Torah in the Negev

The central theme is the Torah
Torah in the Negev 700 height

The Jew is grasping the Torah Scroll in love and joy, which is shared by all of the desert life surrounding him. The whole painting is a song of praise to The Creator and His Torah.

The Torah is ‘a tree of life to all who grasp it, and whoever holds on to it is happy; its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all it paths are peace’. (Proverbs 3:17-18).

Torah and JewIn the narrowest sense the Torah refers to the first five books of the Bible. In a broader sense, Torah includes all Jewish law and tradition.

‘The Torah is truth, and the purpose of knowing it is to live by it.’  (Maimonides)

What symbolism is contained in Torah in the Negev?

1. The desert

I live in Be’er Sheva, City of Our Fathers and the capital city of the Negev desert.  Wherever there are Jews there is Torah. Even in the Desert.  Especially in the Desert. As it says (Numbers 1:1): ‘And God spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert.’  Why was the Torah given in the desert? One Rabbinic interpretation is that if someone does not make himself/herself ownerless, like the desert, he/she cannot acquire the Torah.

Date palms

2. Palm trees.

These majestic trees are part of my every day surroundings, so I have every opportunity to observe them all the year round.

In Judaism the palm represents peace and plenty.

The date palm is tall and straight (Song 7:8–9), and the righteous are compared to its straight trunk and evergreen foliage (Ps. 92: 13).

According to rabbinic tradition, the ‘honey’ enumerated among the seven species with which Israel is blessed (Deut. 8:8) is the honey of the date.

Like honey the Torah is very sweet to the one who can grasp some of its profound wisdom, and it is the ‘food’ which sustains the soul.


3. The dove.

The dove, as we all know, is a symbol of peace.

In the Torah, Noah released the dove to find dry land after a flood, and the dove returned carrying an olive branch, signalling that the flood had receded.

It is written in Psalms 119:165: ‘Great peace to those who love Your Torah’.

Rainbow4. The rainbow

‘I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life’. (Genesis 9:13 – 15)

The rainbow has become in Jewish thought the symbol of both God’s glory as manifest in the universe and God’s faithfulness to His covenant to mankind and to the people of Israel.

Acacia tree5. The acacia tree

It is a desert tree, commonly found in the Negev.

Of greatest importance is its use in the construction of the Ark of the Covenant.  During the construction of the tabernacle, acacia wood was one material available to the Israelites.  Exodus 35:24 says, ‘Everyone who had acacia wood for any part of the work brought it.’ Acacia wood was used for the poles of the ark, the ark itself, and many parts of the tabernacle.

Acacia was the main tree available during the desert journey, and its density and strength made it ideal for a structure that would endure for generations.

Camels6. The camel
Being desert animals I see them where I live.
For centuries Jews, like camels,  have been going on long journeys through unforgiving conditions. Camels are known for their strength and endurance: so, too, are Jews.
Hoopoe birds7. The Hoopoe.
I see this bird very often in my local park in Be’er Sheva, and love to watch it.
I voted for the hoopoe to be the National bird of Israel in 2008 in an election held by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. The Hoopoe won the contest with 35% of the votes.
8. The lizard
9. Cacti.
These creatures and plants are seen often in Be’er Sheva and the desert.
10. The sun and the moon
The sun rules by day, and the moon by night. Torah is given us for the day time and the night time, as it is written in Joshua 1:8 ‘And you shall meditate therein day and night’.
The sun, which gives us light, is shining very brightly in my work, to symbolise the great spiritual light from the Torah.
The moon’s value is its use in calculating seasons: Jews study Torah in all seasons.
Monument to the Negev Brigade
11. The Monument to the Negev Brigade, Be’er Sheva
I have visited this monument, and passed it many times.  It was designed by Dani Karavan in memory of the members of the Negev Brigade who fell fighting on Israel’s side during the 1948 Arab Israeli War.
The rabbis of the Talmud saw war as an avoidable evil. They taught, ‘The sword comes to the world because of delay of justice and through perversion of justice.’ In Judaism war is evil, but at times a necessary one, yet, Judaism teaches that one has to go to great length to avoid it.
Jews have always hated war and Shalom expresses the hope for peace.
May we continue to learn Torah in love and joy and pray for peace.

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