What is a soul? Who has a soul? Where does a soul reside? Is a soul eternal?
The soul has been the center of great philosophical and religious discussions since time immemorial.
The Torah is sprinkled with three words that help define the soul: nefesh, ruach and neshama.
Their individual meanings have evolved throughout the Tanach
as we have wrestled with defining the innate source of spirituality.
In this visual expression, the Kabbalistic interpretation was chosen,
focusing on the first three ascending levels of the soul.
Each word stands on its own in design and concept but is also an integral part of the triptych.
Nefesh: At this basic, animalistic level, body and soul are one.
Man was created from the dust of the earth and G-d breathed soul into him.
The nefesh painting shows the paths from the earth below and from the breath of G-d above.
Ruach: This level of the soul connects nefesh to higher realms.
Meaning spirit and wind, ruach's energy enables the nefesh to ascend.
The ruach painting embodies the major movement in the triptych, connecting the paintings on either side.
The dot of the vav is the center of the total design, reminding us that G-d is the center of all things.
Neshama: This is the highest level our souls can attain within the framework of our understanding.
At this level, a soul strives to connect with G-d using intelligence, awe and "rapture of the heart."
The golden circle in the neshama painting symbolizes G-dliness.
The brilliant red expresses that this level is closest to G-d.
A spiral runs through all three paintings. Much like a staircase, it travels both ways.
G-d's breath descends to implant the soul in the body.
The soul ascends to G-d through actions, emotions, and thought.
MORDECHAI AND VAYECHI
(Torah Parasha and Bar/Bat Mitzvah's Name)
“In the name of Adonai, the G-d of Israel:
May the angel Michael be at my right,
and the angel Gabriel at my left;
And in front of me, the angel Uriel,
and behind me the angel Raphael…
and above my head the Shechinah.”(Divine Presence, feminine aspect of G-d.)
Angels are referenced throughout Hebrew Biblical and Rabbinic literature.
Their physical attributes, purposes and appearances are diverse.
Malach means messenger.
These messengers deliver information, instructions, visions and prophesies.
Many stories in Torah include angels, such as the binding of Isaac and Jacob wrestling the angel.
In the Talmud, it is said that Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael surround and protect G-d’s throne.
Sometimes, in the nighttime Shema, a prayer is included
that positions these four angels in order to protect us as we sleep.
In both instances, these Malachim were chosen for their specific strengths and abilities.
There is a powerful alignment between what happens on high and what we pray for in this world.
In this image, each angel is symbolized by a ribbon, emanating from Malachim,
to the right, left, front and back.
The letter aleph within the word is painted red to represent G-d.
The numerical gematria for this letter is one.
As we say in the Shema, “...Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad.” The Lord, our G-d, The Lord is One.
Gematria was developed by those who practiced Kabbalah to aid in mystical interpretations of texts.
The Kabbalistic tradition also tells us that these angels possess and deliver
spiritual energy from the One.
The curves extending beyond the ribbons, can be seen as contrails of energy encompassing our souls.
The metallic gold beam above the word is the conduit that serves several purposes.
It directs us to the Shechinah above. It allows the angels to bring messages from the Divine to us.
It carries our energy upward to the higher worlds of spirit and the Source.
COMMISSIONED/ CUSTOM PAINTINGS USING HEBREW WORDS
(GIVEN NAME, FAMILY NAME, TORAH PARASHA, SHTETL, ETC)
The Hebrew word for prayer is Tefillah.
Just as it would be impossible to fully explain prayer in a few, short paragraphs,
it is impossible to express its meaning on one canvas.
For that reason, I have chosen to examine the root (shoresh) of the word,
which explains the presence of a second lamed in the painting.
Pay, Lamed, Lamed is the root.
When we look at other words in the Torah with the same root,
we find words that mean to judge and thinking. It is here that we discover
what the purpose of Tefillah is meant to be.
Through the regular act of self-examination, we have the opportunity
to change ourselves, rather than petition G-d to change things for us.
Thus, prayer can be seen as a gift, instead of an obligation.
In this visual expression, the metallic colors of the letters brighten up at the center
where the root word is located. The canvas is divided into three shades of purple:
amethyst, lilac and aubergine.
They represent the times of the day when it is our duty to pray.
A column of the fiery colors of the spectrum,
symbolizes the Creator meeting us with our authentic words of prayer.
To quote Rabbi Jonathan Sacks,of blessed memory,
“...Prayer is where G-d meets us, in the human heart,
in our offering of words, in our acknowledged vulnerability.”
The Hebrew word, Chesed, is often defined as loving kindness.
According to Kabbalah, it is one of ten sefirot: emanations or qualities of G-d.
In this visual expression, the word Chesed is approached from a mystical perspective.
‘Peace and Love’ and ‘Be Kind’ are not new concepts. They have ancient roots.
