the process of acquiring maturity − which engenders a healthy sense of self. The adult who demonstrates an abnormal need to be in control, is self-worshipping − hence the Avodah Zarah correlation.

While too many of us allow the stresses of life to overtake our better sense when we let our frustrations out on our nearest and dearest, a marriage that is devoid of the key elements of kindness and respect will not endure. Where a wife (or husband) is the consistent object of derision and disrespect, pulling the plug on the relationship may be the only way to salvage the aggrieved party’s self-worth and sanity. And yes, a child is far better off coming from an abusive home than continuing to live in one.

This is not to imply that such drastic measure is always the answer. When partners share a mutual desire to work things out, where there still exists that spark of love, and both parties are willing to invest the hard work it would take to turn the tide, the marriage stands a good chance of surviving.

Evidently, you took the road that was right for you, despite the difficulties you faced in undertaking such a life-altering transition. As for your need to defend yourself to others, including to your son, your best defense against your ex-husband’s allegations is to be yourself and to let your deeds speak for you. Your bearing and performance is far more indicative of who you are than anything that anyone will purport. You are under obligation to give an accounting only to the Ribono Shel Olam, the all-seeing One.

May you have much hatzlacha and gratification in raising your son and in forging a personal relationship with a genuine ezer kenegdo − a true partner with whom sharing every facet of your life will prove most satisfying and fulfilling.

Thank you for sharing.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/chronicles-of-crises/chronicles-of-crises-in-our-communities-38/2006/10/18/

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