Dvar Torah for Matot-Masei 5782

This week we close out the book of Bamidbar with a double parshah, Matot, meaning “Tribes”, and Masei, meaning “Travels” or “Trips” – this is the same word found in the name of our congregational religious school that we call Masa B’Yachad, or “Journey Together”.

This is a pretty technical parsha, and while there are some action scenes, there’s also a lot of material that doesn’t really support the narrative structure. Matot opens with some legal discussion about vows (specifically by women, and when they do and don’t count); and it proceeds to a Netflix-worthy scene of the Israelites’ slaughter of their enemies. But then it goes into this extremely detailed accounting of the spoils of the battle, how much was allocated to each tribe, and exactly what percentage was levied off to support the Levi’im. This is the parsha that makes you ask, “what would 675,000 sheep actually look like, and how would you possibly go about counting them all??” …lest we forget that we are, after all, nearing the end of the book of Numbers.

And a lot of Masei, as you might expect, is literally a long list of all the places the Israelites encamped in their sojourn in the desert. But one of the things that was interesting to me about this reading is that it’s full of callbacks to other recent parshiyot. We hear about the death of the prophet Bilaam, who gets put to the sword during that slaughter of Israel’s enemies. It turns out that his blessing of Israel in Parshat Balak two weeks ago was not enough to excuse him for helping corrupt the Israelites at Ba’al Peor a few pages later. We hear about Aaron’s grandson Pinchas, the priestly zealot and the hero of Ba’al Peor, who had the cliffhanger ending at the end of Balak and then got his own parsha last week. And we get the wrap-up to the story of the daughters of Tzelofchad, whose inheritance was discussed last week at the end of Parshat Pinchas. So there’s a complicated intertwining of all of these stories that behaves almost like that Netflix drama you’re going to sit down and binge-watch. (In case you can’t tell, I watched all of Stranger Things 4 this week.)

And even within today’s double parsha, we get this self-referential quality, because once we get through the list of the Travels, Parshat Masei is even more occupied with the tribes and their concerns than the parsha actually called Matot. The middle of Masei explains all the chieftainships assigned to the different tribes. And the final chapter of Masei, that we’ll read today, uses the word Matot or Mateh, “tribes” or “tribe”, 15 times within 10 verses, because the case of the daughters of Tzelofchad is highly significant to the interests of the tribes and the tribal system. So it’s like Matot is the kernel, the heart, of the book of Masei, and Masei is a kind of tribal scrapbook of their journeys along the way. 

Rabbi Yehonatan Chipman* offers a teaching about Masei in the name of Rabbi Art Green, that the long list of locations is the shorthand for a lot of stories: some that are pleasant to recall, and some not so pleasant. “But at the end of the journey, there is a certain value to remembering all the trips, to knowing that they all, however misguided and stupid they may seem in retrospect, went into one’s life, and together constitute a source for a certain kind of wisdom.” Personally, I know I find this in my own life; there are certainly episodes that I wouldn’t do the same way again, but at the same time I can’t exactly regret them because every step is part of the journey that brought me to this time and this place. 

Life really is about the journey, for good or ill, and that is why we have to remember where we’ve been. Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek – may we all be strengthened by the memories of our steps along the way. And may we all make it to the Promised Land, even if it takes us til next season to get there. Shabbat shalom!

Free printable Passover cards

I made a new Passover card design this year that I’ve been thinking about for a little while. It’s a seder plate design, but instead of the traditional Hebrew item designations in the center, I chose a word expressing the symbolism of each item.

  • Karpas – Greens – Renewal
  • Zeroah – Shankbone – Strength
  • Maror – Bitter Herb – Suffering
  • Chazeret – Lettuce – Bitterness
  • Charoset – Mortar – Building
  • Beitzah – Egg – Rebirth

It happens that this is also the week of the 2022 Etsy strike, a protest against the recent hikes in transaction fees and punitive shop policies. I have put my Etsy shop on vacation mode from April 11-18, which is actually good timing for me so I don’t have to think about packing and shipping orders while preparing for and enjoying the first few days of Passover. Thus, I am posting free printable files of this year’s design and the one I created for 2020.