The Jewish prayer for peace is Oseh Shalom Bimromav...
“May He who makes peace on high, create peace for us and all of Israel and we say Amen.”
Daily services as well as the Kaddish prayer, end with this powerful petition.
Considering these words begs the question, “What peace does G-d make in the heavens?
Theere is a Midrash that tells us G-d keeps peace between the angels Michael and Gabriel.
Michael represents Chesed, Gabriel represents Gevurah (strength, discipline, judgment).
Keeping the peace between these two attributes creates a balanced union.
The sefirot have assigned colors and signs.
Chesed is white, represented by water. Gevurah is red, represented by fire.
G-d uses a third attribute, Tiferet (beauty, balance) to create peace between the two.
Tiferet is purple and is physically placed between them as mediator.
Look closely and you will see a scale with Chesed and Gevurah and their colors/signs evenly balanced.
Tiferet forms the base of the scale.
Design-wise, the flames of fire and waves of water are aesthetically similar.
Color-wise, the blues from the water and the reds from the fire create the purple of Tiferet.
NEFESH, RUACH, NESHAMA
KADOSH, KADOSH, KADOSH
“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, whose glory fills the entirety of the earth.”
This phrase appears in the Kedushah (the holiness prayer), the third of nineteen
prayers in the collection called the Amidah. The prophet Isaiah, envisioned G-d seated
on a throne surrounded by angels (seraphim) attending to Him and praising His Name.
The Kedushah entices us to enter the world of this angelic vision,
reminding us that we are part of something greater in the heavenly realm.
It is a magical moment in the service when we say Kadosh three times, reaching up to the heavens on our toes with each utterance, purposefully trying to emulate the angels
as they praise our Lord on high.
In this visual expression, amid an atmosphere of clouds and angels’ wings,
the word Kadosh, is painted three times.
The progression of gold beams, highlights the choreography of the prayer,
with our feet together at the base of the first word.
The words become more saturated in color as they ascend.Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh
HERE I AM
The Akedah (The Binding of Isaac) is probably the most studied story in the Torah and certainly, one of the most dramatic. It is traditionally chanted on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. In it, G-d asks Abraham to take his son to Mt. Moriah as a sacrifice. It is Abraham’s tenth and final trial. The word Hineni means ‘Here I am’ and is said by Abraham three times in this story. The meaning of Hineni is not a simple response to being called by name. Abraham is acknowledging that he is fully present and ready to do what is asked of him.
In this painting, the word Hineni is front and center in a vivid red against a silver backdrop.
It sits atop a silhouette of Mt. Moriah.
Red also outlines the path up the mountain that Abraham and Isaac followed.
‘Here I am.’ There is no consideration of the past or future.
In order to highlight the importance of being completely in the moment,
the design is darkened out above and below.
Two bands of ocher form an arc above Hineni, representing the repetitions of the word.
This arc turns into a ram’s horn to reference the ram that was sacrificed in place of Isaac.
A ram’s horn (shofar) is sounded at the New Year.
The arc, resembling a rainbow, also reminds us of G-d’s promise
to Noah when He placed a rainbow in the sky.
After the sacrifice is made, G-d offers promises and blessings to Abraham and his offspring.
The tetragrammaton ‘Yud, Hay, Vav, Hay’ is the ineffable Hebrew Name of G-d.
It is beyond description, not to be uttered.
According to Jewish Mysticism, there were 4 stages of G-d’s creation of the world, beginning with a spark of inspiration.
From there, the concept developed. Emotional involvement led to the formation of a concrete plan.
The final stage was the action: Creation.
This 4-staged process is analogous to the 4 spiritual worlds of Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah.
Asiyah is the physical (and lowest) world in which we live. It is in this world, that Adonai
commanded us to build a sanctuary for Him so that He could dwell among us. (Exodus 25:8)
A spiral is the eternal sign of the creative and organizing principle of the universe.
It is the intuitive symbol of spiritual development. When two spirals are intertwined,
they become a double helix, a twisted ladder that enables descending and ascending.
As one spiral descends through the four worlds, the other spiral ascends to expand
the soul’s levels of consciousness, from Nefesh, Ruach, Neshamah, Chaya to Yechida.
This journey allows the soul to travel from the physical world, through heightened levels
of emotion, understanding, and knowledge of truth without ego.
Ultimately, the soul bonds with the Holy One.
The double helix is the symbol for DNA, the genetic formula that makes us who we are.
By examining G-d’s stages of creation and the soul’s levels of consciousness,
we are able to complete the code by adding the spiritual dimension.
This painting serves as a visual tribute to the lives lost in the Holocaust. The stripes of the camp uniforms and the barbed wire are overt associations that are embedded in our collective memory. The flames, reminiscent of yahrtzeit candles, serve as reminders that we must never forget. The color fades out of the image from top to bottom, alluding to fading memories as the Holocaust takes its place in history. Yet, the brightness of the flames and the word, enliven and inspire our spirit to remember.
