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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Devarim’

The Revelation On Mount Sinai – A Strengthening In Faith Forever

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

There is a tradition from the Vilna Gaon that Milchemes Gog and Magog at the time of Moshiach will last only 12 minutes. In that short amount of time 1/3 of the world will be destroyed, 1/3 severely wounded and 1/3 will survive. Until recently this was incomprehensible – how could such destruction happen so quickly? The answer came with the onset of the atomic age. With nuclear weapons, mass destruction can occur, G-d forbid, in just moments. However there is a deeper explanation. The great baalei mussar explain that this war will not be a mere physical battle, but rather a battle of emunah – faith. This battle will be the final attempt of the forces of evil to conquer the world. The whole world will be thrown into turmoil and our very faith in Hashem will be tested to the utmost. Those who are steadfast will merit seeing the coming of Moshiach. This test will be only take 12 minutes, but it will be overwhelming. If we prepare ourselves now, we will hopefully pass that great ordeal with flying colors.

In truth, our generation is being tested in ways previous generations never imagined. The abundance of wealth, lives of comfort and easy accessibility to the worst sins have shaken our nation. We can only hope for the quick arrival of Moshiach to save us from further deterioration. The Satan knows that his days are numbered, and soon his Domain of Evil will be wiped off the face of earth forever. He is therefore bombarding us with weapons that have never before been at his disposal. How can we strengthen our faith in Hashem so that we can survive his massive onslaught? The chag of Shavuosgives us a great opportunity.

The Foundation of Our Faith

Many years ago in Yemen the Jews were suffering from severe religious persecutions. In order to strengthen them, the Rambam wrote a beautiful letter called Igeres Teiman – the Letter to Yemen. He writes: “It is proper for you my brothers to raise your children on that great event (i.e. the Revelation on Mount Sinai), and relate in public its greatness and honor and splendor, for it is the pillar which our faith stands on…. for this great and massive event which was seen clearly, never happened before in the world’s history and will never happen again. That is, that an entire nation should hear the word of Hashem and see His honor with their very eyes. Raise your children on that great experience!” The Rambam teaches us that to strengthen our faith, we must reiterate to ourselves and our children that we saw clearly – with our own eyes – Hashem’s Glory and Sovereignty, as it says: “You have been shown that Hashem is the only God – there is none besides Him!” (Devarim4:35)

The Point of the Revelation

Continues the Rambam, “The point of this event was in order to give our faith a great strengthening… as the Torah tells us (Yisro 20:17) ‘In order to test you, Hashem is coming, and in order so that His fear should be upon you so that you should not sin.’ In other words, the reason why He revealed Himself in this manner was so that we should be able to overcome any test which may come upon us in the end of days, so that our hearts should not budge and come to sin.” The Rambam is teaching us that this great experience fortified us so strongly with faith that we now have the keys to withstand the greatest tests in emunah in any generation, and especially the ones before the coming of Moshiach!

How is this so? The Medrash Tanchuma (Parshas Noach) tells us that Hashem raised Har Sinai over the heads of the entire nation and threatened to bury them alive if they didn’t accept the Oral Torah. The Maharal explains that this was really a figurative description of what had happened. At that moment, Hashem revealed the inner workings and secrets of the entire universe. From the highest level of the Heavens, down to the deepest depths of the earth, everything was opened to them and they saw clearly that there is none besides Him! At the same time they saw how the entire universe is dependent on our accepting and keeping the entire Torah. This awareness took away any possibility of not accepting the Oral Torah.

Bamidbar: A Unique Awareness Of Hashem

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

The Generation of the Wilderness was unique in the history of Israel, as Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, explains concerning the first verse of Bamidbar. Israel was slated for a special mission in the world, and this mission was begun with a special forty-year inauguration in which Israel gained an intense and unmatched closeness to Hashem.

