Video of the Rabbi and Artist in conversation about the Parsha:

For more about Artist Yael Harris Resnick:

For more about Yiscah Smith:

Discussion Questions:
1. Both fire and water can be seen on the inside and outside of the face of the central figure. What story does each of these 4 symbols tell and how does their placement in the image converse with the larger narrative of the piece?

2. While inside of the central figure’s face the individuals are looking downward and facing one another, the central figure itself is staring upward and out of the painting. What do you imagine she is looking at? Why is it eliciting that reaction in her? If you could embody that with which she is staring at, imagine the conversation you would have with her?

3. In many of her paintings, Yael Harris Resnick often depicts the unsung female heroes from biblical narratives and so she draws the face of redemption from exile as a female face. What role did women have in the redemption in Egypt? What role do women have in the imminent redemption in our contemporary lives?

4. Each point of sensorial perception – especially the eyes and ears – are only drawn in form. Why do you think Yael omits them from the image and how does this tie in with the name of the piece, “An Exercise in Perception”?

Piece Description, Yael Harris Resnick, “An Exercise in Perception”:

The main focus of Yiscah’s Dvar Torah hovers around Shemot’s essence of Galut and Geula and how perception plays a large role in the extent of how exiled or free we are. Hence I felt it would be extremely impactful to create a piece of art that played with our initial perceptions and impressions. This piece is an optical illusion and a puzzle of sorts, hiding different elements that beg to be found and uncovered. Much like the hidden transitions and mental exercises we need to practice in order to transition from Galut to Geulah itself.

There is no correct place to begin, so I will choose my preferred place to start explaining this piece. I will admit that when I was first told I would be depicting the parsha of Shemot, I was very excited, as a lot of my personal artwork focuses on illuminating the unsung female heroines of Torah and this parsha is chock full of such heroines- from Shifra and Pua to Miriam and Yocheved, Bat Paroh, and Tzippora and her sisters. And so I entered this project with a quasi agenda to represent the women of our story, their underlying, quiet manipulations in triggering the Geulah, even being credited in the medrash raba for the whole Geulah itself. There are sources that also allude to our present Galut and that the essence of the coming Geulah will have a flavor of femininity to it. And so it’s no coincidence that when you first look at this image a woman’s face jumps out at you. That is my underlying tribute to them, our female foundation of heroines who jump started the Geulah of Mitzrayim and who are a dynamic part of this present Geulah which is igniting in our midst at this moment.
But if you look closer, you will see that the image is made up of many other pictures, the female image giving way to several other symbols.

Yiscah begins her Dvar Torah discussing the essences of Galut; spiritual, physical and psychological. Although there have been 3 exiles of the Jewish People, I have divided the “face” into the two exiles of Egypt (the paradigm of all future galuyot and geulot) and our current exile, here depicted through the lens of the Holocaust- the trauma and imagery that resonates the most with us of the Egyptian exile with our contemporary lenses. I also used Holocaust imagery as Yiscah brings in the teachings of the Piaseczner Rebbe who writes his insights in the context of the 1940s and its horrors.

Perception happens through the eyes, the ears and the brain. On one side of the face we have the head of an Israelite performing back breaking work. The other side is a Jew of the Holocast also doing physical work, The eyeball is both their heads and a lock. I was attempting to depict all the kinds of Galut in one (physical, spiritual and psychological) by showing the physical work both in the eye and in the head- the two main places we perceive the world around us.

The heads are also locks- because when in Galut we are locked in our perceptions. You’ll notice that the Egypt lock is unlocked, as we have already experienced our redemption from there. The present Galut side is still locked- as we are still immersed in this exile.

How do we extract ourselves from Galut and from its beliefs and the perceptions that keep us there? That brings us to the ear- another area of perception which I also drew as Moshe’s foot at the moment he encounters the burning bush. This is a beginning- a Breishit (using the same gematria as the words Shal Naalech Me’al Raglecha) Moshe hears the voice of God, who tells him to remove his shoes- that entire action removes him from his regular habit, from his former perception and is the event that gets the Geulah ball rolling.

