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December 10, 2016 / 10 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Hebrew Bible’

Spiritual Cafe: Noah, Hamas, & Tower of Babel

Friday, October 16th, 2015

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Rabbi Mike Feuer joins Yishai Yishai to discuss the great Torah portion of Noach (Noah). Why does the word Hamas appear in the Torah before God decided to destroy the world? Why was Noah chosen to be the Messiah who saved the remnant of that world? And finally, why did the world decide to use all of its power & unity to fight God? Powerful lessons which also help us understand why there is terror in the streets of Jerusalem.

Yishai Fleisher on Twitter: @YishaiFleisher
Yishai on Facebook

Moshe Herman

Spiritual Cafe: Fighting The Sin of Forgetfulness

Friday, August 28th, 2015

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The Yishai Fleisher Show is back! This week, the beloved Spiritual Cafe series with Rabbi Mike Feuer on the Torah portion of “Ki Tetze” – going out to war.Yishai and Rav Mike deal with the complex dichotomy of the commandment to retain the consciousness of both hate for Amalek and compassion for the other & Biblical divorce between man and women but not between man and God. A must-hear for your Shabbat preparation!

Yishai Fleisher on Twitter: @YishaiFleisher
Yishai on Facebook

Moshe Herman

The Power of Zealots

Friday, July 10th, 2015

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Rabbi Mike Feuer joins Yishai to discuss Pinchas and other biblical figures.

Though a zealot who killed the immoral Zimri, unlike most zealots, Pinchas was completely in line with God’s will. The daughters of Zelaphchad, five righteous biblical women, were zealous for the land of Israel, and they were rewarded for it.

Yishai Fleisher on Twitter: @YishaiFleisher
Yishai on Facebook

Moshe Herman

Securing the Mount of Olives and Understanding ‘Balak’

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

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Yishai hosts ZOA Israel Director Jeff Daube, International Committee for the Preservation of Har HaZeitim (ICPHH) chair Abe Lubinsky, committee volunteer Dr. Paul Rosenstock and Rabbi Mike Feuer.Daube, Lubinsky and Rosenstock discuss the work of the ICPHH, dedicated to stopping the defilement of Judaism’s oldest and holiest cemetery, with more than 150,000 graves. Through neglect on the part of Israeli authorities and acts of anti-Semitism, it has been desecrated and its visitors and mourners attacked.

Then, Yishai is joined by Rabbi Mike Feuer to delve into this week’s Torah portion, Balak, where curses are transformed into blessings. When the military option seemed ineffective, the Moabite King Balak hired the evil prophet and sorcerer Balaam to curse the nation of Israel. However, God blocked their evil plan, but not before warning Balaam through a talking donkey.

Yishai Fleisher on Twitter: @YishaiFleisher
Yishai on Facebook

Moshe Herman

Pamela Geller’s Coup Against Jihad, and a Coup Against Moses

Friday, June 19th, 2015

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Yishai deals with modern-day and ancient battles. First he is joined by political activist and commentator Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative and author, among other books, of “Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance.” She sponsored the “Draw the Prophet” cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, which was attacked by jihadists, who were killed in a shootout. She tells Yishai about the challenges involved in fighting jihad in the US and Israel.

Then, Yishai is joined in-studio by Rabbi Mike Feuer to talk about the internecine Jewish political battles in the Book the Numbers. Was the biblical character Korach a communist or a man of the people? A fighter for democracy or a jealous would-be leader? Why did he pick a fight with Moses? And why did he merit having the Prophet Samuel as his progeny.

Yishai Fleisher on Twitter: @YishaiFleisher
Yishai on Facebook

Moshe Herman

The Evils Of Evil Speech

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

It was the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, that translated tzara’at, the condition whose identification and cleansing occupies much of Parshiyot Tazria and Metzora as lepra, giving rise to a long tradition identifying it with leprosy.

