26 August 2016

Teach about KUZU: KUZU = God in motion

“You should teach about KUZU,” I explained at my first senate meeting at the college that is now Ariel University. It was the year 2000 when it was in the process of gaining its independence from Bar-Ilan University.  The discussion centered on whether Ariel should continue teaching the course “Judaism and Zionism: Values and Roots” that Bar-Ilan had required.

Most of the professors conceptually agreed that the course should continue to be taught.  It fit Ariel’s educational objectives.  However, it was the Jewish studies teachers who had taught the course who thought it should be dropped.  They said that it was impossible to teach to students with wide range of Jewish backgrounds.  In the required freshman course there were new immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia who knew little about Judaism together with secular students who had little interest in learning about Jewish values and roots and with yeshiva high school graduates. 

I suggested that instead of teaching a text-centered course that is too demanding to those with little prior Jewish learning and repetitive and boring to those who had spent years focusing on the same Hebrew texts, it should be taught creatively from alternative viewpoints that are strange to all the students.  I explained that moving beyond verbal learning to learning through multiple-sense experiences would put all the students on an equal playing field.  Teach about KUZU, God in motion.  Compare spiral and branching systems in Jewish consciousness to those in nature.  Teach them how to photograph God in every aspect of their lives.  “What’s KUZU?” the professors asked.

“You teach the course,” the professors around the table said in unison.  As a biologist turned artist, I planned to teach the course “Morphodynamics: Design of Natural Systems” to Ariel’s architecture students.  I had created the word “morphodynamics” instead of “morphology” to emphasize the processes by which nature designs itself.  I first taught “Morphodynamics” at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in 1970 and developed it into a graduate course that I taught as art professor at Columbia University from 1973-1977 and at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies in the 1980’s.  I suddenly found myself teaching “Judaism and Zionism: Values and Roots” to hundreds of students for the next seven years. 

The ideas and projects that I developed with my Ariel students evolved in into my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com that explores Jewish thought and experience in our networked world.  The book expands the year-long “Torah Tweets” blogart project http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com that my wife Miriam I created to link our story to the biblical narrative.  Below is our blog post for the Torah portion Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25) read in synagogues worldwide on August 27, 2016.            


“Bind them [Torah words] as a sign upon your arm and let them be an ornament between your eyes.  Teach your children to discuss them, when you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, and when you retire and arise.  And write them on the doorposts of your houses and gates.”  (Deuteronomy 11:18-20)

KUZU sets God YHVH in motion.

KUZU is written up-side-down on the outside of a parchment scroll placed in a mezuzah housing that is attached to a doorpost.

On the inside of this mini-Torah scroll is "Hear O Israel, God YHVH is our Lord ELOHAYNU, God YHVH is One" (Deuteronomy 6:4)

K-U-Z-U is spelled with each of letters in the Hebrew alphabet that follow Y-H-V-H. K follows Y; U follows H; Z follows V; and U follows H. 

It is as if we were to write GOD as HPE, H being the letter following G, P the letter following O, and E the letter following D.

KUZU is written to teach that God, YHVH (Is-Was-Will be), cannot be experienced as a static object, but rather as dynamic process.

KUZU is written up-side-down to invite us to learn Torah with our children from multiple vantage points as part of the flow of life.

Miriam created home size and synagogue size mezuzah housings in her ceramics studio in our former home in Teaneck, NJ.

She made a silver mezuzah housing as a medusa with tentacles that move when touched. The word mezuzah is derived from zaz (move). 

In Guatemala, Mel carved a mezuzah housing from mahogany wood spiraling around a test tube capped with a 13 petal rose.

A Jew spirals a leather strap around his arm flowing out from the tefillin box.  He then forms the branching Hebrew letter shin on his hand.
Spirals and branches symbolize living systems, from spiraling palms to branching cedars and from DNA to our circulatory and nervous systems.