Shal Naalecha. Naal, shoe comes from the same root as the word Naal, lock- another reference back to our locked perception. Take off your shoes, those things keeping you locked to the physical world, so that when removed you can fly!

Attached to that image is the burning bush. Paralleling the fire of the burning bush, on the other side we have the fire of the Holocaust. One fire represents the beginning of the Geula process while it’s very hard to say that about the second, as fire in the middle of our Galut is enveloped with pain and suffering, not yet Geula. That’s what led me to depict the most painful element of the first Galut which was probably connected to the destruction of the baby boys being thrown into the Nile.

In the first Galut, we suffered through water, were redeemed through water at the splitting of the sea with fire of the burning bush acting as the trigger of that redemption.

This Galut is different in that fire begins it (destruction of the Beit Hamikdash) and perhaps fire ends it- as we have seen revealed miracles hinting to Geula since the end of the Holocaust period. Could it be possible that water- the traveling across seas to conquer and establish the Land of Israel is the trigger of that Geula?

The neck holds a bittersweet image. The kotel. The outer wall of our beloved Temple. The beginning of hope- another perception of closeness to God. Is it there? The Temple mount is not ours. We are still outside. We cannot rebuild our house of God. The Kotel represents this transitional time of hovering right between Galut and Geulah. There is also a Yiddish saying, “The man is the head of the household but the woman is the neck- she is the one who turns the head and starts the process.”

I added one extra element of our present day Galut in the mind section of our face. Notice that it is night- Mah nishtana Halayla hazeh?- taken from our Pesach Seder. How is this night or exile different from our other exiles? You can find some images directly correlated to these modern times, ones that alter our perception and connection with God. There is a child on a device- that is one of the ways our Galut is perpetuated. We spend so much of our time connected to the media, entrusting our souls to worship information without also grounding ourselves in our Godly connection. Science and knowledge, books, music- we think we know so much, and yet, we merely have a false sense of control. I added the image of a coronavirus particle to show how our world is so changed with a misaligned perception that prevents the Geula from becoming a reality. The change that needs to happen is one that brings more Godliness into our lives. Notice that it is not the middle of the night however- if we look down at the nose, we can see the sun rising. It is almost dawn. The Geula is upon us.

Which brings us to the final part of the painting. Look to the left and you will see the splitting of the sea. It is also the flag of Israel- a sign that we have indeed entered the period of Geula despite still being under the mask of Galut. The star of David of the flag is also an Alef. The letter Alef is the one extra element differentiating between Gola and Geula. The white of the flag or entry way through the sea is also the third Beit Hamikdash. We are walking through to the Geula. We are at the brink.

This composition is not merely a painting. It is an exercise in perception and learning to change how we think. If we practice changing our habits, changing our perception, we can connect to God on a different level and trigger the removal of our shoes, our locks- and ultimately unlock this Galut and enter Geula, both on a personal and national level. Physically, spiritually and psychologically.

May we all merit to see the redemption soon.


“The Galut – Exile of Da’at, Awareness, Consciousness” by Yiscah Smith

One can be enslaved in many ways, physically, psychologically or spiritually. Whatever type it is, it usually begins ever so subtly. To be truly free, we must be conscious and aware of how we are living.

The Baal Shem Tov teaches that the major aspect of exile is being in the exile of awareness, da-at and consciousness, a state in which our consciousness is in exile. When we were enslaved in Egypt, we were enslaved physically, and even more so we were enslaved spiritually. It is possible to live in a manner in which we think and seem to be free physically, but spiritually we are enslaved.

