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.      


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.


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.

17 November 2016

Where's the Garden of Eden? It's in Your Kitchen.

Abraham rushed to the tent to Sarah and said, “Hurry!  Take three measures of the finest flour!  Kneed it and make rolls!”  Abraham ran to the cattle to choose a tender and choice calf.  (Genesis 18:6, 7)

The biblical passage above is read in synagogues on Shabbat, 19 November 2016.  It is part of the fourth Torah portion of the Book of Genesis called Vayera (and he appeared).   The first section below is the “Paradise or Barbeque” post in the Torah Tweets blogart project.  I wrote the blog post as a sequence of tweets with less 140 characters as required by the Twitter social networking website. Torah tweets are like bursts of bird song that sometimes gain a haiku-like poetic flavor. 

This post expresses the core concept of my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com that teaches how to create a spiritual blog that links personal stories to the biblical narrative by drawing on the wisdom of kabbalah in a networked world. I could have titled my book Spirituality through a Smartphone Lens: Discovering the Sacred in Everyday Life.


Abraham ran after a calf that ran away from him into a cave that was the burial place of Adam and Eve. 

At the far end of the cave, he saw intense light emanating from an opening.

When he came close to the opening, he found himself standing at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. 

About to enter the pristine garden, he remembered that his wife and three guests were waiting for lunch back at the tent.

What should he do?  Should he trade paradise for a barbeque?

The Bible tells us that he chose to return to the tent and join his wife in making a meal for their three guests.

Abraham realized that paradise is what we create with our spouse at home.  Other visions of paradise are either mirages or lies.

Enjoy life with the wife you love through all the days of your life. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)

My wife, Miriam, and I worked together to create paradise in our vegetarian kitchen.
Adam and Eve had a vegetarian kitchen.

Spirituality emerged from our collaboration making a potato casserole for our guests.

We bought potatoes and scallions in Avi’s vegetable store and cottage cheese and grated yellow cheese in Bella’s grocery.    

We baked the potatoes in the microwave, sliced them into the baking pan and covered them with the cheeses. 

Miriam washed the scallions, cut them up, and sprinkled them over layers of cheese-covered potatoes.

After the casserole was baked, we served it to our guests.


As two artists, Miriam and I created the year-long Torah Tweets blogart project to celebrate our 52nd year of marriage.  It offers a model for photographing God and spiritual blogging.  During each of the 52 weeks of our 52nd year, we posted six photographs that reflect our life together with a text of tweets that relates to the weekly portion of the Torah.  It was widely disseminated through the blogosphere and twitterverse. You can access the entire blogart project, both images and texts, at http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com.

My Photograph God book invites people of all religions and spiritual traditions to blog their own lives.  It shows how to create a spiritual blog by photographing God revealed in everyday life while crafting a dialogue between the blogger’s story and the Bible’s story.  The insights of kabbalah, the down-to-earth mystical tradition of Judaism, offer tools for spiritual bloggers to appreciate the creative process, both divine and human.  It challenges bloggers to inspirationally link an ancient spiritual tradition to life in a networked world by photographing God creatively. 


God does not exist in reality.  God is reality itself.  Rabbi David Aaron, who teaches kabbalah in the Old City of Jerusalem, explains in his book Seeing God that God is the all-embracing context for everything.  In Hebrew, God is called Hamakom, which means “The Place.”  God is the place where everything is happening. You do not exist alongside God. You exist within God, within the only one reality that is God. Everything is in God, God is in everything, but God is also beyond everything. 

Seeing God is all about getting in touch with reality.  If you want to photograph God, focus your lens on Hamakom, The Place, anyplace where you see divine light illuminating reality.   Let your smartphone collect the light reflecting from the reality shaping your everyday life and you will find yourself photographing God in action.


The English word “God” is a Germanic word that often conjures up images of some all-powerful being in the sky zapping us if we step out of line.   Your first step to photographing Hamakom, The Place of all the action in your life, is to shatter popular images of God.

The Bible admonishes us not to create graven images that delimit a God that kabbalah calls Ein Sof “Endless” and Ha’efes Hamukhlet “Absolute Nothingness.”  God is no thing, nothing, and has no name.

To photograph God, you need to get rid of “God.”  You need to abandon conceptual graven images, idols of God engraved in your mind from childhood.  Free your mind from any images of God.  See God as Hamakom, any place that you focus your lens.

I reluctantly use the word “God” when I write in English since a comparable word does not exist in the Bible in the Hebrew original.   We rather find names for the emanations of divine light illuminating our thoughts, feelings and actions.  Hebrew speakers call God Hashem, literally “The Name,” the name of the nameless One.

The most frequently used word in the Bible that is translated as “God” is YHVH.  Since it is made up of only vowels, it cannot be pronounced.  It is the sound of your breathing.  YHVH should be translated as “Is-Was-Will Be.”  It combines in four letters the present, past and future tenses of the verb “to be.”  When the Bible is studied in Hebrew, YHVH is read as Hashem. When the Bible is read aloud in synagogue, the reader sees the word YHVH and reads it as another word, the word for Lord Adonai.        

The divine response to Moses asking for God’s name is Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, “I Will Be as I Will Be.”  God’s name is no thing, not a noun.  It is a verb that actively points to a future open to all possibilities. 

