Ruth Calderon, Rabbi Rechumei and my brother

Ruth Calderon learns Ketubot 62b with Chavrei Ha Knesset

I have not blogged in months. Aside from a small nod of the head to G-d synchronous with the reading of my brother’s Bar Mitzva parsha, Lech Lecha, ironically the weekly portion of the Akeida/Binding of Isaac, I have stayed away, stopped writing, for want of wanting life, wanting to write.

But now …

G-d bless Ruth Calderon. G-d bless this woman for rising from the ashes of post-zionist tohu va’vohu to stand before the members of Israeli parliament and learn with them. Watch the video. I cried and I cried. I cried for the wonder of having lived long enough to see members of opposing – even warring – factions join together to learn Torah. And I cried like Rav Rechumei’s wife, like Sarah Imeinu, waiting, waiting, one for her husband, the other, for her son, “Hashta Atei, Hashta” – “Now, Now – Now he’s coming”. Like the holy kaddish “Hashta … u bizman kariv” – Already Now, Soon – he’s coming, he’s coming. And I cried for my brother. He’s coming. He’s coming.

Ruth Calderon stood before the Knesset like the Berdichiver saying Kaddish.

If we can sit in our knesset, facing the image of Theodr Herzl, defiantly defending our merit, our right to peace, to blessings … to LIVE! If I have lived long enough to see this, I will live long enough to see my brother come, walk through that door, hashta, now, already, now. Breathless, I wait, even as I live, dance, laugh, build, cry, continue, Hashta Atei – He is coming now. Bizman kariv.

Ve’Imru. Amein

Can G-d be where we cannot laugh?

Mourning Kittel by Jacqueline Nicholls

Mourning Kittel by Jacqueline Nicholls

I have never understood the story of Akedat Yitzchak. How could anyone go willingly to be sacrificed? Was he deaf? Mute? Lame? Blind? Maybe he was already blind.

“Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the ram to be sacrificed?”
– Yitzchak finally hears the fire crackling and speaks.

And what about Avraham? What kind of king sacrifices his own kingdom?
I wonder if the 10th test was not really the 10th search. First Avraham breaks all the idols. Then he thinks the clouds, wind, moon and sun may be G-d. Soon he is hosting angels, people … Is he weighing their qualifications as G-d counterparts as well? After considering everything that is as a possible candidate for divinity, I wonder if Avraham is testing the boundaries of what is not.

Does death include G-d? Exclude him? And why not take his own life? Perhaps because taking ones’ future life is even harder …

Is looking for G-d like looking for our own limitations? What can we handle? What kind of past can the future bear to carry? Is this story a concentrated tale of humanity’s pushing our limits? Do the tales of Cnaanite cults sacrificing their children to Baal precede or succeed this story? Does it matter?

One thing seems clear to me. If it was up to Sarah, none of this would have happened. She knew what was up. She knew how to laugh at Avraham. Laugh at life. Laugh at her limitations too. At having a child in her old age.

But laugh at death? The ultimate limitation? We can pretend.
But really – no one can do that. Not even Sarah.

Can G-d be where we cannot laugh?

Steer into the Void

Know Hope @ Show & Tell Gallery, Toronto

When I was learning how to drive, my father would frequently remind me to:

 “Steer into the void”.

This phrase had been transmitted to the young Steven Lehat by his very own driving instructor, fondly nicknamed “Al Matthews” [after the former Packers defensive backer] by my father.

Last Sunday, an hour and a half after initializing my GPS command, I found myself weaving through narrow canyons in the Santa Monica mountains. I was not supposed to be there. I was not supposed to be driving these dizzy s-curves for 40-plus minutes. And yet I was. And as I did, in an effort to quell the nauseau, I thought “Steer into the Void”.

As an aside, I spent 20-odd of my 27 years living along the coast of sunny Southern California.
Somehow, in that vast chunk of time, I became more aligned with the ocean, and sort of oblivious to the fact that maybe, just maybe, the terrain was also composed of mountainous topography – lots of it [in retrospect I wonder - how did I think there was a valley, without mountains?]

Now, as I carefully wound through the mountains (and as multiple thrill-seeking motorcyclists raced past me, leaving me in their modern day cowboy wake), I felt alone, disoriented, and wondered when I would next see the sea. It was of little consequence that I had a home, shelter, a full fridge, safety, the security of my family, 100 miles away. With no cell phone service, no one knew where I was, and I had just run out of gas.

As I drove, I thought of the wilderness. I remembered that lesson I had learned as a young girl, that the Jewish people had needed to go to the desert, to an empty place, void of all stimula and distraction, in order to receive the gift of the Torah. And I understood.

It’s just me and G-d out here.

Steer into the void.
G-d is in the void.