“In the wilderness” (1:1). This subject cannot be properly understood without recognizing clearly the following guidelines:

A) Never again in the history of the holy nation was the Presence of Hashem among our people demonstrated as strongly and as clearly as in the wilderness. The Mishkan was the most holy sanctuary we ever possessed and Hashem was recognized by the Wilderness Generation in a manner far beyond any other genration or period in history.

B) Never again was our nation concentrated together in one area as they were in the wilderness. Such total national unity was never repeated.

C) Never again did our nation possess a leader who even partially approached the greatness of Moshe.

D) Never again did our entire nation have such a protracted era of leisure to study the Torah.

E) Never again was the nation isolated from the influence of the nations of the world as totally as in the wilderness. When Moshe blessed Israel and prayed for the nation’s optimum happiness, he said: “And lsrael dwelt in security, alone is the fountain of Jacob” (Devarim 33:28).

He thereby enunciated the two chief purposes for which the nation had spent 40 years in the wilderness: 1) betoch (security of trust in Hashem alone) and 2) badad (isolation). By living in an environment where a multitude could not survive, they gained the awareness that Hashem is the sole source of our sustenance. By clustering around the Mishkan; by the powerful influence of Moshe; by the clouds of glory; and by the daily mann, lsrael learned the awareness of Hashem in all aspects of l. Here they gained the attitude of total isolation from the nations and their ways. Thus the wilderness was the grand preparation for lsrael’s future history.

In addition, the period of the wilderness was the model of the great test of this world: the test to recognize Hashem and His kindliness.

“And you shall remember all the way which Hashem your G-d has led you these 40 years in the wilderness, in order to afflict you, to test you, to know what is in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He afflicted you, and He caused you to hunger, and He fed you the mann which neither you or your fathers knew, in order to make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by all that comes from the mouth of Hashem does a man live. Your garment did not become worn out upon you, and your foot did not swell, these 40 years. And you should know in your heart that as a man chastises his son, so Hashem your G-d chastises you” (Devarim 8:2-7).

“For Hashem your G-d has blessed you in all the work of your hand; He has known your walking in this great wilderness; these 40 years Hashem your G-d has been with you; you have lacked nothing” (ibid. 2:7).

These verses seem contradictory; if they lacked nothing, how can it be said that “He afflicted you and He caused you to hunger” and that “Hashem your G-d chastises you?” But this was part of the test in the wilderness, and it serves as a model for the test of all mankind in every generation. Actually, they lacked nothing essential; and even when their circumstances seemed hopeless, Hashem was waiting in concealment to test them, but the help was prepared for them and was sure to come. The wilderness period supplied episodes of apparent crisis and seeming disaster or what appeared to be great discomfort and privation. But it was all a phantom, planned for the purpose of testing the people; Hashem was always nearby to succor them that they should survive. And all that happened was done solely “to do benefit to you in your end” (Devarim 8:16).

Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com.
For more information, or to sponsor a Simchas Hachaim Foundation program, call 718-258-7400 or e-mail info@SimchasHachaim.com.

Daf Yomi

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Spared Possible Punishment
‘Those Who Are New To The Ketores’
(Tamid 32b-33a)

Since there was an abundance of kohanim who wished to perform the various tasks in the Beis Hamikdash, the decision of who performed what was decided by means of a lottery. The mishnah on our daf relates that the task of offering the ketores was different. That task was always assigned to a new kohen who had never done it before.

A Source Of Wealth

The Gemara (Yoma 26a) explains that the Torah juxtaposes the verse (Devarim 33:11) containing the words “yasimu ketorah b’apecha – they shall place incense before Your presence” to the verse (Devarim 33:12) containing the words “barech Hashem cheilo – Hashem, bless his possessions” to teach us that the person offering the ketores receives a special blessing of wealth. Therefore, this task was always given to new kohanim so that every kohen would have a chance of performing it at least once and gain this blessing of wealth.

