Sparking Another Kind of Joy

Image courtesy of Batsheva Goldman-Ida
Image courtesy of Batsheva Goldman-Ida
Long before today’s mavens of tidiness began urging us to ask whether the objects in our possession “spark joy,” the Hasidic masters were concerned with a very different kind of sparks—the holy ones hidden in the physical world awaiting release and reunification with their Divine Source through the actions of humanity.
Much has been written about how the Kabbalah represents the realm of creation, and about the development of Hasidism, but now another door has opened that enables us to enter into that fascinating and complex world in a new way. “Hasidic Art and the Kabbalah” (published by Brill as part of its Jewish Studies series) does for eight carefully selected 18th-19th century objects what a master class in Torah does for Hebrew text study. It takes us far beyond a surface understanding into layer upon layer of meaning, drawing upon a rich array of sources.
Our expert guide is Batsheva Goldman-Ida, PhD, Curator of Special Projects at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Although the notion of a “curated” selection has become so pervasive in popular culture that it sometimes means very little, Goldman-Ida takes us on a curated journey that is the real thing. She shows how exploring a single object can provide an experience similar to delving deeply into a single verse in Hebrew text study. Reflecting her specialization in visual culture, her sources range from illuminated manuscripts to paintings, folk art, personal letters and rare scribal materials, to centuries-old objects held by museums and libraries.
Image courtesy of Batsheva Goldman-Ida

If like me you grew up lighting two Shabbat candles in candlesticks, you may be as surprised as I was to read the chapter on the Hasidic Sabbath lamp. These multi-tiered hanging lamps, sometimes known as “henglaykhter,” can have many more than two lights. In one example, 10 wicks were arranged in a manner intended to represent the 10 heavenly sefirot. Another had 19, the numerical equivalent in gematria for the name Eve. The spiritual action of lighting these Sabbath lamps was infused with mystical intent, not limited to providing a sense of personal meaning on Shabbat but in order to affect the Divine flow between the upper and lower worlds.

 

Image courtesy of Batsheva Goldman-Ida

Goldman-Ida also focuses on a well known object associated with Rebbe Nachman of Breslov—the ornately carved wooden chair that is believed to have been his.  A small and often read book that has long been on my nightstand, “The Empty Chair,” features it on the cover. Now, thanks to Goldman-Ida, I understand that there is much more being expressed by this chair than I could have imagined.

Cover image, “Hassidic Art and the Kabbalah,” courtesy of Batsheva Goldman-Ida

Our most precious personal possessions have stories, history and a special kind of beauty that is enhanced each time we use them.  More than decorative, they have the potential to connect everyday moments in our physical world with realms we can sense inwardly but not see or touch outwardly.   “Hasidic Art and the Kabbalah” is a welcome travel guide for seekers on the path toward meaning.

To learn more and see other fascinating examples, read an interview with Batsheva Goldman-Ida by publisher Alan Brill

Send feedback or comments to hebert.shelleys@gmail.com

About the Author
Shelley is a consultant who has held executive and board leadership roles in the San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley Jewish community. She led development of the Palo Alto Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life, was board president of Hillel at Stanford, and has served on the advisory boards of the Jewish Chaplaincy at Stanford Medical Center, the Taube Center for Jewish Studies and the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture. At Stanford she was the university's Director of Business Development and Executive Director for Public Affairs at Stanford Health Care. She began her career as a journalist and currently focuses on strategic communications and writing. Email: hebert.shelleys@gmail.com
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