Monday, July 10, 2017

Children of the Palace

B'nei heichala dichsifin l'mechezei ziv d'z'eir anpin.
Yahon hacha b'hai taka d'vei malka b'gilufin.

"The children of the palace yearn to see the splendor of the microcosmic mirror.
They are gathered here, at this table, in which the King is engraved."

These are the first two lines of a medieval Aramaic mystical poem attributed to Isaac Luria, the Holy Ari.  Bnei Heichala - The Children of the Palace, is chanted at Seudah Shlishit or Shalosh Seudos - the third Sabbath meal that begins in the late afternoon as the sun is setting or just before the sun sets and continues until the stars are visible in the sky and the beginning of Havdalah, the closing ritual of the Sabbath.  It is a way to push the boundaries of the sacred to their outermost edge.  This holy moment within the timeless is the hour of Ra'avah (Resh Alef Vav Hei) - seeing deeply into the dimensions of time and space. The Zohar hails it as not just Ra'avah but Ra'avah D'Ra'avah - a time of seeing to the depths. 

I have translated Z'eir Anpin (the Little Face) of the original Aramaic text as "the microcosmic mirror."  That is how my dear friend and Torah Chaver, Jacob Goldberg z"l, translated it.  Just as an entire room is reflected within the back of a polished silver spoon, so is the feminine nature of divinity a Microcosmic Mirror of the Real.

The image of noble children seated around a table in which the King is engraved waiting anxiously for a vision of splendor, as you might have guessed, has my name on it.

In March of this year I happened upon three solid copper West Bend serving trays from a 1795 farm house estate in New Hampshire being offered for sale. I made an offer.  My offer was accepted.  

The copper on all three had darkened significantly over time, but all are perfectly etch-able once I go in with an enthusiastic effort of elbow grease, which I have applied to platter number one.

See, then, the table in which the King is engraved:

B'nei Heichala Tray- acid-etched copper with ink oxides

14 1/2 " in diameter.  The handles extend to 16 1/8".  Wonderful original wood handles.  Oak, I believe.

The wonderful base I found at a Habitat for Humanity Restore in Alamosa.  Had been the base of a bird bath. Very heavy.  30" high.

The tray itself photographed quite well without its glass covering which protects it during use.

With the glass it is quite beautiful in person but has too much reflectivity for a  good photo.

May that day arrive when we may come together and see each other deeply.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Healing Hand

Now that I have begun creating hiddur mitzvah - a beautiful object that enlivens ones bonding with divinity - it has been my deep request to be the vehicle for such an object that would address my own need to be a participant in restoring the ripping fabric of this world that we are all witnessing at this moment.  My request was answered on the fourteenth day (Yud Dalet) of the counting of the Omer, just short of two weeks ago. I clearly understood that I was to make a votive candle setting with a hand. 

The words I was to place upon the hand I have known since I was a little child. They come from one of the myriad versions of Henai Ma Tov.  This particular version has a Klezmer feel, is a call and response punctuated with a fast chorus. The words of the chorus are: Ve'al yidai zeh yushpa shefa rav - "by means of this (hand) is caused to flow a great Supernal flowing."  I never knew where those words came from and never saw them written.  Over the years I have tried to find their source with no luck.  Nevertheless, these words sang to me and became the theme of a mezzuzah I created for my own door. That mezzuzah is also inscribed with the Arabic word "shifa" which means "healing." What an elegant confluence of meanings from the same 3-letter root. This instruction for this setting however, precluded the use any Arabic, which frankly left me bewildered about the meaning of this assignment.

It's been a few years since my last search so I gave Google another shot, and this time struck a gusher!  An off-hand reference was made to the source of the words, which I followed to the very end of the counting of the Omer.  I don't know if it is in all siddurim but it was in mine (Siddur Rinat Yisrael, Nusach S'fard):

"...And by means of this (hand) there is caused to flow a Great Supernal Flowing in all the Worlds. To repair the 3 aspects of our human souls: Nefesh (Vital Life Energy), Ruach (The Motivating Spirit), and Neshama (Divine Spark), from all dross and scar and to cleanse us and make us holy by means of Your Supernal Holiness.   Amen, Selah."

