Illluminating Kiddush

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June 1st, 2013

The following presents materials toward Kabbalat Shabbat: the Grand Unification, revealing Debra’s own mode of founding Jewish art on Jewish learning.  Translation of Kiddush © Raymond P. Scheindlin 2013, Essay and images © Debra Band 2013. All rights reserved. The version below omits the footnotes that will be present in the published book.

Friday Night Kiddush

(translation by Raymond P. Scheindlin)

Evening came and morning came—

the sixth day.

The sky, the earth and all their vast contents were completed,

By the seventh day, God had finished all the work that He had done,

and so he rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done

He blessed the seventh day and set it apart as holy,

for that was when He rested from making all the things that God created.

With the consent of all present:

Blessed are you, Lord our God, who created the fruit of the vine.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, who set us apart by his commandments,

was pleased with us,

and made His holy Sabbath ours in love and pleasure,

a remembrance of the work of creation.

Indeed, it is the first of all holy festivals,

a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt.

Indeed, You chose us and set us apart among the nations,

and made Your holy Sabbath ours in love and pleasure.

Blessed are You, Lord, who makes the Sabbath holy.


Commentary on the Illuminations

Jewish tradition inaugurates almost all sacred times with blessings over wine.  The wine to which the young woman in the Song of Songs compares to her lover’s kisses symbolizes Divine wisdom, according to the Castilian mystic Ezra of Gerona’s twelfth century commentary on that biblical love poetry. Jewish mystical tradition suggests that Shabbat is the time of the week when the light of that wisdom flows most abundantly into our material realm. Jewish lore compares the Torah — the essential expression of Divine wisdom—to water, the physical substance that apart from its component oxygen, is most essential to sustaining life.  My illuminations of the Friday night Kiddush, one of the key rituals with which Jewish tradition sanctifies the Sabbath in the home, express the mystical metaphor of the wine’s translation of Divine Wisdom into the material world.  The micrographic text bordering the two paintings presents Proverbs 8:22-31, a seminal text in kabbalistic tradition, in which Wisdom, anthropomorphized as a woman, describes how she was created by God as his companion since “the beginning of His course, as the first of His works of old.”

Kiddush-H 350-wThe Hebrew illumination plays with the image of the wine fountains with which many of us share Kiddush with the family and friends at our tables. These cups, however, are not arrayed on tiered trays that pipe wine from the central cup at top into those at the lower levels, and this wine is more than the fermented juice of the grape.  Instead, here the wine overflows from one level to the next, following the Kabbalistic metaphor that describes how Divine Wisdom flows from the highest, most hidden aspects of God, downward until it reaches the material world, here, transforming to water.  Ezra of Gerona likened Divine Wisdom to water:

“See, fear of the Lord is Wisdom” [Job 28:28]. For Wisdom [hokhmah] is the Holy One’s quality of goodness, all existing, going forth and being emanated from the luminescence of Wisdom and continually blessed through it without cessation.  Because their origin is from it, it provides the essence of their sustenance.  The remaining Sefirot possess but one request, toward which the entirety of their desire is directed.  That is to ascend and enter into the sacred sanctuary, to draw water from the honored fonts of Wisdom.”

The vessels through which the wine flows symbolize the ten sephirot, or emanations of God, and the mystical tradition assigns each one a characteristic color. Thus, beginning at the top with the uppermost sephira, Keter (Crown), and then moving from right to left (following Hebrew convention), the painting presents the sephirot as the wine cups, the vessels through which Divine Wisdom flows: Keter-white and black, Binah-green, Hokhma-blue, Gevurah-red, Hesed-white, Tifereth-white, Hod, green, Netzach-red, Yesod-white, and closest to the material world, Malkhut (Shekhinah)-white.

The arrangement of the cups through which the wine flows alludes to the human understanding of order in the universe. Just as the Kabbalistic system ascribes the number ten cosmic significance—for instance, the ten Sephirot—Pythagorean philosophy also regarded the number ten as holy, and held the tetractys, the pyramid formed by the “generators of geometric dimensions” in which I have arranged the cups, as emblematic of unity in the universe. The four levels of this Pythagorean pyramid trace the development of geometric form as follows: level 1-the element establishing a single point, level 2-two points determining a line, level 3-three points determining a plane, and 4-four points determining a tetrahedron, the simplest three-dimensional form.

The water flows down into the material world, tumbling over boulders, perhaps into a mountain stream. Ezra also compared rough boulders to Wisdom.  Why does Wisdom remind the mystic of rocks? The stony cracks and fissures symbolize the task of looking for Wisdom in hidden, hard places.

Kiddush-E 300wThe English illumination offers a painting of a single brimming family Kiddush cup, bearing not only the wine, but also imagery suggesting another aspect of the Shabbat whose holiness we recognize with that wine. The Zohar compares the Shekhinah, the feminine emanation closest to the material realm to “a field of holy apples,” and on Friday night “the King is joined with the Sabbath-Bride; the holy field is fertilized, and from their sacred union the souls of the righteous are produced.” The eighteen apples growing on the two trees remind us of numerical equivalent of the word, chai,“life.”


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