One-Time Honor

There are several midrashic sources (Bereishis Rabbah 47:17; Zohar, end of Lech Lecha 94:2) which liken a sandek to a kohen offering ketores. Based on these comparisons, Rabbeinu Peretz (cited by the Rema, Yoreh De’ah 265:11 in the name of Maharil) states that a sandek should only serve in that capacity once. Some people interpret Rabbeinu Peretz as saying that a father should not appoint a person as sandek for more than one of his children. Others, however, read Rabbeinu Peretz as saying that a person should not accept the honor of being sandek more than once.

The Rabbi As Sandek

The Noda BeYehuda (Yoreh De’ah, Responsum 86) notes that we do not seem to follow Rabbeinu Peretz’s position since many communities honor the rabbi as sandek at every single bris. The Chasam Sofer (Orach Chayim 158), however, explains that this minhag does not contradict Rabbenu Peretz’s position since a rabbi is different. He likens a rabbi to the kohen gadol who was given first choice in offering korbanos. Just like a kohen gadol had the right to offer ketores repeatedly, so too does a rabbi have the right to serve as sandek repeatedly.

Where Is The Wealth?

The Vilna Gaon (Yoreh De’ah 265:46) asks why a sandek does not always become wealthy in light of the Gemara’s drashah. The Chasam Sofer explains that every sandek is blessed with wealth, but many of them forfeit this blessing by committing other sins. In a sense, then, they are lucky since instead of suffering punishment – such as sickness, poverty, or even death – they simply do not receive a blessing that they otherwise would’ve gotten.

This week’s Daf Yomi Highlights is based upon Al Hadaf, published by Cong. Al Hadaf, 17N Rigaud Rd., Spring Valley, NY 10977-2533. Al Hadaf, published semi-monthly, is available by subscription: U.S. – $40 per year; Canada – $54 per year; overseas – $65 per year. For dedication information, contact Rabbi Zev Dickstein, editor, at 845-356-9114 or visit Alhadafyomi.org.

Understand The Ways Of Hashem

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

The truth is sometimes unpopular or uncomfortable. Thus, people who wish to dismiss the Hand of Hashem from history and human affairs may be taken aback by the assertion of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, based on the beginning of this parshah, that the suffering that befalls Israel comes for a Divine purpose. Rabbi Miller finds this purpose explicit in the opening words of Bechukosai, and observes that this “wish” (to dismiss the Hand of Hashem from history) is not a Jewish way of thinking.

“If you shall walk in My statutes” (26:3). The following promises and admonitions are called a “covenant” (bris). At the end of the Tochechah in Devarim it is stated: “These are the words of the Covenant which Hashem commanded Moshe to cut [i.e. to make] with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the Covenant which He cut with them at Horeb” (Devarim 28:69).

The Covenant at Horeb is this Tochechah of the book of Vayikra. The Covenant was made not only for the episodes of the First Destruction and of the Second Destruction. The purpose of Hashem in these portions of the Torah is clear: whenever any calamities have come upon the nation, or upon some part of the nation, the people of Hashem’s Torah must attribute these misfortunes to the disapproval of Hashem: “If you will not hearken to Me, and you shall not fulfill all of these commandments” (26:14).

Certainly if the nations of the world are the messengers of misfortune they are held guilty; but to attribute the calamity to our enemies and to ignore the Ruler of the World as the sole true author of all that transpires is a breach of the Covenant and a contradiction of the Torah. We today are not capable of discerning the sins of our ancestors, but our ancestors themselves declared in the Scriptures and in the Talmud the misdeeds for which these disasters were visited upon them.

The tendency today to omit the Hand of Hashem and to dwell solely on the guilt of the enemies of Israel is a direct contradiction to these two very prominently stated Covenants. To shrug off the very great calamities of our time by saying “We cannot understand the ways of Hashem” is actually a concealed form of the atheistic attitudes that have seeped in from the outside world. “And it shall be, when all these matters shall come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have put before you, and you put this to your heart, among all the nations where Hashem your G-d has driven you” (Devarim 30:1).

