Parshat Shemini

Gouache, pencil, colored pencil and gold leaf on parchment, 2009

Artist: Laya Crust,  Canada

Division is a major theme in Judaism. We differentiate the holy from the profane and kosher from non-kosher. Shabbat is an island in time separated from other days, divided from the rest of the week. Men and women separate according to niddah, laws pertaining to women during menstruation and after, and the spiritual purification of immersing in a mikveh, the Jewish ritual bath. Division and separation are intrinsic to our religious observances. The differences also serve to make us distinct from other nations.

It was the theme of division that struck me with Torah portion, parshat Shemini. G-d places deep importance on the strict adherence to proscribed separations. The ramifications of non- adherence are quick and violent. In my painting, the tongues of flame, the intense color, and the movement across the klaf (parchment), is meant to communicate the profundity and importance of our laws and the intense reaction to noncompliance. A jarring and unexpected occurrence takes place in parshat Shemini. Moshe conducts a series of sacrifices and the burnt offerings are accepted. G-d sends down a pillar of fire which consumes the burnt offering and the altar. Then, two of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, take it upon themselves to make an unsolicited sacrifice to G-d. It is seen as an act of disrespect, as it hasn’t been described or requested- and Gd sends out another fire which devours the two men. In a heart-breaking moment, Moshe tells Aharon and his other sons not to mourn the deaths of their sons and brothers. This incident is followed by a long list of non-kosher and kosher animals. The parasha ends with G-d telling the nation to make a distinction between the clean and the unclean.

There are a few groupings of flames in this painting. Some are bright and some are dull. The acceptable flames are rendered in reds, oranges, and yellows. The flames wind up to heaven and ultimately turn into gold. The gold-tipped flames are accepted by the heavens, and G-d sends down heavenly flames to meet the earthly ones. These ethereal flames are bordered by darker flames rendered in burnt orange, burgundy, red, and yellow ochre. The darker flames die and disappear before reaching heaven.  As we learn and create, we strive to make our prayers and our lives like the flames that will reach to heaven and be golden. We endeavor to leave behind the actions and thoughts that are not well formed. By striving for integrity, truth and compassion, we reach towards true spirituality like the golden flames before us.

About Laya

Laya Crust studied design at the University of Manitoba and drawing, painting and printmaking at The Three Schools of Art and at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. She has also studied with world-renowned artists and calligraphers including Donald Jackson, Reggie Ezell, Leona Faye, and David Moss. Foremost a painter, she also works in clay, fabric and glass, and has collaborated with stained glass artists, fiber artists and silversmiths.

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