Which reminds me … months ago I visited the Chain Letter exhibit at the Shoshana Wayne Gallery  [Bergamot Station] Santa Monica. The premise of the exhibit was the following: two artists invited 10 artists they admired to exhibit, each of those artists invited 10 more, and each of those artists followed suit. Stop.

Chain Letter at Shoshana Wayne

As I walked along the the carefully-designated-by-blue-tape path, bombarded on either side by an overwhelming array of objects -some well crafted, some gargantuan, some conceptual, some minuscule – my co-gallery goer Doni Simons, one of the artists in the show, shared her perspective: “Chain Letter is more sociological study and less art exhibit”. We observed how certain artists made repeated visits – we witnessed several – to move their “Art” forward, closer to the blue duct tape, moving other artists’ work clear out of the way, thus making their own more visible. Some artists had created huge pieces, although they knew they would be sharing the space with 999 others. Other artists created pieces that helped others display theirs. System-builders, I call these. But mostly, the art remained so condensed it was illegible – impossible to discern one from the next. It reminded me of a failed exercise in urban planning. The kind of Frankenstein that would result if one would attempt to build Rome or Paris in a day.

And then, lest I despair, I discovered a spider, ever so quietly weaving his web, having used several different “works of art” as his anchors.

And I thought: G-d is in the void.

Well, this article would be over, had I not been to the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met, a month before I visited the Chain Letter exhibit. Towards the end of the McQueen exhibit, the curator had taken great pains to replicate a hologram of Kate Moss used for one of McQueen’s infamous runway shows. And he set it to a track of the score from – of all movies – Schindler’s List.

Kate Moss Hologram at Savage Beauty Exhibit

Kate Moss Hologram at Savage Beauty Exhibit

At the time, I recall exiting, infuriated, indignant. But I didn’t really understand why.

Now I do.

Humanity, in the sense that we have been created in G-d’s image, is nonexistent without dignity.

And dignity is created by a certain distance maintained: something we refer to as Respect, and occasionally, alternatively, as the (rapidly ever-endangered) concept of Private v. Public.

The curator – who will remain unnamed – denied 6 million individuals their space, dignity, their Void – the place where their piece of G-d is preserved.

This article has been sponsored by the Moshe Hecht Band, who I so desperately wanted to see in concert that I would get lost in the Santa Monica mountains to go hear them:  itunes.com/moshehecht  It has also been sponsored by my GPS, that took me to Mulholland Dr. instead of Mulholland Highway.

And finally, by Gilad Shalit, who’s miraculous return has resulted in G-d’s great name being praised, mainly, I believe, because Gilad displays poise and dignity [a poise and dignity - may I add - much lacking in the Palestinian terrorists and population that welcomed them].

To List or Not to List

or

    TRANSMISSION: Curating our identities.
    We’ve all made lists. Shopping lists, TO DO lists. We’ve balanced checkbooks, committed numbers to paper…
    What do our lists look like?
    Do they change as we move through life?
    What matters more: making the list or what’s on the list?
    Are we listing to remember, or listing to [be able to] forget? Why do we make lists?
    Why this extra step, between thought and action?
    Are we transmitting information? communicating it to ourselves or others?
Artist Rikrit-Tiravanija

Tiravanija: One life's history transcribed onto a scroll

A list is to the mind, as a wall is to the world. A reflection of the moment.

A seemingly velocity-less vehicle that guides us to the next step.
  • And where is the list taking us? Where are “we” relative to the list?
  • In it? Beside it? travelling along it? through it? beyond it? around it?
A suggestion.

A list curates, configures information.

Whether we list to remember or whether we list to forget, we need a matrix within which to anchor our data.
Our data needs a goal, an orientation, a purpose – even if that purpose is omission.

And if indeed we are charting the journey of content
  • from thought > to statement,
  • thought (> to statement) > to action,
  • action > to imprint of that action;
  • The question still stands:
    Where are WE? Who is the We relative to that content?

    • An answer: Perhaps the “We” stands at that moment between to think and not to think, to say and not to say, to do and not to do, to leave this mark or to leave another…

    It is not – as Shakespeare would have it – “to be or not to be”. Being is not a choice. Living is. Identity is. and History is.

      And if the theme of life is choosing, than we are all but variation on the theme, probability waves turned particle.

    The Topography of Mark-Making Manifestos: A la recherche du temps perdu

    (In search of lost time)
    Once upon a time there was a cave.
    And there were men.
    And they drew their escapades with the mammal kind.
    Once upon 13 000 years later, their relatives in the fertile crescent began to count their cattle. And as they counted, they tapped. Not only did they tap, but they pressed hard.
    Into clay tablets. To keep records.
    And their counting became signs. And these signs became symbols.
    Some were numbers. Others were sheep. Still other goats.
    This was in Sumeria.