You can download each design in 2 formats. Both fold to 4.25″ x 5.5″ to fit into an A2 envelope. The “Single Sheet Fold” can be printed on one sheet of standard printer paper and folded twice so that the message appears on the inside. (Think back to your old Broderbund Print Shop creations.) Or, if you are crafty and have card stock and a paper cutter on hand, you can print the 2-Sided version back to back and cut in half before folding. Pro tip: use a folding bone to score the card stock before folding, for a clean fold. (I don’t get affiliate commissions on these links, they’re just for clarity.)

Seder Plate (2022):

May We All Be Free (2020):

Chag kasher v’sameach, everyone: Wishing you a kosher and joyful holiday. Or, to use the softer Yiddish formulation: A zissen Peysekh, wishing you a sweet Passover.

Book project launch: Into a Jewish Holiday Year with Yoga

In January of 2021, I was tagged by some friends into a Facebook thread from the illustrious Delia Sherman, on behalf of a friend looking for a graphic designer to help produce a self-published book with some Hebrew in it. Since that’s totally my niche, I was pleased when the co-author reached out to me the next day for some more information. That was my introduction to yoga teacher Sharon Epstein, her rabbi Tara Feldman, and their book project, which would become a labor of love for me as well: Into a Jewish Holiday Year with Yoga: A Workbook and Guided Journey for Body, Mind, and Soul (2021; ISBN 979-8-9850271-0-5; USD $19.95).

The ikar, or kernel, of the book is that these two delightful and insightful women have teamed up to structure a yoga experience around the Jewish holiday cycle. For each of 12 holidays, they had put together some basic introductory context, then drawn out a deep underlying conceptual theme, and matched it with a set of yoga poses to literally embody that theme. They also provided a guided meditation and some journaling prompts to round out the internal experience of each holiday.

Mind you, I have spent a total of about 2 hours on a yoga mat in my life, but I have a visceral appreciation for the rhythms of the Jewish calendar. We are souls and we are bodies. Bringing together the spiritual and the somatic brings depth to both perceptions. It was a real gift to get to be a part of this project and help Sharon and Tara activate its full potential.

Over the ensuing 10 months, the book format went from an 8″ square gift book to a 6×9″ paperback and finally to an 8.5×11″ workbook. Still, I had a clear vision all along for the cover art: a 12-spoked color wheel that would encompass the 12 holidays covered in the book.

In terms of the typefaces, I started with a classic Adobe pairing of Minion (serif for the body copy) and Myriad (sans-serif for the display type), including Myriad Hebrew for the few Hebrew words interspersed. Fortunately, however, once the authors realized I could handle the Hebrew easily, they decided to work more Hebrew back into the text, and we ended up choosing Shlomo for a more calligraphic feel. We also added an informal script face, John Benson’s Caliban, into the mix to enhance the display elements in English.

As part of the production process, I walked the authors through joining Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program, so now I have that under my belt. We learned that Amazon lets you opt into a free ISBN assignment that can only be used internally to Amazon (since perpetuating their own monopoly is what they’re all about). But when I sought some advice from another friend, experienced Amazon author Zahara Schara, she strongly recommended investing in a real ISBN registration with R.R. Bowker, which allows you to exist in the real world of Books In Print and be found and sold in places outside the Amazon ecosystem. Note, however, that Bowker now charges $125 for a single ISBN registration, whereas you can purchase a block of 10 for $295 and use them as you need them (indefinitely—they never expire). As a frequent collaborator with self-published authors, this need has come up before, and I’ve often thought that I should go ahead and register that block of 10 ISBNs. Thus it came about that Schultz Yakovetz Judaica is now a registered “micropublisher” with R.R. Bowker, and Lev Shalem Yoga is its first official imprint. :-D

We had targeted November 1, 2021, as our publication date (just in time for a very early Chanukah 5782). After many, many fun and fruitful hours of Zoom meetings, page proofs, revisions, and a final Shehecheyanu blessing, we tied up all the loose ends in time to hit Publish on Sunday, October 31.

