In the middle of summer and the Torah reading cycle firmly in the book of Bamidbar (Numbers), why does this month’s Jewish Text Art Challenge text come from the book of Shemot (Exodus)?
This verse, which is part of the famous narrative of the Ten Commandments and the golden calf, is also part of the Torah reading for minor fast days. One of these is the 17th of Tammuz, which commemorates the day the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem, beginning the siege that ultimately led to the destruction of the Temple. It also marks the start of a three-week long period of mourning in the Jewish calendar that culminates on the 9th of Av.
The Torah reading for the minor fast days speaks of the covenant between God and the Jewish people. This image of Moses preparing to renew this relationship with the creation of the new tablets stands as a counterpoint to the images of loss and devastation that characterize the three weeks. It reminds us that even when the Isrealites appeared to be beyond redemption, their connection with God is never fully destroyed. In this way, even as the 17th of Av makes us mourners, it nevertheless cautions us not to give in to despair.
Over the next month, we are looking forward to sharing art that speaks to this balance of sorrow and hope and highlights the bond between God and the Jewish people.
Celebrated on the 6th day of the hebrew month Sivan, the holiday of Shavuot is a highlight of the Jewish calendar. As one of the three Biblical pilgrimage holidays, Shavuot has significance as a celebration of the harvest and as an agricultural festival. It is also celebrated as the time when God gave the Israelites the Torah at Mount Sinai, establishing God’s eternal covenant with the Jewish people. Bikkurim – the bringing of the first fruits from the annual harvest to the Temple in Jerusalem – was an essential part of observing the holiday in ancient times. Artists throughout the ages have been inspired by this practice and we are looking forward to sharing their work.
The verse we selected for the Hebrew month of Shevat focuses on the connection to the land of Israel inspired by the holiday of Tu B’Shevat. The annual celebration of the “birthday of the trees” takes place on the 15th of this month, and connects Jewish ideas of environmental stewardship, homeland, and peoplehood. Communities plant trees and gardens (as Israel enters its mild spring), and savor the seven species named in the Torah. Together we seek to celebrate the gift of the promised land – the land flowing with milk and honey.
Photo by Mushki Brichta: “A granite stone from the area of mount Sinai showing what seems to be a depiction of a bush, created naturally by a concentration of manganese oxide which forms into this shape in the rock.”
[CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stones_of_Sinai.jpg)
The Weiser Memorial “Burning Bush” sculpture at the Northern Hills Synagogue in Cincinnati, OH. Designed by Julie Staller-Pentelnik and sculpted by David Klass, created in memory of congregant Norman Weiser in 2006.
It’s easy to overlook the Hebrew month of Tevet’s arrival. Chanukah celebrations are in full swing, and the only “holiday” is a minor fast on the 10th day of the month.
But in the annual cycle of Torah reading, Tevet contains a featured event. We complete the Book of Breishit (Genesis) and begin the Book of Shemot (Exodus). While we won’t get to the Israelite’s actual exodus from Egypt and freedom from slavery until next month, the first chapters of the Book of Shemot contain some of the most well-known and pivotal scenes in all of Biblical literature – including Moses’ meeting with God at the site of the burning bush.
We selected this verse that begins this encounter as this month’s Jewish Text Art Challenge because of its essential role in the story of the Jewish people. It incorporates ideas of faith, relationship, holiness, spiritual transformation, individual power, miracles and magic, just to name a few. We are looking forward to sharing some of our favorite art inspired by this text, and hope that it will get all of our creative juices flowing.