    Example of Cuneiform writing | Sumeria circa 3200 BC

    The Sumerians traveled to Egypt. They traded there.
    And the Egyptians too recorded transactions.

    Engraving stone they left to the eternity of the dead. For the trade of the living, they concocted dried sheets of mashed papyrus pulp.

    Papyrus of Ani | Egypt circa 1240 BC

    On this paper, they marked symbols. Unlike the Sumerians’ cuneiform, their scribes evolved a more intricate script, hieroglyphs.

    Pictograms we call them. Abstracted drawings that represent nouns, verbs, numbers.

    An art to which the Chinese remain loyal to this day.

    Along came the Hebrews. A nomadic nation. Until their enslavement. And upon freedom. In the dusk of their liberation they came upon a mountain, where word has it they received two tablets, containing five scrolls. And on those scrolls. The first phonograms.

    Aleppo Codex: oldest extant manuscript of complete Hebrew bible | Aram Tzoba (Syria) circa 930 AD

    Symbols that represent sounds. The sounds that Humanity makes to compose words. The words that we use to communicate thoughts, verbs, nouns, adjectives and beyond. There, the desert witnessed the birth of the first abstract language. The genesis of abstract thought.

    While the Hebrews transmitted their laws from mouth to mouth, parchment to parchment, Egypt and Babylon saw their empires crumble. Greek philosophers gave way to Roman orators, Barbarian warriors to Christian emperors. The greatest libraries and temples of knowledge surrendered their treasures to destruction and warfare. And western civilization entered an era of ignorance and illiteracy.

    Many the anonymous man was entrusted once again with the task of depicting scenes on walls. Not on the walls of caves or Roman villas, but on the walls of houses of worship.

    Mosaic | Ravenna, Italy | circa 550 AD

    Byzantine mosaics, paintings, sculptures, and friezes replaced the letter, removing from the masses an instrument of transmission. Now, they were left to commit history to memory, to collect their identity and recite it daily in song and in tales, lest it should disappear.

    That is. Until. A man named Guttenberg appeared.

    And slowly, a path was carved.
    Man’s voice regained the means to run, fly, soar, far beyond expression, over a vast uncharted system of dissemination.

    Democracy was re-born. The exchange of knowledge and experience threatened to render all men equal.

    Hyperconnected by Hugh Macleod | circa 2008

    Today the means of dissemination have become accessible to more people than ever before. Democracy looms large and is accompanied by the broadening of identity [with the exception of certain bastions of academia, frontiers of knowledge, which remain sealed to those who cannot pay the price - but let's not get sidetracked - we'll save that for another article].

    Once upon a time there was the artist.

    Every man was the artist.

    Art Blog by Hugh Macleod | circa 2010

    The artist was born out of a need to master the visual language of expression. He did so loyally. To him we owe our collective memory. To him we owe the ability to document history. To transmit identity.

    But today. What will he document today?
    Blurred territories? As the geographies of our identities merge into one.
    Blurred soundscapes? styles? tastes?

    As we pat, taste, see hear smell, pick and take, forming composite identities out of our mixed appreciation for culture … the global culture that includes every man’s history, every man’s geography … We are greedy in our quest for self.  We trample the topography of time, leaving no rock of knowledge unturned, for perhaps underneath hides … our true identity.

    And the artist watches. No longer every man.  Rare now, among the myriad time travelers who would forgo documenting identity – the distinction between the self and other – to dredge the information highways for profit and adventure.

    The artist abstracts to describe the blending of form until it no longer describes figures. He searches for a common, global iconography to describe how we’ve merged into one.

    Some artists refrain from representation. They use time. Just time. Like Guiseppe Penone.

    Alpi marittime: Continuerà a crescere tranne che in quel punto ("It Will Continue to Grow Except at that Point") by Giuseppe Penone | Italy | 1968 - 1978

    Alpi marittime: Continuerà a crescere tranne che in quel punto ("It Will Continue to Grow Except at that Point") by Giuseppe Penone | Alternate view

    Who embeds a bronze cast of his own hand in the side of a tree and returns over and over, through the passage of 10 years to photograph, observe, and document the imprint he has left. Now only observable by piercing x-rays, that render transparent the tree’s mature membranes.

    The layers of bark have embraced and enveloped Penone’s imprint and made  him part of them.

    Identities merged. Tree and man.

    Other artists seek out ancient, universal languages of marking time. Like Doni Simons.

    One. Two. Three. Four. Vertical lines. And Five. A diagonal bar.

    Untitled by Doni Silver Simons | circa 2007

    Untitled by Doni Silver Simons | circa 2007

    A universal designation of the unit “Five”.

    Perhaps derived from a thumb held, folded in, against the palm, with the remaining four digits stretching above it, erect, reaching straight upward.

