12 March 2017

Team Israel aided by Power-Ranger, Spiderman and Batman Defeats Evil Haman and Wicked Khamenei


Good News for PURIM 2017/5777.  Team Israel, the lowest ranking team in the World Baseball Classic, remains undefeated having crushed the top ranking teams of South Korea, China Taipei, Netherlands and Cuba.

After batting their way to the top, winning Word Baseball Classic, Team Israel recruits Batman, Spiderman, and my Power-Ranger great-grandson to repeat the defeat of evil Persian Haman 2,500 years ago by thwarting wicked Persian Khamenei’s current plans to annihilate the Jewish State.
New Israel Defense Forces uniforms are being issued in blue and white and cumtaot berets are being replaced by baseball caps. 

“He shall remove his garments and don other garments.” (Leviticus 6: 4)

With Team Israel uniforms, the IDF is invincible.

“Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt. How, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the way, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.  Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the Land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.  Do not forget! “(Deuteronomy 25:17-19)

On the Shabbat before the holiday of Purim, we are charged not to forget Amalek’s merciless murder of Jews solely because they are Jews.

In the Scroll of Esther read on Purim, the incarnation of Amalek is Haman who plots to murder all Jews in the Persian kingdom.

The Purim story ends in Iran with Haman hanging from the gallows he constructed to hang the Jew Mordecai.

The present day incarnation of Grand Ayatollah Haman is Iranian Grand Ayatollah Khamenei aspiring to recreate a new Persian Empire with the same genocidal intentions.

The story remains the same.  Only the players and their costumes have changed. 

My wife Miriam and I visited our great-grandson Eliad’s kindergarden for our “Torah Tweets” blogart project http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com.

We photographed Eliad’s classmates Batman and Spiderman celebrating the defeat of the genocidal intentions of ancient and present day enemies of the Jews.     


“For the Jews there was light, gladness, joy, and honor.” (Esther 8:16)

09 February 2017

Revealing Beauty Hidden Within Leaves for the New Year of the Trees


Celebrating the Jewish New Year of the Trees this week brings me back to the first painting I made when Miriam and I were married 58 years ago.  I was a science teacher at Louis Pasteur Junior High School on Long Island studying painting at the Art Students League of New York.   Looking at a cross-section of an oak leaf through a microscope, I painted the awesome beauty hidden in the cellular pattern within the leaf.  (The photo above is a cross-section of a pine leaf that I painted with molten waxes on a shaped panel.)

I have returned to exploring scientific, artistic and spiritual interrelationship in this hidden beauty throughout my career as artist and educator in the United States and Israel.  I wrote about this dynamic interface in my book on photographing Divine light in everyday life http://photographgod.com and my books The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness and Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology and Culture (both published by Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press) http://future-of-art.com.      

In the 1970’s, I created an interdisciplinary course “Morphodynamics: Design of Natural Systems” that I taught at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and at Columbia University in New York.  As art professor at Columbia, my teaching explored the cellular growth patterns of plants that I studied in the laboratory of the New York Botanical Gardens and developed into artworks in my New Jersey studio. I found hidden within leaves a vital inner beauty that rivals the beauty of the outer forms of plants and their flowers. I sought to reveal this hidden beauty through encaustic paintings on photomicrographs of leaf cross-sections.  

I prepared microscope slides of leaf cross-sections, photographed their cellular patterns through a microscope, enlarged them 600 times, mounted them on shaped panels, and painted on the photographs with vibrant pigments suspended in molten waxes.  The shapes of the panels are the outer shapes of the leaves, shapes emerging from the dynamic interplay between the cells within.   Nothing is more important to us than what happens inside leaves.  Without the vital process of photosynthesis occurring within leaves, we would not exist and there would be no life on our planet.  Leaf cells, using sunlight and chlorophyll, take water flowing up into leaves from roots in the earth and carbon dioxide blowing into leaves from the surrounding air and transform them into food and oxygen.  

My focus on the inner beauty of the photosynthetic process and the cellular organization within leaves rather than the outer beauty of the plant is not only inspired by my background in biology and art, but by my Jewish consciousness.  Unlike the Hellenistic art revived in the Renaissance that sees beauty in the imitation of external form, Judaism honors the inner dynamics of living systems.  The growth process by which the outer form of a leaf is created by the organization of the cells within reveals an inner beauty known as tiferet in Judaism.  Tiferet is the innermost node interconnected with nine others in the “Tree of Life” metaphor for the spiraling of divine light into our everyday world of space and time.  This metaphorical way of seeing beauty as the dynamic harmony between multiple forces is called hokhmat hanistar (hidden wisdom), another name for kabbalah, Judaism’s down-to-earth spiritual tradition.

