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12 Tribes paintings

12 Tribes paintings

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Yachad Shivtei Yisrael

United, the Tribes of Israel

Art by Lesley Friedmann

The 12 Tribes of Israel series is composed of twelve luminous landscape paintings, each depicting the portion of the Land of Israel that was allotted to each of the twelve tribes. Many artists have drawn inspiration from the blessings given to the tribes by their father, Jacob. This series is inspired by the biblical verses that describe the origin of the tribes’ names as given by their mothers, Rachel and Leah. Each verse expresses an essential quality that is embodied by that tribe, translated in these paintings into a metaphoric landscape. The colours of the paintings reflect the gemstones of the tribes as they were in the Choshen, the High Priest’s breastplate.

The paintings are viewed from right to left, like the Hebrew language, the unique qualities of each tribe brought into harmony as a unified whole by the merging landscapes, the fruit of the seven species in the foreground, and the fullness of a day: the sun rises over the land of Reuven and sets over the tribe of Binyamin.

These 24”x36” acrylic on canvas paintings by Lesley B. Friedmann span the length of a 30-foot wall in the Chabad Centre for Jewish Life and Learning Community Hall in Victoria, BC, Canada.

 

Reuven

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“Because G‑d saw my affliction.” (Gen. 29:32)

 Named by his mother, Leah, the firstborn of the twelve tribes embodies the quality of vision. Illuminated by the sun rising over the hills around the Dead Sea, this painting asks us to gaze past the dark forms in the foreground and to see the world as it glows in the light of a new day. From our vantage point we experience the powerful and healing energy of the first light warming the sky and the somewhat barren and undulating landscape. Our vision extends into the bright distance and is then joined to the present in the cheer of the acacia flowers that are directly in front of us, inviting us to celebrate another moment of creation.

 The warm reds of the painting reflect the tribe of Reuven’s gemstone sardius (possibly ruby).

 

Shimon

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“Because G‑d heard” (Gen. 29:33) 

Leah’s second son, Shimon, embodies the quality of hearing. The tribe of Shimon did not receive its own portion in the Land of Israel because of their aggressive role in destroying the city of Shechem (see Gen. 34), an act for which Jacob chastised them on his deathbed. This painting takes us to the portion within Judah’s land in the south that was allocated to Shimon. We are looking out over the crater Machtesh Ramon. The crater is harsh and aggressive with its fortress-like walls, but it is also an opening. In order to stem the harsher aspects of our internal and interpersonal landscapes, we need to create space, to let down our barriers and truly listen. In doing so, we create the possibility for harmonious community (in the foreground), and expansive possibility as we look out into the horizon, into the future. 

The reddish-orange of the crater’s sand reflects the warmth of the tribe of Shimon’s gemstone topaz.

 

Levi

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“This time my husband will be attached to me.” (Gen. 29:34)

 The attachment that Leah describes in naming her third son, Levi, is embodied in the tribe’s quality of service. The tribe of Levi is dedicated to G‑d in their service in the sanctuary, working together for the good of all to express devotion to the One Above. The painting invites us to step down into courtyard of the holy Temple in Jerusalem -- to join in the service. Our eye is drawn to the Menorah in the centre, which was cast from one solid piece of gold. The flames of the Menorah were said to point towards the middle flame. At the centre of our service of G‑d is our unity as a nation. Together, as one, we are dedicated to our higher purpose: the holy task of lighting up the world. 

The green hues of the painting reflect the gemstone of the tribe of Levi, green agate.

 

Yehuda

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“This time I will thank G‑d.” (Gen. 29:35) 

Yehuda, Leah’s fourth son, was named for her gratitude. The tribe of Yehuda, which is the tribe of royalty, embodies the quality of gratitude and humility -- the ability to acknowledge one’s wrongdoings, as well as one’s position as a recipient of blessings. The quality of humility is an essential characteristic of a leader who leads from a position of receptivity rather than power. This painting looks down the winding way from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea from an abundant foreground that places us amid grapevines, olive trees and wheat -- three of the seven species of the Land of Israel. The spaciousness of the landscape reflects the spaciousness of our own hearts, which are gratefully prepared to acknowledge the bountiful blessings in our lives. And it is with this humility that we access our own leadership qualities and can move forward with strength. 

