Parshat VaYechi

Synthetic polymer on parchment, 2015

Artist: Batya F. Kuncman,  USA/Israel

Vayechi ends the book of Genesis, which relates the beginnings of Jewish history. Vayechi marks the patriarch Yaakov (Jacob/Israel) giving blessings to his sons who become heads of the 12 tribes of Israel. During the Jewish calendar year of 2255, the secular year of 1506 BCE, in Egypt, Yaakov’s 12 sons gather upon his request as these are his last days. The Torah tells us that Yaakov wants to reveal secrets of future events and final redemption of the Jewish people. However, as Rashi explains, “the Shechina (Divine Presence) departed from him,” and he suddenly lost his prophetic powers. Worried over this loss of prophecy, Yaakov fears it’s due to the unworthiness of one of his sons. Will his sons, heads of the twelve tribes of Israel, uphold the light of truth and carry forth the message of ethics, morality and the universal code of human conduct despite a dark, skeptical and antagonistic world?

From his deathbed he asked them whether they were all genuinely committed to the service of the One, true God. The sages tell us that all 12 sons declared with one voice:שמע ישראל יהוה אלוהינו יהוה אחד    / Hear Israel, God is our God, God is one!” From Yaakov’s lips come the words of relief:                        ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד / Blessed be God’s Name, whose glorious Kingdom is forever and ever. The Gemara concludes that this exchange between Yaakov and his sons forms the basis of our custom to declare “Barukh Shem Kevod Malkhuto…” after we recite the verse of “Shema Israel” each morning and evening. Yaakov could now be at peace, even at joy. The children of Israel have committed to follow the very difficult road of being Jews in a world that does not share their vision, and which, in contrast, often rises to annihilate them for their faith. It’s a journey of commitment to the truth, not to comfort, not to being popular. It’s a commitment to being harbingers of an invisible reality that permeates throughout each and every molecule, but which remains humble and hidden. Only after the Shema is proclaimed does Yaakov proceed to bless each of his children. Once he is to leave them to the arduous road of their future history, the only help they will have is the light of faith in the truth, a light they may question as it hangs barely visible in a chaotic and duplicitous world. My painting is about that love, loyalty and faith, and the expression of the Shema, which is the most powerful prayer we are blessed with. It is an eternal cry of truth from our divine soul to the Superior Spirit that guides the world. “Shema” speaks of unshakable faith in the existence and loving-kindness of our Creator, His infinite unity and the ultimate redemption of the Children of Israel.

About Batya

Batya F. Kuncman is an Israeli-born multidisciplinary artist based in New York City. Her “Landscapes for Humanity” painting series was recently on exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art. Batya’s paintings, photographs, illustrations and digital media have been internationally exhibited in galleries that include the Museum of Modern Art of Toluca, Mexico and the Haun Tie Art Museum in Beijing, China. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including MIT Technology Review and Wired.

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