The Wise Have Eyes – Artists Interpret Kabbalah

Eyes_NichollsA musical Kabbalah piece titled The Wise Have Eyes has just been released. It is an interpretation of a mystical tale from the Zohar known as The Parable of the Maiden (or Sava de-Mishpatim). More info here; or view on youtube.

It was created by Jacqueline Nicholls, Jewlia Eisenberg and Sarah Lefton in chavruta (חַבְרוּתָא “partnership”), a traditional approach to study in which partners analyze, discuss, and debate a shared text. San Francisco Bay Area-based singer and songwriter, Jewlia Eisenberg wrote the song and music, and London-based fine artist Jacqueline Nicholls drew and filmed the drawings. G‑dcast’s founder Sarah Lefton was the project’s producer.

Jacqueline Nicholls’ comments (excerpts):

…”The mystical journey is one of coming closer, unveiling, following subtle hints and yearning for connection. And the threat of being lost and alone, abandoned before reaching the safety of the other. This is a journey of the individual soul, who craves knowledge and intimacy. Each soul has its own way of seeing, but knowledge (and Torah) is revealed in relationship, and the individual longing to be understood by an other.

I followed the textʼs basic narrative. The friends meet, engage with the old manʼs riddles, that reveal deeper truths about the nature of different types of soul and the relationship with Torah and God. In the drawings, the eyeball is the depiction of the soul, becoming jewelry that adorns the maiden, the female embodiment of Torah. And ascending and descending towards and away from God. The drawings end with a fleeting image of the two friends in closeness. But it is only fleeting.

These drawings are glimpsed at through fabric, echoing the multi-layered nature of Torah and the dance in the text between revealing and concealing. I chose simple rendering, just black pen and ink with wash. The water and fabrics give texture that hint to the textʼs darkness. The images evolved from sketches made during our shared learning and private reflection. Some drawings were too subtle and some were too overt. Itʼs a delicate balance of the erotic. How much to reveal and what to pull back. Trusting the other to understand what cannot be said.

And some things are difficult to talk about. Learning this text was disturbing and I struggled with much of the process. The Torah is characterised as a maiden in a tower, sending hints out and waiting for her lover to follow the trail, find her and seduce her. The text makes special mention that she has no eyes. She does not see, but she is seen. She does not search but seems passive. Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav turns this on its head. The maiden has no eyes because she does not see in a normal way of seeing. She sees beyond this world and reality.

Itʼs a sweet solution. Rebbe Nachman apparently taught the story of Saba Mishpatim when his daughter had an eye infection. The girl with no eyes prompted a retelling of the old manʼs riddles. For all the textʼs difficulties, I kept coming back to the compelling conversations and intriguing riddles. What does this all really mean…? And so I picked up my pen and tried to look beyond my usual way of seeing.”

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