    She marks. Layers paint, ink, fabric. And unmarks. Removing paint, ink, thread.

    She marks while allowing time to affect the marking.

    Via the aging of the marks. Or the accumulation of them.

    Untitled by Doni Silver Simons | circa 2007

    Or hers and others movements, as their gestures permute the markings in time, creating variations on the theme of “Five”.

    Still other artists try to redefine the boundaries of our identity. Many of the distinguishing factors that separate cultures have disappeared.

    Yet some artists-slash-chroniclers-of-time-slash-identity have happened upon a boundary that remains relatively less surmountable.

    Language.

    0 through 9 by Jasper Johns | circa 1960

    60 years ago, Jasper Johns, embarked upon a journey of such discovery, superimposing one number after the next. Digits. 0. 1. 2. 3. Through 9.

    La Tour Eiffel by Jean Cocteau | circa 1939

    Creative ingenue Jean Cocteau, who would use film, in addition to drawing, to navigate the uncharted waters of the 20th century, said “I am neither an illustrator, or a painter. My drawings are handwriting untwined/un-knotted and re-entwined/retied otherwise”.

    Le Testament d'Orphée by Jean Cocteau | circa 1963

    Enter the late Cy Twombly, artist and advocate of the evolution of the scrawl. The transformation of marks of communication, left by the human (versus robotic) hand. From legible and literate to scribble and doodle, Twombly drew our identities as they lost their ability to communicate with their most direct and immediate means, known even to pre-historic man.

    Cold Stream by Cy Twombly | 1966

    Twombly perhaps perceived the written or drawn phonogram as lost. Or perhaps, his drawings conserved human touch, defiant, even in doodling, never accepting an end to the marking of the hand.

    from Untitled (Bacchus) series by Cy Twombly | circa 2005

    His work seems to ask: Has human identity surrendered to the machine?

    But despite Twombly’s despair and defiance, in the face of Penone’s realism … Although Johns and Simons would find unified human identity in counting, transcendent of language, and Cocteau would manipulate  photographic and cinematographic representation to play with every man’s illusion of the newly-irrelevant of documenting, some artists would remain faithful to an ancient identity.

    And Now Holy Lamp ... by David B Wolk | 2009

    If the Court by David B Wolk | 2011

    David B. Wolk, a scribe of religious texts, in the tradition of the Hebrews, remains an artisan of tradition. Jewish kabbalah maintains that the Hebrew letters themselves are the building blocks, or the “DNA”, of the universe.

    Hasten my Beloved by David B Wolk | 2009

    Blessed is He who ... by David B Wolk | 2010

    To Wolk, his work is simply that of all humanity, the emulation of the act of Genesis. A re-creation of creation. Not unsimiliar to the prayers uttered and re-uttered over the past several millenia, as Jews,  dedicated and re-dedicated the Universe to its original creator.

    Speaking of the universe, here’s a universal human habit: identity is transmitted by repeating similar vocal patterns, and manipulating one’s hand to trace, precisely, the same symbols for these sounds as one’s father’s did.

    We find ourselves at sea in the relentless and uncharted waters of Globalization. This, our era, simultaneously proclaims every man an artist, while reserving the industry’s [yes, art - like everything else - has become an industry] greatest spoils for the masters of celebrity status and cult persona.

    A short history of this phenomenon will segue us into the “coming soon” next article in this series.

    During World War I, and again in World War II, scrawled drawings appeared behind enemy lines. ” X was here”, they said. The names varied from place to place. But one name stood out and re-appeared more frequently than the others. Kilroy.

    Kilroy was a U.S. military ship parts inspector. A he inspected, he would scribble in chalk  “Kilroy was here”, taking credit for a job well done. Soon, soldiers happened upon his autograph deep within the belly of these machines of war.

    Kilroy Was Here | Anytime | Anyplace | Anyone

    Earning their respect for having made his mark, in hard to reach places and garnering admiration for the multiplicity of his marks, Kilroy’s graffiti engendered the highest form of flattery: imitation. Soon a voyeuristic image accompanied the motto, “Kilroy” was drawn peeking over a wall, proclaiming that no place was beyond his dominion.

    Today’s graffiti artists have taken on that challenge. Their work broadcasts the right of every individual. Ours is the right to mark where we’ve stood, sign our autograph, take credit or take blame.  The most accessible way to personalize our mark in time and space? Our signature. No other like it.

    As the speed of dissemination accelerates, it seems there is little room for Proust’s nostalgia. It seems that time past is indeed lost, and exponentially so with every moment it recedes in our collective rear-view mirror memory.