" all the worlds" - yes, the 4 cosmological worlds of Atzilut, Briah, Yetzirah and Asiah, but I'm thinking of the worlds both personal and public, physical and spiritual of politics, emotion, inter-personal relations, bio-sphere, finance, family ... ALL the worlds that need to be washed clean.

"To repair our own Nafshotainu, Ruchotanu and Neshmotainu" from scum and scar so that we can, each of us,  evolve into true humans, reflective of the holiness of which we are made.

Yes, let us rally in front of the offices of our congressmen, join the resistance, but also light a candle for the inner transformation that will make the ultimate difference in the future of the "worlds" and this planet.

Tikkun Olamot - "Restoration of the Worlds":

Available through Ritual Well

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Life Cycles

Chaim - "Life" is structured in the Hebrew form of a double plural. Just like yadaim - "hands," oznaim - "ears"... (yes, mayim - "water," has the same form).  The single word for LIFE carries an intrinsic implication of two lives.  Does it perhaps imply an internal and external reality?  Does it speak to this life and a life hereafter? These are the thoughts that circulate as I've been working on Yizkor candle settings.

Mishlei (Proverbs) 20:27 speaks of the soul: Ner Havaya Nishmat Adam -"the candle of Havaya is the soul of a human being."  In our tribal tradition, consequently, a candle has come to symbolize a soul. The yahrzeit candle brings the memory of a fragile life to to fore and accompanies that memory with the recognition of the continued life, in whatever form, of that beloved soul.
So, I have begun creating theseYizkor candle settings - a simple concept that provides a place setting for that memory candle with a kind of meditative focus that reinforces life. Made from copper and cedar, they are a small addition to the world of hidur mitzvah - "Beautification of the Connective Tissue between ourselves and the Source of our being. Three etched designs inked in various colors with optional text.  If you get a chance you can check them out at under Life Cycle - Yahrzeit.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Venus Infusion - decoding

The job description I accept as an artist is:
to be a faithful encoder, expressing the archetypal language that arises from some cellular or inter-cellular space to the best of my understanding.  

The decoding of Venus Infusion has been another matter. 

 I have sought help from many sources I consider to be in tuned to this sort of 
symbolic expression.  Several individuals saw their present "in-the-moment" personal experience depicted along with the individual story that accompanies it.  Karin DiGiacomo was able to give me an extraordinary alchemical summary. I have received some astrological associations.  Poet Morgan Crowley wrote the following:
 I see movement, centering and also shining outward,  communication in the shining out, vital messages. A kind of explosive force, the wild feminine being spoken, yelled, howled out. Un-restraining.

For me this description rings pretty true except for one thing - the "wild feminine."  Hot, dynamic, active, powerful, directive, radiant, commanding even, but not frenzied or out of control. 

Taking a walk with my walking buddy JoAnne K. brought some light to my struggles with the series of the three Venus symbols flanked in the primary orbit  around the central hexagon by bees.


JoAnne has always been helpful with references from the epic poem Savitri by Sri Aurobindo.  Somehow much of my work resonates with imagery that comes up in that source, though I am personally unfamiliar with the text.  In this case JoAnne brought up the Triple Soul-Forces met by the heroine Savitri as she traveled with her beloved Satyavan to met the god of death. The soul-forces she identifies with herself, she refers to them as "Madonnas"  and recognizes that each is incomplete in themselves. She promises to return with their missing parts.  They are Compassion without Power, Might without Wisdom and Light without a forward moving Inspiration.  I could feel a bell ring as she described them.

This morning, in the shower, thoughts came flooding in.  I now believe that Venus Infusion is a messianic message, though not in the way you may think. 

As I stood under the shower flow my mind wandered to the number 6 and the hexagon.  In my inner vocabulary, "Life" is 8, as in the eight-fold form of the Breath of the Compassionate. 6, in this case, is a subset of 8.  It is messianic - from the Hebrew mei-si-ach, "the One who causes conversation to flow" - the same 3-letter root as ma-shi-ach with a repositioning of the dagesh from the right to the left (feminine) side over the SHIN.