My aesthetic enthusiasm for revealing the elegant cellular growth patterns hidden within leaves became the central focus of my artwork during my years as professor at Columbia when I equipped a studio for encaustic painting.  I installed ventilation hoods to remove the fumes generated when I made paints by suspending powdered pigments in a combination of molten beeswax, microcrystalline wax, and dammar resin.  I designed and built special equipment combining soldering irons and funnels with touch values for painting on photomicrographs that I mounted on shaped panels.  Light waves reflected from within the depths of the translucent encaustic paints rendered the cells vibrancy unattainable with oil or acrylic paints. 

At the laboratory of the New York Botanical Gardens, I replaced the water in plant cells with alcohol and then xylol and liquid paraffin so that they would be firm enough when refrigerated to be cleanly cut with a microtome into cross-sections one-cell thick.  I prepared microscope slides through which I photographed the cellular patterns creating the outer form of the leaf.  In the darkroom at Columbia, I printed these photographs in black and white to mount on the shaped panels that I prepared in my Teaneck studio. 
        

Three decades later, I mounted an exhibition at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens of these shaped encaustic paintings of cellular patterns within leaves alongside the actual living plants that invite visitors to the exhibition to embark on an aesthetic journey from the whole plant into the beautiful world hidden within it.  Although the exhibition was scheduled for two months in the summer of 2007, it met with such an enthusiastic response that it remained for two years until the end of the summer of 2009.  See photos of the exhibition at my website http://www.melalexenberg.com/artwork.php?id=51.

From The Times of Israel, February 9, 2017, at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/revealing-beauty-hidden-in-leaves-for-new-year-of-the-trees/   

02 February 2017

Silent Dogs and the Symphony of Biodiversity


“There shall be a great cry of anguish throughout all Egypt.... But among the Israelites, no dog shall howl for man or beast.” (Exodus 11:6, 7)  This passage is read from the Torah scroll on Shabbat, February 4, 2017. 

SILENT DOGS

In Egyptian mythology, the Dog God Anubis gains its powers from the howling of dogs at death to raise the soul to eternal afterlife.  When the dogs did not howl, the plague of the death of the first-born caused double anguish since eternal afterlife was denied.  The awesome quiet of the dogs at the freeing the Israelites from slavery gives dogs an honored place in Judaism.

See how my wife Miriam and I link this Torah portion (Bo/Come) to our life in Israel through photographs and Torah Tweet texts at http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/exodus-3-song-of-dog.html and in my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com.

THE SONG OF THE DOG

Dogs are not known for their silence.  The song of the dog is presented as the climax of the small book Perek Shira (Chapter of Song) that gives voice to each animal’s role in praising God in a global symphony of biodiversity.  In Perek Shira, the song of the dog is: “Come! Let us bow in humility and adoration, let us kneel before God our Maker.” (Psalm 95:6). The loyalty of a dog to his master provides a model for human gratitude to God for everything in life.

Our son Ron’s studies of the kabalistic underpinnings of Perek Shira encouraged him to seriously study music with prominent Israeli composers.  After a few years of music studies that paralleled his emersion in Jewish studies at Merkaz Harav, the flagship Zionist rabbinic college in Jerusalem, he realized that God doesn’t write the Symphony of Creation on a five-line staff.  God writes the distinctive song of each species on the rungs of DNA spiral ladders, the chromosomes in every cell of every plant and animal.  Ron then switched from his music studies to studying biology.  He earned his M.Sc. in genetics at Ben Gurion University where he is now completing his Ph.D.  As both rabbi and biologist, Ron teaches interrelationships between Torah and science. 

GLOBAL SYMPHONY OF BIODIVERSITY

Perek Shira presents biblical and rabbinic verses representing the songs of 64 other species of animals and plants in addition to the song of the dog.  Every species of living organism on our planet sings its distinctive praise of their Creator.   According to estimates made by biologists, over eight million species of animals live on planet Earth.  Each species sings its special song in harmony with all the others to create a grand symphony of biodiversity.