“It [Torah] is a tree of life to those who grasp it.  A righteous person will flourish like a date palm, like a Lebanon cedar he will grow tall.” (Proverbs 4:2, Psalm 92:13)

(From The Times of Israel, August 25, 2016)

Realizing Isaiah's Vision


When my wife Miriam and I visited Achuzat Sara Children's Home in Bnei Brak, we saw the vision of Isaiah in action in the Land of Israel.   Headmaster Shmuel Ron told us that the aim of his work is to put smiles on the faces of orphaned, abandoned, neglected, and abused children.  He and his wife created a community of loving kindness that 130 children consider their home.   

Achuzat Sara’s educational and social programs help its children gain self-esteem, develop emotionally and spiritually, and grow into responsible and productive adults.  
The children are encouraged to cultivate their talents in areas ranging from art, music and theater to sports, computers and science.  We documented our visit in our “Torah Tweets” blogart project http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com.

We saw pictures of dismal pasts transformed into visions of bright futures through the loving kindness permeating Achuzat Sara.  We met professional adults who grew up at Achzat Sara Children’s Home working there as teachers and social workers.  It is a tribute to the vision of Emunah Women who have been making Isaiah’s dream a reality by having created Ahuzat Sara and many other projects of hesed in action throughout the Jewish State.                

For the full Times of Israel blogpost on August 19, 2016, see http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/realizing-isaiahs-vision-2/

05 August 2016

Creative/Spiritual Stops along the Way to Israel

(From The Time of Israel, August 6, 2016)

In this blog post, I explore links between the 42 stops of the Israelites leaving Egypt recorded in the biblical book Numbers, to the 17 stops that my wife Miriam and I made before settling in our current home in Israel.  The final portion of Numbers, Masei/Journeys (Numbers 33:1-36:13) read in synagogues on Shabbat, August 6, 2016, explores how each stop along life’s journey offers new opportunities for seeing creatively and spiritually.

I describe below the 17 stops that we made in the United States and Israel during our 57 years of marriage.  The gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew word “tov” (good) is 17.  As two artists and educators, Miriam and I found beauty and goodness in each of our stops along the way that we shared with our children and students.


 “These are the journeys of the Israelites, going out of Egypt in organized groups under the leadership of Moses and Aaron.  Moses recorded their stops along the way at God's bidding.” (Numbers 32:1-2)

Why "journeys" in plural? Only the first of the 42 journeys recorded was going out of Egypt (Egypt is Mitzrayim in Hebrew, a word for narrowness).
Judaism teaches that we should see ourselves each day as if we traveled out of Egypt, away from narrow-minded thinking. 

“From the narrow straits I called upon God; God answered me with expansiveness.” (Psalm 118:5).

My newest book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of your Life http://photographgod.com teachers others how see their journeys as creative and spiritual stops in breaking away from narrow-minded thought to expansive thought.   


Each stop along life’s journey expands opportunities for seeing each new place creatively and spiritually. To see creatively is to expand the number of connections that link experiences of a new place to others in fresh ways.   To see spiritually is find beauty and goodness in everyday life encountered in a new place.

When leaders of the Israelite tribes were sent to explore the land of Israel, they saw no beauty or goodness there.  They trembled in fear of the giants that they saw.  When Calev saw the same giants, he said “What wonderful food must grow in the Land.  Our children will grow big and strong when we live there.” 

Only Calev of the tribe of Judah who possessed a "different spirit" could envision holy sparks emerging from all he saw.   Those ten tribal leaders, who could not part with the narrow viewpoint of slaves in Mitzrayim and could not envision the creative challenge of entering the Promised Land, were condemned to die in the desert.     

“Calev said to the whole Israelite community, ‘The Land that we passed through to explore is a very, very good Land!’" (Numbers 14:6-7)             

“God said, ‘The only exception will be My servant Calev, since he showed a different spirit and followed Me wholeheartedly.  I will bring him to the land that he explored, and his descendants will possess it.’ (Numbers 14:24)

The prototypical biblical artist Bezalel was Calev's great-grandson.  He was endowed with the Divine gift of transforming many different materials into expressions of beauty.  He used his aesthetic skills to create the Tabernacle, a portable Lego-like structure that was taken apart and reconstructed at each stop in the Israelites’ journey across the desert.

