Mär Martinez – Amen Institute Artist of the Week

In the Amen Institute’s Fellow Program artists are assigned a portion of the Torah to inspire a visual artwork and they are paired up with a Rabbinic fellow to study this portion with, where together they work through important theological and spiritual questions that come from this biblical text. Eleven Jewish Art Salon members are amongst the selected 20 Fellows.

Presentation Wednesday February 23, 1-2 PM

Mar Martinez, Tzedek Box
Piece DescriptionThe Tzedek Box is inspired by Yiscah’s teachings – I saw clear parallels from the community coming together to create the Mishkan and aimed to create a functional ritual object in response to the Torah portion.

I wanted to use contemporary techniques (laser-cutting) and paired it with archaic materials (gold leaf) to reference the ways ritual is significant and can be implemented in modernity. The work is made of concentric circles, referencing unity and togetherness. The gold leaf and transparent acrylic glows and allows light to freely pass through the vessel, which references the Mishkan and ideas of creating a space for Shechinah to rest. The Divine Presence will only reveal itself when we are united, which to me connects to the concept of a tzedek box. We invite the Mishkan through acts of kindness and holiness, and through acts of righteousness, justice and care for our community, we are able to achieve unity. By coming together and uniting through our differences, the unity we can create as whole is greater than the sum of its disparate parts. 
Discussion Questions:
1. This piece depicts a vessel with shortened and widened concentric circles. What do you think this ritual object would be used for? What do you think is supposed to be contained in the negative space? 

2. The title of this work, “Vakhel/and he assembled” focuses on the titular theme of this week’s parsha, gathering the people? In what way does this image speak to that central theme? What are the dangers of assembling an entire people as one? how do the different elements of this piece address those tensions?

3. Where is the entrance to this Mishkan? Where does it begin and end? Why do you think we are peering at the object from this angle in particular? Whose perspective in this week’s parsha are we invited to peer from?

4. Through Yiscah’s teaching of tasking each individual to create their own sanctum Mär has envisioned this design to best represent her own version of the Mishkan. What would the shape of your Mishkan be? What materials is it made out of? 
Artist Bio

Mär Martinez is an interdisciplinary artist specializing in sculptural painting. Her work dissects dominance, aggression and power dynamics through the lens of a culturally-enforced binary system.
2021 Exhibitions include: GENESIS, NY, Remembering the Words to Our Song, FL, GALEX 55 National Juried Competition, IL, ARTFIELDS 2021, SC, Collaborative Animals, OH and Sugar, Spice, and Not Playing Nice, NY.
She received her BFA in Painting and BA in Art History at the University of Central Florida.

To see more art by Mär Martinez: marmartinezart.com
Artist-Teacher Chevrutah Pair
Yiscah Smith  
Rabbi Bio:  Yiscah is a spiritual activist, educator, mentor, and meditation guide, who addresses the spiritual practice of encountering the Divine spark within. In fact, Yiscah views Judaism as a spiritual practice. She relies on Jewish spiritual teachings to inform and uplift her students and audiences, acting as a compass, gently guiding them to their unique inner selves. As a spiritual trailblazer, Yiscah exemplifies what it means to carve one’s own path, as she has grappled with the entanglements at the intersection of her spirituality, Jewish tradition and passionate desire to live a life of authenticity. Encouraging, ennobling and empowering others to carve their own paths and to cultivate the integrity to remain faithful to their unique paths is indeed her passion and inner calling. Yiscah teaches Jewish contemplative practice and spiritual texts at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and at Applied Jewish Spirituality. She has also founded and directs Conscious Community Nachlaot, an organization in Jerusalem that hosts Shabbat in-person spiritual gatherings, virtual guided meditation sits and spiritual text classes. In addition, Yiscah works with individuals in her private spiritual mentoring practice. Yiscah has earned a reputation as a sought-after inspiring international public speaker.

Sermon of Rabbi: Parshat VaYakhel : Healing the Brokenness and Restoring Unity

Based on a sharing by R’ Sholom Brodt z’’l, founder and Rosh Yeshiva Simchat Shlomo, Nachlaot,  Jerusalem, 2013. 