The information for all forms of life from the amoeba to the giant redwoods, from roses to elephants, from bacteria to whales, and from onions to human beings, is written with an alphabet of only four letters like the biblical Tetragrammaton YHVH. They are A for adenine, T for thymine, C for cytosine, and G for guanine. These letters spell four words: A-T, T-A, C-G, G-C. Each rung of the DNA spiral ladder is written with one of these words.  

Human beings have 46 chromosomes. The sequence and number of these words determines whether you have blue eyes or brown, whether you will be short or tall, and whether you will be a genius or mentally retarded.  During my first career as a science teacher, I asked my students what would happen if they had 16 chromosomes instead of 46.  When I told them that they’d be onions, they understood that all life forms are written with the same four letters.

PEREK SHIRA  

Here are some plants and animals with their verses from Perek Shira in the order they appear in the book with their chromosome numbers:

The trees of the forest like the oak tree with 24 chromosomes, says: “Then all the trees of the forest will sing with joy, before god – for He will have come to judge the earth.” (1 Chronicles 16:32)

The date palm with 26 chromosomes says: “A righteous man will flourish like a date palm, like a cedar in the Lebanon he will grow.”  (Psalms 92:13)

The sheaf of wheat with 42 chromosomes says: “A song of ascents.  From the depths I called you, God” (Psalms 130:1)

The grasses with 55 chromosomes say: “May the glory of God endure forever, let God rejoice in His works.” (Psalms 104:21)

The crane with 74 chromosomes says: “Give thanks to Hashem with a harp, with a ten-stringed lyre make music to Him.” (Psalms 33:2)

The swallow with 70 chromosomes says: “So that my soul might sing to You and not be stilled, my God, forever I will thank you.” (Psalms 30:13)

The domestic goose with 80 chromosomes says: “Give thanks to God, declare His Name make His acts known among the peoples.  Sing to Him, speak of all His wonders.” (Psalm 105:1-2)

The spider says: “Praise Him with clanging cymbals; praise Him with resonant trumpets.” (Psalms 150:5)  (There are tens of thousands of spider species that differ in chromosome number.)

The cow with 60 chromosomes says: “Sing joyously to the God of our strength, call out to the God of Judah.” (Psalms 81:2)

The donkey with 62 chromosomes says: “Yours, God, is the greatness, the strength, the splendor, the triumph, and the glory, even everything in heaven and earth.” (1 Chronicles 29:11).

The deer with 70 chromosomes says: “I will sing of Your might, and rejoice towards morning in Your kindness.” (Psalms 59:17)

The elephant with 56 chromosomes says: “How great are Your deeds, God, exceedingly profound Your thoughts.” (Psalms 92:6)

The bear with 74 chromosomes says: “The wilderness and its cities will lift their voices; …those who dwell on bedrock will sing out.” (Isaiah 42:11)

The snake with 72 chromosomes says: “God supports all the fallen ones and straightens all the bent.” (Psalms 145:14)   

The ant with 40 chromosomes says: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; see its ways and grow wise” (Proverbs 6:6)

The weasel with 44 chromosomes says: “Let all souls praise God, Halleluyah!” (Psalms 150:6)

The dog with 78 chromosomes says: “Come! Let us bow in humility and adoration, let us kneel before God our Maker.” (Psalm 95:6). 

THE SYMPHONY OF CREATION

The Talmud teaches: “Had the Torah not been given, we would have learned modesty from the cat, the prohibition of theft from the ant, the prohibition of forbidden relationships from the dove, and the proper method of conjugal relations from fowl.” (Tractate Eruvin 100b)

“He teaches us from the animals of the land, and from the birds of the heavens He makes us wise.” (Job 35:11)

Each species sings its unique song in harmony with eight million other members of the global orchestra to create a grand symphony of biodiversity.  The Symphony of Creation is elegantly described in the last lines of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species:

“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing in the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have been produced by laws acting around us.”

19 January 2017

Strolling Down Herzl Street with Herzl


The first portion of Exodus, Shemot/Names, is read from the Torah scroll on Shabbat, January 21, 2017. 

“And these are the names of the Children of Israel” (Exodus1:1).

Names of the leading figures in Jewish and Zionist history are the names of the streets in towns and cities throughout Israel.  The project of my students in the course “Judaism and Zionism: Roots and Values” that I taught at Ariel University invited them to learn about personalities named on the plaques on street corners in their hometown. 