“Moses said to the Israelites: ’God has selected Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and has filed him with the divine spirit of wisdom, understanding, knowledge and a talent for all types of craftsmanship.’” (Exodus 35:30, 31)

Bezalel means in the God’s shadow, Uri means my flaming light, and Hur means freedom.        
In our day, the descendants of Calev and Bezalel are being ingathered from the four corners of the earth to the Land of Israel.  The creative perceptions of Calev coupled with the aesthetic sensibilities of Bezalel offer a model for education in Israel.


The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches: "The Jew was not created to stand still.  There is always a new journey before him…. The miracles which sustained the Jews in the wilderness were not the apex of spiritual existence.  They were only a preparation for the real task: taking possession of the Land of Israel and making it a holy land. The purpose of life lived in Torah is not the elevation of the soul; it is the sanctification of the world."

“God said to Abram, ‘Go for yourself away from your land, from your birthplace, from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.’”  (Genesis 12:1)    

The story of the Jewish people begins with walking away from narrow-minded thought to reach an expansive vision.  It is a Divine invitation to leave all too familiar ways in order to come to see a new place.

“The Place,” Hamakom is Hebrew, is one of God’s names, a spacial name for the Omnipresent that can be encountered everyplace. 

The biblical narrative describes Jacob coming upon a nameless place on his journey from his parent’s home to a distant place that he has never seen.  It was at that place where he stopped to sleep that he had the dream of a ladder linking heaven and earth.         

“And Jacob left Beersheba and headed toward Haran.  He came upon THE PLACE and spent the night there because the sun had set; and he took from the stones of THE PLACE which he arranged around his head and lay down in that PLACE.” (Genesis 28:10-11)

It was in this rocky no-man’s-land that Jacob encountered Hamakom.   If God is in everyplace, how could Jacob have stumbled upon Hamakom in one particular place?  Jacob came upon a new insight rather than finding a new geographical place.  He came to realize that in the finite makom, the place where he happened to stop for the night is where he encountered the infinite Hamakom. 

He began to see that God was present wherever he stopped on his life’s journey.  Jacob stumbled upon the understanding that wherever he found himself was the right place at the right time.  When he awoke from his sleep, he said “Surely God is present in this place and I did not know it…. How awesome is this place” (Genesis 28:17-18).  Jacob’s insight teaches us how awe-inspiring it is to discover God’s presence everyplace we happen to find ourselves.


I was born and grew up in New York City and in summers among the swallows, salamanders and sowbugs of the Catskill Mountains.   My mother was born in Boston and my father in New Jersey.

Miriam was born in the Dutch colony of Suriname where the Amazon jungle reaches the Atlantic Ocean.  Her parents were born in Amsterdam.   She moved to Israel when she was 9.  Her father brought the family to New York for two years for business reasons.  We were married in 1959 when I was 22 and she was 18.

Our first four stops as a married couple were towns on Long Island.  Our first three children, Iyrit, Ari and Ron, were born at the first stop. I was a science teacher and author of science books for children while studying for an interdisciplinary doctorate at NYU in art, science, and psychology of creativity.  Miriam was a dedicated mother while studying child psychology.

After ten years in the US, we packed up our home in Old Bethpage (#4) and made aliyah with our children to Ra’anana where we rented a little farmhouse (#5) in an orange grove while building a modern home (#6) on the other side of a peanut field.  I taught science education and creativity at Tel Aviv University and art and creativity at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem.  Miriam created a warm Jewish home for us and helped our children learn Hebrew.