What does it mean that our “da-at”/ consciousness is in exile? The Baal Shem Tov explains that this happens when we lose our awareness of the One who created the world and that the Creator is watching over us and paying attention to every detail of our lives. When we are not aware of the Divine Presence in our lives this produces the sense of estrangement, alienation and loneliness that many people suffer from today. It is actually a growing spiritual and emotional malady. Feeling disconnected from the source of our lives is terribly painful and leads to despair. This state means we are in spiritual galut – spiritual exile.

Even though we may actually be aware of our Creator from time to time, since this awareness is but momentary rather than a constant, we still experience exile. We need to cultivate awareness and mindful of this. This first step leads toward our redemption from slavery. (R’ Sholom Brodt, Parshat Shemot 5773/2013).

גולה – exile, Diaspora, disconnect, fragmentation, according to the Baal Shem Tov: the absence of the knowledge of God, the da’at HaShem.
גאולה – redemption from גולה – unity, harmony, restoring the knowledge of God, the da’at HaShem.
Question: What is the one letter in the word גאולה that is not found in גולה?
The aleph which equals echad. When a Jew’s consciousness is not a Godly consciousness the Jew is in spiritual galut/exile and senses fragmentation and division in the world.

Remove Your Shoes From Your Feet – של נעליך מעל רגליך

Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg on HaShem’s command to Moshe to remove his shoes from his feet:
שמות ג, א-ה
ומשה היה רעה את צאן יתרו חתנו, כהן מדין, וינהג את הצאן אחר המדבר, ויבא אל הר האלקים חרבה. וירא מלאך ה' אליו בלבת אש מתוך הסנה, וירא, והנה, הסנה בער באש, והסנה איננו אכל. ויאמר משה: אסרה נא, ואראה את המראה הגדל הזה, מדוע לא יבער הסנה. וירא ה' כי סר לראות, ויקרא אליו אלקים מתוך הסנה, ויאמר: משה, משה. ויאמר: הנני. ויאמר: אל תקרב הלם, של נעליך מעל רגליך, כי המקום אשר אתה עומד עליו אדמת קדש הוא.

Exodus 3: 1-5
“Now Moshe was shepherding the flock of Yitro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the farthest end of the wilderness, and came to the mountain of God, unto Horev. And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moshe said, ‘I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.’ And when the Lord saw the he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, ‘Moshe, Moshe.’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ And He said, ‘Do not come closer to here; remove your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you stand is holy ground.’”

According to the holy Zohar, every parsha in the Torah is alluded to in the very first word of the Torah – בראשית – In the Beginning. Where is בראשית found in this parsha, Parshat Shmot? בראשית is found in the words של נעליך מעל רגליך. For the gematria of – the numerical value of – the letters – בראשית is equal to the gematria of
של נעליך מעל רגליך, both are equal to 913. This numerical equivalence suggests a very important and deep teaching: You are standing on holy ground, you must remove your shoes from your feet, this is a beginning!

There are several double meanings here. The word של means to take off and it also means to release (נ.ש.ל.). The word נעליך means your shoes and it also means your locks (נ.ע.ל.). The word רגליך means your feet and it also means your accustomed habitual behavior (ר.ג.ל.). Thus, according to the spiritual meaning of the verse we learn, “HaShem says to Moshe, do not come closer until you release the consciousness of the locking in of your accustomed habitual behavior, for you are standing on holy ground.”

The בראשית, a new beginning of spiritual practice, a new beginning of becoming closer to the Divine, requires of us to remove “our locks” – the consciousness that locks us in and keeps us closed by our daily habits, be they physical, mental or psychological. You surely have done good things and so you stand on holy ground. But to proceed further, you must experience your own בראשית, again. To really have a new beginning, you must first release yourself from all that which holds you back.

Overcoming Habits of Perception – a teaching from the Piaseczner Rebbe, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapiro, Bnei Machshava Tova, entry 6, d.1943

בכלל יש להתאונן ﬠל שהאדם כל כך שקוﬠ בהרגל שלו, עד שאינו יכול לﬠזבו. וכשהוא מורגל לראות רק דברים גופניים במחשבתו, דומה לו שהמחשבה גם בﬠצמה גופנית וחושית היא.