    A question remains, lingering, not long, like a taste on our tongue, smell in the air …
    Can we calibrate our individual rhythms to dance in harmony with one another? Can we replicate the same grace and agility with which we mark our own passage through time, territory, life in our interactions? Synchronize our passage with others’?  As we leave our individual imprints on the topography of facebook, twitter, google +, and the very real streets of our cities, can we handle the output of 7 billion more “us”es?

    Can human respect and dignity sustain the manic pace of our simultaneous output and  preserve the heritage of the billions of lives lived and transmitted hence?

    I warrant it can … but only time will tell.

    Lost and Found or Hide and Seek?

    Courtesy of the Artist Sarah Lehat

    “5.. 6 .. 7 .. 8 .. 9 .. 10 ……. Ready or not here I come!”

    And it starts.

    U’Bikashtem MiSham Et HaShem Elokecha

    And from there you will seek out the Lord your God

    U’Matzata

    And you shall find [Him]

    Dvarim | Deuteronomy 4:29

    The Hidden Self.

    If you were born back to back with someone, would you know? How would you discover this hidden self-non-self? And what would make you you and them them?

    “Yagati ve lo Matzati, Al Taamin”. “Lo Yagati u Matzati Al Taamin”. Only “Yagati ve Matzati Taamin.”

    Our sages teach – “If we search we must find. If we do not search we cannot find.”

    Is it for this alone we were created? – Were we born to quench this hunger for ourselves, for the other, for ourselves as the other, for ourselves as the other as G-d?

    If I were counting down to creation with G-d, getting ready for the ultimate game of Hide and Seek, wouldn’t I stop Him, protest and argue that He should not hide, should not fuse Himself to our “back”, that we should not lose Him, lest we tire in our hunt.

    “I will allow myself to be found by you” says G-d.

    And with this silent agreement, the game begins.

    Man in search of G-d. G-d in search of Man. Man in search of Man. G-d in search of G-d.

    It only ends when Man = G-d = Man … when G-d allows Himself to be found in Man … but in the meantime …

    while we labor and toil to refine and regain territory for the Kingdom of G-d …

    the Kingdom of compassion, humanity, kindness and all that is divine …

    Meanwhile …

    the hunger of the hunt enthralls and tangos …

    striding first cheek to cheek with G-d, not looking at Him – in confidence – the security of being found, only to whip around and flee – in fear – of being found.

    And I ask myself:

    Why the fear? Why do we, does G-d, play hard to get?

    Lucky for me I’m a woman, and that I have in common with the feminine aspect of G-d – the Shechina – that wishes to dwell in this world.

    “Veshachanti betocham” – And I shall dwell in you.

    Woman in search of Man. Man in pursuit of Woman.

    Turns out. It’s not fear. It’s empowerment.

    G-d empowers us. Woman empowers man. For one to hunt, another must hide.

    And weekly, we meet in the field for our anniversary, the day we met, the very same day we agreed to play …

    Lecha Dodi Likrat Kala

    Kabbalat Shabbat

    It is during the reception of the Shabbat, that the face of our beloved comes to greet us.

    No longer back to back.

    But face to face.

    We make peace.

    We take a stance, space, time, empower our groom, by evacuating the weekliness from our scent, our garb, our voice, our face, and He arrives, and conquers, victorious, vanquishing our fear of the unknown.

    And He remembers His promise:

    I will allow myself to be found by you

    We stand like trees, a forest of souls, a collective chorus, each one of us a bride, on the verge of being found, and at the same time, a villager, one of the groom’s entourage, accompanying him …

    Empowering him to discover his beloved.

    And it’s like the Song of Songs.

    I remember running, out of breath, to find that perfect hiding spot before the count of 10… holding my breath as those footsteps fell closer and closer … A real man feels a woman’s hunger.

    I am asleep yet my heart is awake. The voice of my Beloved, knocking: “Open for me, my sister, my companion, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is filled with dew, my locks with drops of the night.” I have taken off my cloak, how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet, how shall I sully them? A moment later she rises to open the door but she has missed her chance; he has gone.

    Song of Songs 5:2–3

    We knew someone and let them go.

    The cold of the moonless, starless night, deep weariness, laziness, and fear combine to paralyze her will and bind her legs. Why should she refuse to undo the latch and open the door to her beloved? Hasn’t she been pursuing him, . . . suffering insults, blows, and spiritual torment on his behalf? . . . Does desire no longer permeate her being, is the urgency no longer alive within her?

    Why would we do that?

    Rachel Imeinu.

    Imagine. Rachel. On the verge of being discovered, hidden, not to be found for another 7 years.

    Peeking out from between the clefts in the rock. Hiding but wanting to be found. And then hearing His footsteps as he nears her door, at first wanting to remain in that realm of anguished expectant hopeful anxious anticipation of the unknown, because if she will be known she can no longer be imagined.