Each student chose leaders who exemplified roots and values of Judaism like Maimonides, Ibn Ezra and Rashi and Zionist leaders like Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Ahad Ha’am and Henrietta Szold.  The student wrote, designed for easy reading, and printed a one page bio of each person chosen.  They walked on Ben Yehuda Street, for example, asking residents and passersby what they know about Ben Yehuda.  Israelis rarely admit that they don’t know.  They invent creative bios that have nothing to do with the life of Ben Yehuda.  The student then gives the bio that tells the real story. 

My student’s final project was to write a paper envisioning themselves walking down streets named for the personalities they chose. They had to read their writings and create narratives of an imagined dialogue.  They wrote, for instance, about their conversation with Herzl while strolling down Herzl Street, found in every city in Israel, discussing his ideas with him.  Are the buildings and activities on Herzl Street expressions of Herzl’s values or the opposite?

ALTNEULAND/OLDNEWLAND/TEL AVIV

During the seven years I was professor at Ariel University, I taught the course “Judaism and Zionism: Roots and Values” to hundreds of students each year.  Herzl’s Altneuland in its Hebrew translation was one of four of textbooks for my course.  The others were Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook’s Orot (Lights), Rabbi Joseph  B. Soloveitchik’s Ish Halakha  (Halakhic Man), and the popular Israeli siddur (prayer book) Rinat Yisrael.

Herzl’s 1902 novel creates a prophetic vision for a Jewish state in the Land of Israel that is close to its realization today as a successful start-up nation.   It begins with the anti-Semitic culture and Jewish poverty that permeated 19th century Vienna and ends with the realization of the Zionist dream in a socially and technologically advanced democracy. Today, thousands of Jews from France and Ukraine are leaving behind the renewed anti-Semitic culture of Europe to join in the Zionist enterprise of creating a more just and inclusive society.

Too few people have read this seminal Zionist book.  It’s disappointing that when I went into Tzomet Sfarim and Steimatzky book stores, neither store had Altneuland in Hebrew or any other language.  

In the final words of Altneuland, the main character asks, “We see before us a new and happier form of human society – by what was it created?  Old Litwak said: “Distress!” Steineck the architect: “The united nation.”  Kingscourt: “The new technology.” Dr. Marcus: “Knowledge.” Joe Levy: “Will power.”  Professor Steineck: “The forces of nature.”  Hopkins, the English parson: “Tolerence.”  Reshid Bey: “Self-assurance.”  David Litwak: “Love and suffering.”  But Rabbi Shemuel rose and solemnly said “God.”

Rabbi Kook writes: “The Land of Israel is not something external, not an external national asset, a means to an end of collective solidarity and the strengthening of the nation’s existence, physical or even spiritual.  The Land of Israel is an essential unit bound by the bond-of-life to the People, united by inner characteristics of existence.”

Rabbi Soloveitchik writes:  “The dream of creation is the central idea in the halakhic consciousness – the idea of the importance of man as a partner of the Almighty in the act of creation, man as a creator of worlds.”  He adds that Judaism’s most fervent desire is the perfection of the world under the dominion of righteousness and loving-kindness in the realm of concrete life, penetrating every nook of cranny of life. “The marketplace, the street, the factory, the house, the meeting place, the banquet hall, all constitute the background for religious life.”

From the siddur we pray daily, “Sound the great shofar for your freedom, raise the banner to gather our exiles and gather us together from the four corners of the earth.  Blessed are you, God who gathers in the dispersed of Israel.”

TORAH TWEETS FROM HERZLIYA

See how my wife Miriam and I linked this Torah portion to our life in our “Torah Tweets” blogart project http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/exodus-1-herzl-at-herzliya-car-wash.html and in my book PHOTOGRAPH GOD: CREATING A SPIRITUAL BLOG OF YOUR LIFE http://photographgod.com.

When we were creating “Torah Tweets,” we spent Shabbat Shemot at the Dan Acadia Hotel on the sea in Herzliya, named for Theodore Herzl, the towering figure of modern Zionism. Driving to the hotel, we photographed a laser-cut steel portrait of Herzl at the entrance to Herzliya peering down from a water tower.  Miriam and I enjoy participating in Shabbat tefilah in a hotel synagogue.  It unites Jews, hotel guests from different backgrounds and countries of origin, Israelis and tourists, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, young and old, new olim and old timers, and those wearing knitted kippot and black hats.  They were called up to the Torah reading of Shemot with a medley of names.     