The theme of Parshat VaYakhel is unity and restoring self-confidence. Parshat VaYakhel occurs the  day after Yom Kippur, when Moshe Rabbeinu descends from Har Sinai with the second set of luchot – tablets – inscribed with the aseret ha’dibrote – the Ten Commandments (Seder Olam 6 – second century  chronology detailing the dates of biblical events from the Creation to Alexander the Great’s conquest of  Persia). As a result of the tragic incident of the golden calf eighty days earlier, a mere forty days after  receiving the Torah at Har Sinai, we were quite demoralized and we lost our self-confidence in our  ability to return to and be close to the Divine once again. 

Before receiving the holy Torah at Har Sinai, we had achieved true unity – we were “as one person with  one heart – כאיש אחד בלב אחד“. Then HaShem gave us His Torah and we experienced the most  awesome Divine Revelation. Tragically, we managed to retain this revelation of the Divine Presence  for only forty days. Then we lost it. In making the golden calf we caused the Shechinah to retreat from  amongst us. Would She ever return to dwell in our midst? Would we ever be in complete unity again? 

Moshe Rabeinu prayed on our behalf and managed to arouse HaShem’s compassion on us, and we  were forgiven. But we were broken inside. We lost our self-confidence in our ability to live in unity with  HaShem and with each other. And though HaShem forgave us, we wondered how long would it be  before we forgave ourselves. Would we do it again, what kind of life and what kind of relationships  would we live now? Would we – could we – repair, return and restore? 
And here is where our parsha begins: 

“And Moshe gathered the entire community of B’nei Yisrael and said to them: These are the words  that HaShem has commanded for you to do. Six days [during the week] you shall do work, but the  seventh day will be holy for you, as a Shabbat Shabbaton to HaShem…”(Shemot 35:1-2). Then,  “Moshe said, [again], to the entire congregation of B’nei Yisrael: “This is the word that HaShem has  commanded: Take from you [your possessions] a ‘t’rumah – contribution’ to HaShem…” (Ibid, 35:4-5). [To be used to build the Mishkan – the sanctuary]. 

We may wonder: why did Moshe gather us together, since we do not find that HaShem told him to do  this? And why did he choose to speak to us about Shabbat and about building the Mishkan – the  sanctuary, again without having been instructed to do so by HaShem?  

The Ishbitzer Rebbe (R’ Mordechai Yosef Leiner,1801-1854, Poland) teaches in his seminal work, Mei  HaShiloach, that Moshe gathered us together to restore our self-confidence, to comfort us and to  explain to us, how it came about that we made a golden calf and what we needed to know and be  conscious of to prevent a similar recurrence. In gathering us together, Moshe conveyed that we made  the golden calf because we did not maintain our unity.

To convey the importance and necessity of our re-uniting, Moshe did not this time transmit his  teachings in the usual manner, via the Seventy Elders (BaMidbar 11:16-17). Instead, he gathered all of  us together and spoke to us in community, to realistically convey that first and foremost we must  be united; to be again “as one person with one heart – כאיש אחד בלב אחד “. Moshe then speaks to  us about the holiness of Shabbat and then about the holy Mishkan – the sanctuary. We need to  understand why is Moshe talking to us about these two matters in particular? 

How do we restore our unity? How can we regain our self-confidence to once again not give up? What  is the source of our unity? In fact, the holy Shabbat is the source of our unity. By keeping and remembering the Holy Shabbat, we are inspired by its unity, for Shabbat is the unity  that permeates through each one of us and allows us to be in harmony with each other.  

When we are united, when we really care about one another, and when we feel that our well-being  matters to others, the Shechinah dwells amongst us, and no one has any desire to make any kind of  “golden calf.” But if we are divided, we can become idolatrous and hence empower those divisive  forces over us — we deify and worship division – הפרדה , the direct opposite of unity – אחדות . The  “idols” we make and the idolatrous worship that follows, divide us even further.  

But when we unite, when we live within the Shabbat consciousness, the Shechinah reveals Herself and  dwells among us. When the Jewish people unite and form the vessel of “Knesset Yisrael – the  community of Israel” – then the holy Shechinah dwells in it as well. Consequently, we are obligated not  only to believe that HaShem is one, but additionally, we are obligated, called upon and invited to live within HaShem’s Oneness. – “There is no existence, reality or creation other than God – אין עוד מלבדו “ (Dvarim 4:35). The living within HaShem’s Oneness becomes the essential ingredient of the healing. 