Teshuvah, though commonly defined as repentance, literally means to return.
It is one element of our spiritual process, together with charity (tzedakah) and prayer (tefillah)
during the ten days of repentance between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur .
According to gematria (Hebrew numerology), the word Teshuvah has a value of 713.
Perhaps by design, 713 is also the number of letters in a mezuzah text.
This visual expression of Teshuvah illustrates the connection between the two.
The core of the painting with fiery oranges and blues shows the starting point
of the process of returning, with the acknowledgment of our sins.
As we do the work, the movement begins to spiral, moving upward
toward the Source, in a path of blue with metallic flowing lines.
The letter shin in the word teshuvah is attached to a golden rectangle, reminiscent of a mezuzah.
A shin, representing G-d’s name, Shaddai, is placed on the front of a mezuzah case.
Another stylistic shin is tucked into the path, as a reminder of our goal in this process.
In the image, two lines of gold and blue run through the letters of the word,
echoing the colors used for the mezuzah and the path of teshuvah.
A mezuzah, affixed to the doorpost, reminds us of G-d’s presence in our lives and our homes.
For both, we are returning to our source of strength, safety, comfort and peace.
UPON THE DOORPOSTS OF YOUR HOUSE
In the first paragraph of the Shema “Hear, O Israel, The Lord is Our G-d, The Lord is One”),
we are commanded to write these words upon the doorposts of our house and upon our gates.
The Shema and its first two biblical paragraphs from Deuteronomy ( 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 )
are calligraphed on a piece of parchment (klaf) by a scribe (sofer) and placed inside a case.
The word Mezuzah means doorpost, but commonly refers to the parchment and case
that are vertically affixed to the right doorpost, on a diagonal slant toward the entry.
One of G-d’s names, Shaddai, is written on the reverse side of the parchment so that it faces outward. Traditionally the first letter (shin) of Shaddai is on a Mezuzah case as well.
Shaddai is also an acronym for the Hebrew words meaning “Guardian of the Doors of Israel.”
When a mezuzah is affixed to the doorpost of a home, it is a reminder of our exodus from Egypt
when blood marked the Jewish homes to be passed over during the tenth plague.
Today, it is a declaration of our faith as well as a reminder of the words written within.
This year, we need the reminder even more. Our comings and goings have been severely limited.
We are neither seeing nor contemplating our mezuzot and their meanings as we once did.
The shape of this painting was chosen to echo the shape of a Mezuzah. In the composition,
the letter shin is the center of interest, with the other letters of Shaddai descending from its base.
Surrounded by posts and lintel in shades of purple and blue, the shin is contrasted
against a background of shades of red: a color the artist regularly uses to represent G-d.
The message behind that color choice is clear.
When one fulfills the mitzvah of affixing a mezuzah and follows the biblical directives,
the pathway through that door will lead to Adonai, His Sanctification of our homes and His Blessings.
With the silhouette of the Torah as a backdrop, a Torah pointer is overlaid onto a turkey feather quill to highlight the role a hand plays in the reading and writing of a Torah. The yad, in this context, is defined as a pointer with a small hand and finger extended at the end to aid the reader (Baal Koreh).
The quill is the instrument usEd by a Torah scribe (Sofer).
The color palette for this design is purposefully subtle in shades of gray to magnifythe silver of the pointer and the gold of the symbolic text of the scroll.
A word that is used to affirm, avow, trust and believe a prayer that we have heard spoken.
The younger generation might simply say, 'word.' And what a word it is!
Our sages have had a lot to say about this word.
We are told that it is an acronym for the Hebrew statement,
"G-d, our faithful King."
Looking at other words with the same root , we discover Emunah ( belief and trust).
The gematria (numerical equivalents) of the three letters making up Amen is 91.
It is no surprise that 91 equals the total of the following words:
Adonai and the ineffable name of G-d, yud, hay, vav, hay.
Perhaps, the most salient point regarding the saying of Amen is that the person who authentically utters Amen after listening to the prayer,
is more valued than the one who said the prayer.
It is the perfect response as well, when one is unable to say the prayer him/herself.
In this visual expression, the prayers are to the right of Amen in a cascade
of bold color and brushstrokes.
The intention of using such vibrant tones is to highlight the beauty
and power of our prayers of praise, gratitude and petition.
Amen is firmly grounded at the end of the prayers to exemplify a proper conclusion.
In the contrasting, quiet space above the word, trails of gold braid
and colorful threadswork their way upwards from the final letter nun.
Nun is one of several in the alphabet that takes a different form
when placed at the end of a word.
A regular nun is bent and represents the humility and awe of a faithful servant.
In contrast, a final nun is long and straight, akin to the posture
of one who serves G-d with love.
With whichever intention we choose, may G-d, our faithful King, hear our Amens!