Miriam's mother lived at Beit Juliana, the Dutch parents' home in Herzliya.  She drove from Herzliya to our home in Petah Tikva in her red Volvo several times a week until she was 98 and the Israeli government would not renew her driver’s license.  Her grandfather, Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Dunner, knew Herzl.  He was chief rabbi of Holland and founder of the Dutch Zionist Organization.  Mel's grandfather, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Kahn, participated in the 4th Zionist Congress in London in 1900 chaired by Herzl.  Instead of returning to Lithuania after the congress, he sailed for Boston where he married and where my mother was born.

Our sabra son Moshe Yehuda, named for Miriam’s father, earned both his B.A. and M.A. in Government at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya as valedictorian.  He taught Israeli society and politics at IDC for seven years and earned his MBA in a joint IDC/Warton program.

Herzl imagined how the Jewish State would be in his 1902 utopian novel Altneuland (OldNewLand), titled Tel Aviv in its Hebrew translation.  The main character in Herzl's book arrives at the newly created Jewish State in a yacht from his exile on an isolated Pacific island.  We photographed the yachts at the Herzliya Marina and the Imaginarium shop in the Herzliya Marina Mall.

“Then I came to the exiles, to Tel Aviv…. and I dwelt where they were dwelling.” (Ezekiel 3:15)

(From The Times of Israel, January 19, 2017, http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/strolling-down-herzl-street-with-herzl/ ).

04 January 2017

Indigenous Tribe Returns to Israel after 27 Centuries


“And God said to Jacob [whose name was changed to Israel] ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your native land, and I will be with you.’”  (Genesis 31:3)

The indigenous people of the Land of Israel are the twelve tribes of Israel with a 3,500 link to the Holy Land.  The Jewish People is the only sovereign nation that has ruled Israel.  All other rulers have been foreign nations and empires that occupied Israel.  Most attempted to ethnically cleanse it of its indigenous people. 

ETHNIC CLEANSING

The last invaders were the armies of the surrounding Arab countries that invaded Israel in 1948.  Jordan succeeded in murdering and ethnically cleansing Judea and Samaria of all its Jews until it was liberated in 1967 when the army of the Jewish state foiled the Arabs second attempt to exterminate Israel.  

The recent resolutions of UNESCO denying any connection between the indigenous Jewish nation and Jerusalem and of the UN Security Council deeming it illegal for Jews to build homes in its historic homeland are obscene, hostile and anti-Semitic.   Forbidding Jews from building in Judea makes as much sense as forbidding Arabs from building in Arabia.   

THE ZIONIST MIRACLE

The Zionist miracle in our time is the return of millions of Jews from a hundred countries after thousands of years of exile and bringing them home to Israel overshadows the great biblical miracle of liberating one nation of thousands from enslavement in the one country of Egypt after hundreds of years of exile. 

An amazing part of this contemporary miracle is the aliyah of the Bnei Menashe (Children of Manasseh) one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago.  They have lived in northeastern India, along the border with Burma.  Throughout their sojourn in exile, the Bnei Menashe continued to practice Judaism and continued to nourish the dream of one day returning to the land of their ancestors, the Land of Israel.

“And I will return the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel, and I shall assemble them as in the beginning.” (Jeremiah 33)

THE HOMECOMING OF A LOST TRIBE

Below are the Torah Tweets commentaries on the final two Torah portions in the book of Genesis read in synagogues on January 7 and 14, 2017.  They describe the visit of my wife Miriam and me with Bnei Menashe in Kiryat Arba as they appear in our blogart project Torah Tweets: A Posdigital Biblical Commentary as a Blogart Narrative http://torahtweets.blogspot.com and in my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com

NO LONGER A LOST TRIBE
Vayigash/Approached (Genesis 44:18-47:27)

“Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Please, come close to me.’ When they came close, he said, ‘I am Joseph your brother!’"  (Genesis 45:4)

The reuniting of Joseph with his brothers after two decades of separation is the most emotionally charged portion of the Bible.

Bnei Menashe [Children of Manasseh] came to mind as we thought about our lives in relation to Joseph’s reuniting with his brothers.