The warm browns of the desert sands of Judah’s land reflect the gemstone of carbuncle (or garnet).

 

Yissachar

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“G‑d has given me my reward.” (Gen. 30:18) 

Leah’s fifth son, Yissachar, embodies the notion of the reward that comes from hard work. The painting takes us to the Jezreel valley in the north, where the quilted landscape shows the lush reward of the pioneers and farmers who laboured to transform an arid land into a productive one. The valley unfolds before us like a scroll or a book, mirroring the role of the tribe of Issachar as Israel’s scholars and educators. Through the labour of Torah study, we harvest the richness of G‑d’s wisdom, which provides us with guidance, sustenance and direction, allowing us to see far into the peaceful distance. 

The deep blues of the painting reflect Issachar’s gemstone, sapphire, which was also the material from which was carved the Tablets of the Ten Commandments, the Divine source of our wisdom and scholarship.

 

Zevulun

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 “G‑d has given me a good portion.” (Gen. 30:20) 

Leah’s sixth son, Zevulun, embodies the ability to seek and find the gifts embedded within the everyday. Zevulun was a merchant tribe that partnered with the tribe of Issacher to support them in their study. Zevulun’s role was to enter the marketplace and reveal the sparks of G‑dliness hidden within the materiality of the world. The painting’s view of a port asks us to look beneath the surface of the water to the unexplored world below, to navigate the watery surface of a world that is inherently foreign to us and allow it to offer up its spiritual gifts. And when we have the courage to seek out the sparks of the Divine within our lives, and to support scholarship however we can, we are blessed. The twin boats, Shalom (Peace) and Baruch (Blessed) are ready to carry us and keep us afloat. 

The gemstone of Zevulun is a diamond, reflected in this painting in the sparkling clarity of the water and the sky.

 

Dan

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“G‑d has judged me and also listened to my voice.” (Gen. 30:6) 

Rachel named the first child of her nursemaid Bilhah, Dan: a name that embodies the quality of justice. Judgment and justice is about setting boundaries and maintaining objectivity to avoid confusion. Civilization rests on the justice of its laws and its ability to draw clear lines between right and wrong. This painting of Gush Dan, in the Tel Aviv area, shows the natural boundary between sea and land with space for a city to spring up and come into focus. We see the land and water, city and sky, the memory of the past; and, the glimmerings of a future. The tribe of Dan, the last tribe to travel in the nation’s desert encampment-formation, had the task of collecting any items left behind. They are the ones who navigate the boundaries and -- while maintaining distinctions -- weave together an objective and just point of view. 

The unique quality of opal is in its interplay of colours. The tribe of Dan’s gemstone is reflected in the milky haze above the city in the distant horizon, in shimmering water, and in the homes that are scattered beneath us.

 

Naftali

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“With Divine bonds I have been joined.” (Gen. 30:8) 

Rachel named Bilhah’s second child Naftali, a name that symbolizes a connection that is attained through struggle. This painting takes us to the tribe of Naftali’s portion of the land in the Galilee, overlooking the Kinneret. In the distance is Mt. Hermon, from which snow and rain water flow to feed the Kinneret and the rest of the Land of Israel with fresh water. Water is a connecting force in the Land, as it is within our own bodies, carrying vitality and sustenance with it. 

The reds and yellows of the landscape reflect the tribe’s gemstone of agate.

 

Gad

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“And Leah said, ‘Fortune has come.’” (Gen. 30:11) 

Leah named the first child of her maidservant Zilpah, Gad: a name that indicates an appreciation of good fortune. The soaring eagles draw us into the painting, reminding us of the way we were lead out of Egyptian bondage al kanfei nesharim, “on the wings of eagles.” After hundreds of years of slavery, and decades of travel through the desert, G‑d guided us to our Land. Overlooking the Jordan Valley, the soaring eagles lift us above the valley of our common concerns into an uplifting birds-eye-view of our priorities and an appreciation of what we have. Gad is also the warrior archetype who, expanding on the theme of justice exemplified by Dan, recognizes what is important and fights to protect our beliefs and values. 