Unhappy with education in Israel, we sold our house and moved to a rented house at the top of Mt. Carmel (#7) where Miriam and I created the Center for Creative Learning, the experimental school of the University of Haifa, the first open school in Israel.  Our children were among our pupils.     
We moved from Haifa to Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi (#8) where Mel realized his Catskill Mountains childhood dream of being a Jewish farmer.  Having quite pools of time in the turkey coops removed from the hostility of Israel’s educational bureaucrats, the creative flow of fresh ideas led to an offer of a professorship at Columbia University, an offer  I couldn’t turn down.

We bought a house in Teaneck, New Jersey, (#9) next to a wooded bird sanctuary, a short drive over the George Washington Bridge to Columbia.  I taught courses that I created: “Morphodynamics: Design of Natural System” and “Designing Environments for Learning.”  Miriam studied in Columbia’s graduate art education program. 

After four wonderful years at Columbia, our Zionist values and pioneering spirit brought us to Yeroham, a isolated town set in the middle of the Negev desert mountains.  We moved into a prefabricated house (#10) and created a new college addressing culture, social and economic problems of the area. I headed the college and Miriam taught ceramics there.  I also taught graduate courses on aesthetic education at Bar-Ilan University. Our fourth child, Moshe was born an uncle while we were in Yeroham.  Our daughter Iyrit, living in Israel. was mother of two girls
After seven years in Yeroham, MIT invited me to spend my sabbatical year as a research fellow at their Center for Advanced Visual Studies.  We rented a house in Boston (#11) where we lived with Moshe (2) and Ari (22) who worked with me at MIT.  Our third son Ron (20) was studying in Merkaz Harav rabbinical college in Jerusalem.  Miriam studied for her master’s degree at Massachusetts College of Art while Moshe was in the Young Israel of Brookline day-care center.  Ari married Moshe’s teacher Julie.
Our plans to return to Israel after my sabbatical were thwarted by the tragic death of my sister Fran’s husband in a plane crash.  She was left devastated with two children in New York.  I accepted the position as head of the art department at Pratt Institute so that Miriam and I could be near her.  We moved to Brooklyn were we rented an apartment (#12) and later bought a condominium (#13).  Miriam earned her MFA at Pratt and taught ceramics in college. 
Five years later after Fran had remarried, we once again planned to return to Israel, when my father passed away leaving my elderly mother alone in Florida.  There’s a Yiddish expression: “Man plans. God laughs.”  I was appointed dean at New World School of the Arts, University of Florida’s arts college in Miami.  Miriam became art in residence at the South Florida Art Center.  Miriam and I worked together with our students and elders of the major ethnic community of Miami to create three monumental “Legacy Thrones” facing Biscayne Bay.  We rented a house for two years (#14) and bought one on a tidal river (#15) where we lived for eight years until finally coming home to Israel in 2000.

Miriam flew to Israel and bought us an apartment in Petah Tikva (#16) near Iyrit and Miriam’s sister and brother and their families.  I was professor of art and Jewish thought at Ariel University.  Miriam had time to spend with her mother in her 90’s who drove her red Volvo to Petah Tikva from Herzliya several times a week. 
Ron, a rabbi and scientist, was married, living with his wife and children in the Yeroham house (#10) that we lived in decades before.  Moshe served in the Israel Defense Forces, studied in yeshivas, earned his BA and MA as valedictorian, and taught at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.  Iyrit had four children and two grandchildren and is a life coach.  Ari and Julie stayed in the States where he was a high-tech entrepreneur and director of the Israel Action Center in Boston.  When our Boston-born granddaughter Talia turned 18, she come to Israel and served as a shooting instructor in the IDF’s Golani combat unit.     
Four years ago, Miriam and I moved to a retirement community in Ra’anana (#17) a few blocks away from our first home in Israel in 1969.  We are working on writing a joint memoir focusing on our life in education and art.                

28 July 2016

Ancient Idol’s Foot Unearthed in Israel and Andy Warhol’s “Brillo Boxes”

A foot broken off from a life-size sculpture was unearthed on Monday, July 25, 2016, at the archeological dig at Tel Hazor, north of the Sea of Galilee.  This large limestone foot with an Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription on its base was discovered by an American volunteer at the excavation, a key site from the biblical period.