Amazing news: Bnei Menashe, the descendants of Joseph’s son Manasseh, one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, is no longer lost.

They have been found living in northeastern India near the border with Burma.

Today, the children of Manasseh are reuniting with their family in the Land of Israel after a 27 century separation.

Throughout their long exile, they continued to observe the Sabbath, eat kosher food, and celebrate the biblical festivals.

A Google search for "Bnei Menashe" brought us to Shavei Israel www.shavei.org active in making this Zionist miracle come true.

Mel contacted its chairman Michael Freund who put us in contact with Tzvi Khaute who had come on aliyah from India.

Tzvi shared photos of his son Yaacov's bar mitzvah celebration on Hanukah posted here.  On the bar mitzvah invitation, he wrote:   

"And God said to Jacob [Yaacov], "Return to the land of your fathers and to your native land, and I will be with you."  (Genesis 31:3)


In the next Torah portion Vayehi, Jacob blesses his grandson Manasseh.

HOME AFTER 27 CENTURIES
Vayehi/Lived (Genesis 47:28-50:26)

“Israel said to Joseph, ‘I never pilal-ti (thought/hoped/imagined/dreamed) that I would ever see your face again, and God has even let me see your children.’" (Genesis 48:11)

To this day, Jewish fathers bless their children with Jacob's blessing: "May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh." (Genesis: 48:20)

We focus this Vayehi blog post on our awesome reunion with the beautiful children of Bnei Menashe.  See the photos at http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/genesis-11-home-after-27-centuries.html

Tzvi Kahuate, Bnei Menashe Coordinator for Shavei Israel, was our guide on our visit to his community in Kiryat Arba.

Shavei Israel reaches out and assists Lost Tribes seeking to return to the Jewish people.

We photographed Tzvi with his daughter in purple (segol) and his wife Nurit with their youngest daughter as their Superman son watched (the photo that begins this post).


Mel explained that the Jewish People are am segulah that can be translated as "purple people."

We are a People chosen to teach the world that by mixing sky blue with red (adom) of earth (adamah) we bring heaven down to earth.

We photographed Laviyah with her four-day old son and her son Menahem.  Her husband was away serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

We visited Beit Miriam, the Shavei Israel Community Center, where we saw Bnei Menashe children coming for help with their homework.

Others worked with computers and on crafts projects while two girls outside were climbing a tree.


At the entrance to Beit Miriam, the prophetic vision that we were seeing with our own eyes was posted on the wall:

“And I will return the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel, and I shall assemble them as in the beginning.”  (Jeremiah 33)

08 December 2016

Cyberangel Art and Jacob's Internet Ladder




My exploration of the seventh portion of Genesis, Vayetze/Went away, expresses my creative viewpoint as an artist who taught art and Jewish thought at Ariel and Bar-Ilan universities and art and technology at Columbia University and MIT. 

The first part “Computer Angels in Jacob’s Dream” is derived from the “Torah Tweets” blogart project that my wife Miriam and I created to relate the weekly Torah reading to our lives through digital images and tweet texts. You can see photos and texts for all the year’s Torah portions at http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com. 

It is followed by “Internet Angels” from the chapter “Discovering Kabbalah through a Creative Lens” in my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com.      

COMPUTER ANGELS IN JACOB’S DREAM

Vayetze/Went away (Genesis 28:10-32:3)

He [Jacob] had a vision in a dream. A ladder was standing on the ground and its top reached up toward heaven; and behold! Divine angels were ascending and descending on it. (Genesis 28:12)

Miriam and I enjoyed sitting together in the Metropolitan Museum of Art print room holding Rembrandt's drawings and etchings of angels in our hands.

Mel painted on subway posters and screen printed digitized Rembrandt angels and spiritual messages from underground:

Divine angels ascend and descend. (Genesis 28:12) "They start by going up and afterwards go down" (Rashi) "Have you seen angels ascending from the NYC subways? (Alexenberg)

Art is a computer angel.  The biblical term for art (MeLekHeT MakHSheVeT) is feminine.  The masculine form is computer angel (MaLakH MakHSheV).



The biblical words for angel and food are written with the same four letters to tell us that angels are spiritual messages arising from everyday life.

We chose an image of an ascending angel to digitize and send on a circumglobal flight on 4 October 1989, Rembrandt's 320th memorial day.  