“And many evils and troubles will come upon them; and he shall say on that day: ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our G-d is not in our midst?’ ” (ibid. 31:17). “Take this book of the Torah… that it be there a witness against you” (ibid. 31:26). In addition to this purpose of the ensuing parshah as a post- facto testimony, it is certainly intended also as a stimulus to virtue and to Fear of Hashem. “I said: surely you will fear Me; you will take correction” (Zefaniah 3:7). By reading this parshah properly, we can be spared the experiences which are there foretold.

It is noteworthy that all the rewards for compliance with the Torah are solely in this life. The Rambam (Teshuvah 9:1) explains that the promises of happiness in this life are not intended as the ultimate reward but are promises of opportunity to accomplish more good deeds and to gain more merit. Similarly, the retribution of unhappiness which is foretold for transgression of virtue is not the ultimate punishment, which is in the Afterlife; but Hashem foretells the loss of opportunity to accomplish righteous deeds due to various forms of suffering.

Thus it is said: “The reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah, and the reward for a transgression is [another] transgression” (Avos 4:2), because he who seeks to do mitzvos is rewarded with opportunity to do more; and this is the greatest of rewards, as is said: ” Better one moment of Torah and good deeds in this world more than all the life of the World to Come” (ibid. 4:17).

Holy Mission Carried Out in Hermon Closed Military Zone

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Seven men – including 4 rabbis – happened upon by an Israeli paratrooper in a closed military zone on the Hermon mountains on Monday, were on a mission of their own – to safeguard the sanctity of the Jews of the city of Metulla.

The Jewish Press’s Yishai Fleisher was on patrol during reserve duty with his paratrooper battalion on the snow-topped Hermon mountains when he happened upon an unexpected group of men. “As I was patrolling, I saw a group of people who were clearly Hareidi Jews using pitchforks on the snow, and approached them to ask what they were doing.”

As it turns out, the men – all of whom had military clearance to be in the area – were representatives of Israel’s National Center for Family Purity, and had made the trek to the Hermon to gather snow for a mikvah (ritual bath).

“The men informed me that they had clearance to be in the closed military zone for the purpose of collecting the snow for the people of Metulla,” Fleisher said.

Scraping the snow

It all began when the water of the mikvah of Metulla became dirty and had to be emptied.  The local religious authorities hoped that the water would be refilled by a late spring rain, but that rain never came.  Not knowing how to solve the problem, and wanting to provide the 1,500 residents of Metulla the ability to sanctify themselves in the ritual waters, as laid out in Jewish law and practice, the Rabbi of Metulla called Rabbi Shaya Pfoyfer of the Family Purity Center.

With a team of 3 additional rabbis and 3 workers, Rabbi Pfoyfer made arrangements to come to the Hermon, to collect snow for the mikvah.  Jewish law requires that mikvah water be “living” – rain or snow.  However, the means by which this water can be collected are laden with legal requirements and technicalities, necessitating supervision by religious authorities.

Rabbis collecting snow for the Metulla mikvah

Because the snow cannot be carried in vats or other closed containers, which would render it “non-living”, or drawn, huge construction materials sacks were marred by a series of rips in the bottom, to allow the snow to be collected in an incomplete vessel, and retain its “living” status.  The snow was not shoveled into the bags – which would have yet again compromised its “living” nature, but rather knocked off of snow drifts into the bags with pitchforks.

After 2 hours, 1500 liters of snow were collected in about 15 huge, ripped sacks, which rested on wooden palates.  The palates were forklifted onto a waiting refrigerated truck and transported to Metulla for the mikvah.

A sack of snow collected for the Metullah mikvah

 

“I took a few pictures of them, and I asked if I could join in and help fill a few bags, so that I could take part in this beautiful mitzvah,” Fleisher said.  “The Hermon is a beautiful place, but taking part in this mitzvah made it all the more meaningful.  Thank God for this year’s snowfall, which continues to be important for Israel and the Jewish people.”