Getting rid of the popular image of God is the essence of biblical consciousness.  In the Bible, Abraham is called the first Hebrew, which means “one who crosses over.”  He crossed over from popular images of God of his times shaped from clay to an imageless God that permeates all of reality and beyond.    As a prelude to the biblical story of Abraham beginning his journey away from his father’s world of idolatry, the oral tradition tells that Abraham was minding his father’s idol shop when he took a stick and shattered the merchandise to bits. He left only the largest idol untouched, placing the stick in its hand. When his father returned, his shock at seeing the scene of devastation grew into fury as he demanded an explanation from his son. Abraham explained how the largest idol had broken all the other idols.

Use your smartphone as a tool to shatter the popular conceptual idol in the sky called “God” by focusing on Hamakom.   Focus your lens on whatever place you find yourself.


You can discover unprecedented creative opportunities for linking biblical texts with the spiritual in your everyday life through digital photography, a narrative blog form, and the Internet’s social media.
The Torah Tweets blog begins with a series of quotations from the Bible, contemporary thinkers, and popular literature that establish down-to-earth spiritually as the major theme of Judaism.  Weaving through Photographing God, you will find this theme inviting you to discover spirituality as it flows down into your life. 

"For the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp." (Deuteronomy 23:15)

"Judaism does not direct its gaze upward but downward ... does not aspire to a heavenly transcendence, nor does it seek to soar upon the wings of some abstract, mysterious spirituality. It fixes its gaze upon concrete, empirical reality permeating every nook and cranny of life. The marketplace, the factory, the street, the house, the mall, the banquet hall, all constitute the backdrop of religious life." (R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik)

"It is not enough for the Jew to rest content with his own spiritual ascent, the elevation of his soul in closeness to G-d, he must strive to draw spirituality down into the world and into every part of it – the world of his work and his social life – until not only do they not distract him from his pursuit of G-d, but they become a full part of it." (R. Menachem M. Schneerson)

"The first message that Moses chose to teach the Jewish people as they were about to enter the Land of Israel was to fuse heaven to earth, to enable the mundane to rise up and touch the Divine, the spiritual to vitalize the physical, not only as individuals but as an entire nation." (R. Abraham Y. Kook)

"If there is a religious agency in our lives, it has to appear in the manner of our times. Not from on high, but a revelation that hides itself in our culture, it will be ground-level, on the street, it'll be coming down the avenue in the traffic, hard to tell apart from anything else." (E. L. Doctorow)


Photograph God teaches how to make an invisible God become visible through your creative lens.  It draws on the ancient wisdom of kabbalah to help you recognize that you have been looking at God all the time and often missed the action.  It helps you develop conceptual and practical tools for photographing God as divine light reflected from every facet of your life.

Just as a prism breaks up white light into the colors of the spectrum, kabbalah reveals a spectrum of divine light based upon the biblical passage:

“Yours God are the compassion, the strength, the beauty, the success, the splendor, and the [foundation] of everything in heaven and on earth” (Chronicles 1:29).  

Learn that photographing God is to creatively photograph these six divine attributes revealed to you in all aspects of your life.  Focus your lens on acts of compassion, strength, beauty, success, and splendor that you encounter every day and everywhere.  Shift your focus to see ordinary events as being extraordinary, incredible, and amazing.  Take nothing for granted.  To be spiritual is to be continuously amazed.

You can better understand and appreciate the range of meanings within each of these six divine attributes by seeing them expressed in the lives of biblical personalities: Compassion (Abraham and Ruth), Strength (Isaac and Sarah), Beauty (Jacob and Rebecca), Success (Moses and Miriam), Splendor (Aaron and Deborah), and Foundation (Joseph and Tamar).  Imagine walking with your smartphone millennia ago photographing key events in the lives of these people.  Then take your smartphone and photograph actions that you observe in the lives of family, friends, and others you encounter that parallel events in the lives of these biblical personalities.     


Photograph God invites you to connect your personal narrative to the biblical narrative.  It guides you in creating a blog to observe, document, and share how your everyday experiences reflect biblical messages. It teaches how to find fresh meaning in your life story by relating it to the biblical story through digital photography and creative writing.       

Having learned how to focus your lens on God wherever you look will help you create blog narratives gleaned from your creative reading of the Bible.   You will be encouraged to explore imaginative ways for blogging photographic sequences that link two stories – the story of your life as it unfolds and the enduring biblical story.  You will also experiment with writing accompanying tweet texts to disseminate worldwide through your blog, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. 


Our year-long blogart project is a narrative art form that reveals a paradigm shift from the Greek to the Hebraic roots of Western culture.   The conceptual background for the Torah Tweets blog is offered in my book The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness http://future-of-art.com published by Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press.  It explores how the static, moderate, passive Hellenistic consciousness revived in the Renaissance contrasts with the dynamic, open-ended, action-centered Hebraic consciousness emerging in contemporary art forms.  

The active interface between photographic narratives and biblical texts is a postdigtial expression of Hebraic consciousness.  Wikipedia’s definition of “postdigtial” refers to my book, defining "postdigital art” as artworks that address the humanization of digital technologies through interplay between digital, biological, cultural, and spiritual systems.  It points to an attitude that is more concerned with being human, than with being digital.

A Torah Tweets blog transforms the mundane into the spiritual, the ordinary into the extraordinary, and experiences of daily living into expressions of biblical values.