Sunday, August 2, 2020

Brothers and Tribes

The psalmist sings that it is good and pleasant when families can live together in harmony (Psalm 133). But another text reminds us that as good and pleasant as it might have been, Jacob's children could not manage to live together in harmony (Genesis 45:1-15). Yet a third text reminds us that for generations, Jacob's descendants were well aware of the son who was their ancestor (Romans 11:1-2a,29-32). Those twelve brothers who couldn't get along remain(ed) a touchstone for their descendants. Paul knew that he was of the tribe of Benjamin.

Nowhere is the significance of the twelves brothers/tribes apparent than in the windows designed by Marc Chagall for the Abbell Synagogue at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem. In the synagogue the twelve windows, each with a round-arched top, are arranged in a square, three windows per side. Primarily in shades of blue, yellow, and red glass, Chagall has explored the symbols of stories of each of the twelve brothers.

Chagall's windows employ imagery from the blessings Jacob gave to his sons (Genesis 49) and the blessings of the tribes by Moses (Deuteronomy 33). The Benjamin window (below) includes the ravenous wolf as a symbol (Genesis 49:27) at the bottom. Other symbols are evident, along with Hebrew letters spelling the name of the tribe. 
(Left) Marc Chagall. Benjamin. 1962. Abbell Synagogue, Hadassah Medical Center, Jerusalem. Israel. 
(Right) Chagall. Lithograph of Benjamin window.
Each window is approximately 11' tall by 8' wide and filled with animals, fish, flowers, and other symbols associated with these twelve brothers and their father Jacob (renamed Israel). The shared color palette and design elements make a united statement from twelve different works. As the light shines through the windows, their arrangement in a square and their placement in a sort of clerestory has led them to be imagined as the crown for Queen Esther (whose Hebrew birthname is Hadassah). 

Jewels in a crown. Even if the brothers couldn't, the windows clearly live together in harmony. 

For information and photos of the Chagall windows at the Hadassah Medical Center, click here.

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