Venus Infusion is about conversation, communication, the six-sided Holy of Holies; returning the work/worship (AVODAH) to the DIVIR - the spoken word.

Six is the water molecule - fluidity, fluency

Six relates to the conjunction symbols that reside within the outer orbit: the alchemical symbol for conjunction, the Hebrew VAV and the Arabic WAW, both of which equate to the number 6 and express the great and.

Here the bee's waggle dance that points towards the Flower Source leads to the production of bee pollen and honey - delectable nurturance and the sustainability of the community. 

The feminine force is infusing into the conversation - is infusing communication into the conversation. Communion. Community

Compassion with Power, Might with Wisdom and Light with Inspiration.

That is my best shot at decoding the ineffable.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Thoughts for the New Year

These are the notes that I prepared for my class exploring aspects of the Hebraic Mystical Tradition.  As the year turns to 5777 at sunset, I'm focused on the implications of shattering as sounded by the shofar during these High Holidays.

Here are some thoughts to root to in times of chaos, trauma and transformation.

Shattering towards Wholeness
Shatteress“With shattering was the world created..” 
 Genesis 1:1 
"Beraishit" using RESH SHIN SHIN as the 3-letter root

The letter cHET derives from the root cHET TAF TAF = terror, shatter, dismay

Each level of transformation begins from an initial point of “shocking the vessel” into a state of pulsation. 

Excerpt from The Web of Life by Fritjof Capra:

Non-equilibrium: Tektology, the science of structure
“(Alexander Bogdanov) emphasizes in particular that the tension between 
crisis and transformation is central to the formation of complex systems.”

Page 191:
“A bifurcation point is a threshold of stability at which the dissipative structure may either break down or break through. At the bifurcation point, the dissipative structure … shows an extraordinary sensitivity to small fluctuations in its environment. A tiny, random fluctuation, often called 'noise,' can induce the choice of path.”

Cognition – The Process of Life
“(Gregory) Bateson thought that in order to describe nature accurately one should try to speak nature's language, which, he insisted, is a language of relationships. Relationships are the essence of the living world.”

The Hebrew letter tzadi is the 18th letter of the Alef-Bet - 18 representing "life." Tzadi means "hunt" as in "hunting for fallen sparks." 

“Tzadik” refers to a person who walks in balance, having a mobile fulcrum which adjusts authentically to the demands of the moment. This balance evolves, not out of identity with virtue, but rather, through the integration of chaos. It is this redemptive processing of the murky, personal underworld which empowers tzadikim to raise the fallen sparks of consciousness to the benefit of all humanity. 

Akeidat Yitzhak 14:
No one is wise in Torah but the master of traumatic experience.
Wisdom is a function of becoming adept at integrating traumatic experience.

Nachson ben Aminadav was the guy who saw the Egyptians in hot pursuit of the fleeing Hebrew slaves and made the choice based on inner direction to “plunge” feet first into the Red Sea up to his nose – whereupon the sea parted. Nachson was a descendent of Judah and Tamar and the forebear of Boaz in the line-up to David - all players in the messy stories of shattering that, when internalize, symbolically lead us toward the unfolding of our own redemption.

Pashtus: Acting out of appropriate unreasonableness

Pashtus is the path of simple, direct and unsubstantiatable clarity.

It is for each person to perceive and follow their own pashtus, as it is entirely personized and precise. Pashtus requires you to listen and act upon the promptings of the internal voice of direction - the “Voice of the Silent Moment“– Kol Dimama Dakah. 

The Rav (Tzvi Kahana) called this a dangerous path. Our minds contrive grandiose plans and desires to confound the Voice. The Powers-that-be are threatened when they have no jurisdiction over those who acknowledge the authority of their own choices.