We sent it via satellite from the AT&T building in NY to Amsterdam to Jerusalem to Tokyo to Los Angeles, returning to NY the same afternoon.

The cyberangel not only circled our planet, it flew into tomorrow and back into yesterday, arriving in Tokyo on 5 Oct. and LA on 4 Oct.


In Tokyo, the 28 faxed sheets were assembled in Ueno Park and then rearranged as a ribbon ascending the steps of a Shinto chapel.

As we assembled the cyberangel on its return to NY five hours after it had left, TV news networks sent it into ten million American homes.


The AP story of our angel flight appeared in 60 newspapers each with a different headline.  AT&T featured it in its Annual Report.

INTERNET ANGELS

In his highly original book on kabbalah, The Thirteen Petalled Rose, Rabbi Adin Steinsalz describes angels as messengers bringing divine plenty down from the worlds of Mind and Emotion into the World of Action.  The role of angels is implicit in their Hebrew name malakh, which means “messenger.”  It is said that an angel can carry out only one mission.  Every angel is one-dimensional, lacking the many-sidedness of human beings.  No two angels are alike. 

In the biblical book Ezekiel, we learn about three classes of angels:  Sepharim inhabiting the World of Mind, Hayot in the World of Emotions, and Ofanim in the World of Action.  Each one of the Sepharim is a distinct unit of mind, each of the Hayot is a distinct unit of an emotion, and each of the Ofanim is a distinct action.  Sepharim and Hayot are like invisible bits and bytes in the cybersphere cloud that transmit their messages to Ofanim that render them visible on your computer monitor, tablet or smartphone.   Like data packets transporting information through cyberspace, the task of angels is to maintain communications between worlds of Mind, Emotions, and Action.  

Angels can be considered discrete data packets in the immaterial Worlds of Mind and Emotions realized in the material World of Action. An angel in the World of Mind is a one-of-a-kind cognitive data packet of a specific thought, word, idea, or concept. An angel in the World of Emotions is an affective data packet of a particular feeling or emotion, a specific inclination or impulse toward love, fear, pity, and so on.  Ofanim are wheel angels bicycling through the World of Action, animating the realm of space and time, coloring every single facet of your daily life.   (In modern Hebrew, ofnayim is a bicycle and ofnoah is a motorcycle.) 

Since every angel is a separate entity, no angels exist in the World of Intention.  It is a world close enough to the divine source to be whole before being broken into separate entities by the creation of the universe. 

The full image of a web site does not fly through the Web all at once. It is sent in parts that come together on the computer screen or smartphone. The Web server sending the digitized image to the requesting browser breaks the image up into data packets. Each packet is assigned an ID number and routed by routers from one geographical location to the next through the available telecommunications pathways.

In celebration of Miami’s centennial, I digitized an angel drawn by Rembrandt and sent it flying between the four corners of USA.   The single angel image was deconstructed and routed through cyberspace between Miami and San Diego along multiple pathways. When the data packets reach San Diego, they are reassembled in the correct sequence based on the ID numbers that were assigned in Miami.

The transmission control protocol (TCP) ensures that all the packets get to the requesting computer with no pieces missing as the whole Rembrandt cyberangel is rematerialized.  One angel packet can fly from Miami to New Orleans to Houston to Albuquerque to Phoenix to San Diego, while another angel packet flies from Miami to Atlanta to Nashville to St. Louis to Tulsa to Denver to Las Vegas to San Diego. Visualize the documentation of hundreds of routing paths plotted between the four corners on a map of the USA.

The erratic pathways drawn from Miami to San Diego, from San Diego to Seattle, from Seattle to Portland, and from Portland back to Miami look like streaks of electric energy. The visual record of the cyberangel flight around the American perimeter appear like flashes of lightning illuminating the multiple pathways between the four corners of USA. It is appropriate that the contemporary Hebrew word for electricity heshmal is taken from Ezekiel’s image of an angel.

The Lubavicher Rebbe teaches that the sweeping technological changes we are experiencing today were predicted some two thousand years ago in the Zohar, the classic text of kabbalah. The Zohar describes how the outburst in scientific knowledge and technological advancement would be paralleled by an increase in sublime wisdom and spirituality. Integrating the wisdom of the mind and the wisdom of the soul can begin to usher true unity into the world.