Professor Amnon Ben-Tor of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archeology said that it was most likely from a temple of the Egyptian god Ptah.   He added that the deliberate mutilation of statues in the 13th century BCE commonly accompanied the conquest of towns in Canaan (1 Samuel 5:1-4 and Isaiah 11:9).  

The Torah portion Mattot/Tribes (Numbers 30:2-32:42) read in synagogues in Israel this week and next week in USA relates to this discovery of an idol fragment. 

The Talmud asks the question, “In what context is a foot or hand fragment of an idol considered idolatrous?” Exploring Andy Warhol’s artwork “Brillo Boxes” in relation to real Brillo boxes in a supermarket aisle can help us appreciate the centuries-old Talmudic dialogue about idolatry in contemporary terms.  The discussion below is based on the “Numbers: Aesthetic Peace” and the “Look Beyond the Image” chapters in my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com.  


“None of the men over 20 years old who left Egypt will see the land that I swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob since they did not follow me wholeheartedly.  The only exceptions will be Calev son of Yefuneh, the independent one, and Joshua son of Nun.” (Numbers 32:11-12) 

“God said, ‘The only exception will be My servant Calev, since he showed a different spirit and followed Me wholeheartedly.  I will bring him to the land that he explored, and his descendants will possess it.’" (Numbers 14:24)

Moses brought the Torah to a band of slaves living for centuries in Egypt’s idolatrous culture.

The Torah today was brought to Israel by Jews after millennia scattered among scores of alien and hostile cultures.

Calev's different spirit and independent thought is sorely needed by Calev's descendants who have resettled the Land of Israel in our day.

Jews are called “Jews” since they are from the tribe of Judah, Calev’s tribe.  

Ten of the spies feared that entering Canaan would rob them of a purely spiritual life and force upon them the drudgery left behind in Egypt.

Those Israelites who desired a life of Torah study divorced from enacting Torah in the everyday world were sentenced to die in the desert.  

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that "The miracles which sustained the Jews in the wilderness were not the apex of spiritual existence."

"They were only a preparation for the real task: taking possession of the Land of Israel and making it a holy land."

"The purpose of life lived in Torah is not the elevation of the soul; it is the sanctification of the world."

Only Joshua and Calev with his "different spirit" could envision holy sparks emerging from commonplace tasks and hard work.

Calev saw that the same activities forced on slaves in Egypt could be transformed into acts of spiritual significance when done freely.


My creative work, teaching and research as artist, art professor at Columbia University and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies has made me understand that seeing is not just visual perception, it is conceptual construction.   What is seen gains its significance from the context in which it is seen.  Concept and context move seeing beyond a simple visual experience. 

My research and teaching art in Jewish thought and aesthetic education as professor at Ariel and Bar-Ilan universities has given me the realization that new art forms in a networked world are redefining art in ways related to Jewish thought and experience.  I explore the “different spirit” emerging from the breakdown of the Renaissance definition of art in my books The Future of Art in Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press) http://future-of-art.com and in Hebrew Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Judaism and Contemporary Art.  

In his ground-breaking book Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective, my Columbia University colleague, philosophy professor Arthur Danto emphasizes that what makes the difference between art and non-art is not visual but conceptual.  He writes: “The eye, so prized an aesthetic organ when it was felt that the difference between art and non-art was visible, was philosophically of no use whatever when the differences proved instead to be invisible.” 

Danto describes how visual arts came to an end and were transformed into conceptual art at Andy Warhol’s 1964 exhibition at the Stable Gallery in New York.  In the art gallery, Warhol stacked boxes on which he had screen-printed the Brillo logo. They looked identical to the cartons of Brillo soap pads that we see in supermarket aisles. We could no longer see the difference between “Brillo Boxes” (the work of art) and Brillo boxes (the mere real things). What Warhol taught was that there is no way of telling the difference by merely looking. The history of Western art as a progression of one visually discernible art style superseding a previous style came to an end.

