Mel Alexenberg
Author of "Through a Bible Lens"

Art Awakening after 2000-Year Coma: The Zionist Miracle

“God said to Moses, ‘Go up to this mountain of Avarim and see the Land that I have given to the Children of Israel.  You shall see it.’” (Numbers 27:12)  These two sentences appear in Pinhas, the eighth portion of the biblical book Numbers, read in synagogues in Israel on Shabbat, July 23, 2016 and in USA on July 30, 2016.

Why does the Torah, known not to waste words, repeat the word “see”?  Did Moses see something different the second time?

The brilliant Torah scholar Rabbi Haim ben Attar (born 1696 in Morocco, died 1743 in Jerusalem) proposed that Moses’ first vision was seeing the Land of Israel as it appeared in his day.  He saw the desert landscape extending from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean.  He blinked his eyes and saw life in the Land of Israel in our day.  His sight was transformed into insight.  He could see children playing in the streets in the State of Israel as was predicted by the prophet Zekhariah “And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing.”


Moses played the leading role in the exodus from Egypt by bringing his people to the borders of the Land of Israel.  The great biblical miracle of liberating thousands from enslavement in Egypt after hundreds of years of exile pales in comparison with the Zionist miracle in our time of liberating millions of Jews from persecution, pogroms, and the Holocaust in a hundred countries after thousands of years of exile and bringing them home to Israel.  Moses could see the Zionist miracle realized.

1 Choosing to be an integral part of this Zionist miracle, unprecedented in world history, offers me enthralling creative opportunities as an artist.  I draw inspiration from the Zionist challenge of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook to “renew the old and sanctify the new” as I explore the vibrant interface between the structure of Jewish consciousness, the realization of the Zionist dream in the State of Israel, and new directions in art emerging from postdigital creativity in a networked world.  The wellsprings of my Zionism flows from my Jewish roots and values experienced in a world where art, science, technology and culture address each other.

As two artists, my wife Miriam and I created the “Torah Tweets” blogart project to link our story to the biblical narrative through photography and digital poetry disseminated worldwide through the blogosphere and twitterverse.   Below is our “Torah Tweets” post for this week’s Torah portion Pinhas (Numbers 25:10-30:1) that is elucidated in my book, Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life, that teaches people of all faiths to link the emerging stories their lives to the Bible’s stories.


Pinhas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

God said to Moses, “Go up to this mountain of Avarim and see the Land that I have given to the Children of Israel.  You shall see it.” (Numbers 27:12)

And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing. (Zekhariah 8:5)

God said to Abram, “Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that you will come to see.” (Genesis 12:1)

Why is “see” repeated twice?  At first glance, Moses saw the Dead Sea and desert.  Then, he saw the future of his people in their land.

Rabbi Haim ben Attar explained that Moses gained a deeper vision and grasp of the inner spiritual essence of life in the Land of Israel. (Or Hahaim)

Moses could see children playing in the Land of Israel.


Seeing Zekhariah’s vision realized, we photographed our grandchildren and great-grandchildren:

Renana, Inbal, Rachelle, Yishai, Elan, Talia, Or, Yahel, Shirel, Meitav, Tagel, Razel, Elianne, Avraham, Nadav, Ariel, Eliad, Tahila.


The Jewish people’s story begins by linking kinesthetic and visual senses. Abram sees the land in a new light by walking away from his past.

On receiving the Ten Commandments, the Torah tells of the Israelites’ synesthetic experience:  All the people saw the sounds. (Exodus 20:15)

Passive hearing is transformed into internalized visions of the script for creating a better world.

The Torah formula for transforming sight into insight is:  May God expand Yefet, but he will dwell in the tents of Shem. (Genesis 9:27)

The name of Noah’s son Yefet is related to visual beauty.  Yefet’s son is Yavan (Greece).

Beauty in ancient Greece is seen in the elegance of outward form.  Israel descends from Shem, related to shemiyah (hearing).

Torah beauty is tiferet the innermost emanation of divine light that integrates our intentions, thoughts and feelings through creative action.


(From my book The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness)

Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak Kook, a down-to-earth mystic who served as Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel, wrote a letter of congratulations on the founding of the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem. By way of allegory, he refers to the revival of Jewish art and aesthetics after two thousand years of exile as a child in a coma who awakes calling for her doll.

“The pleasant and beloved child, the delightful daughter, after a long and forlorn illness, with a face as pallid as plaster, bluish lips, fever burning like a fiery furnace, and convulsive shaking and trembling, behold! She has opened her eyes and her tightly sealed lips, her little hands move with renewed life, her thin pure fingers wander hither and thither, seeking their purpose; her lips move and almost revert to their normal color, and as if through a medium a voice is heard: ‘Mother, Mother, the doll, give me the doll, the dear doll, which I have not seen for so long.’ A voice of mirth and a voice of gladness, all are joyous, the father, the mother, the brothers and sisters, even the elderly man and woman who, because of their many years, have forgotten their children’s games.”

Rabbi Kook saw artists at work as a clear sign of the rebirth of the Jewish people in its homeland. Their playful spirit nurturing sensitivity for beauty “will uplift depressed souls, giving them a clear and illuminating view of the beauty of life, nature, and work.”

About the Author
Mel Alexenberg is an artist, educator, writer, and blogger working at the interface between art, technology, Jewish thought, and living the Zionist miracle in Israel. He is the author of "Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media," "The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness," and "Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Judaism and Contemporary Art" in Hebrew. He was professor at Columbia, Bar-Ilan and Ariel universities and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies. His artworks are in the collections of more than forty museums worldwide. He lives in Ra’anana, Israel, with his wife artist Miriam Benjamin.