Yishai Fleisher

The Hermon mountains are mentioned a few places in the Tanach, but the first mention is in Devarim (Deuteronomy), Chapter 3, Verse 8-9: “At that time we took the land from the hand of the two kings of the Amorite that were on the other side of the Jordan, from Arnon Brook to Mount Hermon – Sidonians would refer to Hermon as Sirion, and the Amorites would call it Senir”. Rashi, the great Torah commentator, notes in these passages that the names given to the Hermon by other nations were relevant because four nations contended for control of the Hermon, each giving the peaks a different name.  The Torah notes this, according to Rashi, to show how desired the Land was.

The Art of Ignoring – So Safe, So Repulsive, So Dangerous

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

You’ve been there before- you walk on the street of Jerusalem, and a [so-called] “beggar” is standing on your way, with his outstretched arm, not verbally requesting a few coins.

What do you do?

On the one hand, this is a fellow Jew, and perhaps he is in real need of financial assistance.

On the other hand, he may be a faker, playing the game and “raking it in.”

What’s the solution?

In a more civilized world, I would expect one or the other, or perhaps a permutation of the two extremes above.

But alas, to my dismay, we are not always privileged to live in such a world. Seems to me that the majority of people walking down that sidewalk will tend to just ignore the gentleman and walk right past him, without acknowledging his presence in any significant way.

After all, it’s so safe: you didn’t refuse to give a donation, on the one hand, and you also didn’t put your money in the hands of a potential phony. You just “avoided the situation” by walking right by. Pretending the above reality [i.e.- a beggar on the street] doesn’t exist.

It can be the beggar, the email you received but don’t have a good response to, the phone message you don’t return due to its challenging content, and many more examples. In all the above, the safest route to take is to ignore – to pretend not to have received the email, not to have heard the message, and of course, walk right pass the gentleman.

In a word, you just pretend the above never happened, hoping to will it out of existence.

Just one problem: It does exist.

Let me introduce you to a figure you probably have heard of- R’ Yochanan Ben Zakai. The leader of the Jewish people on the eve of the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash was quite the Tzadik [Tractate Sukka 28a]:

“They said about R’ Yochanan Ben Zakai; NEVER did he speak an idle speech in his life, and never walked 4 amot without [learning] Torah and with Tefillin on his head, and never did anyone get to the study hall before him, and never did he fall asleep in the study hall…and never did someone ever find him doing nothing, but rather he was always sitting and learning… And never did he say “it’s time to stop learning and go home except for the eve’s of Pesach and Yom Kippur…”

Such righteousness condensed into just one man is truly an amazing achievement! Definitely something to aspire to, to say the least.

And yet, this same man did something else…when walking in public [Tractate Berachot 17a]: ”They said about R’ Yochana ben Zakai that never did anyone succeed to offer their salutations to him first, and even the non-Jew in the marketplace. ”

Such a Tzadik, heavily saturated in learning, Torah, Tefillin, Tzizit…and yet said hello to everyone on the street? Even the [not-so-important] non-Jew?

Seems to me that the behavior above is the very basis of being a Jew. As our sages teach [Sifri, Ve'et'cha'nan, paragraph 32]: ”And one shall love the Lord your God” [the second verse of the daily Shema] – make [God] be loved upon the people [of the earth] like Avraham your forefather”

Indeed, Avraham’s conduct was the very antithesis of “ignoring”: Standing in excruciating pain – just days after this over-90-year old man performed a circumcision on himself – in the heat of the afternoon, and out of the corner of his eye, he spots three [unimportant, rather ordinary] people walking.

He had every legitimate excuse in the book to just disregard them:

  • He’s sick
  • He doesn’t know them
  • He’s a busy man
  • He’s no spring chicken anymore.

And yet, despite all of these potentialexcuses, Avraham refuses to ignore them [Beresheit 18:2-3]:

“And he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground. And he said, ‘My lords, if only I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass on from beside your servant.’”

You know the rest of the story, and it’s outcome. The bottom line is simple – he didn’t ignore them!