That tradition is now widely acknowledged to be incorrect. First, the condition described in the Torah simply does not fit the symptoms of leprosy. Second, the Torah applies it not only to various skin conditions but also to mildew on clothes and the walls of houses, which certainly rules out any known disease. The Rambam puts it best: “Tzara’at is a comprehensive term covering a number of dissimilar conditions. Thus whiteness in a person’s skin is called tzara’at. The falling off of some of his hair on the head or the chin is called tzara’at. A change of color in garments or in houses is called tzara’at” (Hilchot Tumat Tzara’at 16:10).

Seeking to identify the nature of the phenomenon, the Sages sought for clues elsewhere in the Torah and found them readily available. Miriam was smitten by tzara’at for speaking badly about her brother Moses (Numbers 12:10). The Torah later gives special emphasis to this event, seeing in it a warning for all generations: “Be careful with regard to the plague of tzara’at … Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam along the way after you came out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 24:8-9).

It was, in other words, no normal phenomenon but a specific divine punishment for lashon hara, evil speech. The rabbis drew attention to the verbal similarity between metzora, a person afflicted by the condition, and motzi shem ra, someone guilty of slander.

Rambam, on the basis of rabbinic traditions, gives a brilliant account of why tzara’at afflicted both inanimate objects like walls and clothes, and human beings:

It [tzara’at] was a sign and wonder among the Israelites to warn them against slanderous speaking. For if a man uttered slander, the walls of his house would suffer a change. If he repented, the house would again become clean. But if he continued in his wickedness until the house was torn down, leather objects in his house on which he sat or lay would suffer a change. If he repented they would again become clean. But if he continued in his wickedness until they were burned, the garments that he wore would suffer a change. If he repented they would again become clean. But if he continued in his wickedness until they were burned, his skin would suffer a change and he would become infected by tzara’at and be set apart and alone until he no more engaged in the conversation of the wicked, which is scoffing and slander (Hilchot Tumat Tzara’at 16:10).

The most compelling illustration of what the tradition is speaking about when it talks of the gravity of motsi shem ra (slander) and lashon hara (evil speech) is Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello. Iago, a high-ranking soldier, is bitterly resentful of Othello, a Moorish general in the army of Venice. Othello has promoted a younger man, Cassio, over the more experienced Iago, who is determined to take revenge. He does so in a prolonged and vicious campaign, which involves, among other things, tricking Othello into the suspicion that his wife, Desdemona, is having an adulterous affair with Cassio. Othello asks Iago to kill Cassio, and he himself kills Desdemona, smothering her in her bed. Emilia, Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s attendant, discovers her mistress dead and as Othello explains why he has killed her, realizes the nature of her husband’s plot and exposes it. Othello, in guilt and grief, commits suicide, while Iago is arrested and taken to be tortured and possibly executed.

It is a play entirely about the evil of slander and suspicion, and portrays literally what the sages said figuratively, that “Evil speech kills three people: the one who says it, the one who listens to it, and the one about whom it is said” (Arachin 15b).

Shakespeare’s tragedy makes it painfully clear how much evil speech lives in the dark corners of suspicion. Had the others known what Iago was saying to stir up fear and distrust, the facts might have become known and the tragedy averted. As it was, he was able to mislead the various characters, playing on their emotional weaknesses and envy, getting each to believe the worst about one another. It ends in serial bloodshed and disaster.

Hence the poetic justice Jewish tradition attributes to one of the least poetic of biblical passages, the laws relating to skin diseases and mildew. The slanderer spreads his lies in private, but his evil is exposed in public. First the walls of his house proclaim his sin, then the leather objects on which he sits, then his clothes, and eventually his skin itself. He is condemned to the humiliation of isolation:

“Unclean! Unclean!” he must call out … Since he is unclean, he must remain alone, and his place shall be outside the camp (Leviticus 13:45-46). Said the rabbis: Because his words separated husband from wife and brother from brother, his punishment is that he is separated from human contact and made an outcast from society (Arachin 16b).

