Parshat Masaei

Pencil on parchment, 2015

Artist: Shoshana Ruerup,  Germany

Interpreting the Torah portion, parshat Masaei, demanded of me to reread the entire story of Exodus. The many commentaries and midrashim (interpretations) helped me come to a truly geshmak and satisfying visual solution. Without the Exodus from Egypt, no wanderings in the desert would have taken place, and no journey would have been undertaken by the children of Israel.

I asked myself about the importance of human creativity and activity, and about beauty and desire. I found myself wanting to know why beauty and desire are such central themes throughout the Torah. What are their functions? In parshat Masaei, beauty is directly related to structure. Beauty results in structure. In the parasha, beauty is spoken about as the people journey over the land, with its prescribed geological and social forms and borders. The people’s culture and the conditions under which they live are greatly elaborated upon in this parasha. How can such a society be built?

The Israelite society we encounter here paints a picture of a people building a free society after enduring 400 years of Egyptian slavery. It is a society that must rebuild itself out of a culture enshrined in severity and injustice. It is a society that has wandered forty years through wild and unknown lands.

Though newly freed, this people has never experienced “home,” but has lived on-edge, with many new and frightening encounters at every turn. They have been led home, where they hope to find rest, peace, and security – the ultimate beauty. The grotesque chaos of their history of slavery and wandering is transformed into order, into attentiveness, and into care. The Torah’s plan has the people caring for the land, caring for its borders, and caring for the people living in it. Through care, the land will flourish, be fruitful, and will be gain in beauty.

My drawing focuses strongly on the themes of beauty, form, and chaos. The unformed “wild” and amorphous forms serve as symbols for what has passed. In contrast, the orderly and beautifully crafted objects symbolize the desire for a civilized and structured society supported by the fundamental concepts of justice and peace taught in the Torah. Many of the objects in the piece allude to the hidden female presence in the Exodus process: the head coverings, the small mirror, the net, needles to craft the imagined curtains of the Mikdash (The Tabernacle), the German-Jewish wedding ring and the marriage between God and His people at Mount Sinai.

Next to culture, nature persists, formed by G-d in its perfection at Creation. The sand of the desert and the cowry shell in its immaculate beauty have a prominent place in the picture. The dotted line shows the path of the long journey from Egypt to the Holy Land. There is the promise of the beauty and of the just society that we read of in the Torah, just as there is the promise of conclusive Redemption. There is promise – may it be fulfilled speedily in our days.

This work is dedicated to Susi Rosenberg ע”ה from Munich (1959 – 2015), a gifted artist in her own right.

About Shoshana

Shoshana Ruerup studied fine arts in Germany and in the Netherlands. Her work is deeply influenced by traditional Jewish texts and Jewish philosophers such as Edmond Jabes and Emanuel Levinas. Shoshana sees her work as a form of Jewish study connecting the past with the present and the future. Apart from her work in the studio, Shoshana teaches art in a small, vibrant Orthodox community in former East Berlin.

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