What would have happened if Moshe would have seen the “burning bush” and just ignored it? What would have been the reality of our lives if, when God called out from that bush with the words “Moshe, Moshe” [Shemot 3:4] Moshe just “pretended not to hear” [as Adam and Chava did, in the aftermath of eating from the forbidden tree, when they "hid" from G-d, Beresheit 3:8] instead of saying [ibid], “Here I am?!” Moshe was far from asking, or wanting, the job of leading the Jewish people from servitude to freedom [see ibid chapter 3-4], and yet he was far from ignoring it; rather arguing back and forth till “convinced.”

Yisro: Of Magistrates And Kings

Friday, February 10th, 2012

The greatness of our Torah leaders is often vivid but occasionally requires illumination. Consider the exchange between Yisro and Moshe. At first glance we might mistake this episode for a simple conversation or advice from a helpful father-in-law. Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, cautions not to diminish the depth of this dialogue. When understood properly, it is, in fact, revealing of the wisdom of both of these great patriarchs.

“And now hearken to my voice, I shall counsel you” (18:19).

We should not be so naive to think Moshe himself could not have thought of the plan of appointing officers. The Elders of the sons of Israel in Egypt were an official and recognized body, not mere old men as are found today in homes for the aged. It is certain that Joseph, in whose time the people had already increased, in his great practical wisdom ordained magistrates for his people. But Yisro’s counsel was given now for two purposes.

1. Moshe’s plan had been to elevate the people by temporarily superseding the system of magistrates, so that all the people should come to him personally. This was now especially necessary because the old order had been based on human logic, but now it had become imperative to yield the human logic to the divine dictates of the Torah. This necessitated a fundamental change in all procedures in every aspect of one’s daily life, and Moshe foresaw that difficulties were sure to arise.

The former judges had now been deprived of all competence. New judges would need to be trained, but even they might continue to apply the new Torah laws with the old logical system. The urgency of understanding that everything from now on depended solely on Torah moved Moshe to take the extreme step of being the sole judge and interpreter of Torah. Any other course could lead to disaster. Even Aharon, when Moshe was away on Sinai, decided to compromise for the sake of the people’s welfare. (Although logic is a part of Torah, it must be applied with strict Torah procedures.)

We do not know for how long Moshe intended to be the sole judge, but he certainly planned eventually to institute a system of general judges and local magistrates, as Hashem indeed commanded, but only after he himself had personally initiated them into the Torah way of thinking.

To this Yisro countered: Very true. But can you rely on a miracle (one not explicitly promised by Hashem) that you and the people could persevere in such an uncomfortable and tedious procedure, standing in line for days in order to gain an audience with you? You will surely wear away, but even if you do not tire physically, your authority will be worn away by personal contact with everyone; and the people will lose favor in your eyes when you deal with their individual idiosyncrasies and obstinacy and foolishness. Familiarity breeds contempt, and therefore not every individual should have access to you and take up your time with petty questions and problems.

2) Moshe aimed to create a noble nation (“a kingdom of priests” – 19:6) that would govern itself without much coercion by the authorities. Thus: “These were the kings that reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned in Israel” (Bereishis 36:31), because Israel did not need a king. “In those days there was no king in Israel, [because] each man did as was right in his eyes” (Shoftim 17:6).

The mitzvah of making a king was conditional: “If you say, Let me put over me a king” (Devarim 17:14) – from which it is clear this mitzvah depended on the time when you choose. “If you say…” is exceptional among all the mitzvos because to govern themselves by their own conscience (“Each man as is right in his eyes”) was preferable. Moshe therefore did not plan to subject the people to the scrutiny of a multitude of magistrates until some time had elapsed.

But Yisro countered: Are the people great enough to be so independent? Now especially, when beginning the new mode of Torah life, they require special surveillance: officers of tens, of fifties, of hundreds and of thousands. Until now they had been permitted to eat everything, they were not obligated by Shabbat or Yom Tov or by the numerous other laws of the Torah. Therefore the people must have tens of thousands of magistrates that supervise all the behavior of each person, in order to train them to become accustomed to the new existence as a Torah nation.