    Yaakov seeks to prolong this state … a surreal self imposed suspense between the ever so seductive infinity of potential – his dreams, fantasies and desires … and the limited, confined, defined, space-and-time-contained act of creation… If he can just remain enthralled in the possibilities … and so he imagines the door knob has turned to sap, that his wife is his lover, la femme-objet | desire objectified, but not a mother and a builder-creator. He remains in that instant just on the brink, the verge of discovery, because he dare not open it, the door to the finite.

    And suddenly. Rachel refuses. Says “NO!”

    I am your beloved. No longer defined by your imagination, your quest, your hunt.

    “Know me!”

    And so G-d says to us.

    Seven years of Hide and Seek were not meant to become an eternity and Rachel turns to Yaakov and says: Pray for me. Really. Don’t pray for the tango. Pray to know me. For the eternal anniversary. The eternal Shabbat.

    Rachel bears witness to G-d’s promise that we will find Him and He will find us. And we will know each other. Forever.

    Squint

    Image courtesy of the artist Genevieve Esther Itto Perez

    “Squint”, I tell my friend, as she folds her eyes into tiny narrow slits.
    “Now look carefully at what is darker and what is lighter – that’s what you paint…If that’s what you’ll paint, people will see what you see”.

    I’ll never forget this – the single-most clear instruction yielded by my years of formal training in art school. Indeed it has been proven, tried and tested. It is truth. Artists do not paint contour, form, shapes…we paint the light, and the dark.

    Years later, this lesson permeates my very being. Practice has engraved my art professor’s words even deeper than ever, and the ramifications of his statement have extended beyond what I see, now, to what I do.

    This concept is not new: “Chiaro Scuro” in Italian, or “Clair Obscur” in French, meaning “Light Dark” was the term coined during the Renaissance to describe the perfection of a technique primarily using two tones, one, light, and the other, dark, which would give a two dimensional image the illusion of re-attaining three.

    The Renaissance was an era (14th to 17th centuries), during which artists succeeded in constructing the illusion of a third dimension, a feat which artists had heretofore not been able to execute.

    Relative to the discovery of perspective, ChiaroScuro – the mastery of shade and shadow – may seem diminutive in importance, but at its zenith, this newly refined depiction of volume was revolutionary, as one after another artist sculpted the canvas without ever rippling its surface, successfully mastering the mimic of the third dimension.

    While ChiaroScuro typically refers to the technique used to create art, the idea of light and dark defining form appear in ther guises. I would like to share with you some fascinating encounters with this concept as it intersects with science and Chassidus.

    Let us review the workings of the mechanism that G-d has equipped the human body with to see the world.
    This vessel, a.k.a the “eye”, relies upon the reflection and absorption of photons to achieve an image of our surroundings. A packet of light waves or particles is emitted from a light source, for example, the sun. This primary source emits light.

    Lincoln Memorial

    Now the light travels until it encounters an object.
    Certain photons or “light packets”, belonging to a particular frequency (which we can identify by color or temperature), of the full spectrum of light are absorbed by this object. This depends on the particular properties of that object. Other photons are reflected.
    The result is that the reflections off this secondary object compose an image on the retina of our eye.

    This may sound familiar to some of you.

    “What”, you will ask, “am I trying to get at?”

    Physical light and physical dark, and the spectrum between them, are the only index with which we are familiar that G-d allows our eyes to use in order to perceive the universe. Should we have been created with any other type of visual perception vessel, light and dark would be meaningless.
    So G-d wanted us to “see”, as we know it. And He decided that in order to “see” we needed contrast.
    Now let’s switch gears for a moment and include a different discussion, which makes ample use of the same terminology: Light and Dark.

    We are familiar with the mandate given to the Jewish people, and made famous by the holiday of Channukah, to transform darkness into light. And, although we focus on this mission primarily during this holiday, it is nonetheless, stipulated by our sages and leaders that this should be the focus of our actions during the entire year. The discussion of how to engag e with spiritual light and darkness, so it seems, is of prime importance in our faith.
    But here a question arises … If we were to transform all of darkness to light, would we no longer have the capacity to “see” any longer? One could argue that our spiritual vessel of perception, similar to its physical counterpart, the eye, cannot distinguish form (or function) without this familiar contrast. So how is it possible, that we are instructed to abolish this contrast? Does the spiritual differ from the physical in this respect? If our spiritual eye is really different from its physical brother, how and why is it so?

    I am reminded of a book that I am currently reading, which presents as its premise the following thought:  all scientific revolutions are preceded by an upheaval of artistic dogma. According to author Leonard Shlain of Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time & Light, before we can change our way of thinking, we must change our way of seeing.