It is truly tragic that human beings are so deeply enmeshed in the force of our habits of perception that it is nearly impossible to overcome them. Since we constantly use our minds to notice material things, we come to consider thought itself as a physical and sensory phenomenon.

אבל לא בﬠנין הדמיון והמחשבה לבד טﬠית, רק גם בחושיך לא תהיה בטוח כל כך שהם גופניים מגושמים בהחלט כמו שאתה חושב. כי את חוש הראיה בﬠצמו ﬠוד לא ראית. רק את הדברים שחוש הראיה רואה או שומﬠ. ובשﬠה שתסיר ממך דבר נראה או קול נשמﬠ, גם חוש הראיה ושמיﬠה יﬠלמו בך, מבלי שתרגישם ותראם.

But not only regarding imagery and thought are you mistaken; do not be so sure that even your senses are entirely physical as you imagine them to be. After all, you have never seen the sense of sight itself. Rather you have only sensed those things that sight sees or hearing hears. But once you are removed from the object that is seen or the sound that is heard, your sense of sight or hearing disappears and becomes imperceptible. You do not feel or sense them.

ומי יודﬠ איפא, אם באמת חוש הראיה בﬠצמו גשמי, ואי אפשר לו לראות רק דברים גופנײם? או שביכולתו לראות הכל, גם דברים בלתי גופניים? וﬠתה כיון שהבאת לפניו רק דברים גופניים, הרגלתיו רק בראיה גשמית.

And so, in truth, why assume therefore that the sense of sight itself is physical and can see nothing but physical things? Perhaps it is capable of seeing everything, including nonphysical things? But since you only bring it physical things, you have habituated it only to use its physical sight.

בכל ﬠנין ﬠלית האדם, יש אבן נגף הזה שאי אפשר לו להתﬠלות מן הרגלו. וﬠד כמה שנרצה לבאר לו, וﬠד כמה שנרצה להחכימו, קשה לפﬠול אצלו, שידﬠ שהאמת הוא היפך מן זה שﬠיניו רואות, ולהיפך הוא מכל הרגלו. ﬠד שנולד מין ﬠקשנות מוסתרה בלבו, שלא יניח לזוז את ﬠצמו, כמלא נימא מידיעותיו הקודמות.

At every stage of a person’s ascent, there exists the stumbling block of an inability to transcend habit. No matter how much we may want to explain reality to such a person, no matter how much we might wish to enlighten him, it is difficult to successfully bring him to realize that truth is the opposite of what his eyes perceive and is contrary to all that he is accustomed to. This elicits a sort of hidden stubbornness in his heart, that does not allow him to shift by a hair’s breadth from his original conceptions.

ואיך נעלה את איש כזה ממעל לעולם? ובשעה ששומע דברים כגון אלו, שמכחישים את ההרגל שלו, חושב הוא בלבו ומכריז, ״מהו אומר? שזה העולם אינו גשם? ועוד זאת שאת עצמי איני מכיר? משוגע איש הרוח.״

How can we raise such a person beyond the earth? When he hears words such as these, words that contradict his habitual experience, he thinks and exclaims, “What is this person talking about? Is he saying that this world is not physical and that I myself do not know who I am? This man of the spirit is mad.”

זה עיקר החיסרון, שאי אפשר לו להגדיל את מחשבתו למחשבה טהורה בלי ציור ודמיון גופני. מפני שמכל מחשבה שעולה במוחך, אתה דורש דמות ציור ודמיון גופני, יען שאתה מורגל רק במחשבות כגון אלו. ואם לאו, אין זה מחשבה אצלך.

Essentially, what you lack is the ability to expand your thought to pure mindfulness, stripped of physical form and image. You demand of every thought that arises in your mind a physical form and image, since you are habituated only to these types of thought. If this does not appear, you do not even recognize what you are experiencing as thought.

