Jewish Artist of the Week: Yehoshua Hooper

 May 15-21 2022
ז’-י”ג אייר תשפ״ב
Parshat Behar בהר
Happy Lag B’Omer
Revealing the Light of Redemption: Blowing the Shofar on the Jubilee                                                  
Piece Description:
The main source of inspiration for my artwork comes from the Zohar. It reflects the teachings of Rabbi Shimon who states that at the time of Redemption, it will be precept for the Shofar to be blown on the Jubilee; at this time Bnei Israel will gather and assemble from the four corners of the earth. Each one will fulfill its appointed functions.

Discussion Questions:
1. This picture depicts the scene of the return to Jerusalem from the four corners of the earth in the time of Redemption, however there are no individuals depicted. Why do you think Yehoshua refrains from depicting any individuals?
2. Yehoshua Hooper describes the decided choice to embed symbolic meaning through the number of times items are portrayed in the piece. He depicts 11 flames emitting from the shofar blasts in each of the four corners. He intentionally draws a four pronged “Shin” surrounded by 7 rounded flames. With respect to the message of this piece and more broadly to the experience of looking at this image, what does this attention to detail elicit in you?

3. What effect does the black and white colour composition have on the broader menaing of this piece? What does this say about the main themes of equality, reunification, cessation from work, revealing the light.

4. This Torah portion is called “Behar”, at the mountain. What role does the mountain play in tying the themes of this piece together? Why do you think the mountain is depicted in the distance behind the banner?  To your understanding of what this mountain represents, what is Mount Sinai of your own life?

Artist Bio:

Yehoshua Hooper grew up being a third-culture kid, constantly exploring new places and creating art along the way. He received his MA in Jewish Education, Nonprofit Development, and Art Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York City. His artwork and teaching styles are centered utilizing the power of visual language as a means of expressing complex thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

To see more art by Yehoshua: Chevrutah Pair:
Aaron Levy
Toronto, Canada

Rabbi Bio:  Rabbi Aaron Levy is a leader in the revival of downtown Jewish life in Toronto, where he is the founder and spiritual leader of Makom: Creative Downtown Judaism, a diverse and inclusive community fusing Jewish tradition and progressive values through spirituality, learning, and culture since 2009.  As a descendant of both Sephardic and Ashkenazic immigrants to Turtle Island or North America, Rabbi Aaron personally embodies Jewish multiculturalism and he warmly welcomes diverse Jews and non-Jews to explore their own paths in Jewish life and community.  Ordained in 2004 in the first graduating class of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah: The Open Orthodox Rabbinical School, he is also an avid drummer, cyclist, hiker, and vegan.