    Mark Rothko

    Let us return to the world of art. The recent modern era might hint at a most unusual resolution to my dilemma. The works of Mark Rothko, with single tone color fields, or Yves Klein, who created his own paint color, patented it and then called it art when displayed as a single coat of paint covering a canvas … these artists opened a new door, to a world where the contrast of tones was no longer the defining technique.


    Yves Klein

    In fact, the revolution of the art world in the 60s and 70s has extended to now commonplace use of graphics to communicate visually. A flattening of visual perspective has occurred and a new universal language of symbols and icons no longer caters to the perspective-trained viewer. Even more astounding is the rapid adaptation of our eye and then brain to the screen, the ipad, the iphone … We slip seamlessly, without tension, into a world of two dimensions and universal communication. “Could it be”, I muse to my self, “that the dogma of light and dark is slipping away to reveal a new visual protocol, a new definition of how the eye sees?”
    Is it possible that all those people asking themselves how a blank white canvas can be art are missing the point?

    I begin to wonder if the recent developments we have experienced in art and the physics of light will bear any relevance on the biology of the eye or the mind. Perhaps how we physically see can even change?

    Whether or not that may the case, we are taught that, at least at our very essence, the core self, the self that remains unchanged, does see the world as one.
    Our spiritual eye, actually “sees” through several layers – whether through layers of good and evil, or through layers of kindness and cruelty, she ultimately pierces the veils to see one truth.

    The veils also have their purpose. Imagine that work of art that you discover rounding a corner from a funny angle, so immense that you can only see one part of it at a time, never the whole expanse. A part of our soul sees the world just like that.

    This is what I coin the Richard Serra syndrome. As we weave in and out of the orifices created by a large sculpture, we transform the art by our experiencing it. We cast a shadow, a different one depending on the time of day. Or we bring a friend and stand at opposite ends of this strange amorphous metal being and call out to each other, listening to the funny echoes caused by our game.

    This part of our soul, who plays hide-and-seek, is aware of the importance of our presence, of the instruments of time and space and of our task to change the “art” – in this case our life, our world. This part of our soul knows a little bit about optometry, renewing different prescriptions for different people, allowing them to assume the roles they play, and us our own.

    But on yet another, even higher, deeper level, there is a small spark that remains unchanged. A part of us that glows, always true, always beautiful, always kind and always good. The part of us that is part of Hashem, in a way that the rest of us isn’t. This is the closest thing we’ve got to seeing the world through Hashem’s infinite vision. And unlike the other parts of our soul and their manic game of prescription tag, since Hashem doesn’t change, we can rely on this spark to use as the ultimate lens, the absolute best pair of eyes, our default when faced with the most unclear and “fuzzy” of challenges.

    I believe that the art made by Rothko and Klein, and its dialogue with the art of Richard Serra, to name only a few, is a sample of a larger phenomenon. We have entered a messianic era, an era when all becomes one, when He is known as One, and His name is One. And our soul sees this clearly. She has accessed the very highest level of awareness, and is no longer confined to the ever-changing constantly-shifting race of visual stimulation, where every vision is “it” until “it” is replaced by the next “it”.

    To the extent that art can express the subconscious yearnings of a zeitgeist, do I appeal to the masses to seek out a masterpiece or two or three, to awaken their soul, and their highest visual vessels, so that we might complete the transformation of this world to one creation, true, good and beautiful, apparent to every prescription, irrefutable to every eye.

    Variations on a Theme

    Image courtesy of the artist Yakov Yom Tov

    Back in November New York Mag published an article proclaiming the Hipster era as over.
    According to author Mark Greif, the two predominant values espoused by and therefore defining the Hipster are:
    NEWNESS (A) & INDIVIDUALITY (B)
    A. Members of Hipsteria are consumers of “Newness”. New information – whether it be about new food, new words, new fashion, new technology … – the knowledge that they are at the forefront of the knowledge frontier defines the Hipster.
    B. Hipsterians are also crusaders of Rampant Individualism.
    Yet somehow Hipsters engage “en masse” in an each-to-his-own culture of self-definition. Mass Individualism is born.

    RESISTANCE
    Resisting the old, resisting the mass, the community, the collective, resisting definition. All this begs the question. Resistance against. Ok. But what resisting for?
    The force of resistance or restraint, of holding back is invaluable to creation. Such is the nature of our world.
    In order for an artist to trace a line, he must exclude a whole sea of potential ink that could flood his page.
    The Duality resulting from balancing the right amount of restraint with creative generosity is the natural state of our cosmos.

    VISUAL DUALITY
    A visitor to the Lincoln Memorial will recognize the distinct ridges on each column by the vertical play of light and shadow along each column’s height.
    So which comes first? The ridges? or the light? We can’t see one without the other.

    INDIVIDUAL COLLECTIVE
    Can we see a whole without its parts? Can we see an individual without his community? Can we perceive a community without knowing the individuals of which it is composed?