I believe that what we are witnessing is not the end of art, but the end of art derived from a Jewish structure of consciousness. The contemporary redefinition of art is congruent with a Hebraic biblical consciousness as expressed in the Talmud. Danto’s radical new proposal that concept and context rather than visual appearance gives meaning to images and objects was discussed millennia ago by rabbis dealing with idolatry and Greek aesthetics.  Their discussion is found in the Talmud’s tractate on idolatry Avodah Zarah “Strange Worship.”  The Talmud is a 5,894 page compendium of Jewish law and lore that has a tractate about idolatry, what God isn’t, but none on knowing God, what God is.

The rabbis explored whether found fragments of a statue such as a hand or foot are prohibited or permitted.  Can you pick these parts of an idol up and place them in your home as a decoration?   They concluded that if you see an idol worshiper shatter the statue, it is as if he nullified it as an idol.  It is, therefore, permitted.  However, if the statue was broken by a Jew who never considered it to be an idol, it is prohibited.  The most interesting argument deals with an idol that fell down by itself and broke.  Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish reasoned, the hand or foot are permitted because the owner of the idol annuls it by saying, “If it could not save itself, so how could it save me.”  Both the permitted and prohibited idol parts look exactly the same, indeed they are the same hand or foot.  Concept and context decide what cannot be decided by the visual sense alone.

There are many other examples throughout the Talmud that emphasize that seeing is not enough.  In the same tractate on strange worship, the pagan Greek Proclos puts a question to Rabbi Gamliel who was bathing in a pool in front a large statute of Aphrodite. “If your Torah forbids idolatry, why are you bathing in the Bath of Aphrodite?” The rabbi answered, “I did not come into her domain.  She came into mine.” If the statue of Aphrodite was erected and then a pool was made to honor her, it would be forbidden for a Jew to bathe there. However, if the pool was made first and the statue was placed there as an adornment, then it is permitted.  The difference is invisible.   

Concept and context determine meaning in the case of an idol’s foot and the statute of Aphrodite, like Pop art Brillo boxes in an art gallery rather than in a supermarket or Minimalist art plywood panels hanging in a museum rather than stacked in a lumberyard. The visual sense alone cannot discern between art and non-art today or between idol and mere decoration yesterday.  Significance is contextual and conceptual rather than merely visual.

(From The Times of Israel, July 28, 2016)

25 July 2016

Art Awakening After 2000-Year Coma: The Zionist Miracle

(From The Times of Israel, July 21, 2016, and IsraelSeen http://israelseen.com/2016/07/26/mel-alexenberg-art-awakening-after-2000-year-coma-the-zionist-miracle/)

“God said to Moses, ‘Go up to this mountain of Avarim and see the Land that I have given to the Children of Israel.  You shall see it.’" (Numbers 27:12)  These two sentences appear in Pinhas, the eighth portion of the biblical book Numbers, read in synagogues in Israel on Shabbat, July 23, 2016 and in USA on July 30, 2016.

Why does the Torah, known not to waste words, repeat the word “see”?  Did Moses see something different the second time?

The brilliant Torah scholar Rabbi Haim ben Attar (born 1696 in Morocco, died 1743 in Jerusalem) proposed that Moses’ first vision was seeing the Land of Israel as it appeared in his day.  He saw the desert landscape extending from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean.  He blinked his eyes and saw life in the Land of Israel in our day.  His sight was transformed into insight.  He could see children playing in the streets in the State of Israel as was predicted by the prophet Zekhariah “And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing.”

Moses played the leading role in the exodus from Egypt by bringing his people to the borders of the Land of Israel.  The great biblical miracle of liberating thousands from enslavement in Egypt after hundreds of years of exile pales in comparison with the Zionist miracle in our time of liberating millions of Jews from persecution, pogroms, and the Holocaust in a hundred countries after thousands of years of exile and bringing them home to Israel.  Moses could see the Zionist miracle realized.   

