Jewish Art for the Soul

The Fifty Gates

By Shoshannah Brombacher

April 30, 2013
Pastel and Ink on Paper
Pastel and Ink on Paper

Artist’s Statement: The chassidic Jews of Eastern Europe loved to tell stories. Many anecdotes about their rebbes (rabbis, or spiritual leaders) contained profound spiritual, allegorical and philosophical truths, hidden in layers of simple folk tales. A good example is the story of Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibuzh (1757–1811), the grandson of the founder of the chassidic movement, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov. Battling melancholy and depression his whole life, Rabbi Baruch was known to be meticulous in helping his students with their problems, being conscious of his own.

In the story of the “Fifty Gates” Rabbi Baruch had a student, who frequently visited his rabbi and teacher to discuss his life, his studies, his doubts and his questions. Even after the student had moved to a different town, he returned to Mezhibuzh at regular intervals.

At one point, the rabbi realized that he had not seen his student for an unusual length of time. Possessing insight, divine inspiration and a keen sense of psychology, Rabbi Baruch sensed something was really wrong. He ordered his servant to harness his wagon, and traveled without delay to his student’s town. Upon arrival, Rabbi Baruch made his way into the house of his student, without so much as even taking the trouble of having his servant announce his presence. The student was home, seated at his desk, surrounded by books and papers, and the sudden appearance of the rabbi startled him!

The rabbi greeted with the words: “I know what is hidden in your heart! You have passed through all the forty-nine gates of reason. You became horribly entangled in your thoughts. You tried logic, reason, all kind of other sciences and philosophies! Every time you came up with a question, you tried to find an answer as best as you could (this made you pass a ‘gate’). After you passed through the first gate, each additional problem brought you to a second gate, which in turn brought you to a third gate, and so on. Soon you noticed that all of your reasoning and analytical skills invoked still other questions, which led you to discover still other answers, which led you to pass through higher and higher levels of gates. And so you continued on this path, till you arrived at the fiftieth gate. This is the gate that leads one straight down into the abyss.

“You have now posed and wrestled with questions for which no living man in this world has ever discovered any satisfactory or truthful understanding. If you proceed and continue trying to do so anyway, you will stumble, fail, and fall ever more deeply. There is no return from this abyss!”

The student was stunned that Rabbi Baruch not only knew what was troubling him, but that he had taken the time, trouble and effort to come in person in order to share his wisdom and show support to his wayward former pupil. The student felt great remorse.

“So, what can I do?” he asked, “Please! Don’t just tell me that in order to repent I have to go back all the way to the first gate!”

“No,” answered the rebbe, “you can’t undo knowledge or experience once you have acquired it, but you can handle it in a different way. When you turn yourself around, you will not be going backwards. You will be standing way beyond the last and fiftieth gate. You will stand in faith!”

7:30 a.m.

By Yaakov Bressler

April 29, 2013
Ink on Paper
Ink on Paper

Artist’s Statement: In life, there are things that bother us. Takes messes, for example; we don’t like them.

But a mess is a discomforting image only because of the message it sends: “Clean me.” If you never had to clean your messes, you would probably appreciate all the things those messes say about you.

7:30 a.m. is a portrait of the messes that accompany us on a typical morning. A lot of what’s in this image doesn’t appear extraordinary because we don’t typically think about the messages in our messes; we’re too busy focusing on the clean-up they demand.

This drawing will help you appreciate these annoyances, and what they convey about the morning routines of the Jewish nation.

San Francisco Mitzvah Cable Car

By Marc Lumer

April 26, 2013
Watercolor, Pencil & Mixed Media
Watercolor, Pencil & Mixed Media

Artist’s Statement: These are details of a design I created to decorate the Mitzvah Cable Car in San Francisco. I wanted to do something reminiscent of the folk art style of painting, combining typography and the narrative panels of comic books to express the joy and accessibility of Judaism. This moving fresco can be seen as an ensemble if you are looking at from a distance, or read as a comic book if you are stuck in traffic next to it in one of San Francisco’s legendary hilly streets.

Mystic Ecstacy

By Bentzion Elisha

April 25, 2013

Artist's Statement: While at a Rabbinical seminary in Jerusalem I ventured to Miron on Lag BaOmer.

Miron is the burial place of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who is the author of the Zohar, a primary Jewish mystical text authored some 2,000 years ago.

It’s a beautiful, lively festival celebrating the Rabbi and his works and the inner mystical aspects of Torah, through dancing, lighting bonfires, and joyous gatherings worldwide.

In Miron the celebration is taken to a different level, attracting hundreds of thousands of people during this 24 hour period. Free festive food and drinks are offered and very exciting Klezmer music is played enthusiastically by inspired musicians while masses of people dance and dance...

A Holy Man

By Ruth Gila Zavidowsky

April 22, 2013
Oil on Canvas
Oil on Canvas

Artist's Statement: Light is most essential to any painting. In this painting, it's the power of the tzaddik himself that creates the light. He is the channel through which we can see the Divine. He is like a mirror to yourself... is it not delightful?

Shabbat Queen

By Natalia Kaddish

April 19, 2013
Colored Pencil
Colored Pencil

Artist’s Statement: Shabbat Queen.

Am Yisrael Chai

April 18, 2013 1:45 PM
Acrylic on Canvas
Acrylic on Canvas

Artist's Statement: Am Yisroel Chai is the everlasting statement that the Jewish nation lives on, prevailing regardless of the difficulties that assault us. Physically and spiritually, we stand strong.

Shabbat After-glow

By Sarah Chaya Elisha

April 8, 2013
Acrylic on Stretched Canvas
Acrylic on Stretched Canvas

Artist’s Statement: On our descent from the holy Shabbat into the mundane week, we light the braided candle as part of the havdalah service. The candle comprises multiple wicks which, when lit, ultimately form a single flame, and we use it to usher out the Shabbat.

Shabbat, celebrated with festive meals, rest and prayer, is a day dedicated to the One Above. For 25 hours we rid ourselves of our day-to-day distractions so we can focus on Him. The candle’s many wicks join in a single flame to remind us to use those day-to-day activities and distractions to serve our Creator.

This painting is a tribute to the beauty of the havdalah service, and the moments in time that remind us to hold on to the Shabbat glow, long after Shabbat has ended.

In the Wilderness

By Catherine Shapiro

April 4, 2013
Pastel on Paper
Pastel on Paper

Artist's Statement: In this pastel sketch a couple marries before the divine presence and their community. Even in the wilderness, there are joyous occasions to share!

Creative works exploring life and Judaism composed by a spectrum of Jewish artists.

"The primary talent of an artist is his ability to step away from the externalities of the thing and, disregarding its outer form, gaze into its innerness and perceive its essence, and to be able to convey this in his painting.This is how an artist can serve his Creator." — The Rebbe

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