Parshat Tzav

Pastel and ink on parchment, 2011

Artist: Shoshannah Brombacher,  USA

The shaliach tzibbur, the Reader who prays on behalf of the community, stands at a lectern facing the Aron Kodesh (the Ark with the Torah), right before he bows down. The parokhet (curtain) of the Ark is adorned with a tree and the text etz chayim hee / She is a Tree of Life. This text also hovers above the altar, which is described together with its mandatory sacrifices in the Torah. At the left side of the lectern the text min ha-metzar / From the Depths (Or: narrow place, visualized in deep purplish-brown) I call to HaShem… (Psalms.118:5), indicates how a shaliach tzibbur should approach HaShem: with a humble broken heart and from a ‘low’ place, not arrogantly and pleased with himself.

The shaliach tzibbur sees the kohanim (priests) with the korbanot (sacrifices) in front of him. Men are bringing in cattle, goats, fowl and sheep to be slaughtered at the left of the mizbeach (altar). Animals without blemish which are fit to be sacrificed are waiting patiently, while one of the kohanim lifts a goat to examine it. Near them stands the basket of figs mentioned in the midrash, a gift for the king. The kohen at the altar spreading his arms is surrounded by the korbanot God really wishes: broken hearts, visualized as shards of broken vessels floating in the air. The women at the right side offer their broken hearts/shards. The floating figure in the middle is the prototype of Rachel Imenu (Our Mother Rachel) suffering many heartbreaks. The women stand with their children in their arms and on their side near Mount Sinai with the Luchot (the Tablets of the Law) at the top of the painting, watching the altar and the perpetually straight column of white smoke rising from the flames.

Jewish women have suffered a lot during the ages of the Galut (the exile of the Jewish people after the Temple was destroyed), and even before that, as the stories in the TaNaCH (Bible) show us. Under the group of women flocking to the mizbeach (altar) a Jewish woman of the Eastern European shtetl with her children flees and cries in horror. The wooden houses and the old wooden synagogue in the heart of the shtetl are behind her, death and gravestones of her loved ones are never far away. When she is forced to leave the place with her family, as often happened, she carries their memory with her into exile, like the house of books on the right of her head. Her life is based on Torah principles and she admonishes her husband to study diligently. In that house she keeps the mitzvoth (commandments) like Shabbat, with the candles and challot (bread loaves for Shabbat and holidays) she clings to her chest. An antique Shabbat lamp with seven wicks is suspended in front of the altar. Keeping Shabbat is a symbol of keeping all the commandments. Under her an old woman who always puts her trust in God murmurs the verse from Psalms.37:25: “na’ar hayiti…I was young and I became old, but I never saw that a righteous person was abandoned and his offspring had to beg for bread.” In the top left corner King David plays his harp over the Temple and the altar, which was built by his son, Shlomo. The work is dominated by the warm red color of fire, the cool blue color of water and of the sky, and the bright yellow of light and flames. In the Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 12a, water and fire are the components of the raki’a (firmament).

About Shoshana

Shoshannah Brombacher, PhD (Amsterdam 1959) is a Jewish scholar, visual artist, author/illustrator and maggidah (ordained Jewish preacher, story teller and spiritual guide). While she attended some art classes in Leyden and at the Free Art Academy of The Hague in Holland, she mainly considers herself self-taught. Her art delves deeply in Jewish and especially Chassidic life and lore.

Collect this Art