Choosing to be an integral part of this Zionist miracle, unprecedented in world history, offers me enthralling creative opportunities as an artist.  I draw inspiration from the Zionist challenge of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook to “renew the old and sanctify the new” as I explore the vibrant interface between the structure of Jewish consciousness, the realization of the Zionist dream in the State of Israel, and new directions in art emerging from postdigital creativity in a networked world.  The wellsprings of my Zionism flows from my Jewish roots and values experienced in a world where art, science, technology and culture address each other. 

As two artists, my wife Miriam and I created the “Torah Tweets” blogart project to link our story to the biblical narrative http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com through photography and digital poetry disseminated worldwide through the blogosphere and twitterverse.   Below is our “Torah Tweets” post for this week’s Torah portion Pinhas (Numbers 25:10-30:1) that is elucidated in my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com that teaches people of all faiths to link the emerging stories their lives to the Bible’s stories.


Pinhas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

God said to Moses, "Go up to this mountain of Avarim and see the Land that I have given to the Children of Israel.  You shall see it." (Numbers 27:12)

And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing. (Zekhariah 8:5)

God said to Abram, "Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house to the land that you will come to see." (Genesis 12:1)

Why is "see" repeated twice?  At first glance, Moses saw the Dead Sea and desert.  Then, he saw the future of his people in their land.

Rabbi Haim ben Attar explained that Moses gained a deeper vision and grasp of the inner spiritual essence of life in the Land of Israel. (Or Hahaim)

Moses could see children playing in the Land of Israel.

Seeing Zekhariah’s vision realized, we photographed our grandchildren and great-grandchildren:

Renana, Inbal, Rachelle, Yishai, Elan, Talia, Or, Yahel, Shirel, Meitav, Tagel, Razel, Elianne, Avraham, Nadav, Ariel, Eliad, Tahila.

The Jewish people's story begins by linking kinesthetic and visual senses. Abram sees the land in a new light by walking away from his past.

On receiving the Ten Commandments, the Torah tells of the Israelites' synesthetic experience:  All the people saw the sounds. (Exodus 20:15)

Passive hearing is transformed into internalized visions of the script for creating a better world.

The Torah formula for transforming sight into insight is:  May God expand Yefet, but he will dwell in the tents of Shem. (Genesis 9:27)

The name of Noah's son Yefet is related to visual beauty.  Yefet's son is Yavan (Greece).

Beauty in ancient Greece is seen in the elegance of outward form.  Israel descends from Shem, related to shemiyah (hearing).  

Torah beauty is tiferet the innermost emanation of divine light that integrates our intentions, thoughts and feelings through creative action.


(From my book The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness http://future-of-art.com)

Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak Kook, a down-to-earth mystic who served as Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel, wrote a letter of congratulations on the founding of the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem. By way of allegory, he refers to the revival of Jewish art and aesthetics after two thousand years of exile as a child in a coma who awakes calling for her doll.

“The pleasant and beloved child, the delightful daughter, after a long and forlorn illness, with a face as pallid as plaster, bluish lips, fever burning like a fiery furnace, and convulsive shaking and trembling, behold! She has opened her eyes and her tightly sealed lips, her little hands move with renewed life, her thin pure fingers wander hither and thither, seeking their purpose; her lips move and almost revert to their normal color, and as if through a medium a voice is heard: ‘Mother, Mother, the doll, give me the doll, the dear doll, which I have not seen for so long.’ A voice of mirth and a voice of gladness, all are joyous, the father, the mother, the brothers and sisters, even the elderly man and woman who, because of their many years, have forgotten their children’s games.”

Rabbi Kook saw artists at work as a clear sign of the rebirth of the Jewish people in its homeland. Their playful spirit nurturing sensitivity for beauty “will uplift depressed souls, giving them a clear and illuminating view of the beauty of life, nature, and work.”