ובאמת לא שנאמר שאין עולה בך מחשבה בלתי בעלת ציור כלל. עולה היא.
רק כיון שבדעתו של אדם, יש בה מבקר, שמבקר ומגיה את כל מחשבות האדם, ואותה שאינה דומה ומשתוה למציאות העולם, נראית בעיניו למזויפה, ורודפה ומשמידה מן מוחו.

In truth, I am not saying that imageless thoughts never arise in your mind. They do. However, our consciousness possesses a critical filter that screens and checks all of our thoughts. Any thought not similar to this worldly existence appears to that filter as counterfeit, and it pursues this thought and wipes it out of your mind.

כמו שרואים שבמוחו של הילד, עולות גם מחשבות אי אפשריות, למשל שיעוף בכנפים וכו’. והגדול, שכח הביקור אשר במוחו נתגדל, אין מחשבה כזו באה במוחו. מפני שכח המבקר שנתגדל בו, משוה את מחשבתו ומעריכה עם דברי העולם שרואה ושומע. וכל מחשבה מזויפה מגרש ומכחש, עד שדומה לו להאיש שלא בא כלל וכלל בו. מפני שכל כך נתגדל בו כח המבקר, וכל כך ממשלתו על מוח האדם, עד שהוא מונע ומפחיד את כל מחשבה מזויפה לדרוך על מפתן מחשבתו. והאיש אינו מרגיש את כח המבקר. רק דומה לו שמעצמו אין מחשבות הללו באות בו.

For instance, although thoughts of impossible things arise in a child’s mind, such as that he can fly, and so forth. They do not enter an adult’s mind. The filtering faculty that has grown within him evaluates this thought and compares it to the things of this world that he can see and hear. So efficiently does it expel and deny any counterfeit thought, that it seems to him that the thought never even entered his mind. This filter is so developed and has such influence on his mind that it blocks and intimidates any counterfeit thought from crossing the doorsill of his consciousness. He does not even sense this filtering faculty. Instead, it appears to him that these thoughts simply don’t occur to him.

ועתה לענין דידן, לא שאין בו מחשבה נקיה מן הציורים הגופניים. עולות הן בך. רק כיון שהמבקר שבמוחך מורגל כל כך רק במחשבות עם ציורים, ורודף ומגרש הוא את כל מחשבה טהורה ממך. ואתה, שאת כח המבקר אינך מרגיש כנ”ל, דומה לך שאין שום מחשבה ודמיון בלתי מצויר, ונאחז בצורה גופנית נמצא בך כלל.

And now in regard to our topic, it is not that you do not have any thoughts stripped of physical form. Such thoughts do arise within you. But since the filter in your mind is habituated only to thoughts with form, it chases away any pure thought. Since you do not even sense this filtering faculty, it seems that no formless thought or imagination exists within you.

ובאמת האיש שנקבע בו כבר שמחשבה אמיתית אי אפשר לה להתדמות לצורת העולם, וגידל והרחיב בו את מחשבה הנקיה, אז בעת עלות בו מחשבה זו חושב ומדמה ורואה לפי מצבו את הקדושה, ואת כסא הכבוד של שורש, וחוצב נשמתו, ואין צורה גופנית חסרה לו ומונעת את מחשבתו.

In truth, however, once a person is convinced of the possibility that a true thought does not necessarily resemble a this-worldly image, and once he has expanded and broadened pure thought within himself, when such a thought arises in him, he thinks, imagines and sees in accordance with the state of holiness and throne of glory of the root, the place from where his soul is hewn. He is not bothered by a lack of physical form and thus his filter does not block his thought.

This type of thinking births the awareness, the da’at and the consciousness of the presence of the Divine within oneself and within others. This type of thinking births as well feelings and sensations of closeness and nearness to the Divine. This type of thinking is the “foundational stone” – אבן היסוד – upon which redemption and liberation is built and flourishes.