Rosh Hashana

Rosh Hashanna
Type: Oil
Dimensions: Width/Height (in inches) 60/48
Year: 2003

This painting portrays the major biblical theme of the Rosh Hashana holiday: “The Akeda” or the “Sacrifice of Isaac”. The painting takes off from the dual interpretation of the single word “Achar” found in Genesis XXII: 13, “And Abraham lifted up his eyes and behold a ram behind (achar) him was caught in the thicket by the horns”. I have interpreted “Achar” not only as “behind” but also as “achare”, “a different” ram. Thus there are two rams, the animal ram and the Isaac ram. This painting portrays the moment immediately after Abraham exchanges one ram, Isaac, for another ram, Isaac’s animal doppelganger. By virtue of this exchange, the ram who takes Isaac’s place on the sacrificial altar is humanized, and Isaac who takes the place of the ram trapped in the thicket by his horns is animalized or dehumanized. Isaac is illustrated as freed from the altar standing behind (Achar) Abraham, yet with his one unbroken horn trapped in the seven branched tree of life (Menorah). Prior to his liberation Isaac has managed to break off (shevorim) and blow his own ram’s horn (Shofar) in prolonged (Tekiyah Gedolah) and broken staccato (Shevarim-Teruah) tones summoning G-d to help him. The Isaac ram is portrayed as a “musselman”, a nearly skeletal concentration camp survivor, a broken shell of his former self, one hairbreadth’s away from death. His missing appendage (Horn) also represents the missing appendage of the Jewish people after the destruction of one third our population. On his arm are tattooed the letters shepsel 6(Sheep 6) representing the sacrifice of 6 million Jews who like Isaac were led like sheep to their slaughter. Help comes in the form of a crying female angel who covers everyone with her protective wings, which like the tallit have descending fringes. The merciful instruction on her maternal protective breasts instructs Abraham to “not lay thy hand upon the lad”.

Abraham with multiple head movements (seven, paralleling the seven branches of the tree/menorah behind him) conveys ambivalence and sorrow. Yet, he finally extends his ritual knife, Ma’acallulav, in the form of a lulav, (a pun of “maachelot”, “eating/sacrificial knife”, appropriate for the upcoming Sukkoth Holiday )and pierces the doppelganger ram’s heart (Etrog), killing him (Aharog) and fulfilling the sacrifice of Isaac, even if it is only of Isaac’s ram doppelganger. Because the ram has taken on Isaac’s human characteristics, this “animal sacrifice” is eerily real yet surreal. The ram’s blood sprays heavenward to meet the tears from heaven, emitting his soul, and the sweet savory smell of bestial/human sacrifice representing the only loved son of Abraham. On his arm is written the word “hineneneneneni” “here I am” in sheep vocals. With both hands he is holding onto the lulav and assisting Abraham in his self-immolation. The sacrificial fire is composed of the Hebrew letters for fire, Eysch. Bees surrounding theTree of Life are making honey for the New Year. Noah’s ark is in the distance and the constellation Leo, representing Judah/Israel, is in the upper left thus uniting expanses of generations from Noah through our times.