    PSYCHOLOGICAL DUALITY
    The binary or dual nature of our perception and of this world, does not only translate into the visual examples demonstrated above.
    Our thought patterns program along the contrasting interaction between repeated, routine themes and variations on those themes. And therein lies the potential for change, for new decisions.
    These processes are a dance between “keva” and “kavanah” as coined by the great theologian Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel.
    The “keva” or the fixed, for example, the laws of Jewish lifestyle, enter into an active dialogue with “kavana” – intention.
    Keva –> Inject Creativity | Personality | Intention –> Kavanah — and back again –>

    DECISIONS ARE GOD-LIKE

    A decision, by definition, is a contraction. Once taken, the decision excludes many other potential decisions. The pause between notes in a melody, the space between elements of a composition that causes them to dance in harmony … A creator must have a vision that guides those decisions. In creating ourselves, we constantly revise this vision. Identities constantly launch Beta versions. 2.0 is followed by 3.0, 4.0 …  onward and upward striving for a better self.
    The Hipster revolution brought the following question to the surface: would we be compelled to recreate ourselves if the environment around us did not provide new input? What would fuel our imagination, from whence would we produce the demand for our next identity? How would we prompt the inspiration necessary to reconfigure our output or supply?
    For Hipsters the most sought-after input would most frequently be derived from identities in frenetic or friction-like states of growth. Accurate in honing in on the need for new stimuli and incentives, Hipsteria’s inhabitants erred when they discounted the value of consistency in Humanity’s collective heritage, history and experience.

    THE MOST DECISIVE OF VICTORIES

    Without the circular whirling dance, the motion, the dynamic act that blends the joined-handed Hassidim – each blurring his unique tempo and flare into the collective whole- we cannot experience and access the expansion, the morphosis of our own individual vessel. As we unite, we empower and enable ourselves to contain ever greater decisions and embody ever more Divine potential.
    Each individual contributes his own flavorful dimension, the kavanah, that sends the cycle round again, a waltz, an ebb and flow between the individual’s needs and desires of expression and G-d as manifest in the community and in our heritage.

    In our acknowledgement that we are one indivisible whole  lies the refinement and beauty of all the potential creation that could ever exist. By creating this world, Hashem limited the potential for so many other worlds that we could be experiencing.

    We reflect, refract, diffuse the shadow of this light, His potential creation by similarly limiting our potential actions, forming a conduit that channels our actions towards considerate, Humanist and caring decisions aligned with His will.

    Action, movement, creates forms, vessels, containers. If we don’t inject ourselves into the process, a vacuum or a void will be left unfilled – a negative space open to the law of entropy – as the walls of the vessel come collapsing in, filled gradually by degenerating artifacts, potential birth replaced by potential death. If we’re not growing life, we’re killing it, and not just our own. We control G-d’s potential life and death.

    Hipsterians ultimately precipitated their demise by denying the importance of the collective’s role in processing the “New” aka Potential Life.

    As Mark Greif concludes:
    “The hipster moment did not produce artists, but tattoo artists. It did not yield a great literature, but it made good use of fonts.”

    The result of this one-sided one-dimensional monologue solo choreography – No content. Just form. No theme, just variation. No habit, just intention.
    And now it’s over.

    I have a God Complex

    Image courtesy of the artist David Wolk | Click on the image above for more work by this artist

    The other day was my birthday. As a gift, I received a lottery ticket.
    I have never played the lottery – never bought a single ticket – not once in my newly minted 27 years.
    You know how you have different personalities? One built up to deal with work, another for the gym, different masks, hats, layers …
    The Megamillion, in this case 250 million dollars, triggered my default personality. The real Sarah. Will the real Sarah Lehat please stand up? Well. She did. In my head. While I imagined what I would do with all that money … which kinda looked something like this … me flying off to distant countries, building schools, transforming communities, empowering adults and children with the tools for change . Gosh. It felt like breathing the cleanest freshest Brand New World Air. Like living inside all my other personalities had buried the real me underground.
    If we could give it a name – this clandestine ego – it might be The Giver.
    Or we could just call it what it is. My God complex. I always want to be the one to give.  The source of blessing. Never needing anything from anyone. Conceiving ideas, executing, delegating, building. No wonder Architecture was my natural choice of major.
    And yet. 250 million dollars didn’t stop at Giver God complex scenarios. It kept on going, propelled by less grandiose but more tranquilizing fantasies, all geared towards easing the anxious symptoms of survival.

    Meet my alter ego.

    The Receiver. The Borrower. The Taker. The one who lives closer to the surface, too close for his G-d Giver counterpart’s comfort, called upon to accommodate unexpected, every-one-one-too-many eventualities.
    Which brings to mind another complex of mine.
    But we can talk about that some other time.

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