The purple shadows cast by the hills of the landscape reflect the tribe of Gad’s gemstone, amethyst.

 

Asher

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“Because of my good fortune, because women have called me fortunate.” (Gen. 30: 13)

 Leah named Zilpah’s second child Asher, which indicates an abundance of fortune and joy. Asher embodies the kind of happiness that comes from prosperity, from having more than what is needed for survival. This painting invites us to join in a luxurious late afternoon feast of fruit -- to enjoy the bounty of the Land. The seven species of the Land of Israel -- wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates -- are laid before us, and the land spread out

beneath us is lush and productive. The land of the tribe of Asher, along the northwest coast of Israel, was known for its olive trees and oil, which represent prosperity. 

The fresh blue colour of the tribe’s gemstone, aquamarine, is reflected in the sky and in the Mediterranean Ocean which shines in the distant horizon.

 

Yosef

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“May G‑d grant me another son.” (Gen. 30:24) 

Yosef was Rachel’s first child, born after many years of waiting. The name Yosef indicates adding, embracing andgathering. This painting shows us Yosef’s tomb, the centre of which is a gaping black hole. And yet, the area is surrounded by golden sheaves of wheat, representing Yosef as the sustainer and resilient leader of his family and of his nation.The dark cavity of the tomb and the path are illuminated by the nourishing, golden wheat, symbols of our strength to transform pain into spiritual growth and light. In the background are two mountains, Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Evel: Gerizim, which is lush and green, was the mountain of blessings; Evel, which is barren, is the mountain of curses. Seen side by side, they ask the viewer to think about suffering and flourishing, and to look to the righteous Yosef for an example of the transformation that we are capable of. 

The darkness that pulls us into the centre of this painting reflects the tribe of Yosef’s gemstone onyx.

 

Binyamin

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“She named him the son of my suffering, and his father called him Benjamin.” (Gen. 35:18)

 The youngest of the twelve tribes, Binyamin, was named by his mother Rachel, who died in childbirth. His father, Jacob, changed his name from “the son of my suffering” to “son of the right hand”: a name that represents the strengththat comes from pain, the power of transformation. Binyamin seeks out the Divine energy housed within matter and elevates it, transforming the material into the spiritual. The sun is setting over the hills of Jerusalem, and the illuminated windows of the city send their warm glow out to the rest of the world. The confusion of twilight dissolves in the peaceful vision of a city, held securely and quietly nestled in the hills around it. Jerusalem is the heart of the Land and the heart of the nation. It is strong and at peace, a peace that extends outward towards the viewer and to the outer edges of the painting, where an olive branch tentatively spreads its leaves in a prayerful motion inviting us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” (Psalms 122:6) 

The deep reds of the setting sun in this painting reflect the tribe of Binyamin’s gemstone, a maroon jasper.

 

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 About the Artist

Lesley’s deep spiritual connection to her Jewish heritage and strong ties to the land of Israel influence her art. From her childhood in South Africa, to her teenage years in Israel on a kibbutz, Art was always Lesley’s favourite class and subject. Lesley served in the Israeli Armed Forces and then immigrated to Victoria, Canada, where she pursued an undergraduate degree in Art Education and settled down to raise a family of four children with her husband, Bryan. She found ways to continue her love of art in a variety of media: creating a beautiful garden, making clay objects, painting on silk, baking, cooking, and building furniture with her children. 

In 2016, Lesley earned her Masters of Arts degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Victoria. Spiritual elements drawn from Torah, midrash, and Jewish mysticism are embedded within all of Lesley’s work.

For more information about the series, please visit www.lesleyfriedmann.com 


 

 

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