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Special Interest Item
Graphic Design --Religious Poetry --Documentation --Semiotic Poetry
This is an original handmade collage that is produced in an unlimited edition. Moss comments: The Priestly Blessing is a natural continuation of my work Genesis 22: A Story Without Words, which tells the tale of the binding of Isaac. I created that originally as a forty-five foot mural for the Akivah-Yavneh Academy in Dallas and then produced it as an artist's book. In that work I began to explore the possibilities of a highly abstracted, bold, visual translation of complex, extended text. Its format was a lengthy scroll or accordion book that allowed the long story to build and literally unfold.
In this present work I wanted the entire text to be viewed at once, as a single image. The text I chose was one of the best known and best loved verses in the entire Bible: the magnificent "Priestly Blessing" (Numbers 6:24-26). It begins with the charge to the priests, "An thus shall you-the kohanim, i.e. priests-bless the Children of Israel":
May G-d bless you and protect you.
May G-d cause his face to shine upon you be gracious unto you. May G-d lift up his face unto you and give you peace.
This was indeed the blessing with which the priests blessed the masses when the Temple stood. It still serves this function within the synagogue service to this day. It is this verse that is taken as the archetypical study text learned with the Torah blessings at the beginning of the morning service every day. And of course, it is this blessing we use to bless our children each Friday night as we begin Shabbat.
In addition to being one of the most famous Biblical quotes it is also by far the most ancient Biblical text to ever be discovered. The tiny silver amulet (unearthed right along my daily bicycle route between my home and my studio) turned out to contain exactly this text. It is the most ancient biblical text ever found, dating from the First Temple period-from around the 7th century BCE. The next oldest original text would be the Dead Sea scrolls some four centuries later.
I have designed this work within a grid of seven columns and five rows. The bottom row represents the fingers of the priests arranged in the distinct manner in which they hold them beneath their prayer shawls during the recitation of the blessing. The top row of ten small circles represents the minyan of ten required for the priests to recite the blessing publicly. Thus, each circle represents an individual Jew. I therefore use the same circles within the blessing to stand for the word "you". The three phrases of the blessing itself are centered to form the three middle rows of the collage.
One effect of my 'writing' the text in this manner is that its precise, numeric, perfect, literary structure becomes manifest. Since each Hebrew word is one image and fills one square, the carefully expanding structure of the whole is apparent. The number of words in each line is always an odd number and increases each time by exactly two.
From three words,
To a five word phrase,
And culminating with a seven word verse.
The blessing ends with Shalom-peace. The connection between the number seven and the idea of peace and completion is well known. Creation was completed on the seventh day; the Shabbat is the day of peace. This prayer is perhaps the earliest example of a tradition that has carried on throughout Jewish history-to always finish prayers with the mention of Shalom. The Amidah, the blessing after the meal and the kaddish all conclude with peace. In both the Hebrew language and in the Jewish historical vision, peace, completion and conclusion are nearly synonymous.
A further feature of the structure is also stressed. In the Hebrew, each phrase begins with a verb and is immediately followed by G-d's name as the second word. The diagonal 'steps' of the three white squares show this clearly.
Here is how the blessing is structured in the Hebrew. (My depiction, of course, reads from right to left like the original).
Each bracketed phrase is a single word in the Hebrew:
[May He bless you] [God] [And may He protect you]
[May He cause to shine] [God] [His face] [towards you] [and may He be gracious to you]
[May he lift up] [God] [His face] [unto you] [and may He give] [to you] [Peace]
Here is a note on each image:
Image/Word One-[May He bless you]:
G-d's gentle blessings descend from above in a three-fold cascading blessing upon you.
A plain, blank, white, ineffable square.
Image/Word Three-[And may He protect you]:
G-d protects and guards you in the little house.
Image/Word One-[May He cause to shine]: The light shimmers forth from the textured gold paper.
Image/Word Two- [God]: A plain, blank, white, ineffable square.
Image/Word Three-[His face]: A plain, white circle.
Image/Word Four-[towards you]: The arrow points to you.
Image/Word five-[And may He be gracious to you]: The traditional understanding is that the first phrase of the priestly blessing refers to physical blessing and protection. The grace of this phrase refers to intellectual grace: mental illumination and enlightenment. I have depicted it as surrounding your head.
Image/Word One-[May he lift up]: The arrow now points upward.
Image/Word Two-[God]: A plain, blank, white, ineffable square.
Image/Word Three-[His face]: The round white circle.
Image/Word Four-[unto you]: The arrow points to you.
Image/Word Five-[and may He give]: The open hand of giving.
Image/Word Six-[to you]: The arrow points to you. Though two different Hebrew prepositions (Elecha, Lecha) are used in the prayer for "to you", the meaning is the same and I've shown them as the same image.
Image/Word Image seven-[Peace]: A traditional understanding is that peace, in so far as it represents completion, is both itself a blessing and contains the previous blessings of physical well-being and intellectual illumination. I have shown all three as concentric circles.