Buckminster Fuller said in his Critical Path:

“I am convinced that human continuance depends entirely upon: the intuitive wisdom of each and every individual  . . the individual's integrity of speaking and acting only on the individual's own within-self-intuited and reasoned initiative . . . the individual's never joining action with others as motivated only by crowd-engendered-emotionalism, or a sense of the crowd's power to overwhelm, or in fear of holding to the course indicated by one's own intellectual convictions.”

Essentially, pashtus is the personal expression of Divine Authenticity within each moment.

The Colors of Sound of the Shofar Blast by Jennifer Jones

Sounding the Shofar

Tekiah: “blast,” one long blast with a clear tone

Shevarim: “shattering,” sighing sound of three short calls

Teruah: “alarm,” a rapid series of nine or more very short notes

Tekiah Gedolah: “The Great Tekiah,” a single unbroken blast, held as long as possible

Other Notes:

If you'd be interesting in participating in a once-a-month online class via Skype let me know and I'll see about setting one up.

I'm participating in the annual Crestone Artists Open Studio Tour tthis weekend,October 8th and 9th from noon to 5pm both days.  Would love to see you If you can make it. Here's the link for more info:

With a call ahead of time, if I'm here, my studio is almost always open for a visit throughout the year.

L'Shana Tova!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Homing into liberation

 Psalm 84:4 
Gam tzipor matz'a vait oo dror kain lah
"The bird (too) has found a home and the sparrow her nest"
The soul has found her home --  & freedom is her nest

Flying Home - 18.5" x 19.25"

Flying Home is the culmination of a series of synchronistic events relating to the theme of "liberation".  It began with a visit to the Savitri House mid-May during a discussion of Sri Aurobindo's The Synthesis of Yoga.  "There must awake in us a constant indwelling and enveloping nearness, a vivid perception, a close feeling and communion, a concrete sense and contact of a true and infinite Presence always and everywhere." I remember the ensuing conversation leading in the direction of a consequent liberation.

The following week I received a call from an acquaintance in New York. She called thinking I might help her with a chronic, debilitating physical pain in her neck that resulted in miserable headaches. I had no idea what would help but I did believe that her body and its intrinsic wisdom would know.  I suggested she direct her attention into the pain, describe it's shape, texture, color and emotion as ask it what it needed to be released.  I was beyond gratified when she reported being told to get into some Kundalini yoga position (that she particularly detested) and do some specific kind of breathing.  She put down the phone and did as directed. When she got back on the line she actually felt more space space between her cervical vertebrae.  What I felt was Liberation!

Well, the next issue was really uncomfortable.  A smoldering resentment reared it's ugly head over which I couldn't escape obsessing. I'll leave out the specifics on this one.  Let's just say it had to do with being manipulated by a person of means around my art over several months during a time of serious financial vulnerability. I called my dear friend Peggy, who directed me to hold that person in my thoughts and ask for them to be released from whatever enslaves them - and me too.  I told her I didn't know if I could honestly say that. Peggy said, "it doesn't matter - JUST DO IT".  I did. Wow. What an immediate visceral response. Hard to believe. I've been doing it ever since, any time I am irritated by some personality that rubs me the wrong way: 

"May so-and-so be released from whatever is enslaving them, and me too." 

It's really humbling to get in touch with ones subtle and not-so-subtle internal and external enslavements.

There's more that added to the theme but the symbolic language and impetus to translate these liberating experiences into art came during a gathering of friends when asked what I saw in the mint leaves of an empty tea cup.  What I clearly saw was a bird with extended wings flying above a nest.  This Rorschach Test brought to my mind the line from Psalm 84:4 : Gam tzipor matz'a viat u d'ror kain lah, "the bird has also found a home and the sparrow her nest."  Tzipor - "bird" is the soul, and D'ror is both a sparrow and the word for "freedom."  


You can see the Hebrew words u d'ror kain lah written into the tail

Here is a detail of the nest cutwork backed in textured clear acrylic and a translucent blue washi paper that adds to the sense of spaciousness.

May we all be released from whatever enslaves us so we may experience the expansive divinity of who we really are.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Questing for The Grail Quest

El Santo Cáliz - Acid etched copper, fretwork, oxides, backed in mulberry paper.