By the afternoon of November 1, the book had hit #3 on Amazon’s “Hot New Releases” in Yoga, and #5 on their Best Sellers list in the Jewish Life category… nestled in between Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. This is incredibly august company to be in.

I’m very proud of this project, and grateful to the chain of friends who brought these two dynamic Jewish women into my life. PS: It goes without saying that this book will make the perfect Chanukah gift for your favorite Jewish yoga enthusiast. Order your copy now… or if you’re anywhere near Great Neck, NY, contact Sharon Epstein for a signed author copy.

Want more? You can “like” the book’s Facebook page, or join the Lev Shalem YOGA Facebook group (tell them Erica sent you).

Esther: For such a time as this

Tonight and tomorrow is Purim, the holiday celebrating the deliverance of the Jews of Persia from the evil machinations of the King’s vizier. There are four central mitzvot (commandments) of this holiday, but the most iconic one is the reading of the book of Esther, known as the Megillah (Scroll).

Megillat Esther has a special trope (melody) that I’ve never learned, but this year, we’re all reading out of books at home via Zoom, and our rabbi asked me if I would take on reading chapter 4. This chapter, as it happens, has several verses that are read in the the trope used for the book of Eicha (Lamentations) on Tisha B’Av, which I learned a couple years ago, so I figured that was a sign that I should step up.

This chapter also includes a verse that has always resonated with me. Queen Esther (in the palace) and her uncle Mordechai (protesting out in the town square) exchange a series of messages via Hatach, the chamberlain, about the looming crisis for the Jews. Mordechai implores Esther to use her privileged status and access to the king to intervene for her people, saying, “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to power for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)

For this image, I wanted a watercolor wash background, and since it was surprisingly hard to find a suitable free version, I created my own in Photoshop. Drop me an email or a comment if you want a pointer to the exact brush settings. Then I darkened it up to improve the contrast.

I saved my images as grayscale TIFFs so I could apply the magenta color to them in InDesign, but WordPress is making me post them here as JPEGs. Do with them what you will – these backgrounds are free for personal or commercial use – but please find a way to link back to schultzyakovetz.com if you want to maintain good Internet karma.

The script font I chose is Selima, a lovely free brush script created by Jroh Creative. The block face is classic Goudy Old Style and the Hebrew is the beautiful Escritura Hebrew Demibold by Ricardo Santos.

May we all use our power and privilege to do good anytime we find ourselves in a position to do so. Who knows but that we were placed there for just such a time?

Now, off to finish cramming that reading! Purim sameach!

Free Printable: Grade K-1 “My Book About Chanukah”

Here in Northwest Indiana, my kindergartener is the only Jewish kid in her class. As many of you have no doubt experienced, that makes her the go-to for educating the class on Jewish holidays – even at age 5.

Yesterday, her teacher asked if she would read a book about Chanukah to the class this morning (fully remote of course). No problem, we thought; we have several wonderful books on hand, we’ll pick one out. However, looking them over at bedtime quickly made it clear that there wasn’t one among them that she could read fluently by herself.

So what does Mama do? Get up Friday morning and put one together! I tried to approach it through the lens of what she would tell the class about Chanukah from her perspective.

I made it 8 pages to fit on 2 letter-sized sheets. Adobe’s Acrobat Reader should let you print this on the “Booklet” setting to come out right for folding, but just in case your printer software isn’t up to the task, I also made a PDF with the pages already doubled up (you still have to print it double-sided though).

Little one was very pleased and read it perfectly on the first try. Note that she is (of course) a fairly precocious reader for Grade K, but while I’m no literacy specialist, it would probably work well for any early readers.

I set the type in Futura Book. The illustrations are courtesy of Adobe Stock (#179419911).

Happy Chanukah!