At its highest, WikiLeaks aims at being today’s functional equivalent of the law of the metzora: an attempt to make public the discreditable things people do and say in private. The Sages said about evil speech that it was as bad as idolatry, incest and murder combined, and it was Shakespeare’s genius to show us one dramatic way in which it can contaminate human relationships, turning people against one another with tragic consequences.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Poussin’s Bible

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Poussin and Nature


The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street, New York; (212) 535 7710


Sunday, Tues-Thurs. 9:30a.m. – 5:30p.m.


Suggested Admission: Adults $20, seniors and students $15, children under 12 free.


Until May 11, 2008

 

 


Near the end of his long and productive life, Nicolas Poussin was commissioned in 1660 to paint an unusual series of paintings called the “Four Seasons”. They very quickly became some of the best known and beloved of his artworks; utilizing four scenes from the Hebrew Bible to depict the Ages of Man as the seasons of the year; Adam and Eve as Spring; Boaz and Ruth as Summer; The Spies with the Grapes of the Promised Land as Autumn and finally, The Flood as Winter.

 

Two of these seminal works are currently on view with close to 60 other paintings and drawings in the exhibition “Poussin and Nature” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of the questions they pose is why should this French master of the classical, i.e pagan, tradition turn to the Hebrew Bible as the definitive coda of his life’s work?

 

Poussin (1594 – 1665) is considered one of the most influential artists of the 17th century.


He created a visual veneration of Classical (Greek and Roman) forms and subjects that was respected, imitated and copied for close to 200 years. Born in Normandy, France, he learned the craft of painting in Paris and spent the last 40 years of his life in Rome, the physical heart of the Classical tradition and architecture.

 

His artistic output of approximately 205 paintings is divided almost equally between Christian and Mythological/Classical History themes; with the remaining 20 percent devoted to Biblical subjects. Early masterpieces in the biblical genre include the Worship of the Golden Calf (ca.1635) and Crossing the Red Sea (ca.1635) while more mature works include Moses Striking the Rock (1649) and the Judgment of Solomon (1649) and Esther before Ahasuerus (1660).

 

Almost all of these explicate the most dramatic and exciting aspects of the particular biblical narrative. These works represent the biblical narrative at its most popular; they are idealized, vivid, pious and cinematic. While these examples of Poussin’s biblical work surely deserve serious analysis, the late series of the Four Seasons upsets much of what we think we know about this pivotal artist.

 

Spring: Adam and Eve depicts the moment Eve offers the fruit of the forbidden tree to Adam. We see the primeval couple in the center of the painting surrounded by a lush garden. He sits in anticipation while Eve kneels next to him gesturing upward to the sky and to a luscious tree, a few yards away laden with fruit. Behind her is another fruit-laden tree, ominously meant to represent the tree of Life. Pointedly there is no snake depicted to tempt her, only the uniquely human quality of free will. The scale of the image makes one imagine that Adam and Eve are in an enormously wild garden, embraced by nature, and quite alone. Far above this scene in the clouds is a white robed figure fleeing from the action in the foreground. This figure is none other than Poussin’s representation of G-d, removing Himself from the scene of the first sin.

 

 


Winter (The Flood); Detail of Man Praying (1660). Oil on canvas by Nicolas Poussin – Musee du Louvre, Paris, Departement des Peintures.


 


 

In many of Poussin’s mature paintings, the landscape takes on a pivotal role along with the textual narrative. Here, the lush foliage and outcroppings are divided into three decisive groups created by the distant white peaks on the right and the negative gap in the foliage on the left. This highly structured composition locks the first man and woman into a kind of natural balance that bespeaks the very logic of creation. And yet, because of mankind’s first conscious choice, emphasized by Eve’s heavenward gesture, G-d flees from the consequences of His creation. It would seem that from Poussin’s point of view, Creation itself is a disappointment to the Creator.

 

In a dramatic contrast, Summer, as represented by Boaz and Ruth, presents a beacon of well-reasoned hope. Here, the landscape is teeming with figures all working towards a successful harvest; cutting down the fully-grown wheat, gathering and binding the harvest and providing for the constant needs of the workers. No less than 14 figures are in the fields busy with the needs of sustenance deeply associated with the season of warmth and fertility.