Sermon of Rabbi: 
This week’s parashah (Torah portion) – Behar – begins by providing the setting: “וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל־מֹשֶׁה בְּהַר סִינַי” – The Eternal spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai.  We then proceed to learn about shemittah – literally, release – that the Torah commands every seven years.  Indeed, we’re in the midst of a shemittah year now, which started this past Rosh Hashanah.Two of the laws of shemittah are given in this parashah:The land is to lie fallow, uncultivated, and grow wild.  The Torah calls this “שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן יִהְיֶה לָאָרֶץ” – “there shall be a Sabbath of Sabbaths for the land” (Lev. 25:4).During shemittah, land owners have no ownership of what was their land; everyone, including the poor, and even animals, may access and eat from what grows wild on any field, tree, or vine. (25:6-7)Elsewhere in the Torah, we learn three other features of the shemittah year:All debts are forgiven (Deut. 15:1-8), thereby preventing the poor from sinking ever deeper into poverty.  Shemittah gives them a fresh economic start.  Indentured servants are freed (Ex. 21:1-6) and given ample gifts of livestock, grain, and wine by their former masters (Deut. 15:13-14).  As the Torah explains, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Eternal your God ransomed you…” (Deut. 15:15). There’s debate as to whether the release of indentured servants is to take place at the shemittah year or after a maximum of six years of servitude, regardless of when in the communal shemittah cycle it falls. But either way, it links with shemittah conceptually.Every year for Sukkot, all the Israelites were to make pilgrimage to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. But during shemittah, the Torah adds an extra component – hak’hel – assembling all “the people, the men, the women, and the little-ones, and your stranger that is in your gates” to hear the Torah read (Deut. 31:11-12). After its brief description of shemittah, our parashah moves on to introduce yovel – the super shemittah:And you shall count for you seven Sabbaths of years, seven years seven times, and the days of the seven Sabbaths of years shall come to forty-nine years. And you shall send round a blasting ram’s horn, in the seventh month on the tenth of the month, on the Day of Forgiveness, you shall send round a ram’s horn (shofar) through all your land. And you shall make the fiftieth year holy and call a release (deror) in the land to all its inhabitants. A yovel/jubilee it shall be for you, and you shall go back each person to their holding and each person to their clan, you shall go back. (Lev. 25:8-10)While the English word jubilee is just an awkward transliteration of the Hebrew yovel, the word yovel literally means ram’s horn, like the word shofar. The same word is used in Shemot/Exodus in the narrative of the revelation of the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai: “בִּמְשֹׁךְ הַיֹּבֵל הֵמָּה יַעֲלוּ בָהָר” – “When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they [Moses and Aaron] will go up on the mountain” (Ex. 19:13).So the name of this exceedingly special, fiftieth year comes straight from the ram’s horn that’s blown during it on Yom Kippur.  Why? What’s so important about blowing the shofar that year that it provides the name for the whole, holy year? Perhaps sounding the shofar is the signal to start the radical societal reforms entailed in yovel: wholesale land redistribution and freedom from servitude (discussed later in the parashah, Lev. 25:40-41).In a variation on that theme, Rabbi Ovadia Seforno comments: “שופר תרועה לשמחת חירות העבדים והשבת השדות לבעליהם” – “A blasting ram’s horn – for the joy of liberation of the servants and the return of fields to their owners.In his read, blowing the shofar doesn’t just start the yovel year, it expresses the happiness that accompanies the socio-economic changes.  It’s almost like the economic release – deror – of the year leads to an emotional release, an emphatic sigh of relief, voiced by the shofar.Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch considers this blowing of the shofar a summoning of the original, rightful owners of the land. It’s calling them back to their ancestral homes.What can shemittah – the Sabbatical Year – and yovel – the Jubilee Year – mean for us?Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer, a 19th century German rabbi, wrote in his Torah commentary: Another reason for shemittah is so that people should not always be preoccupied with working the soil to provide for their material needs.  For in this one year, they would be completely free.  The liberation from the yoke of work would give them the opportunity for studying Torah and wisdom…  Those endowed with special skills will invent new methods in this free time for the benefit of the world.  (Sefer ha-Berit on Lev. 25:2)Shemittah should be a year of education and inspiration for us.  Just as an academic sabbatical allows a professor to spend a year exploring their academic interests without the constraints of daily work, the shemittah year is a time for learning and contemplation, in which we can take a step back and evaluate our lives, where we’ve come from and where we’re going.  Shemittah gives us time for creativity.  And even if we still have jobs to go to, perhaps we can use the remaining months of this year to put extra emphasis on the internal work we need to do in order to enhance and enrich our ethical and spiritual lives.Shemittah includes an incredible array of beautiful, challenging, perhaps radical agricultural, environmental, animal, socio-economic, intellectual, and spiritual prescriptions, many of which are hard to instantiate literally in our Diasporic, urban, 21st-century lives.  However, in the spirit of the ongoing interpretation and re-interpretation that is a hallmark of Judaism, I invite you to find ways to connect with the underlying values of each aspect of shemittah this year.  Let’s think about what we might release this year, and also what we can do to bring shemittah into our consciousness and actions.  To that end, I’d like to ask you to consider some open, personal questions:What can I let go of?What and who can I forgive?How can I be more involved in poverty relief and the narrowing of economic inequality?How can I contribute to others’ food security?How can I learn more?How can I deepen my spiritual life?How can I allow myself to be more creative?How can I be a better friend, partner, parent, or child?How can I truly rest?How can I be holier?

AMEN Institute Happenings
Next Week’s Jewish Artist of the Week:
Next week we will be featuring Yona Verwer, who studied Parshat Bechukotai with Rabbi Baruch Thaler. Catch their live articulation on Sunday May 22nd at 1 PM ET! 

Creative Articulation Featuring Yehoshua Hooper and Rabbi Aaron Levy
On Tuesday May 17th Yehoshua Hooper and Rabbi Aaron Levy blew us away with a highly engaging presentation in which they shared works replete with symbolism, midrashic choices and ever relevant questions that probe the deep meanings of ownership, equality and divine reunification. This week’s Artist Rabbinic pairing brought together two nature oriented, innovative pedagogues. Relive their dynamic conversation using this link of their articulation:

Yetzirah Circles
The Yetzirah Circle is a monthly gathering where we open up an online zoom room for Jewish artists to work on their crafts in a shared virtual space. Join us on May 31st at 7 pm EST to meet kindred spirits and to partake in this Amen activity. Here’s the link:

Heal Over Head Retreat:
We hosted a Jewish experiential weekend of healing, growth, introspection and creativity for young adults. Participants ventured to a paradisiacal estate in the scenic backdrop of the Pocono Mountains to gain access to deep healing, clarity and self expression through workshops led by skilled facilitators. Stay tuned for updates on when our next retreat will be.                 

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