 

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“The more women, the more witchcraft”

“[Rabbi Hillel] used to say: The more flesh, the more worms; The more property, the more anxiety; The more wives [nashim = women], the more witchcraft; The more female slaves, the more lewdness; The more slaves, the more robbery; [But] the more Torah, the more life; The more sitting [in the company of scholars], the more wisdom; The more counsel, the more understanding; The more charity, the more peace.”
Pirkei Avot 2:7

Marbeh nashim, marbeh cheshafim. Who doesn’t love a good out-of-context quote from the Talmud? The first time I saw this aphorism attributed to Rabbi Hillel, I thought “that can’t be real!” and ran to verify it, but here it is – just in time for October.

I’m pretty sure this passage was intended to address the concept of intentional simplicity, and how our priorities shape our lives. However, it’s also clearly directed only at men; it mentions women twice, but both times only in their roles as objects possessed by men: nashim (wives) and shefachot (handmaids). Nashim doesn’t just mean “wife”, though, it is the plural of isha and means “women” generally, so let’s run with the enjoyable surface reading here.

I created this More Women More Witchcraft design as a smaller 5×7 piece to fit comfortably into a collection, whether it’s your Halloween decor or a year-round Jewitch display.  If you’d like it scaled differently, you can always request a custom order for a print in your preferred size.

Etsy listing

Marbeh nashim, marbeh cheshafim: “The more women, the more witchcraft”. – Rabbi Hillel, Pirkei Avot 2:7.

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: The pursuit of justice

When I receive a request for a custom design piece, it is often a Bible verse or other Jewish text that would make a good addition to my overall portfolio. In those cases, I add a custom design charge of $20 to the regular art pricing, which entitles the client to choose their design direction and request a complimentary round of revisions (I usually throw in a second and even a third round for free). However, the alternate drafts along the way usually result in work that I can make available for general sale.

Back in July, I had a recent Etsy customer come back to me and say “Would you consider making something for Deuteronomy 16:20, ‘Justice, justice you shall pursue’?” Of course, that verse has been on my list of ideas for a long time, so I jumped at the opportunity to work something up.

For the first pass, I wanted to evoke the feel of a protest poster. I paired Flood, a brush font with a hand-drawn feel, with the Hebrew typeface Shuneet by Michael Cunliffe Thompson. The rainbow palette as well as the black and brown lettering for “justice” play up the theme of diversity.

I wanted to create the second version as a round layout, since my client wanted it to coordinate with a previous print. This setting uses the typefaces Minion (serif), Bilbo (script), and SBL Hebrew (from the Society for Biblical Literature) for a more traditional feel. Special thanks are due to the Open Siddur Project for connecting me with the Hebrew fonts.

I made this layout available in both a rainbow and a black-and-white (grayscale) color palette. A package with all three versions is also available in my Etsy shop as a printable PDF download.

It happens that this verse from Deuteronomy falls in Parshat Shoftim, which is tomorrow’s Torah portion. Today is also Rosh Chodesh Elul, the first of the month of introspection leading up to the High Holy Days, and the theme of justice/righteousness is strongly resonant at this season, especially the idea that the pursuit of justice is life-promoting.

Wishing you all a meaningful season of spiritual preparation. We have work to do, people.

 

Rosh Hashanah 2020: Letterform Apple

I created this design back in 2016, and have had it up on Zazzle ever since, but have rarely or never gotten any orders for it. However, a few weeks ago I got a notice that someone had ordered several copies (l’shanah tovah, friend!), and that reminded me I had never actually used it myself. So I decided to dust it off for 2020, both to send as my personal card and to post for sale on Etsy.

One of the most popular Jewish New Year customs involves eating apple slices dipped in honey, sometimes after saying a special prayer, signifying the hope that the coming year will be sweet. The apple design on this Rosh Hashanah card is formed out of the phrase “Tikatevu v’teichateimu l’shanah tovah u’metukah”: May you be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet new year. The word “metukah” (sweet) is set off in yellow to represent a drip of honey.

This is a small A2-size notecard (folded size approximately 5.5″x4.25″). Unprinted white A2 envelopes are included.

Click through to view on Etsy.

Bishvili Nivra HaOlam, or, The two pockets

In October of 2018, an Etsy customer commissioned from me a design of the quotation Bishvili nivra ha-olam: “The world was created for me”.