And this gift of Shabbat, our source of unity, further evolves in the same spirit of unity, to the invitation  to build the Mishkan – a home for the Shechinah. The Creator beckons us to create and build a dwelling  place, a home of sorts, here in the most physical and coarse manifestation of God’s creations, and then  gives us the task to prepare once again the vessel to receive the Shechinah – the Divine Presence. Moshe is teaching that if we want to build a holy sanctuary for the Shechinah to reveal Herself to us we  can only do so if we are indeed united; only then will the Shechinah dwell within us and among us. 
The Ishbitzer continues: one of the miracles that occurred in the building of the Mishkan was that  although hundreds of people were involved in its construction, when it was completed, it looked as if it  had been made by one person. The Mishkan possessed an inherent unity. This was possible because  miraculously all the craftspeople were inspired with a spirit of unity; they worked in spiritual unison and  that is what made it so special and holy. 

Earlier, in Shemot 19:6, we are commanded “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy  nation…” Then in Vayikra 19:1-2, we are again commanded, “HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak  to the entire congregation of B’nei Yisrael and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for holy am I, the Lord  your God.’” The commentators explain that here too we all gathered together because everyone had to  be there to personally hear this mitzvah that calls upon us to live a life of holiness. Many people err  and believe that being holy and living holy is possible only for a few select individuals in each  generation. However, the truth is that every one of us can live a life of “kedusah – holiness.” That is  why everyone had to hear this mitzvah personally. 

The Netziv (R’ Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, 1816 Russia – 1893 Warsaw, Poland) teaches in his famous  work “Ha’amek Dvar,” offers an additional explanation. The reason that everyone of us had to be  present to hear this mitzvah together, is that we were thereby being informed that holiness can be  found only in togetherness and unity. Regardless how scrupulously one may observe the mitzvot and regardless with how much “kavanah – holy intention” and focus one performs the mitzvot, you can be  connected to holiness only if there is a real place for every Jew in your heart and soul. 

As we learn that a Sefer Torah which is missing even only one letter, or if one letter is damaged, the  entire Sefer Torah is “pasul – invalid” and may not be read from in public. Chassidut explains that each  letter represents a “neshamah – soul” and if one letter is missing, it is as if that neshamah is missing,  God forbid. The same is true about the Mishkan: if even only one peg was missing in the Mishkan,  then the Shechinah would not dwell in it.  

The Mishkan was constructed with the “t’rumot – contributions” of every “nediv lev – generosity of the  heart.” Everyone contributed generously, and when everyone’s “generosity of the heart” was brought  together, the Dwelling Place of the Shechinah was created. 

“Olam chessed yiboneh – the world was built with the attribute of kindness” (Tehillim 89:3). Creation is  an act of chessed. The building of the Mishkan parallels the creation of Bereishit – the creation of the  world. Just as the Creator created the world with chessed, we too can create the home for the  Shechinah, the Mishkan, only through our acts of chessed and nediv lev. The Creator, the One created  plurality, the diversity in creation, the many — and we, the diverse and many, are invited to bring it all  together to create the home for the One. The deepest generosity that we have been given is the  Shabbat Kodesh. The deepest way we can celebrate the Shabbat is by being “nediv lev – of generous  heart, sharing and being together  
The Slonimer Rebbe (R’ Sholom Noach Berezovsky, 1911 Belarus – 2000 Jerusalem) explains in his  monumental work, Netivot Shalom: from the fact that the Torah is teaching us about Shabbat and the  Mishkan again in Parshat VaYakhel, immediately following the story of the golden calf in the previous  parsha, Parshat Ki Tissa, we learn that there is “Shabbat before the sin” and there is “Shabbat after the  sin.” Even after making a golden calf, we still have Shabbat and we can connect deeply with Shabbat.

It is natural for us to feel embarrassed when we pray to HaShem after we have violated and  compromised the integrity of our relationship with the Divine. After we made the golden calf, we were  broken hearted and ashamed to stand before HaShem again, and to pray and sing praises to HaShem.  How could we ever really open our mouths in song and prayer again? But we must not allow our  shame to interfere with our prayers and songs or our celebration of Shabbat fully again. But how do we  overcome these feelings? 

So, we have “Shabbat after the sin.” We have Shabbat again, but now we need to prepare ourselves  for it. All the work that we have put into our Shabbat preparations is but HaShem’s way of helping us  overcome our shame. A remarkable way to manifest healing. By allowing us the opportunity to “do”  something in preparation for Shabbat, our Creator is restoring our self-confidence and we become  healed and unified once again…enough so that we can each then go about and create the holy  Mishkan within each one us – as one person with one heart – כאיש אחד בלב אחד.