The figures are divided into two groups; one including Boaz and the supplicant Ruth, seem to represent the peaceful efforts of individuals working harmoniously together. Opposite the diagonal empty space that moves from the foreground into the middle ground, seven others can be seen as potentially aggressive figures. The worker in the foreground with the spear is admonished directly by Boaz to provide a safe environment for the stranger Ruth.


Deeper into the field, five horses are being whipped as they are threshing the harvested wheat. Amidst three male workers a woman looks back at the viewer with considerable concern as to her safety. The dynamic and complex relationship between man and woman and nature could not be more dramatically expressed.

 

 


Summer: Ruth and Boaz; (1660). Oil on canvas by Nicolas Poussin – Musee du Louvre, Paris, Departement des Peintures.


 



 

In Summer, the hope for a successful relationship between the Jewish people and the natural world, so necessary to build a fruitful future, is ardently expressed. The red cloak spread out on the ground along the left side could easily allude to the cloak that Boaz eventually spreads over Ruth in the act that symbolizes their future marriage that leads to the progenitor of King David.

 

That hope is effectively dashed in the painting of Autumn, the fateful setting for the Spies with the Grapes from the Promised Land. Here, the figures can be said to dominate the land, the two spies forcefully stride across the foreground while a woman peacefully makes her way towards the stream where we can glimpse a man fishing.

 

 


Autumn (The Spies with the Grapes from the Promised Land); (1660). Oil on canvas by Nicolas Poussin – Musee du Louvre, Paris, Departement des Peintures.


 


 

All is deceptively serene as a woman is seen perched high on a ladder directly behind the spies, harvesting fruit; ironically harvesting the faithlessness of the spies’ fears of the terrors of the unknown land of Israel and Jewish destiny. This woman is plucking fruit from a tree uncomfortably similar to the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, seen in the first painting. Here, the landscape is rocky and a bit wild, with a town in the distance perched above formidable cliffs, in subtle contrast to the more bucolic and civilized landscape of the fields of Boaz.

 

What these late paintings show is that Poussin was a uniquely unusual artist not only in his abundance of skill but also in his independence of mind and subject matter. He intimates great swaths of biblical narrative and commentary with remarkable economy. Unlike much of his earlier work − mythological, Christian and biblical included − Poussin’s late works open up personal insights and meanings of these biblical texts without bombast and didactic stridency. This is especially poignant for this 70-year-old artist whose sobering view of human history reaches its climax in the last painting of the series and possibly one of the very last he painted.

 

Winter (The Flood) presents a deeply pessimistic view of the tragedy of human fate. While earlier artists − most notably Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel − have seen the destruction of the entire world in the time of Noah as tragic; nevertheless, the struggles of mankind to survive are depicted as heroic and positive. Poussin has no such consolation for us in this painting. Each and every effort of his figures is immediately seen as hopeless and futile. The man in the foreground grasping the horns of a terrified animal knows there is no safe shore for the beast to emerge. Similarly, the woman trying to stay afloat with a rectangle of wood is doomed as the wood becomes waterlogged and sinks.

 

 


Winter (The Flood); (1660). Oil on canvas by Nicolas Poussin – Musee du Louvre, Paris, Departement des Peintures.


 


 

Every effort to utilize the boat resting near the craggy rocks is hopeless; a man desperately attempts to climb the slippery side, another fruitlessly attempts to push off, even as a woman reaches up with her child to save it, just out of reach from the man above. Even the man trapped in the boat about to be swamped at the falls, prays to a heaven that we know will ignore him. The only answer is a flash of lightning that portends even more rain. Every figure in this painting is seen literally reaching for something that is clearly unattainable.


It would seem that a lifetime overwhelmingly devoted to the exploration and revival of the Classical world could not yield sustenance to face the next. Nonetheless, the complexity and depth of the biblical in this unusual narrative form (the Four Seasons) could at least yield an adequate expression of a grand master’s despair in his final years.

 

Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com

Richard McBee

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/poussins-bible/2008/04/30/

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