This phrase is a quote from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 37B), but it is most famously incorporated into a Chassidic story about Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (the Yiddish name for the town of Przysucha, Poland).

Rabbi Simcha Bunim teaches: Every person should have two pockets. In one pocket should be a piece of paper saying: “I am only dust and ashes.” When one is feeling too proud, reach into this pocket and take out this paper and read it. In the other pocket should be a piece of paper saying: “For my sake was the world created.” When one is feeling disheartened and lowly, reach into this pocket and take this paper out and read it. We are each the joining of two worlds. We are fashioned from clay, but our spirit is the breath of Adonai.
—Martin Buber, Tales of The Hasidim Later Masters, pp. 249-50

At the time of the original commission, it struck me that I ought to create a two-sided wallet card with one saying on each side.

Zazzle annually offers its Pro members (ProDesigners) a free batch of business cards (FYI!). So when it came time to order this year’s set, I finally sat down and designed the other side.

The cards arrived last Thursday and I’m quite pleased with them!

At that point, I also realized that by a happy coincidence, that week’s Torah portion was Vayera, the source of the “dust and ashes” quotation. It occurs in Genesis 18:27 when Abraham is bargaining with God over Sodom and Gomorrah:

כז  וַיַּעַן אַבְרָהָם, וַיֹּאמַר:  הִנֵּה-נָא הוֹאַלְתִּי לְדַבֵּר אֶל-אֲדֹנָי, וְאָנֹכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר. 27 And Abraham answered and said: ‘Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the LORD, who am but dust and ashes.
כח  אוּלַי יַחְסְרוּן חֲמִשִּׁים הַצַּדִּיקִם, חֲמִשָּׁה–הֲתַשְׁחִית בַּחֲמִשָּׁה, אֶת-כָּל-הָעִיר; וַיֹּאמֶר, לֹא אַשְׁחִית, אִם-אֶמְצָא שָׁם, אַרְבָּעִים וַחֲמִשָּׁה. 28 Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous; wilt Thou destroy all the city for lack of five?’ And He said: ‘I will not destroy it, if I find there forty and five.’

Genesis Chapter 18

Granted, there’s nothing like entering a battle of wits with the Eternal Creator to make a person mindful of their own base humanity. But the point is, maybe Abraham would also have benefited from keeping one of these two-sided cards in his pocket. After all, in a very real sense, the world was also created for him.

 

Further reading:

 

Follow me on Instagram!

The way I originally joined Instagram, personally, was quite by accident. Since I have a gmail account under my maiden name, I get a lot of “doppelganger” email for other users named Erica Schultz (who apparently can’t remember or type their own email addresses correctly, or else other people can’t). In June of 2015, I got an email from Instagram addressed to the username “aleishaphippen4p” with a link to reset my password. I ignored it at the time. But in July of 2016, I got another reset link for the same username at my email address, and I thought, why not?

Note that these types of emails are frequently phishing attacks, but I checked the original message and all its headers and URLs, and everything seemed legitimately linked back to Instagram.com. So I reset the password associated with my email. Then, since Instagram lets you do this, I simply changed the username to @eschultz72. Easy-peasy.

So I guess, thanks, Aleisha, whoever you are.

I used it very sporadically. (If you want more pictures of food, sunsets, performative Judaism, and my toddler-now-preschooler, that’s the place to follow me.) But fast forward a couple years and I’m now working for the Jewish Federation of Northwest Indiana as communications director, including social media responsibilities. So this fall when they said “we need to get on Instagram!” I had to get up to speed! Check them out at @jewishnwindiana.

While I was at it, I decided that my Judaica line also needed a dedicated Instagram. I had set up a Facebook page for Schultz Yakovetz Judaica in April of 2016 (admittedly as a Gen-Xer I’m much more native on FB than on Instagram). But it struck me that I could use Facebook to showcase new designs (and link to product listings) and still take advantage of Instagram to present more real-life product shots and behind-the-scenes takes. Which brings me to today and the newly minted @schultzyakovetz. You know what to do. :-D