Moshe did not need Yisro to instruct him. Yisro was given the honor of voicing that which Moshe himself understood even better, and which Hashem also eventually commanded (Sifri, Devarim 1:9).

Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com.  For more information, or to sponsor a Simchas Hachaim Foundation program, call 718-258-7400 or e-mail info@SimchasHachaim.com.

Archie Rand: Three Major Works

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

The Hyams Judaica Museum

Temple Beth Sholom

401 Roslyn Road, Roslyn Heights, New York

 

On one level we all have the same glorious inheritance. The Torah in its largest sense, along with the voluminous Oral Tradition in the Talmud, its commentaries and elaborations, make the Jewish artist the richest creative person imaginable.  However, there are crucial distinctions in how we use this inheritance.  British philosopher Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) famously distinguishes between creative thinkers who are like either a “hedgehog” and those who are “foxes.”  Ah, there’s the rub!

Hayei Sarah (1989), acrylic & mixed media on canvas, 36 x 24 by Archie Rand From “The Chapter Paintings,” courtesy the artist

Berlin posited that some thinkers are like the hedgehog (who seems to be solely expert at self defense), knowing one big idea that subsumes all their creative work; while others are like the fox (cunning and drawing on a multitude of strategies and concepts,) constantly seeing new and different visions.  Archie Rand is a fox of epic proportions, as evidenced in his latest exhibition: “Three Major Works.”

In this show Rand offers us three distinct ways of making biblical art. He presents “The Chapter Paintings” (1989), “60 Paintings From the Bible” (1992) and “Psalm 68” (1994) as divergent paradigms of Jewish art methodology. The approximately one hundred and twelve paintings shown here are testimony to the breadth of his vision of Jewish art.

Over the last ten years I have reviewed Rand in this column many times: “The Painted Shul: B’nai Yosef Murals” (April 2002); “Rand’s Prayer: 19 Diaspora Paintings (December 2005)”; “The Image Before the Text: The 613” (April 2008) and “Had Gadya” (April 2011). While his more recent work has frequently taken a deeply personal and idiosyncratic turn, these earlier works over a scant five-year span provide very important markers in the development of contemporary Jewish art.

Daniel (1992) acrylic & marker on canvas, 18 x 24 by Archie Rand From “Sixty Paintings from the Bible,” courtesy the artist

“The Chapter Paintings” (1989) were a groundbreaking series of 54 paintings, each dedicated to the weekly parsha. Curator Bat-Sheva Slavin comments that their creation “instigated curator Norman Kleeblatt’s landmark 1996 ‘Too Jewish’ ” exhibition at the Jewish Museum.  In this series Rand bravely selects one significant image or theme to characterize each parsha with “what he calls ‘the visual key.’ ”  This approach ranges from the simple meaning (Rand’s “pashat”); for example Chayei Sarah represented by the gaping mouth of a cave; to the considerably more complex, frequently based on midrashic sources.  The painting of Ekev, a brightly shinning red ruby, is based on the verse, “…if you obey these rules and observe them faithfully, the Lord your God…will love you and bless you…(Devarim 7:12-13).  We can only understand his image in light of the midrash in Devorim Rabba that relates: “R. Shimon ben Shetach once bought a donkey from an Arab.  His students found a jewel in the animal’s neckband. They said, ‘God has granted you riches!’  But Shimon ben Shetach replied, ‘I paid for a donkey, not a for a jewel.’ He sought out the Arab and returned the jewel to him. Overjoyed, the Arab exclaimed, ‘Blessed be Shimon ben Shetach’s God.’”  So, where is Rand going with this?  It seems that the blessing and love God will give us for observing his commandments will come in the form of peace and blessing from the non-Jews.  Thus Rand’s visual midrash casts the verse in a radically different light indeed.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/archie-rand-three-major-works/2011/11/24/

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