I recently started listening to the archived lectures of the Temenos Academy (U.K.) and listened to one just the other day given in April of 2010 by Jules Cashford on Wolfram's Parzival (  It was that insightful retelling of the Grail legend that led me to choose the Grail as subject for this week's post.

It has been several years ago now since I was given the assignment of The Grail for an illumination.  At first I was a bit appalled, knowing nothing directly about the Grail other than it was a chalice somehow associated with some Christian myth and there had been a best selling book out having to do with a daughter of Jesus and Mary Magdalene - neither of which subjects I felt any connection to.  When I receive an assignment, however, I have disciplined myself to put all aversions aside and do my best to figure out why this has come to me.  I started with a chalice, which at least I could associate with a feminine receptacle. I saw a form coming together around the chalice I was going to use.  As you can see above, it is something like a chalice itself only upside down. I saw the arabesques where they are, but I saw something else as well - I saw words.  I asked what the words are and I distinctly heard: "Look for a question."  Well, that sent me on a different path entirely since now I had to search for the story in order to "look for a question."   

I did the normal Google search and found that the story I had to find was about a character named Parsifal or Parzival.  I knew there was an opera by Wagner with that name. So I started there. Then I found a beautiful French poem in translation about the story, but it wasn't until I tackled the full story written in High German by Wolfram von Eschenbach that I got it.

The entire story is about a question.  It is not, in any way about an answer.  It is Parzival who is destined to ask this question. It is what the Grail Quest is all about, the only key that will unlock the door to the grail castle, redeem the fisher king from his terrible ailment and ultimately redeem the world (redeem = make true again).

I thought of my friend Jacob, with whom I studied Hebrew texts for all the 26 years of our friendship.  His favorite psalm was Yimalei Havayah Kol Mishalotecha - which only made sense to me now and within this context: "Havaya (The Verb of Creation) will fill all of your questions."

We live in a society that places a high value on expertise - the ones who have the answers.  To be cool you need to always have your trigger finger on the quick comeback, the fast retort. 
Wisdom, however, does not reside in "the answer" but in being empty and open to the filling with what you do not yet know. The Talmud says that the purpose of disease is so that you will seek for the cure that pre-existed. Interestingly, the Hadith too says that Allah has not created any disease for which the healing was not first created.

The words that I was led to through my journey through the Grail quest became: Empty of Answers A Question Redeems.  Included too are two of the words from Jacob's psalm: Yimalei Havaya - "Havaya will fill" written in medieval Rashi script at the center top.

As a confirmation, my German friend Karin DiGiacomo, who cut her teeth on Wolfram's Parzival, said when she saw the completed illumination that a truer translation of the question Parzival asks the fisher king would be "What are you empty of?" as opposed to "What ails you sir?

Wolfram provided me with yet another gem that made it clear that this assignment had my name on it.  He spoke of the grail being made of stone with Arabic writing carved into it!  What if I could actually find and incorporate that Arabic writing?!!

Living the in Google age, I did a search.  Would you believe it? I found that there lives in Valencia, Spain a chalice called El Santo Cáliz that is composed of an upper half-hemisphere of carnelian and a bottom half-hemisphere of chalcedony. There is a very old form of Cufic (Arabic) writing engraved into the inside of the base.  Wolfram believed it to be an Arabic transliteration of the poor Latin phrase: Il Lapsit Exillis.   The website I found had a photograph of this chalice (17cm high) along with a discussion among Arabists as to what the Cufic script actually said. One thought it was a "Bismillah" another a "La Illaha Ilallah"... , but there was one scholar who believed that it actually could be L LPST EXLS - Il Lapsit Exillis minus the vocalization (vowels). This is when I started to hear the theme song from The Twilight Zone.

Needless to say,  I ditched the chalice I was going to use for El Santo Cáliz sans the pearls, emeralds and rubies.  I made my image equal to the 17 centimeters of the original (Jacob loved the number 17, which is "good" in gematria), and included the inscription Il Lapsit Exillis at the bottom center of the piece.

I too have been transformed by this quest.